Mother Nature was kind to the 150 swimmers and dozens of volunteers who participated in the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park’s 15th Power Swim.
Unseasonably strong east winds died down and the predicted thunderstorms never appeared, resulting in near ideal conditions for the annual fundraiser held Sunday.
By 11a.m. the results were in, and the swimmers were celebrating at an awards picnic at Trunk Bay. Rob Jones, 53, of Charlottesville, Virginia, came in first among the males participating in the two-mile long course, completing the swim in 46 minutes and 58 seconds. Audrey Moore, 13, of St. Thomas, came in first among the females, with a time of 50 minutes and 16 seconds.
Complete results are posted at the Friends of VINP website.
Usually titled the “Beach to Beach Power Swim,” this year’s event was billed as “The Hurricane Edition” because the course was changed. In previous years, the long course covered 3.5 miles, from Maho Bay to Hawksnest Bay in National Park waters on St. John’s north shore.
The courses for the 2018 swim were designed by V.I. National Park fisheries biologist Jeff Miller, who set a record in 2016 by swimming non-stop around St. John.
This year, FriendsVINP made modifications in deference to the effects of Hurricane Irma, offering only one and two-mile courses that began and ended at Trunk Bay. Participants could choose to swim the course “unassisted” using only goggles, or “assisted” using masks, snorkels, fins, or webbed gloves.
Joe Kessler, Friends of VINP president, said scaling down the event made more sense given that there were fewer swimmers and fewer volunteers than in recent years. As he welcomed swimmers at the starting line, he referred to the event as “the Trunk-ated version.”
Swimmers began the long course by heading upwind through the cut between Trunk Cay and the beach, then north towards Jost Van Dyke; at specially-placed buoys, swimmers turned west and circled around the outside of Johnson’s Reef before cutting back to Trunk Bay beach.
The one-mile course followed a similar plan, but swimmers were directed to stay on the inside of Johnson’s Reef.
Because they had to initially swim into wind, waves, and current, some swimmers found that this year’s long course of two-miles was as challenging as the usual 3.5-mile course which follows the direction of the wind and waves.
Fillemon Wakuwile, 20, who is wheelchair-bound, came in first in his age group in the long course for the second time in two years.
“This year was pretty good; it was shorter, but at the end my goggles were so blurry I couldn’t see the buoys,” said Wakuwile. As viewers yelled to him from the shore, he turned around and retraced his strokes, and the crowd cheered as he crawled up on the shore under the finish line banner.
Wakuwile was the only male among a dozen members of the St. Thomas Swim Association’s Stingrays to attend the 2018 swim. A number of the young female members placed in their age group.
The youngest swimmer, winning the Nemo Award, was 11-year-old Veronica Leinenbach from St. Thomas. James Weller and Dorothy Buchhagen, both 75, also won recognition from the awards committee.
Although not as many swimmers from St. Croix attended this year, a group of nearly a dozen participants from Puerto Rico signed up days before the event.
This year’s T-shirt, featuring a red-capped swimmer in the water with the hills of St. John in the background, was designed by skipper Daniel Benson.
Swimmers and volunteers were delighted to find that sandwiches, chips, cookies and drinks were being given away. The sale of refreshments following the swim has been an additional source of fundraising, but Kessler said FriendsVINP was unable to charge this year; Redwood Parks Co., which holds the concession for the sale of food at Trunk Bay but has not re-opened its services there, would not give the group permission to sell refreshments. Swimmers were encouraged to make donations.
Kessler thanked the sponsors who came through with donations in spite of hardships this year. He recognized FriendsVINP staff members Tonia Lovejoy and Karen Jarvis, who organized volunteers and publicity, and Lydia Boynes, who arranged for refreshments. He also acknowledged the many volunteers who directed swimmers from kayaks and paddle boards, assisted participants before and after the events, and tallying the results.
He thanked St. John Rescue and the V.I. National Park for providing safety and security.
Kessler said in 2019, the event would operate as it had in previous years, with courses ending in Cinnamon, Trunk, and Hawksnest bays.
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