Local teen swims to Star Island to raise environmental awareness
By Susan Morse
September 09, 2009 2:00 AM
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. â€” Josh Blake, 19, “the merman” planned on Tuesday to bicycle seven miles from Portsmouth to Fort Foster in Kittery, swim seven miles to the Isles of Shoals, and then run seven miles around Star Island, in a one-man triathlon to raise money to clean up the oceans.
At 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Blake was two miles out to sea and doing well, said girlfriend Rosa Greeley, who was in the lobster boat that was spotting Blake for the trip.
“He’s had a PowerBar,” she said.
There were no signs of Blake’s most dreaded fear in the open ocean: sharks.
Blake took off on bicycle on the first leg of his “777 Triathlon” at 1 p.m., from Hannaford on Islington Street in Portsmouth, wearing a wetsuit and sneakers. He carried swim goggles and strapped a diver’s knife to his leg to help combat any sharks.
In his backpack he carried five Moe’s sandwiches â€” some for Greeley and lobster boat captain and friend Jimmy Severance â€” seven Power Bars and numerous bottles of water. He planned to eat at least one Moe’s while he was in the water, he said, while treading water on his back.
“I’ve been a swimmer all my life,” said Blake, who made news last year after swimming across the Piscataqua River at the Memorial Bridge.
Friend and mentor Robert Wheeler called Blake’s swimming style “powerful.” His daughters know Blake from the Portsmouth High School swim team where Blake swam the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and butterfly, he said.
“He’s an animal in the water,” said Wheeler, a teacher at Southern New Hampshire University at Pease. “My daughters think he’s a ‘merman.'”
Blake said he expects the swim to take three-and-a-half to four hours.
He got advice from fellow Isles of Shoals swimmer Gary Sredzienski of Kittery, Blake said, who told him the hardest part was swimming in a straight line in the strong currents.
Blake planned the start of his swim at slack tide, he said. He headed into the ocean at Fort Foster and swam out to Whaleback Light where he met Severance’s boat.
Blake lives on Star Island and works there as a lifeguard. On Tuesday morning, he took the 6:30 a.m. boat to Portsmouth, knowing he’d be treading the same water later that day. He then had breakfast at his grandfather’s and father’s house on Badgers Island.
This is his first long-distance ocean water swim. He’s been practicing, while living on Star, by swimming to nearby White and Lunging Islands.
On the way back from one island swim, “I heard echoes,” said Blake. “It was dolphins.”
He also routinely sees seals, but so far, not sharks, of which he said, “I’m terrified.”
Swimming to the Isle of Shoals is a lifelong dream, he said.
“I love the ocean, I’ve always wanted to swim to the Isles of Shoals.”
Born in York, Blake grew up in Eliot and Kittery where he regularly swims around Badgers Island.
He attended Eliot Elementary School and Marshwood Middle School. He’s moved around a lot, he said, attending Traip Academy and living in Maryland before going to Portsmouth High School where he was a senior last year.
He’s taking classes online to finish high school, he said.
He wants to go to college to major in environmental science. He is also looking at joining the Coast Guard to become a rescue swimmer.
The 777 Triathlon is raising money for the Environmental Cleanup Coalition, an organization working to rid the ocean of garbage. Blake has raised $3,200, with $2,250 coming from people attending the Life On A Star II Conference on Star Island and other donations from individuals who have visited the island, including “The West Wing” actor Bradley Whitford, who gave $500, said Blake.
“I want to raise awareness,” said Blake. “We have huge, huge problems in the ocean and it’s killing us.”
When he arrives at Star Island, his fellow coworkers, called Pelicans, will be there to greet him. On Wednesday, it’s business as usual as he gets up for work at 7 a.m.
This is a first annual event, he said.
“I’m going to make it,” he said, before peddling off.