Record number of swimmers participate in plunge across Narragansett Bay
There was a thin layer of clouds hanging over Narragansett Bay Saturday. That proved to be fortunate for the swimmers in the 35th annual Citizens Bank Save the Bay Swim since it provided a slight respite from the heat that descended on the area last week.
A record field of 475 swimmers set out on the 1.7-mile course from the Newport Naval Base just after 8 a.m. A huge crowd gathered on the beach at Potters Cove in Jamestown to cheer them as they reached the finish line.
“We’ve had an incredible year,” said event director Gretchen Heath. “The excitement is palpable. Last year’s gulf oil spill was a call to action toward protecting our fragile ecosystem. This year we had 475 swimmers who demonstrated their commitment to the environment in a very tangible way.”
Jamestown was well represented in the record-breaking field. Trice Kilroy was in the race for the seventh time.
“It was great,” she said. “It was very hot before we started. It wasn’t easy putting the wetsuit on because it was so hot. It was a great swim. The water was nice. It got a little choppy for a while and there was some current. I felt great when I got there, and I’m looking forward to next year.”
Kilroy is strongly supportive of Save the Bay’s efforts. “Save the Bay does a great job,” she said. “They keep our bay clean. Everybody who lives in Rhode Island uses Narragansett Bay in one form or another whether it’s swimming, sailing, water skiing, windsurfing or lying on the beach. We’re lucky to have Save the Bay working so hard to keep our ocean and our bay clean.”
Each swimmer received a medal from Save the Bay volunteers when the swimmer emerged from the water. They were then provided with bottled water, towels and optional massages. Across the street a live band entertained the crowd at the presentation ceremony. A free buffet was provided for swimmers and spectators alike.
Some swimmers reported being part of a large school of striped bass during the swim. Others reported choppy conditions while still others reported a calm swim with little current. Accounts varied depending on the line that the swimmers took to their destination.
Another Jamestown resident, Bruce Novis, swam in the race for the 10th time. Novis also competes in triathlons.
“The water was actually a little warm this year,” he said. “It got pretty hot about halfway through. It wasn’t too bad. It was pretty calm with not much current.”
Novis, 46, finished eighth overall in the race with a time of 40 minutes, 10 seconds.
“It’s so well run,” Novis added. “We had friends in from New York and they said that this was nothing like the ocean swims that they run in New York. They don’t really have much once you get out.”
One innovation for this year was the tracking wristband that each swimmer wore. While it did not keep track of the swimmer’s time, it served to keep track of the swimmers as they entered and left the water. Each swimmer also received a Popsicle stick at the finish line, which told them where they finished in the field.
Jackie Woodside of Jamestown was in the field for the second time. “The conditions were perfect, but in the middle, toward the bridge, there was a little current,” she said. “Otherwise, it was fun. This year they had the tracking bracelet, so I felt safe. I also liked the Popsicle sticks at the end.”
As of Monday morning, Save the Bay’s Heath reported that the swim had raised $272,000 for the organization. The record of $275,000 was set last year, but with fundraising set to continue until the end of August, this year’s total is expected to easily top the record.
“I think the event was very successful,” Heath said. “There are always a few things we learn here and there. We started the new wristband this year. There were a few things that we can improve on for next year, but nothing went wrong, which is nice.”
Heath continued: “We came up with a couple of ideas to continue to green up the event a little more on the completion party side, like better signage from composting or recycling. The event becomes more successful every year, and people are happier with it every year. We put more people in the water than we’ve ever put in the water before. There was a little bit of chop out there this year, so people’s times were a little slower than they were hoping for, but altogether it was another huge success.”
Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone also competed. “The money raised through our 2011 swim is urgently needed,” he said. “This year we lost $1 million in federal funding for our education programs, so we’re doing double duty trying to raise funds to ensure the continuation of Save the Bay’s science programs that reach 17,000 Rhode Island students every year.”
Matt Gilson, 43, of Providence, won the event. He finished the swim in 38:09. Rounding out the top five were Benjamin Evangelista, 19, of North Kingstown (38:55); David Polatty, 40, of Narragansett (39:03); William Grayson, 57, of Upperville, Va.; and Ron Gillooly, 50, of Stow, Mass.
Meredith Gilson, 40, of Falmouth, Mass., was the fastest female finisher. She is also the sister of Matt Gilson, who was the overall winner. She finished in sixth place with a time of 39:21.
The youngest swimmer in the field was Adriana DiSilvestro, 15, of Exeter. The oldest was Beau Gatch, 83, of Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Jamestown swimmers were Novis, Jean Lambert (50:13), Stephanie Cotsonas (51:07), Wayne Grover (51:55), Victor Lambert (52:32), Deb Foppert (52:53), Onne van der Wal (57:18), Judy Beckman (58:41), Kilroy (1:04:06), John Murphy (1:04:32), Woodside (1:07:38), Matt Hull (1:14:29), Steven Turilli (1:20:59), Anne Lane (1:22:13), Lisa Brendlinger (1:23:38), Dennis Nixon (1:37:20), Steve Heath (1:43:59) and Carolyn Goodrich (1:49:37).