2014-01-09 / Front Page

More than 200 plunge into Narragansett Bay

By Ken Shane


Above, Bob Bailey counts down the seconds until plunge time on the town beach at East Ferry on New Year’s Day. Below, two plungers show what’s it’s really like to play football in the cold. 
Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten Above, Bob Bailey counts down the seconds until plunge time on the town beach at East Ferry on New Year’s Day. Below, two plungers show what’s it’s really like to play football in the cold. Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten The third annual Jamestown 1st Day Plunge went off without a hitch on New Year’s Day. Temperatures below freezing kept the number of plungers down slightly from last year, but a large crowd of spectators congregated on East Ferry to enjoy the festivities.

According to lead organizer Bob Bailey, the event is more than the frigid dip. Onlookers were treated to a paddleboard race, fire pits and the community band. Many also took the opportunity to take pictures alongside Will Wilson’s sculptures that were carved from 300-pound blocks of ice.

About 225 swimmers took the plunge into the cold waters of Narragansett Bay, and another 500 people were on hand to watch. The number is down from 275 in 2011, the first year the event was held at East Ferry. Also, last year’s numbers were slightly lower due to the ongoing construction of the seawall.

Bailey said overall revenue from T-shirt and hat sales, as well as donations, amounted to about $12,000. After expenses are paid, about $3,000 each will be given to Save The Bay and the Jamestown Fire Department. Save The Bay will use the donation in collaboration with the Parks & Recreation Department to plan activities in town.

Police Chief Edward Mello described the plunge as “uneventful” from a public safety perspective.

“It was very well organized,” Mello said. “Absolutely no concerns. The crowd was very well behaved. It’s a great family event.”

The day began with the second annual paddleboard challenge. There were four participants, including Jamestown’s Ron DiMauro, an avid surfer who has been paddleboarding for nearly three years. DiMauro competed in the race last year, and has also participated in the plunge in the past.


Proceeds from the Jamestown 1st Day Plunge totaled nearly $12,000. After expenses, the remaining money will be donated to the Jamestown Fire Department and Save The Bay. 
Denise Drapeau-Walker / PhotographyOfNewport.com Proceeds from the Jamestown 1st Day Plunge totaled nearly $12,000. After expenses, the remaining money will be donated to the Jamestown Fire Department and Save The Bay. Denise Drapeau-Walker / PhotographyOfNewport.com “We’ve been surfing for the last 15 years,” he said, “so this is something we enjoy.”

The only woman to compete in the paddleboard race was Merry Russo of Jamestown. She was proud of her third-place finish.

“I finished first in my class,” Russo joked. “I surf on a regular basis so I’m used to being in the cold water. I love it. The people are all in good spirits and it’s a great way to start the New Year.”

Steve DiTomasso has been driving to Jamestown from Cumberland on New Year’s Day for 20 years to participate in the plunge.

“Me and my partner Roland Nadeau have been doing the plunge together for a long time,” DiTomasso said. “We were over in Mackerel Cove this morning reminiscing, looking out over the water and remembering all the good times we had there.”

“It’s an event that we have been coming to for so long and it’s one of those things that you want to keep on doing,” Nadeau said. “It’s a day out for us and we make the best of it.”

The prime reason for moving the plunge from Mackerel Cove to East Ferry three years ago was to provide a boost to downtown businesses. Local restaurateurs said they see more traffic on New Year’s Day as a result of the relocation.

DiTomasso and Nadeau confirmed that after the plunge they remain in town, going to the Narragansett CafĂ© to hear the band and do some dancing, which is sweet music to the organizers’ ears.

The Marines landed on Jamestown on New Year’s Day as well. Col. Mike Waterman was on hand for his first-ever plunge.

“Some fellow Marines threw out the challenge,” he said. “We’re amphibious in nature, so we figured we’d demonstrate some Marine capabilities out here and show you what we’re all about.”

The ice sculptures that graced memorial square for the event were once again created by Wilson, a local cartoonist who owns Grapes & Gourmet. Wilson said the cold temperatures allowed him to create his sculpture with four hours of work the previous afternoon. The sculpture proved to be a popular photo op for plungers and spectators alike.

Hannah Niebel, 15, moved to Jamestown from California this year. It was her first time taking the plunge.

“I’m really excited. This is my first time going in the water without a wetsuit on,” she said. “It’s cool how the whole town of Jamestown comes together to do it.”

Sarah Clifton, also 15, is Niebel’s best friend from California. She was in town visiting.

“I think I’m more excited than Hannah is,” Clifton said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s weird going in without a wetsuit.”

Charlie Maude took what could have been his first – and last – plunge. Maude is living in Jamestown and studying at the Naval War College in Newport. He expects to move before the next plunge is held, but is happy he was able to be part of this year’s event.

“It’s a good event for the community,” Maude said. “I love Jamestown and it seemed like the thing to do. I did not stay in as long as I thought I would. It was colder than I thought it would be.”


More than 225 people rang in the New Year by plunging into Narragansett Bay in below-freezing weather. About 500 spectators were also on hand to watch the festivities. 
Top left photo by Kate Mercer; others by Denise Drapeau-Walker More than 225 people rang in the New Year by plunging into Narragansett Bay in below-freezing weather. About 500 spectators were also on hand to watch the festivities. Top left photo by Kate Mercer; others by Denise Drapeau-Walker Chris Fernengel is also studying at the war college, and it was his first plunge as well. Despite Fernengel’s inexperience, he remained in the water far longer than most of the participants.

“Charlie talked me into doing it, and I talked my 11-year-old son into doing it as well,” he said. “It took my breath away. It felt like it was cutting me. I lasted 2 minutes and 32 seconds though.”

Colby Bush, a 14-year-old from Jamestown, also enjoyed his first plunge.

“I’m definitely going to do it next year,” he said. “I had more fun than I thought I would have.”

Bailey is already looking forward to the 2015 Jamestown 1st Day Plunge.

“We hope things continue to grow,” Bailey said. “Many people have mentioned that they’ve started a new trend by coming here for the New Year. We hope to continue to improve it.”


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