Tiverton’s Penguin Plunge was the first to go, shut down by town order on Friday evening.
Westport’s Back Eddy restaurant held out a bit longer — finally opting to halt its annual plunge off the dock at 8:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, just two and a half hours before starting time.
But some were not to be deterred.
Arriving to find the Back Eddy dock blocked off, Westport resident Mark Arseneault said he wasn’t about to start his New Year without a shock.
So he hiked across the parking lot to the state ramp and walked out the dock to check things out — a thin sheet of ice covered the water all the way out.
Heeding the advice of family and friends who worried he might have trouble climbing back up at the deep end of the dock, he stripped down to his bathing suit, climbed off the dock closer to shore and crunched his way through the ramp’s coating of ice.
When he found things to his liking, he belly flopped into the Westport River, producing a good splash of water and ice. He splashed around briefly and then clambered back up onto the dock to cheers.
“Not bad,” he declared. “Water’s warmer” than the air.
Back Eddy owner Sal Liotta said he had made the difficult decision to halt the plunge there purely out of concern for safety.
“A triple threat” of frigid air — couple degrees above zero with biting west-northwest wind off the river; icy water — morning reading showed the water at dock’s edge was 36 degrees, down about ten degrees in just a week; and ice-covered dock too slippery for standing or climbing onto.
“Just not worth the risk,” he said.
They may have lost their swim, but the 140 people who had signed up did not lose their free brunch.
All who had made a reservation to swim and dine needed only to show that they had a bathing suit on underneath and the Back Eddy honored the free brunch.
Was he disappointed about not being able to jump in as he usually does?” Tom Vars of Portsmouth was asked.
“Disappointed? No, not really. It is really cold this time.”
It was only the second cancellation in 19 years. They did it once before due to ice.
“I cut out an area with a saw, he said, but then imagined the nightmare of someone jumping in and trying to surface in a ice-covered place beyond the opening.
Adding to the restaurant’s cold weather woes was the fact that, two days earlier, a water line had frozen, forcing a one-night closure. The waterfront restaurant sits on pilings over the river and pipes are exposed; efforts to thaw that main pipe were a challenge.
“We’d warm it up, get the water moving and it would just freeze all over again.” It’s one reason that the restaurant closes from January to March.
Just down Cherry & Webb Lane from the Back Eddy, a few people also dashed into the river from the yacht club beach.
Meanwhile in Tiverton …
Fire Chief Robert Lloyd issued word on New Years Eve … Please be advised that due to the extreme weather conditions anticipated on News Year’s Day, the polar plunge scheduled for 12:00 noon at Grinnell’s Beach Tiverton, has been cancelled.” That decision had been approved by the Town Council president, he added.
But late the next morning, cars started to roll into the Grinnell’s Beach parking lot and a few people climbed out with bathing suits.
One small group went in shortly before noon, among them Town Council member Randy Lebeau.
Although he has had cold water dive training, “This one was cold — really cold,” he said.
Right at noon, Tiverton’s Todd Jesdale stripped down and crunched his way through the shoreline ice and out into the water.
“That’s far enough” a few worried spectators shouted but he kept going before finally diving in all the way. Once in, he lingered a bit before making his way back to shore.
“Felt great!” he declared as he toweled off.
A video by readers, Chloe DaSilva and Golriz Asgari sumed up this year's plunge.
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