The annual Chesapeake Bay Swim has been rescued from the depths.
Scuttled by the U.S. Coast Guard after last year's near-disastrous experience when swimmers were swept off course by an abnormally strong current, the popular 4.4-mile swim under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge will be staged after all, beginning at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.
It has the Coast Guard's blessing, mainly because more safety ** precautions will be taken. Fletcher Hanks has been replaced as race director by Lyn Brooks.
Hanks organized the swim as it grew over the years from about 100 entrants to 884. Only 164 of last year's 884 finished as the predicted 1 mph current became a raging 4 mph. The others were pulled out in a massive rescue operation.
One man who was more than two miles off course was rescued by a pleasure boater. The Coast Guard called off the race at 10:15 a.m. and picked up all the swimmers still in the water. No one drowned.
"The problem was that Mr. Hanks had the same plan when there were 800 people as when there were 100," said Steve Phillips, chief of the Boating Affairs Branch for the 5th Coast Guard District in Norfolk, Va. "We need tighter control."
The fleets of patrol and rescue boats have been beefed up; they will keep in touch via radio.
Brooks says that in addition to Coast Guard boats on the course's outer limits that will focus on keeping the channel closed to ship traffic, there will be more than 70 crafts from two bay powerboat associations and 30-plus kayaks. The kayakers can get close enough to the swimmers to talk to them.
"Even in a worst-case scenario," Brooks said, "we can still get everybody out of the water safely."
A team of 30 recorders will keep track of who entered the race, who's in the water and who's out.
"Last year we didn't know if everyone was out until three days after the race," Phillips said. "The race will be conducted in stages. If swimmers don't reach the one-mile checkpoint in a certain time, they'll be extracted from the water.
"They won't be spread out across the bay. We don't want to have to patrol the whole area, with a lot of swimmers at mile three and a few struggling at mile one.
"We've studied the tide tables, which are pretty accurate. The 28th of June at those morning hours look acceptable to us."
Facts and figures
What: Bay Swim, a 4.4-mile swim between the Bay Bridge spans
Where: Begins at Sandy Point State Park and ends at Hemingway's Restaurant, Pier One Marina
When: Tomorrow, 8:30 a.m.
Registration: Between 6:30-7:30 a.m. tomorrow at Sandy Point State Park. For more information, call (410) 825-7442.