Polar plunges ring in new year


A local swim team and a nonprofit group that grants wishes to sick kids have found common ground on a patch of sand. And now they’ve decided to help each other.

On Jan. 1 of this year the East Bay Icebreakers, which has strong representation from Bristol’s Mt. Hope High School swim team, took its annual icy plunge into the water off Bristol Town Beach. This year was different, however, as the plunge raised money for the Warwick-based organization Children’s Wishes, which grants wishes to kids with life-threatening medical illnesses.

“Last year we raised about $1,300, which was great,” said Dana Hrabcsak of Children’s Wishes. “This year we’re going to be splitting the proceeds with the East Bay Icebreakers for the swim team, because they were such gracious hosts.”

It’s just one of many New Year’s Day plunges by “polar bears,” “penguins,” “seals” and “icebreakers” that will be held in our area. Although some swimmers still jump for the pure chill of it, more and more of them are “b-r-r-r-ringing” in the new year by raising money for a worthy cause. All of the plunges mentioned here will be held on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.

The Bristol plunge, which was originally started up by Mt. Hope swim team Jonathan Dell and a friend, Al Alix, will take place at noon sharp at the beach off Asylum Road (the entrance to Colt State Park). Swimmers should wear footwear, because the beach is rocky with plenty of shells.

Registration costs $20 and you can sign up at 11 a.m. at the beach or in advance on the Children’s Wishes website, www.cwishesri.com.

“The first 100 people to register will get a free (Children’s Wishes) mug,” said Ms. Hrabcsak, adding that about 60 to 70 people jumped in last year. “I think we’ll get more this year. The swim team is doing a great job in getting the word out, and Cardi’s is one of our promotional sponsors. They’re helping, too.”

Ms. Hrabcsak jumped in last year and plans to do it again on Tuesday. “I was very proud of myself. I got out and said, ‘I did it!’”

For more information call 401/921-1300 or e-mail info@cwishesri.com.

‘Penguins’ to help Tiverton library

Over in Tiverton, the second annual Penguin Plunge to benefit the Tiverton Library Building Fund is set for noon at Grinnell’s Beach.

Kathryn E. Ryan, president of the Friends of Tiverton Libraries, gives all the credit to the Tiverton Yacht Club, which hosts the event that raised about $1,000 last year.

“It’s a wonderful, funky, offbeat fun thing in a world that is often way too serious,” said Ms. Ryan.

The town has outgrown its currently library facilities and is planning a new centralized building at the corner of Bulgarmarsh and Stafford roads. Ms. Ryan said the town hopes to break ground in April 2013, with the building opening in the fall of 2014.

“The new building is going to be such an incredible place for the people of Tiverton,” she said, adding that the energy-efficient structure will have a positive impact “on the town’s economic development.”

Greg Jones, commodore of the Tiverton Yacht Club, said the club is happy to help. “We’re hoping for more people and we’re hoping for decent whether,” said Mr. Jones, who’s been jumping in on New Year’s Day for the past 25 years.

If you’ve ever thought about taking the dip but didn’t know what to expect, Mr. Jones suggested giving it a try. “It sounds horrible and when you jump in you still think it’s horrible. But then you dunk your head under and you feel great,” he said. “It’s invigorating and it’s a great way to start the year.”

Library supporters received good news last week when The Champlin Foundations awarded a $750,000 grant toward the project, which means funding has reached over 93 percent of the capital campaign goal. More money needs to be raised, however, and the Penguin Plunge will help close the funding gap.

Checks for donations — $10 is suggested — may be made payable to the Tiverton Library New Building Fund at the Essex Library or at the event. Hot coffee and hot cocoa will be available through the generosity of Coastal Roasters, and after the plunge participants are welcome at a reception at Lil’ Bear Sports Pub (983 Main Road, Tiverton), thanks to support from Huck Little.

If you’d like to participate, contact Commodore Greg Jones at the Tiverton Yacht Club at jonesgb@cox.net — or just come in your bathing suit.

A dip for Little Compton kids

Youth activities that are organized by the Little Compton Community Center will benefit from a noon Penguin Plunge at South Shore Beach. It costs $10 to take the plunge and $10 per car to watch.

“The Penguin Plunge has been going on for about 10 years — first run by the school, now by the Community Center. It benefits and supports the youth activities and community programs for seventh- and eighth-graders,” said Marie Jenkins, the center’s event manager, noting that Beth Turcotte is the youth activities director. “They do community work like baking for people, yard work and litter patrols — that sort of thing. And they do homework help in the afternoon and dances and movies. It’s to make sure the kids are not idle.”

Ms. Jenkins said about 100 people participated in last year’s swim, raising about $800.

For more information, call 635-2400.

Kicking off Portsmouth’s 375th

This year’s noon splash off the Island Park beach across from Flo’s Clam Shack in Portsmouth will feature a little more pomp and circumstance than in the past. The event will mark the start of a year-long celebration of the town’s 375th anniversary.

Bob Hamilton, who’s been jumping in with the Island Park Seals since they formed about eight years ago, brought the idea up during a meeting of the 375th Steering Committee, of which he’s a member.

“I just opened my big mouth and said, ‘Why don’t we kick it off with a New Year’s Day plunge?’” recalled Mr. Hamilton.

Committee members spent two consecutive weekends at Clements’ Market, recruiting people to take the plunge. Their goal was 375 swimmers, of course. “I was stopping young people in the aisle to see if they’re from Portsmouth. They’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll do it,’” said Mr. Hamilton. “But how many we actually get is another thing.”

Because parking along Park Avenue could be an issue, participants are asked to gather at 11:30 a.m., with the plunge at noon sharp.

“This year we’ve got the police department involved and I asked the fire department to have a rescue on site. They’re gonna start the plunge off with a blast of their air horn,” he said.

Like everyone else, he’s hoping for good weather to boost the numbers of swimmers. “For me the whole key is if the sun is shining. When it’s shining it doesn’t make any difference what the water temperature is,” said Mr. Hamilton, adding that the Seals have been fortunate with the weather over the years. “We’ve never had snow.”

Afterwards the swimmers will head to the Beach House restaurant and nightclub further north on Park Avenue, “compliments of (owner) Kenny O’Brien.” If anyone would like to join the post-plunge festivities, they’re looking for donations of finger foods, said Mr. Hamilton.

If you’d like to take part in the plunge, register at www.portsmouthri375.com or at the Beach House website, (www.beachhouseri.com).

“We wanted a rough idea on who was coming, but also to build up an e-mail list for the 375th Committee,” said Mr. Hamilton, adding that the group already has 60 confirmed events planned for 2013.

Two more Portsmouth plunges

Although the Island Park plunge will surely draw more brave souls, the Hummocks neighborhood a little over a mile north will also be the site of an icy dip at noon. Joe Noberini is welcoming anyone to join him and his friends and family in jumping from the tiny beach near his home on the southern end of Cliff Avenue. The event started small last year, but is growing by leaps and bounds.

“Last year we had four. This year I have about 12 so far,” said Mr. Noberini, who got the idea to host a plunge after he jumped in with the Island Park Seals in 2011.

“I thought it was going to be my last time. But I figured I had a lot of friends who might want to do this,” said Mr. Noberini, who hosts a party Jan. 1 that’s attended mainly by family and friends from Taunton, Mass., where he’s originally from.

“I’ve got a cousin coming from Arizona, although not for the plunge,” he said. “I’m going to give her a trophy for the furthest traveled.”

Those independently minded folks over on Prudence Island have their own New Year’s Day plunge scheduled.

Before the splash, there will be a “first day walk” at Farnham Farm’s Hope Brown Center starting at 11 a.m. The blast of a cannon will signal the noon start of a sprint into the chilly waters off Sand Point, according to island Fire Chief Bob Marshall.

“We usually get about 25 or 30 people,” he said of the jumpers.

Then, swimmers and spectators will head back to the center for a potluck lunch at 1 p.m., after which they’ll be treated to a lecture on some historical topic.

Popsicles in Barrington

The Annawamscutt Seal Society once again takes the plunge at the tiny beach at the end of Annawamscutt Road in Barrington at noon sharp, said Peggy Gossage, whose late husband, John, founded the Society in the mid-’80s.

“If you’re just a little late, you’re going to miss it,” said Ms. Gossage.

The event seems to grow every year, she said. “Last year we had well over 100. A lot of them are from the neighborhood — and it’s a big neighborhood — but a lot of friends of friends go, too.”

One pair of swimmers stands out from the others. “There’s one lady from the neighborhood who’s going with her daughter. They decided to go swimming every month of the year,” she said.

Ms. Gossage has jumped in herself for the past 25 years. “I’m scared to stop now,” she said. “It happens so fast. I tell people that if it’s the worst thing to happen to you all year, then it’s not so bad.”

Afterwards people “do their own thing” and often gather at neighbors’ homes for warmth and refreshments. “We usually have popsicles and things like that,” she said.

Two jumps in Westport

Anyone who takes the plunge at the Back Eddy restaurant, 1 Bridge Road, Westport, will be rewarded with a hot meal.

“If you jump you get brunch for free, with breakfast and lunch items,” said Sal Liotta, the restaurant’s co-owner. “If you’re not jumping you pay at the door and if you’re jumping you get a bracelet.”

Participants can jump anytime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. off the restaurant’s docks. Whether the restaurant will attract as many swimmers as it did earlier this year will largely be determined by the weather.

“Last year we had 318. It was a record and it predominately had to do with the fact that it was 58 degrees and the water was warm.”

Another Westport plunge will be held at noon at the town beach, next door to the Westport Yacht Club on the river side of Cherry and Webb Lane.

Originally organized by Jonathon Paull, Fred Johnson, and Jack Dolan in 1975, The Westport Penguins have been raising money for good causes ever since.

Newport jumpers make wish come true 

The do-gooders known as the Newport Polar Bears are inviting anyone crazy enough to join them for a swim in the frosty Atlantic Ocean at noon at Easton’s Beach on Memorial Boulevard.

As in previous years, the event will benefit A Wish Come True, a nonprofit founded in 1982 in Tiverton that grants wishes to sick children. Even if you don’t take the plunge, you can come and have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and make a donation or sponsor a swimmer.

This year’s beneficiary is Corey, a 12-year-old who was diagnosed with bone cancer just a few months ago. Corey and his family travel to and from Boston as he goes through radiation and chemotherapy.

Corey’s wish will come true in the memory of John J. “Coff” Coughlin, Jr., a detective with the Providence Police Department and a 33-year member of the Newport Polar Bears. He passed away in June, just two days after his 54 birthday.

After the swimmers dry off, there will be a post-plunge party at the Atlantic Beach Club at the east end of the beach. Join them for raffles, food, music and fun for the whole family, all to benefit A Wish Come True.

For more information, contact Rosemary Bowers at A Wish Come True at 401/624-7673 or rosemary@awishcometrue.org.

Fall River

For the third year in a row, the Spindle City will host a polar plunge to raise money for Forever Paws Animal Shelter, and it’s got some high-profile people taking part. Expected to take the chilly leap into Mt. Hope Bay are Mayor William A. Flanagan, city councilor Patricia Casey and others.

The event will take place at 10 a.m. at Sandy Beach at the bottom of Mt. Hope Avenue. Pledge sheets are available at the mayor’s office or at the animal shelter at 300 Lynwood St. For more information contact the mayor’s office at 508/324-2600.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.