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Here’s one way to raise money for a Maine lighthouse—swim all the way around it

For two women circling Isle au Haut, a cold but exhilarating challenge.

ISLE AU HAUT, Maine — As Maine lighthouses go, the one on Isle au Haut is neither the grandest nor most beautiful nor most likely to end up on a scenic calendar. But the people of Isle au Haut, about sixty of whom are year-round residents, love the structure and are doing what they can to repair the damage that time and harsh weather have inflicted.

Enter Alison Richardson and Molly Siegel, the former a ranger at Acadia National Park on the island, the latter an Island Institute fellow on Isle au Haut. These two young women exude a certain can-do energy and sunny optimism, so it’s not surprising that they wanted to pitch in to help raise money to restore the lighthouse. What is surprising is the plan they came up with.

This summer they are doing something that, as far as they know, has never been done—they are swimming all the way around the island, a distance of eighteen miles. With the water temperature in the low to mid 50s they wear wetsuits, but even those don’t fully protect them from the cold. “Your hands get numb and your feet get numb,” Siegel says. “But it gets better over time.” For each mile they swim, the women are hoping to raise one thousand dollars for a total of $18,000, all of which will go toward the restoration of the lighthouse.

This isn’t a race, so Richardson and Siegel are taking several weeks to complete the swim, usually covering a mile or two at a time. “We’re making it, but we’re not like speed swimmers or anything,” Richardson says with a smile.

Sometimes the beauty of the island and the ocean around it give the swimmers reason to pause, even though they know the place intimately. “We stop and just admire the island from the water,” Richardson says. Why wouldn’t they? The whole idea of being on Isle au Haut is to slow down, to move with the rhythm of the tides and the seasons.

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