Katie Pumphrey looks strong during her 24-mile Bay swim. Photo: Freedom Boat Club

Woman Completes Historic “Bay to Baltimore” Ultra-Distance Swim

She has done what the majority of the population could never achieve. Katie Pumphrey, an artist and ultra distance swimmer from Baltimore, just swam from Sandy Point near the Bay Bridge to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—a distance of 24 miles.

To put that distance in perspective, a 6.2-mile (10K) swim is roughly equivalent to the effort of running a marathon. Pumphrey swam three times that far.

The distance swimmer had been planning the “Bay to Baltimore” swim for months in celebration of Baltimore’s clean-water milestone, a safe bacteria count that allows for safe swimming in most parts of the harbor on most days. Appropriately, her swim attempt came just one day after the Harbor Splash group swim that brought 150 swimmers together in celebration of a cleaner harbor.

Before most of us were awake, just after 3:15 a.m. on Tuesday, June 25, Pumphrey waded into the water at the southern end of Sandy Point State Park. Her time window was chosen based on optimal times and water temperatures. Tuesday proved to be ideal for predicted weather and swim conditions.

Her swim was unprecedented: no one has even attempted this 24-mile route. She set it up according to the rules of the Marathon Swimmers Federation. Two observers were along to document and verify the swim following federation rules. According to those regulations, she had to start from a natural shore. She could not “make intentional supportive contact with any vessel, object, or support personnel at any time during the swim,” so even when getting a drink of water or refueling, she had to tread water. (Her water bottles were lowered to her on a rope from the boat!) There’s no drafting behind a vessel or another swimmer, and no wetsuits or other gear to add buoyancy.

Video: Capt. Bobby LaPin, Boat Baltimore

Escorting Pumphrey on Tuesday was a couple of chase boats full of supporters, including CBM content partner Freedom Boat Club and CBM contributor Capt. Bobby LaPin.

She’s completed ultra-distance swims before, including the English Channel twice, the Catalina Channel, and a swim around the island of Manhattan. The three events comprise the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming, and she’s only the 73rd woman in the world to complete them.

Still, 24 miles in the Bay would take a special effort. She swam smoothly through the open waters of the Bay, ticking off landmarks: passing Riviera Beach in Pasadena, then Rock Creek in Glen Burnie, picking up spectators from shore and on boats as she went. She turned into the Patapsco River and swam through the site of the former Key Bridge, then above where both Baltimore traffic tunnels are buried at the bottom.

Pumphrey and her supporters were in close contact with the Coast Guard in planning the swim, especially in light of the Key Bridge cleanup efforts.

Photo courtesy of Waterfront Partnership

Nearing the Baltimore Harbor, the Urban Pirates ship joined her flotilla followed by Mr. Trash Wheel, all cheering Pumphrey to the finish at downtown Baltimore’s Harborplace. She reached out to touch the red-brick promenade around 4 p.m. as the crowd went crazy, finally resting more than 12.5 hours after she took her first stroke.

As she took a breath, Pumphrey told reporters at the finish, “I’ve been dreaming about this swim for a long time… to be the first person to ever do it… to champion women’s sports and to champion this amazing city feels unbelieveable.”

If the Marathon Swimmers Federation ratifies Pumphrey’s achievement it will go into the history books as a new record. With that data recorded, future marathon swimmers will be able to attempt the 24-mile Bay to Baltimore.

Waterfront Partnership, the city cooperative that has been worked towards a swimmable Baltimore, reminds everyone that for now, the public is only encouraged to swim in the Inner Harbor during scheduled events like Harbor Splash and the Bay to Baltimore swim. Routine monitoring shows the water in the harbor meet’s Maryland’s standard for swimming when it hasn’t rained within 48 hours—which is true of most Chesapeake Bay swimming beaches.