Skinner Island- International 18 Mile Smuggler Swim
July 9th or 10th 2016
In 1808, smuggler, Uriah Skinner, hid from the law, in a hidden cave, on a small island in Lake Memphremagog, a magical sheet of water that lies partly in Canada and partly in Vermont. Skinner, never made it off the island. I intend to!
208 Years later, the first Skinner’s Island, a swim to the island and back from Newport, USA.
Direction of Swim
North: Newport to Skinner Island
Clear the Water at Skinner Island
South: Skinner Island to Newport
Observer: Phil White, North East Kingdom Swimming Association
Crew: Cynthia Needham
About the Swim
I will swim up to Skinner’s Island, which nestles in Canadian waters.
My swim will begin in Newport, Vermont, I will swim north, across the border into Canada, and the very waters where federal agents discovered Uriah Skinner, eventually tracking him to his secret cave, on Skinner Island.
I will swim to the northeastern side of the island, where the cave, which is now submerged underwater, sits. The very cave, that Skinner, used to escape the law. The very cave, that would-ultimately become his dark, wet prison, hiding his bones, for over 100 years.
On reaching Skinner’s Island, I will clear the water on a natural shore, beyond which there is no navigable water. If geographic obstacles prevent me, from clearing the water at the island, I will touch part of the natural shore. I will then, swim back to Newport, Vermont, finishing the journey, Skinner himself, had set out to do, smuggling, by boat.
I will wear, only a single, textile swimsuit, with standard coverage, silicone swim cap, earplugs, and goggles.
On board, my support boat, in honor of Skinner, a trunk with similar items, as the smuggler is said to have had.
I will be following the Marathon Swimmers Federation Rules
The Legend of Skinner’s Island
In the early 1800’s, crates and parcels were being smuggled down Lake Memphremagog, from Canada to Newport.
Northern farmers, and their wives were acquiring themselves laces, sliver-ware, brandy and other goods, without paying a levy, or taxes. Federal officers knew, goods were being smuggled, they just couldn’t catch the outlaw responsible! Suspicion pointed to a large framed man.
Eriah Skinner was gigantic, he was a head taller than any other local fellow, he had a large bushy beard, a bold grin, and he knew the lake, like the back of his hand.
So well, in fact, that he could navigate it at night. ” There’s not an officer worth his salt, what can find me once I’ve hid away on the islands, of ol’ Memphremagog”, Skinner, would say, according to legends.
One fateful night, Skinner, was out in the dark, his boat piled high with crates and parcels. ” A tidy profit, for a nights work”, he chuckled, as he pulled on the oars. Then he noticed a lantern, it was moving towards him, “officers”, he muttered, under his breath. The officers voice carried, across the water. They were getting closer, they were fast in pursuit.
Skinner, darted towards his hideaway, an island. Not just any island, this was thickly vegetated with trees, vines, weeds, and clumps of shrubbery. He skillfully maneuvered his boat alongside a cliff. Stealthily, he parted the thick vines to reveal, not a cliff, but a long narrow cave. It was so long that,even in the daylight, you could see nothing at the end. A man, with a cargo of crates & parcels, such as Skinner’s, could not be hidden from view.
Skinner, tied off his boat, hauled his smuggled goods to the back of the cave and waited silently.
The patrol was relentless, they scoured the island for hours. Eventually, one proud officer found Skinner’s boat, he showed the captain his prize, grinning broadly, as he presented it.
” Excellent, he’s here”, said the captain, ” this will be his last time smuggling on this lake”, the captain added. The captain was right, it would be the last smuggling trip for Skinner, but not because the patrol caught him.
The officers continued to search for the outlaw, they searched, and searched, and came up empty handed. Eventually, the lead officer became so irritated he shouted to his men, ” He can have his hideous island, and all the goods, for all I care, for we have his boat “. With that, the patrol departed the island, with Skinner’s prize boat towing along behind it. One can only imagine, Skinner, watching his beloved boat, get smaller and smaller, along with the light from the officers lantern, as they both dropped out of Skinner’s sight, never to be seen again by Uriah Skinner.
No one heard of Uriah Skinner again, well not until the mid nineteenth century, when a guest at the prestigious Owl’s head resort, was out fishing on the Lake. Lake Memphremagog, started getting frisky, with strong winds, and frothy water. The guest sought refuge, on Skinner’s island, stumbling upon a deep cave, behind what seemingly was a cliff face. In he went to shelter from the storm, it was there he discovered a skeleton, of a very large size, one might say gigantic!
Long ago the Abenakis feared the cave,they considered it the haunt of a dreaded water beast. Which many, now believed to be ” Memphre”.
What about the Cave today?
Years ago, a Dam on the Magog River, raised the level of the lake more than 6 feet, today the entrance of the cave is no longer fully visible. It is unknown what remains are now in the cave. There could be anything from an over-sized human skeleton, and relics from the past, perhaps, some silver-wear, or what’s left of a barrel of brandy.
What will be discovered on this adventure swim?
Will the waters of Lake Memphremagog, swirl & foam, or reflect owls head in her glassy waters?
I’ll keep you posted!
Mayo, Matthew P. “The Legend of Skinner’s Cave.” Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of Hardscrabble New England. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2010. N. pag. Print.
Marathon Swimmers Federation Rules
The swim begins when the swimmer enters the water from a natural shore. If geographic obstacles (e.g., cliffs) prevent the swimmer from clearing the water at the start, the swimmer may begin the swim by touching and releasing from part of the natural shore (e.g., cliff face).
The swim finishes when the swimmer clears the water on a natural shore, beyond which there is no navigable water. If geographic obstacles prevent the swimmer from clearing the water at the finish, the swimmer may finish by touching part of the natural shore.
The swimmer may not make intentional supportive contact with any vessel, object, or support personnel at any time during the swim.
The swimmer may wear a single textile swimsuit with standard coverage, one latex or silicone cap, goggles, ear plugs, nose clips, and may grease the body. The swimmer may not use any additional equipment that benefits speed, buoyancy, endurance, or heat retention.
The swimmer may not intentionally draft behind any escort vessel or support swimmer. The swimmer may swim alongside an escort vessel, but may not intentionally position him or herself inside the vessel’s bow and displacement waves, except while feeding.