Inaugural event exceeds expectations of organizers
Blue skies and relatively balmy New Year’s Day temperatures greeted a large crowd of swimmers and an even larger crowd of spectators for the inaugural Jamestown 1st Day Plunge. The event was organized by local residents in an effort to replace the Special Olympics Rhode Island Penguin Plunge, which departed Jamestown this year after establishing a 35-year tradition.
When Special Olympics chose to depart Mackerel Cove for Roger Wheeler State Beach this year, the organization cited an inability to control the number of plungers taking part in the event. The organization estimated that out of approximately 500 plungers last year, only 135 had registered.
The local organizers, led by Bob Bailey, made an early decision to relocate this year’s plunge to the town beach at East Ferry. That decision paid off handsomely. Initial estimates place the number of registered plungers at approximately 200, and the number of spectators at about 750.
This year’s 1st Day Plunge benefitted two local charities: the Josh Barber Fund and the Fourth of July fireworks. Early estimates place the amount of money raised through sponsorships and T-shirt sales at more than $10,000.
Bailey, who kicked off the event by water skiing passed the beach, expressed his satisfaction with the event while warming up beside one of the fire pits that were placed in Veteran’s Park for the occasion.
“I think the turnout was great,” Bailey said. “I think the weather cooperated and for a new event to replace the event at Mackerel Cove, I think it worked out great. The charities did well. We sold out of T-shirts.”
Bailey hopes to have additional shirts available at the Narragansett Café and the recreation center.
As for his water skiing prowess, Bailey said, “It’s been about 10 years since I did it the last time. My son dared me to do it. I rounded up a set of skis, a towrope and a driver. My son got to be my spotter and they took me for a few laps around the harbor.”
John Kelly was one of the people who took part in the original New Year’s Day plunge at Mackerel Cove, pre-dating the Special Olympics involvement. This year he was one of the organizers of the new event, as well as one of the plungers.
“It was great,” Kelly said. “It was a very friendly family day, just what they wanted. We kept it in Jamestown, and the town people are enjoying it. It’s going to be good to see what it will be like in about five years. It will be incredible.”
As for his dip in the water, Kelly said, “It was pretty easy actually. It was a good day for a lot of first timers to go in. I remember one time at Mackerel Cove we had ice on either side of the bay. That was tough, but this was great. A lot of young kids. It was really nice to see it here. We just wanted to keep it on the island. It worked out great.”
Kerry Sheehan, another member of the organizing committee, reported brisk T-shirt sales under the tent that was erected for the occasion. “It turned out better than my expectations,” Sheehan said. “The T-shirt sales were phenomenal.”
Steve DiTomasso traveled south from Cumberland to take part in the 1st Day Plunge. It was his 18th year taking part in a New Year’s Day plunge, the previous 17 being at Mackerel Cove.
“It’s been a great experience,” DiTomasso said. “I met some great friends. That’s what I was hoping to do, to see how many of my old friends came here or went over to the other plunge.”
DiTomasso summed up his decision to return to Jamestown in one word: tradition. “It’s a tradition for me. My opinion is that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Leave it alone. I know the way the world is. Liabilities and all that stuff come into play. I guess I can understand that, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“It needs to be fine tuned,” DiTomasso added. “There are a few minor things, but as far as the atmosphere and the location, I think it’s a great spot.”
Another plunger who was warming himself by the fire pits was William Wilson, who lives in Jamestown. Wilson not only took the winter dip, but he created the ice sculptures of a penguin and the numbers “2012” that graced the park. Wilson has participated in four previous plunges at Mackerel Cove.
“This is my fifth year,” Wilson said, who is the cartoonist for the Press. “I had a bunch of my buddies over. We had fun last night then we all woke up and did the plunge.”
Wilson commented on his decision to remain local for the plunge. “I know a couple of the people who organized it here, so I like to support them,” he said. “And convenience. I live here in Jamestown. I hate to say that’s the only reason, but that’s one of the main reasons. It was a blast. The water was freezing, but the [air] temperature was warm. It was a fun experience.”
Bailey is already starting to get ready for next year’s plunge. “We look for all the support we can get, and look to start planning early for next year,” he said.