200 brave the bay on New Year’s Day
It wasn’t as balmy as last year, when temperatures in the 50s made a dip in the bay seem almost appealing. But despite the decidedly cooler weather, a group of close to 200 people splashed into the East Passage of Narragansett Bay on New Year’s Day as part of the second annual Jamestown 1st Day Plunge. An additional 500 people were on hand to watch the event. (Last year about 350 people plunged, with 750 more spectating.)
According to organizers, the plunge went off without a hitch, despite the ongoing seawall construction in the area. “It went well,” said Police Chief Edward Mello. “From a public safety standpoint, everything went off without any problems.”
The only missing element was a repeat of lead organizer Bob Bailey’s tuxedo-clad water skiing, which graced the event last year. Bailey was laid low by a chest cold, and after consultation with his doctor, he thought it would be better not to repeat his event-opening performance.
Along with the colder weather, colds and the flu have been widespread in Jamestown recently, which may have been a contributing factor to a slightly smaller turnout this year.
Bailey estimates that when all of the revenue from sponsorships, donations and merchandise sales are tallied, some $12,000 will have been raised in total. This year’s event will benefit Bridges Inc. and the Jamestown Education Foundation.
The seawall construction did cause organizers to adjust the logistics of the event. Last year plungers gathered on Noll Court and crossed Conanicus Avenue to the beach for the start. Because of the construction equipment that is in place, participants gathered right on the beach this year.
“This year’s turnout was hampered by the unsightly construction equipment that occupied a large portion of East Ferry,” Bailey said. “Working around that, we still provided a safe area for the plunge.”
A new wrinkle this year was the stand-up paddleboard race that began the festivities. There were six entrants, and the racers were asked to round a buoy before returning to the beach. The winner of this year’s race was Jamestown resident Brian Welsh. Tom Reilly came in second, and islander Ron DiMauro finished third.
Another new addition this year was the addition of a coffee and espresso truck at East Ferry. Many of the participants were seen paying a visit to the truck to get a warming beverage after their plunge in attempt to return their body temperature to a more normal level. Fire pits were also in abundance, and attracted both plungers and spectators on the cold day.
Local cartoonist Will Wilson once again did double duty at the plunge. Not only did he brave the frigid water, he also created ice sculptures on New Year’s Eve to grace East Ferry Memorial Square. His creations included a penguin in a top hat. Wilson said he appreciated the drop in temperature from last year, when his work was melting even as he created it.
“This year was nice,” Wilson said. “It was cold. I worked for about three hours on the sculptures.”
The colder weather may have been good for the ice sculpture, but it made Wilson’s plunge a bit more difficult. He estimates that he has taken part in 10 plunges in all, and said that this year wasn’t too bad.
“The water is never as cold as you think it’s going to be,” Wilson said. “Once you get out, it’s a little bit chilly.”
Bill Reppe, who helped Bailey organize the event, had a particular strategy in mind for his second plunge. In an effort to drop his body temperature prior to the plunge, Reppe walked around in shorts for 45 minutes before hitting the water.
“The water was freezing this year,” Reppe said. “Going in I was already numb, so I didn’t have a problem at all.”
The main reason for moving the plunge to East Ferry was to provide more business for local restaurants on the day. Both Chopmist Charlie’s and the Narragansett Café provided live music after the event. Many plungers and spectators frequented the downtown restaurants afterwards.
“As we expected, we had a capacity crowd for most of the afternoon at the ’Ganny,” said owner John Recca. “Sarah & the Tall Boys were fantastic and we had really an exciting and fun mix of locals and out-of-towners. It was a tremendous success from my view and I hope it was a big success for both the charitable recipients.”
Recca, an event sponsor, expressed his appreciation for the work that Bailey and his team did in organizing the event. In particular he thanked the town, the police, and emergency and fire personnel for their efforts. He said that he looks forward to continuing to sponsor the event for many years to come.
Bailey is already thinking about next year’s event. He said he plans to do more of the same, improving on what’s in place already. He hopes for an improved turnout with two new charities to benefit. Jamestown 1st Day Plunge merchandise is still available by calling Bailey at 413-6928.