Man tries to swim across Lake Michigan, stopped twice by brutal conditions

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WLNS) — Jim “The Shark” Dreyer had intended to complete his “Silver Sequel” swim across Lake Michigan this summer to mark 25 years since his first swim across the Great Lake, but – twice – lake conditions were a bit too brutal.

“It was a 25-hour beatdown, but I did not call for rescue,” the 60-year-old from Grand Haven said of his Labor Day attempt at the swim, in a news release Sept. 9. “Lake Michigan landed a flurry of punches, but I can take a punch and I was still in the fight.”

Dreyer’s first attempt this year was on Aug. 1, during which he aborted the quest 10 miles east of Milwaukee when worsening lake conditions had swept him and his escort boat 2.3 miles off course.

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On his Labor Day attempt, Dreyer set out at about 5 p.m. CT from Milwaukee, with Grand Haven as his intended destination, and without an escort boat. Nearly 30 miles out from Milwaukee and in eight-foot waves, Dreyer’s team sent out a boat to check on him. Ultimately, Dreyer decided to end his crossing attempt.

The route Dreyer swam in worsening Lake Michigan conditions before his rescue Sept. 5. (Image/Jim Dreyer)
The route Dreyer swam in worsening Lake Michigan conditions before his rescue Sept. 5. (Image/Jim Dreyer)

“The consensus was that these were the roughest conditions any of my team’s boats could endure, and conditions would get worse, as 10-12 foot waves were forecasted for the next two days,” Dreyer said. “I was informed that if I turned down this rescue and needed rescue later, it would be left to the U.S. Coast Guard.”

The boat crew had also discovered that Dreyer’s supply dinghy, which he was pulling from his waist along with 225 pounds of supplies, had endured about as much as it could and was coming apart at the seams.

“I am swimming to support the Coast Guard’s Chief Petty Officers Association, not lean on them for rescue and spend taxpayers’ money. That is the last thing I wanted to do,” Dreyer said. “My supply dinghy was on borrowed time, and with worsening conditions for a prolonged period, I was in real danger of losing my supplies.”

Dreyer was 14.2 miles off the coast of Wisconsin and 18.5 miles off course to the north when his boat crew pulled him from the water. It was about 6:30 p.m. CT on Tuesday, Sept. 5, more than 25 hours since he had started out from Milwaukee.

Another challenge to Dreyer’s lake-crossing attempt came when one of Dreyer’s three battery packs shorted out. That had left him with a lower amount of battery power to continue viewing the swim course on his goggles using Vuzix Smart Swim technology.

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Dreyer is the only person to swim the width of Lake Michigan between Wisconsin and Michigan, having swum from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan, in 1998. In the 2023 swim, he was attempting to beat his own record by swimming 25 miles further in the route from Milwaukee to Grand Haven.

He started beginner swimming lessons at age 32, overcoming a lifelong fear of open water after a childhood near-drowning incident, according to his website. Since then, he’s gone on to swim across all five of the Great Lakes.

This year’s attempts are likely not the end for Dreyer’s Lake Michigan sequel.

“While I am very disappointed this swim ended as it did, I am more confident than ever that I can do this,” Dreyer said in the news release Saturday. “I really wanted to get it done this year, but am out of time. I have other plans for 2024, but somehow, I believe I will find a way to juggle everything and get it done.”

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