Portsmouth plunges into 375th birthday

Island Park "Seals" scramble out of the water Tuesday. Island Park "Seals" scramble out of the water Tuesday.

Island Park "Seals" scramble from the frigid waters off the Park Avenue Beach Tuesday.

Island Park “Seals” scramble from the frigid waters off the Park Avenue Beach Tuesday.

PORTSMOUTH — They fell short of attracting 375 crazy swimmers, but the folks behind the town’s year-long anniversary celebration had to have been pleased with the throng of “Seals” that descended upon Island Park Beach on New Year’s Day.

In what was by far the largest turnout for the annual Jan. 1 plunge off the Park Avenue beach, dozens of brave souls stripped down to their bathing suits and splashed into sub-40-degree water. Bathers have had good luck with the weather in the past, but this year was bitter cold and snow covered the sidewalk parallel to the beach.

“Last year was gorgeous. This year — holy crap it was freakin’ cold,” said Richard Meyer, who sported lime-green swim trunks under a grass skirt in addition to a clamshell brassiere.

Fortunately, the Seals had a new luxury this year in the form of a raging bonfire which they gathered around immediately after emerging from the water.

John Vit, here greeting a fellow “Seal,” used the Portsmouth plunge as an opportunity to voice his displeasure with plans for the new Sakonnet Bridge.

John Vit, here greeting a fellow “Seal” before jumping in, used the Portsmouth plunge as an opportunity to voice his displeasure with plans for the new Sakonnet Bridge.

There was more fanfare greeting this year’s plunge since it kicked off Portsmouth’s 375th anniversary year. The town’s 375th Steering Committee spent two consecutive weekends at Clements’ Market, recruiting people to take the plunge. That would probably account for all the new faces at this year’s swim.

Portsmouth police were on site to direct traffic, and a rescue vehicle stood by just in case. A blast of an air horn sent the Seals scrambling for the water. Most were back on the beach within seconds, although a few lingered in the ocean. Chris Freitas was one such Seal who took his time getting out. In fact, the eager Mr. Freitas had already taken several dips before the horn had even sounded.

For more information about Portsmouth’s 375th anniversary celebration, visit www.portsmouthri375.com.

Check out the gallery of plunge pictures below.

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