From staff reports
On Sunday, Sept 10, Holland, Mich. resident Jon Ornée completed what he believes to be the first-ever unassisted swim from North Manitou Island to South Manitou Island. Ornée started from Donner’s Point on North Manitou Island at 7:45 am and reached shore at Gull Point on South Manitou Island at 9:24 am. The 4-mile swim took him 1 hour and 39 minutes to complete.
Ornée, a realtor who holds several ultra-endurance cycling world records, is not new to Lake Michigan swimming adventures. In September 2019 he completed the first-ever recorded swim from the mainland to North Manitou Island—a 7.4-mile swim from Pyramid Point just 4 months after being hit by an SUV while cycling and undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
In 2020, Ornée recruited 5 other swimmers, including his brother Dave, to swim relay-style across all of Lake Michigan from Two Rivers, Wis., to Ludington, Mich., in an event they dubbed Epic Swim 2020. The 54-mile, through-the-night adventure took the team just under 21 hours to complete. It was the first-ever relay-style mid-lake crossing and by far the fastest swim crossing.
This year, Ornée was accompanied by a crew that was aboard a lead boat—a 21-foot Parker 2120—including Captain Ted Lockwood, Justin & Fin Acker, and his wife Necia Ornée. The lead boat kept a steady pace and provided a straight path to Gull Point while dragging a 25-yard lane line in the water. Ornée swam beside the lane line—an efficient way to maintain a straight course in the open water, and also allowing Ornée to alternate between freestyle and backstroke which is his preferred method on long-distance swims.
Conditions on Sept. 10 yielded very little wind, 64-degree (F) water, and 53-degree air at 7 am, which warmed up to 60 degrees by 10 am.
“This was just a perfect morning,” said Ornée. “My family was camping on South Manitou Island (the previous weekend) and on our last morning my wife and I went for a run along the beach and stopped at Gull Point to look across at North Manitou. It was super windy … and there were huge waves on the lake. Whenever I look across a body of water and see land in the distance I think ‘I’d like to swim across.’”
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich confirmed that he knows of no one before who has swam from one island to the other. But Lakeshore staff add, “this is not a recreational activity that we recommend.”