At the first outing of the Save The Bay Swim, in 1977, participants had to be transported in boats to 250 feet off-shore as shortly before the event the local Department of Health declared the water at the start point to be unfit for swimming.
Rather than a disaster, for founder and organiser Trudy Coxe this was the perfect marketing opportunity.
“Do you think there could have been a better message?” she says. “Here was a beach that was so dear to so many people, and we learned, for the very first time actually, that it wasn’t safe to swim there. There could not have been a better message about the need for Save The Bay.”
The 1.7 nautical mile swim has since become something of an American classic. It takes swimmers from Naval Station Newport on Coaster’s Harbor Island, Rhode Island, across the Narragansett Bay East Passage to Potter Cove in Jamestown. It draws swimmers from more than 20 states and this year around 500 people are expected to take part.
More importantly, over 40 years the swim, and those organising it and taking part, have helped drive home the message of how important it is to protect the water. In the early years of the swim, swimmers often emerged from the water with oil and tar balls on their skin and swimsuits. Last year, swimmers reported seeing schools of menhaden beneath them. Not bad for an estuary that was once determined, by the University of Rhode Island, to be best used by the state as a sewer.
The swim might never have got started but for Coxe’s refusal to take “no” for an answer. The fledgling non-profit organisation, Save The Bay, was looking for ways to highlight the value of Narragansett Bay, and Coxe remembered the time, a decade earlier, when she and two friends swam across the Bay from Jamestown to Newport on a whim (nevermind a failed attempt or two before they succeeded). When she presented the idea for a Save The Bay Swim to then-executive director John Scanlon, he said, clearly and loudly: “No way, no way, no way.” So, Coxe snuck the idea into a conversation with the editorial board of the local newspaper, The Providence Journal, and when they loved the idea, the momentum became unstoppable. The very first swimmer to sign up for that very first swim in 1977, Edgar Mercado, still does the Swim today.
Find out more and enter at: www.savebay.org/theswim
There is also an option for people who can’t attend the actual swim to register as a “virtual swimmer”.
Founded in 1970, Save The Bay works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay and its watershed through advocacy, education, and restoration efforts. It envisions a fully swimmable, fishable, healthy Narragansett Bay, accessible to everyone and globally recognized as an environmental treasure.