11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, Crescent Beach. Air temperature, 40 degrees. Wind chill values, 20 to 25 degrees. Winds out of the north at 5 to 20 miles per hour. Water temperature in Peconic Bay, 51.4 degrees.
Perfect conditions for those with an adventuresome streak (lunatics?) to rush from the dry land and throw themselves into the bay.
The Turkey Plunge (Freezin’ for a Reason, Splash for Cash, etc.) joyfully returned the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as it has for the 14th year, an annual Island ritual that continues the holiday weekend with a festival of shouting, shrieking, screaming crowds of philanthropists/thrill-seekers.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Shelter Island Public Library, those registered contributed to funds for the Library, and the sale of distinctive T-shirts and caps, designed by Peter Waldner, added to the good cause.
Costumes are encouraged (well, most plungers don’t need much encouragement to dress up) and groups and families take to the icy waters with themed fashion statements. Husband and wife Derek and Eugenie Jacobson were dressed as Scottish rebels, part of a “Braveheart” contingent of folks with faces painted blue and in kilts (Ms. Jacobson went paintless but wore a kilt).
This was their second year on the beach, and they arrived ready for fun and “to support the library.”
Heather Brownlie, who always makes a beautiful mark with her Plunge personas — last year she was “the Queen of the Butterflies” — looked stunning as a peacock.
“I always choose something to stand out,” she said. Asked what it felt like when she hits the water, Ms. Brownlie looked at the questioner as if he was truly born yesterday. “It’s cold,” she said, pokerfaced, and then smiled.
Matt Bagger and his sons, Andre, 10, and Matteo, 12, came as a “three of a kind” poker hand, and were having fun, even if their mother had forbidden the boys to take a polar bath.
A man dressed in a multiple American flag motif with a white-painted face was a center of attention in the Sunset Beach parking lot where organizers and participants gathered before the Plunge. The patriot was Greg Senken, who has been here every year the event has been scheduled.
He noted the great cause of supporting library programs, and the sheer joy of the day.
Asked what the experience of running into the bay in late November was like, he echoed Ms. Brownlie’s simple answer. “Cold. I mean very cold,” he said. “One year my feet froze to the sand.”
Yes. That’s cold.
A Sylvester Manor group were in the parking lot pre-Plunge, dubbing themselves “Team Cabbage/Kale” and all waving bunches of the vegetables. “It’s what we’re harvesting now” said Sara Gordon, director of planning and sustainability for the manor.
Her husband Peter Vielbig was part of the group. Mr. Vielbig’s former wife Gail, who passed away in 2014, is the inspiration for The Plunge. The Vielbig’s granddaughter, Charlotte, came up with the idea in 2009. At a previous event, Mr. Vielbig said, “Gail was the midwife who brought the idea to life,” noting that Gail took Charlotte’s idea to the Friends of the Library. “She would have felt so pleased to see it,” Mr. Vielbig said about the strong turnout to support the library.
St. Lucia, in a long white gown and a headdress of candles was nearby.
Nearly every other day of the year she’s Ingrid Fagen. St. Lucia, the patron saint of the blind, is known as “the Bringer of Light.” Ms. Fagen said the saint’s day is Dec. 13, but with the state of the world now, “We need her to be here earlier.” She looked around. “This is such an amazing day,” Ms. Fagen said. “Such a happy time.”
A digital display was on the beach counting down the seconds as plungers waited for the horn to sound. Two women quickly removed their sweat clothes to their one-piece bathing suits and began doing vigorous stretches, bouncing on the balls of their feet in the sand. The horn sounded and they joined the crowd screaming as they ran into the water.
Coming out after her dip was Sophie Racine. She was with her family, who had dubbed themselves “The Intrepids.” Shivering, Ms. Racine was nevertheless bright-eyed and smiling. How was she feeling? “I don’t know,” she said, laughing. “I’m in shock.”
She introduced two dripping-wet uncles who had come from England and France to celebrate Thanksgiving on the Island and take the ice bath — Patrick Stephansen, a Norwegian who lives in London, and R.D. Eisenhart, an American who lives in Paris.
Mr. Stephansen said, with a twinkle in his eye, that as a Scandinavian, this was no big deal. Asked about his English friends and November swimming, he smiled, “I think the English are too sane,” but then allowed that some Brits take the waters in winter.
Friends and families wrapped their loved ones in towels and blankets. One woman said to a man as he she hugged him “I think my hair froze.”
But she, like everyone else, couldn’t stop smiling.