ISLESBORO, Maine — One snowy winter night 2½ years ago, Jessie Davis of Rockland was waiting in the emergency room at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport for her young daughter to be seen by doctors after she fell and hurt herself.
It was a busy night at the hospital, and Davis and husband Daniel Bookham of Rockland noticed a lot of traffic coming in and out of the emergency room — and that a lot of the patients had come over from offshore Islesboro on the ferry.
“Things started to connect with me. What about the challenges of living on an island 3 miles away from the mainland? What about an island 10 miles out?” Davis asked. “When you’re a parent, you start to get freaked out about stuff like that, and start thinking about scary things more than you do when it’s just you.”
Her thoughts about access to emergency health services crystallized into a plan last summer. Davis would swim the 3 miles from Lincolnville Beach to Islesboro and raise money to help support LifeFlight of Maine. That organization provides critical care transport services through its two helicopters to people on Maine’s island communities as well as all other towns and townships.
“Swimming to Islesboro will be challenging for sure. But flying a helicopter to an emergency — that seems more challenging,” Davis said.
Over the months, her plan has gotten bigger than just one woman swimming across the water. Bookham, who is on the board of the LifeFlight of Maine Foundation, helped Davis get in touch with officials from the nonprofit organization who loved her idea and wanted to open it up to other swimmers. So far, nearly 25 people have signed up for the Islesboro Crossing fundraising swim, which is scheduled to start at 6 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 17.
Swimmers are asked to raise a minimum registration fee of $100, but Davis is hoping that they won’t stop there.
“I’ve been trying to pump people up,” she said.
Melissa Arndt, marketing and educational outreach manager for LifeFlight of Maine Foundation, said this week that last year the organization responded to about 1,500 calls. Those aren’t cheap.
“A very, very general average per call is $6,000 or $7,000,” she said.
That means that efforts such as the Islesboro Crossing are important to the success of the operation.
“LifeFlight is a community-based organization,” she said. “We’re here for the people of Maine, and we embrace the opportunity to have people in small communities get together to raise money for LifeFlight.”
Swimmers should be experienced and should provide their own personal escort boat, such as a kayak or a person on a stand-up paddle board. Because it’s not a race, if swimmers get tired or need to eat or drink, they’re encouraged to hang on to the side of their boat until they’re feeling ready to swim again.
They’ll be met on Islesboro with a pancake breakfast and will return to the mainland on the ferry service, which is waiving fees for the swimmers.
Davis said that training in the ocean for the endeavor is helping her face some fears.
“It’s lonely when you’re out there by yourself, a lonely little thing bobbing along in the vast, great unknown,” she said. “I admitted the fact that I’m afraid of what I can’t see. I’m vulnerable. Isn’t that a great representation of what happens if you’re on, say, Monhegan and you’re not well?”
For information about the crossing, go to www.lifeflightmaine.org.