Pleasant weather is rarely considered a bad sign for outdoor events, especially swimming, but the organizers of the annual Polar Bear Dip into Mystery Bay blamed the day’s relative warmth for lowering this year’s turnout.
Tom and Sue Rose, co-owners of the Nordland General Store, said the lack of cold at noon on New Year’s Day might well have discouraged prospective divers from taking a dip off the pier on the other side of the highway from their shop on Marrowstone Island.
“This year we had about 75 folks, when we usually get more than 100,” Tom said.
Sue insisted the swimmers prefer the weather to be “miserable,” and Tom conceded “it was a nice day, and maybe that made it too easy for some folks, since we’ve had years where it was sleeting out here.”
One thing that hadn’t changed was the water temperature.
“Forty-three degrees, which is around what it usually is,” Tom said.
Sue noted it was the same as the air temperature.
“The water stays pretty close to that same temperature all year round, even during the summer,” Tom said.
It took about half an hour for all the divers to take the plunge.
Previous Polar Bear dips also have seen divers jump in wearing everything from Hillary Clinton pantsuits to nothing but their birthday suits, both of which appeared on the pier two years ago.
“We didn’t have any nude swimmers this year,” Tom said. “The years that follow always seem busier as a result.”
Tom regrets not remembering this marked the 25th year of Polar Bear dips he and his wife have staged since they moved to Marrowstone. He recalled starting his career as a polar bear swimmer with his cousins in their younger years at Seattle’s Alki Beach.
“It’s easier with the dock,” Sue said. “You can just climb back up the ladders. Wading back to shore is so cold.”
The first Polar Bear dip at Marrowstone drew 35 divers, which was more than the Roses expected, but by New Year’s Day 2000, it had grown to 200 divers.
“We get folks from all over,” Tom said. “Not just Nordland, but Port Townsend, Chimacum, all across the country, all around the world.”
Previous Polar Bear dips have drawn German emigrants, as well as the Roses’ granddaughter and daughter, the latter of whom took her first dip in Nordland two years ago after doing so in other locations for the previous 15 years.
“There’s no age limit required, just a bit of a masochistic streak,” Sue said with a laugh.
Tom hopes to remember to promote the Nordland Polar Bear Dip’s 30th annual event in five years.