NORDLAND — For the past 25 years on Marrowstone Island, something comes over people on New Year’s Day.
They are driven to jump into Mystery Bay.
Why is perhaps the mystery.
Tom and Sue Rose, proprietors of the Nordland General Store, offer the opportunity to anyone who desires to take a plunge — called the Polar Bear Dip — to start the new year with a baptismal-like cleanse, washing off the accumulation of the previous year.
This year, at precisely noon as has been the tradition, a group of tentative jumpers lined the Roses’ dock and thought about it before they dove in, most emoting screams or laughter. As time passed, more lined up and went for it.
They were encouraged by a crowd of 50 people on shore who were not brave enough to follow suit, along with several kayakers and a paddleboarder.
An oompah band stationed on the general store’s front porch helped get everyone into the spirit.
According to Sue Rose, 55 people took the offer of her platform. It wasn’t cold enough to encourage big crowds, she said
“There were not as many jumpers as in the past,” she said. “I think they like to do it when it’s cold and wet and miserable.
“There’s no snow, no icebergs floating. That one really cold year, there was ice in the water. People showed up for that experience.”
Young and old, in various conditions and with varying skill levels, dove in, flopped in and tentatively eased into the water, estimated to be about 43 degrees Fahrenheit — the same temperature as the air.
Not everyone jumped at the same time. It took about 30 minutes for everyone wanting to plunge to complete the task. Sue Rose said some show up a few hours late to jump every year.
Crickett Webster of the Port Townsend-based Olympic Peninsula Steam Brass Screw Confederacy, said four of her group had planned to take the plunge together.
“I’m doing it because we all said we wanted to do it and never had. So, here we are. I’m afraid of cold water and I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Webster admitted.
Webster and her friends wore tutus. Nathan Barnett, president of the organization, wore a wool bathing suit. His handlebar moustache was waxed perfectly and held its shape after the dip.
Stephanie Worwag of Port Hadlock and her two nieces from Denver were eager to jump in.
“I’ve never done it before, and it’s a good question as to why I am here today,” Worwag said. “I wanted to do something new on the first day of the new year and this is it.”
Eric Johnson, a 1979 graduate of Port Townsend High School, has taken the Mystery Bay plunge for more than 20 years. His wife, Polleen, class of 1981, has done it for 10 years, the time they’ve been together.
“It’s tradition for me,” Eric Johnson said. “I come out and support the local community and be part of something.”
Polleen Johnson said she watched from shore the first year they were together.
“I said no way, but then watched and it looked like fun, even though it’s freezing cold,” she said. “And everyone was having a blast, so I said OK, I’ll do it.
“After, we’ll go home and get into our hot pond. He turned it up to 102 degrees F so it will be perfect by the time we get there.”
Steve Wixson made the trip from Sequim to start anew.
“My wife passed away a couple months ago from cancer so I’m starting the new year off with something that is a new start and I’ve never done it before,” he said.
Mark Stout of Nordland has taken the plunge before.
“I have a propensity for jumping in cold water at odd times,” he said. “There are no icebergs this year either. It will be eye-opening, to say the least.”
Pete Santerre and his son Cabot, 7, just moved to Port Townsend. This was their first time on the island.
“I’ve done this a couple times, before jumping off the Olalla Bridge in Port Orchard,” Santerre said. “But this is our first time up here. This is much more accessible for him which is great. Jumping off the bridge was a little too much for him, so last year he just ran in and out from the shore.”
This year, the pair was committed.
“We’re gonna hold hands, count 1-2-3 and jump in,” Santerre said before the big dip.
Cabot Santerre said he was really excited to be doing this with his dad, and the best part was “jumping in and getting cold.”
“I’ve got the towels prepped and the car will have the heater set to high,” his father said.
Scott Brinton of Nordland said he’s plunged five times. His daughter, 10-year old Cora, was hoping for her first experience.
“Me and my friend were going to do it last year, but I flaked out,” Cora Brinton said.
“I have no clue as to why I want to do this.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].