By Arwyn Rice and Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“It’s the best conditions I’ve ever seen. There’s no seaweed or kelp, no sewage and the water is crystal clear. And there is lots of beach to spread out on,” said Dan Welden, 68, of Port Angeles.
The air temperature was 42 degrees with no wind, and the water off Hollywood Beach was near glassy at 46 degrees when the mass of people streamed off the beach and into the water.
Some went in knee-deep, while others dove in and swam around toward a small fleet of kayakers who act as unofficial lifeguards for the watery tradition.
It was Welden’s 22nd New Year’s dip into Port Angeles Harbor and 23rd such plunge, he said.
One year, Welden was in Australia for New Year’s Day and, lacking his usual event, took to the waters of the South Pacific.
“It was a little warmer,” he said of the summer clime Down Under.
The chilly waters off the Strait of Juan de Fuca held no attraction for Rosalie Secord of Port Angeles, who said she was just there to watch the show with her band, Luck of the Draw.
“These people are crazy. We come out every year to see how they do this,” Secord said.
Ashlee Seelye, 12, of Port Angeles said it was her first Polar Bear Plunge.
The water didn’t seem that cold, Seelye said, but admitted that she wasn’t a great judge of temperatures.
“Everyone tells me I have a broken thermometer,” she said.
Carin Hirsch led a group of 16 participants into the chilly waters at Lake Pleasant Community Beach near Beaver.
The water was cold but the weather was clear and not windy — a nice change from past plunge days, Hirsch said.
The air temperature at the time of the dip was 42 degrees. The water temperatures for the lake was not available.
Hirsch’s daughter, Sonja Hirsch, who founded the West End event nine years ago, was pregnant Wednesday and unable to participate.
She was waiting impatiently in Seattle for labor to begin.
“She went shopping,” Carin said.
Neah Bay wind
About 12 hardy souls braved the Neah Bay Polar Bear Plunge on Wednesday morning, said June Williams, organizer of the event.
The air temperature and water temperature were nearly identical, at about 45 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, but the chilly wind was gusting to 18 mph as a storm system approached.
“It was high tide but there were not a lot of logs this year,” William said.
The event included some regulars and some new participants, she said.
Williams, 66, said she’s about ready to retire from making the plunge.
“But I say that every year,” she said.
160 in Nordland
The 20th annual Mystery Bay Polar Bear plunge on Marrowstone Island seemed to be over not long after it started Wednesday, as an estimated 160 jumped in and out of the water in about 15 minutes.
This was an increase from last year’s total of 120, with about 250 spectators coming down to watch the fun.
“It gives me a chance to do something all to myself; it’s totally invigorating,” said Marc Gordon of Chimacum, who jumped in for the 13th consecutive year.
Gordon wore a standard swimsuit for Wednesday’s plunge but has worn costumes in past years
Once he even took the plunge in a wedding dress.
“I’ve been trying to get my dad to do this but he won’t participate,” Gordon said.
“I see all these people do incredible things for their health but they are terrified to go into the water for 10 seconds.”
Jamie Fields of Everett made his first jump this year, putting “terrified” into perspective.
“It was much colder than I expected,” he said.
“It was instant pain which I felt as soon as my system kicked in.”
The jumpers ranged from children to senior citizens.
One of the youngest was Hayden Sawyer, 7, a second-grader at Chimacum Elementary School.
While many jumpers made a big deal about the act, he slipped into the water quietly, swimming about 50 feet from the edge of the dock to the shore.
“I always love water and I love swimming,” he said after emerging from water that he characterized as “freezing.”
Nordland General Store owner and plunge founder Tom Rose, who has jumped every year, was sidelined for health reasons and ended his record.
He watched the action from the boathouse, something his wife Sue Rose said “is really killing him.”
Later, Rose said the calm water conditions and the lack of wind made this year one of the more comfortable jumps in the history of the Nordland event.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Port Townsend/Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.