ROCKLAND, Maine — Gary Sredzienski was able to combine his two loves — swimming and lighthouses — into one effort as he raised money and awareness for two local lighthouses in a 3.3-mile swim across Rockland Harbor on Saturday.
“That beats Disney World, it really does,” said Sredzienski of Kittery, who completed the trek in 3 hours, 41 minutes.
The weather was as nice as it could be for a December day, said Eric Davis, chairman of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.
“It’s perfect,” said Davis. “Calm waters. The only thing that would’ve stopped Gary is high seas. Snow or rain wouldn’t have bothered him.”
Before the swim began, Davis said they had raised $5,000 to support the American Lighthouse Foundation. Their goal was $15,000.
Sredzienski wore two wetsuits, goggles, and Vaseline on his face to protect himself from the 46-degree water. He began his swim at 9 a.m. at Owls Head Lighthouse beach and swam to the Breakwater lighthouse in Rockland. He got out of the water and touched the side of the Breakwater lighthouse and finished his swim at Middle Pier, where a crowd gathered to welcome him.
Two boats, including one with the Coast Guard, guided Sredzienski on his journey.
“Thanks for letting me swim in your harbor. It’s been a real honor,” said Sredzienski. “It’s so beautiful here.”
Sredzienski was driven to his hotel room to warm up soon after his swim.
“I’m a happy guy. Thank God it’s over,” he said, with ice still in his goggles. “I’m going to take a nap and then I’ll be over [to play the accordion at Owls Head Community Center later that evening]. I need a break.”
This is the fifth charity swim for Sredzienski, he said. It’s his second swim for lighthouses. In February, he swam in Portsmouth Harbor.
“That was absolutely awesome. I’m glad it wasn’t me,” said Bob Trapani, executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation, who was in a boat following Sredzienski.
“I’ve seen Gary swim before and to see him do this again, it reminds me of how he really loves helping our cause to saving these lighthouses,” said Trapani. “To put himself through this kind of exhaustive task is unbelievable.”
Trapani said keeping lighthouses in people’s minds is important because donations are needed for upkeep.
“You’re always looking to share the message with others,” he said. “They see that lighthouse, but they don’t always think about, ‘Oh, we need to save it and preserve it because it doesn’t always stay that nice.’” Trapani said.
Trapani added that $80,000 was spent to restore the Owls Head Lighthouse in 2010.
Sredzienski urged people to donate to lighthousefoundation.org soon after he came out of the water.
“I laid off beer for a month, so you guys can make some sacrifices yourselves,” Sredzienski said to laughs from the crowd.
Between 15 and 20 people gathered inside Rockland Yacht Club to watch Sredzienski swim on a screen by Internet feed from a trailing boat.
“We did get some good images earlier on. We saw him get out of the water out on the Breakwater,” said Craig Mathieson of Owls Head, adding that they had trouble with the connection from the harbor.
Sredzienski said he has more than just people from boats and video screens following his every move.
“The loons are amazing. They’re the best buddies I have,” he said. “I train in a creek in Kittery and there’s a loon that goes up and down with me. He waits for me in the cove. In the river, they come right in front of your face and look at you. They’re the most sociable bird there is.”
When asked whether another long swim was in store to benefit lighthouses, Trapani said, “Absolutely.”
“We try to move it around in geographic areas, so yeah, you’ll definitely be seeing something like this again,” he said.