Rita Hanson will be among 500 swimmers in bay Saturday
A mother-and-son team from Jamestown will be among the 500 people setting a record in the annual Save the Bay swim on Saturday. Rita and Dan Hansen have signed up to trek the 1.7 miles across Narragansett Bay from Coaster’s Harbor Island in Newport to the beach at Potters Cove.
Last year, 475 people participated in the event. This year, 500 swimmers have registered. “This is the first time the Coast Guard has allowed that many bodies in the water,” said Rosamaria Amoros, communications director for Save the Bay.
Rita Hansen swam the course in 2010 – she will be one of 35 islanders participating in this year’s event. Her son, Dan, 18, will paddle a kayak alongside her. This is Dan’s first time participating.
Dan is a tennis player in the Division-I program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. A cancer survivor, he was the state’s top high-school tennis player for the past three years, according to Jacques Faulise, who coached Dan while he starred at North Kingstown High School.
Dan only has two years of experience kayaking, his mother said, but she is confident he can handle the assignment.
“He’s fairly athletically inclined,” she smiled. Her son has stepped up to help because her husband, Peter, who kayaked with her during her 2010 Save the Bay swim, will be away this time.
Hansen said she wanted to do the swim last year, but she signed up too late. Registration opens March 1, but the Save the Bay swim – now in its 36th year – has become so popular it fills up in two weeks. The swimmers will sign in starting at 6 a.m. at Naval Station Newport. The event starts at 8:15 a.m.
“Save The Bay’s annual bay swim is a Rhode Island staple, and the largest open-water swim hosted by a nonprofit in the United States,” Amoros said. “It brings together some 2,000 people – ranging in age from 15 to 83 – to raise awareness around the continued need to protect and restore Narragansett Bay.”
Many people have been volunteering to help at the swim for years, including a cadre of islanders who stand by to perform rescues if any swimmers are in distress.
“Participants include both competitive and novice swimmers, in addition to cancer survivors and family of former long-time swimmers,” Amoros said. “Additional swimmers will participate remotely, swimming on the same day in open waters as far away as Rome.”
The money raised goes to continue the effort to clean up Narragansett Bay. All proceeds from the event directly benefit Save The Bay programs. Citizens Bank and several local businesses provide the sponsorship.
Hansen said the swim took her about an hour in 2010, but she went on to explain the conditions that year happened to be ideal. “It was flat calm,” she said. There were no “rough seas” and the current wasn’t going the “wrong way.”
“At the beginning, you have to weave around swimmers, but once you get a little off shore, you find your own spot,” she said.
Save the Bay officials send 100 swimmers off at five-minute intervals. The kayakers, who are there to help in case a swimmer is in distress, stay off the course until the swim is underway.
“They tell you to let your kayaker find you,” she said. Two years ago, her husband had no difficulty pulling alongside. “It was fine,” she said.
Hansen said with 500 swimmers in the water for the Coast Guard to monitor, having the kayak along is a good safety measure. In an emergency, she could always hang on to the kayak until the Coast Guard reached her and plucked her out of the water.
She was never scared during the swim, she said.
“I was pretty nervous beforehand. It isn’t easy.”
Hansen said while she was out there, she relied on her training. She was up to the challenge and said it was a neat experience.
“When I was in the middle of the bay, it was quite amazing to think I was actually swimming across, and the water was so deep under me,” she said.
She said that she had prepared enough to swim the length, but was “kind of surprised” when she realized she was actually doing it.
“I had been watching the bay swim for years and always felt kind of in awe people could swim across it,” she said.
She started swimming after a friend encouraged her to sign up for the masters swim program at St. George’s School in Newport during the winter of 2009. Many of her teammates there were preparing to do the Save the Bay swim.
“We had a coach, and he was helping us,” she said. Hansen had taken swimming lessons as a child, but that was about all the experience she had. “It was kind of a leap for me.” Compared to many of her teammates, who had been competitive swimmers in school, she was a novice.
Hansen said she swam laps in the pool with teammates at St. George’s and their practices typically lasted between an hour and 90 minutes. Then they practiced early in the morning at Mackerel Cove to be ready for open-water conditions.
Hansen said a “huge island of seaweed” amounted to the only unforeseen condition she faced in 2010. The seaweed wasn’t dense enough to stop her, but she did feel pieces entangling her as she went along.
She was thrilled when she finished the course.
“It was just the most amazing feeling,” she said. When she reached Potters Cove, there was a crowd of people cheering. “Not necessarily for me, but it was just overwhelming.”
The crowd is an important part of the event, Amoros said.
“The public is encouraged to join swimmers, volunteers and Save The Bay staff at the completion party immediately following the swim,” Amoros said. “The party will take place across the street from the finish line at Potters Cove, on the lawn of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority.”
The party lasts from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.