2007-07-26 / News

Rough water plagues Save the Bay swimmers

By Adrienne Downing

After participating in the Save the Bay swim, these girls were tired, but happy. They are, from left, Erin Brennan, Caitlin Crawford, Alexa Mazur and Megan Hanrahan. Photo by Adrienne Downing After participating in the Save the Bay swim, these girls were tired, but happy. They are, from left, Erin Brennan, Caitlin Crawford, Alexa Mazur and Megan Hanrahan. Photo by Adrienne Downing Wind may be a good thing for the sailors on the Narragansett Bay, but it proved to be the biggest challenge for Save the Bay swimmers on Saturday morning.

The 1.7-mile swim kicked off on time at 8:30 a.m. under clear, but cool and windy, skies. It was the 31st annual year for the event, which started at the Naval War College in Newport and ended at Potter's Cove in Jamestown.

Stuart Cromarty, of Foster, a 14- year veteran of the swim, was the first swimmer to exit the water with a time of 39:47. When asked about his swim, he replied, "It was rough, the wind was really making it difficult. The less experienced swimmers out there are going to have a real hard time."

Islander Caitlin Crawford, who was swimming for the first time, echoed the sentiment about the wind stirring up the water.

"The swim itself was not hard, but because of the wind I got caught up in a current and actually ended up going way out of my way. I got carried under the Newport Bridge," she said, adding, "It was hard to get my bearings because every time I looked up I got smacked in the face with a wave. I swallowed so much salt water that I felt sick."

Her past swimming experience was limited, but she got the idea to do the swim after being sidelined from running with a torn tendon in March.

"She was doing a lot of crosstraining in the pool and one day I saw her swim and told her I thought she could really move through the pool," her dad, Steve, said. "The idea just took off from there."

Crawford participated in the event with Alexa Mazur, islander Erin Brennan, and Megan Hanrahan, three of her teammates from the North Kingstown cross-country team.

Hanrahan was the kayak spotter for Crawford and Brennan spotted for Mazur.

"It was pretty tough in the kayak, too," Brennan said. "My arms are sore from paddling."

The girls were grateful to their kayakers, a requirement for anyone who has not previously completed the swim in under one hour, for keeping them going in the right direction.

"Meg stayed right with me the whole time. I could have reached out and touched her if I needed to," Crawford said.

Onne van der Wal, of Jamestown, also credited his spotter, islander Paul Cronin, with helping him post a 1:02:47 finishing time for the race.

"Paul is such a good waterman. He has a great understanding of the breeze and the current, so I really did not have to worry, I just had to follow him," van der Wal said. "I was able to put my head down and not pick it up the whole way across."

A competitive swimmer, water polo player and lifeguard in high school, but van der Wal admits that prior to his first Save the Bay swim last year he had not done any serious swimming in 15 years.

"I went to the doctor for a check up and he recommended that I start exercising and right away I thought about swimming," he said. "I now do four or five swims a year that are aimed at aiding the body of water the swim is held in."

He had hoped to bring down his time by at least 10 minutes under last year's time, but the rough conditions cost him time and he finished close to the same time as last year.

"I did improve my standing considerably, however. Last year I finished 220 out of 420 swimmers. This year I moved up to 153 out of 450 swimmers," van der Wal said.

Before his first Save the Bay swim he attended a Total Immersion clinic designed to train openwater, long-distance swimmers. Now, he trains with three different groups of swimmers in three separate locations.

"I swim with a group at Narragansett Beach on Sundays, with the Master's group at the Newport Athletic Club a few days a week and at Second Beach on Wednesdays and Fridays," he said. He swims for 30- 45 minutes each time, and he also swims year-round.

"I travel a lot for my work, but

go to a lot of warm climates, so I make sure wherever I am that I get in a few laps," he said.

Although he hopes conditions will be better next year, he says he will participate in the swim no matter what the day brings.

"The whole of my swim practice is so I can go do my Everest of Save the Bay every year," he said. "If my only motivation was to swim laps in a pool every day, I would go crazy."

Islander Dennis Nixon swam for his eighth year and said he felt this year was the second worst conditions he has experienced in the event.

"The second year I did it, over 25-percent of the people did not even finish the swim. It was a deceptively nice day, but it was a moon high tide and a few minutes after the start of the swim it was like someone flushed the bay. We got pulled so far under the bridge that it took me over two hours to finish that year," Nixon said. "This year I had a smile on my face the whole time because I have done it enough that I knew I would make it, but it was going to be a challenge."

Part of the challenge was continuing on after being hit by three different kayaks.

"I would feel it and look up like 'Hey, what is going on,' but then I would see the kayakers face and know they were sorry and fighting it just like I was," he said.

Although Nixon is a tri-athlete, he said that open water swimming is not automatically easy for him.

"When you are doing a triathalon, you are basically sprinting through the water. Doing the bay swim is like running a marathon," he said.

Patrice Kilroy did her fourth swim on Saturday and repeated the other's reactions to the windy weather.

"This was the hardest one I have done yet. There were times that I couldn't even complete a stroke because of the wind and the waves," she said. "At times it was almost like I was swimming in place."

The one common thread between all of the swimmers was that despite the rough conditions this year, all are planning to do the swim next year.

"It is something that I would encourage anyone to do. You have to train for it, but it is definitely doable," Kilroy concluded.

Other Jamestown residents who participated in the swim, their times and years of participation are: Anne Lane, 1:04:12, 8; Brian Nathan, 0:52:39, 1; Caitlin Crawford, 1:28:37, 1; Dennis Nixon, 1:39:07, 8; Ned Flanagan, 1:07:12, 21; Hannah Yoffa, 1:20, 4; Jean Lambert, :56:39, 6; Julia Richardson, :59:18, 1; Patrice Kilroy, 1:15:47, 4 and Robin Monihan-Yoffa, 1:36:42, 7.

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