Plungers prepare for New Year’s Day dip in Narragansett Bay
Swimmers will ring in the New Year on Tuesday when the Jamestown 1st Day Plunge returns to the town beach at East Ferry for the third consecutive year. Formerly known as the Penguin Plunge, the dip took place at Mackerel Cove for more than 30 years before liability issues prompted organizers to move the swim to Narragansett’s Roger Wheeler State Beach.
So Jamestowners in 2012 decided to begin a tradition of their own. The annual New Year’s Day event is expected to feature hundreds of intrepid plungers who will brave the frigid waters of Narragansett Bay while thousands of spectators look on in awe.
For the second consecutive year, the event will include a stand-up paddleboard race. But the real winners, however, will be the two local charities that will benefit from the revenue generated by pledges. The charities rotate each year, and 2014’s beneficiaries will be the Jamestown Fire Department and Save The Bay.
Fire Chief Jim Bryer said his all-volunteer department receives donations from residents throughout the year, and he is always grateful to secure any extra funds. The plunge proceeds will be used to purchase new equipment for the department’s rescue boat.
“Anytime we get donations it helps us with things that aren’t covered under the town budget,” Bryer said. “So it’s always important. Bob Bailey came to me and asked if the rescue boat needed some stuff. We need new float jackets and things like that. People are always working on the boat, so it’s going to be very helpful for us.”
Bailey is a local realtor and the chief organizer for the 1st Day Plunge since it moved to East Ferry. He chose Bryer’s department as a recipient because the firefighters have supported the swim for years by providing emergency swimmers and rescue trucks.
“We thought it would be a good time to give back to them in return for their dedication,” Bailey said. “On New Year’s Day, they come out and help.”
Bailey said a donation is going to Save The Bay because the plunge is a water-related event. Without the efforts of the organization, he says, there wouldn’t be clean water for the plungers to swim in. The money will be directed toward the annual summer camps that Save The Bay offers at Fort Getty.
The event officially begins at 10 a.m. There will be music from the Jamestown Community Band, weather permitting, and Will Wilson will once again work on this year’s ice sculpture. The Lions Club will provide hot chocolate and coffee to keep everyone warm, and fire pits placed around veteran’s square will also keep spectators cozy. Jim Shortz on Sports will emcee the event.
The paddleboard challenge begins at 11:30 a.m. It’s being held in cooperation with Jamestown Outdoors. Last year, the inaugural challenge drew seven entrants, however, Bailey expects the number to increase because more people are aware of it. There will be prizes provided by Smith Optics.
While there is no fee to participate, fundraising comes from friends and family who pledge money to support their favorite plunger. Also, local businesses that help sponsor the event get their logos on T-shirts and posters that are sold. No money is provided by the town, although municipal services are provided.
There are pledge and waiver forms to fill out, and each participant receives a shirt, wristband and lanyard.
“We don’t charge an entry fee because we want as many people as possible to ... show up and jump in the water,” Bailey said.
Entrants are encouraged to register in advance. Forms can be found at the Jamestown 1st Day Plunge Facebook page, filled out and brought to Town Hall before the event or directly to East Ferry on New Year’s Day. Same-day entry is allowed as well: Depending on the weather, potential plungers can sign up in the tent at veterans square or in the rec center.
The plunge itself begins at noon, and Bailey expects about 300 people to take the leap. In the two years the event has been at East Ferry, more than $25,000 has been raised for charity. The event is family friendly and alcohol free.
Other winners include the restaurants that will welcome the large crowds in town for the plunge. The Narragansett Café will feature post-plunge music by Sarah & the Tall Boys, and Chopmist Charlie’s will be alive with the Celtic sounds of Garda. According to Bailey, since the event moved downtown in 2012, restaurant business has increased 20 percent on New Year’s Day.
“It’s a great event,” Bailey said. “It brings families together to finish out the holidays, start the New Year off fresh, and help support the charitable causes and local businesses.”