With grease covering her skin to help keep her warm, Bar Harbor resident Puranjot Kaur gets ready to head out on the evening of Aug. 3, 2021, from Hadley Point in Bar Harbor on her second attempt to swim all the way around Mount Desert Island. Kaur made it halfway around the island, 22 miles of a 44 mile journey, before she became hypothermic and had end her effort the next morning. Credit: Courtesy of Bob Bowman

Although she didn’t meet her goal of being the first person ever to swim all the way around Mount Desert Island, a Bar Harbor woman surpassed the distance she swam last year in her second attempt.

Puranjot Kaur made it halfway around the island, 22 miles of a 44-mile trip, before she became hypothermic and had to get out of the water. In her first attempt to swim around MDI in 2020, she made it roughly 18 miles before her effort was cut short by windy weather.

Kaur, 41, set out Tuesday evening from Hadley Point and swam through the night, passing along the island’s eastern shore through Frenchman Bay. She made it past Otter Point, where she encountered difficulty last year, and passed both Sutton and Little Cranberry islands before her swim ended off Spurling Point on Great Cranberry Island.

“Sad to report that after nearly 12 hours in the water, about 22 miles, we’ve had to pull Puranjot from the water due to hypothermia,” Open Table MDI, a not-for-profit organization that Kaur co-founded and was raising funds for, posted Wednesday morning on its Facebook page. “To say she feels devastated would be an understatement.”

A marathon swim is one that is longer than 6.2 miles, according to the Marathon Swimmers Federation. In order for a swim to qualify for inclusion in the international list of open-water marathon swims kept by the federation, swimmers are not allowed to wear wetsuits but can smear their bodies with protective oil or grease to help keep warm in the chilly water and to prevent chafing, as Kaur has done on both attempts to swim around MDI.

In addition to hypothermia and rough weather, long-distance ocean swimmers can get stung by jellyfish, experience swelling in their tongues from saltwater and must deal with fatigue. Kaur ate and drank while treading water at various points during her swim, though she took care not to touch members of her support team, who accompanied her in boats and kayaks, or their boats.

Kaur, an experienced distance swimmer and assistant swimming coach at the Bar Harbor YMCA, had been training for several months. Before last year’s attempt, 12 miles was the furthest distance she had ever swam in one shot.

Gary Allen, founder and race director of the MDI marathon, was among the boaters who accompanied Kaur on her swim. He said she swam for more than 11 hours in “cold, rough in places, ocean water” before she came ashore.

“She did not reach her ultimate goal but to say this was a failure is pure nonsense,” Allen posted on Facebook. “To dare to take on something like this is just brave.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....