The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim
What is the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim?
The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (GCBS) is one of America’s premier open water swim challenges. The annual event is scheduled for the second Sunday of June and consists of a 4.4 mile swim across Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. The race starts from the shores of Sandy Point State Park, which is about 5 miles northeast of Annapolis. The course extends eastward between the two spans of the William Preston Lane, Jr., Memorial Bridge (U.S. Highway 50) and finishes at a small sandy beach on Kent Island immediately south of the Bridge eastern-shore causeway adjacent to Hemingway’s Restaurant.
Who does it benefit?
The GCBS is a charitable fundraiser for the Maryland Chapter of the March of Dimes. The net proceeds of the event go to aid the March of Dimes in its Campaign for healthier Babies.
How many swimmers may enter?
Since 1993, the GCBS has been limited to only 600 pre-registered entrants to ensure a safe and well-organized event. Typically 550 participants start the race in two waves fifteen minutes apart, with the faster swimmers in the second group. This helps to group the swimmers as much as possible during the race in order to assist the kayakers and boaters in monitoring and aiding the swimmers.
Can anyone participate?
The GCBS requires a major commitment to proper training and open water experience. To be accepted, applicants must submit documentation that they have either completed a recent open water event or completed a three-mile pool swim in under two hours 15 minutes (see application for details). Although about 2,700 swimmers have successfully completed the event over the years, the achievement has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for over 60 percent of the finishers. To increase safety, wetsuits are allowed and encouraged (the GCBS is not a U. S. Masters Swimming event).
Is it dangerous?
Among the difficulties that may be encountered during the average 2 hour 25 minute swim are flailing arms and legs during the “Cuisinart start,” cross currents, swells, chop, hypothermia if the water is cold, nettle stings if the water is warm, and collisions with the bridge supports or rocks surrounding the jetties, islands and causeways.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has measured tidal, current and weather conditions prior to the event and compared the results with predicted conditions to determine the optimum starting time for the event.
How does it affect the race?
As a result, 79-97% of the starters finished the race in the last five years. Prior to this, in 1991 and 1992, a strong ebb current of about two knots in the main channel beneath the 200-feet high spans (one and a half miles from the start) precluded all but the strongest and most determined swimmers from finishing the event (only 15-19% finished the swim).
The Bridge & the Bay - Particulars. . .
At its widest point, the Chesapeake Bay is 30 miles wide and narrows to just four miles where it is crossed by the William Preston Lane, Jr., Memorial Bridge, built in 1952 (northern, westbound span) and in 1973 (southern, eastbound span).
Who’s idea was it in the first place?
No one knows who was the first to swim across the bay at this point. However, a determined 21-year old, Brian Joseph Earley, started what is now the GCBS with his first solo swim from Kent Island to Sandy Point State Park on June 13, 1982, in memory of his father Joseph Earley, who died of diabetes complications in 1981. Two years later, race organizer Fletcher Hanks began a separate bay swim event which attracted two swimmers the first year and about 60 the second year. On June 15, 1986, the Hanks and Earley events merged when 211 swimmers successfully swam from Westinghouse (south of the bridges on the western shore) to Hemingway’s Restaurant. The following year, the event started at Sandy Point State Park, which established its present course. Brian Earley, originally a Chesapeake Bay area resident, has moved to San Diego, California. Nevertheless, he has returned 15 times on the second Sunday of every June since 1982 to once again swim the Bay in honor of his father and to help those who are less fortunate.