By the last week of March, cold weather gave way to warmer temperatures and though it was windy, it felt like spring. Dip of the Month Club members waited until the 27th to run into ocean water that we have come to know as the coldest of the year. It wasn’t a sunny day, but at least it was calm. The first few splashes of water were so cold they actually felt hot, but after achieving the requisite horizontal position with a few kicks, (no wet hair needed) five of us were out of the 39 degree water in less than 30 seconds. Within a minute of drying off we were no longer cold and everyone’s skin felt tight and tingly; the rewarding “spa effect.”
Less than a week later, April 1 arrived on Sunday with sunny skies, no wind and fairly warm temperatures. Stefanie Alley suggested the dippers get together again to log in our April dip. Unless it is summer, it is almost unheard of to take two dips, for two different months, all in one week. The four original members, Stefanie, Joy Sprague, Cindy Thomas and Barb Fernald, who are working to complete their fifth year of consecutive monthly dips, decided, “Why not?” The April Fools joke was on us when the water temperature was actually colder in April than it was at the end of March.
Just what is Dip of the Month Club? It began in the midst of a heat wave in early October, 2002. As a few of us were collecting our mail at the Islesford Post Office we decided to meet for a swim at the Sand Beach to cool off after work. We posted a sign to invite anyone else who was interested, referring to it as the first “Dip of the Month Club” meeting. All six of the people who showed up enjoyed some of the most refreshing camaraderie we had ever experienced. We dared each other to try it again in November, when colder weather and snow provided a true test of wills. Three new members inspired in us a conviction to continue. By December, our friendly challenge had gained momentum as five more people joined “the club.” In the new year, as people began to travel south, it was time to set some qualifications. A Florida swim just wouldn’t rate when the rest of us were freezing in Maine. For an authentic dip of the month, you must achieve a horizontal position in outdoor waters above the 42nd parallel. You must also have a witness/lifeguard. Never dip alone!
In February 2003 an article in the New Yorker about cold water swimmer Lynne Cox gave us renewed bravery and determination to continue. If she could swim for a mile in 32 degree waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, we could manage to dip once a month. Cox became the club’s official heroine. During that first year there were 14 people who loyally stuck with their commitment to dip for 12 consecutive months; earning them the “big dipper” status. At least two dozen people can now claim to be big dippers, and there are many more occasional “little dippers” who join us on a whim, whether it is January or June.
The factors we consider when choosing a day to dip are usually weather related. Wind, wave height, sun, tide, air temperature and ice are the major concerns. If the air temperature is less than 20 degrees, we’ll wait for another day. We also avoid days after a big storm when there is a lot of seaweed in the water. It’s not dangerous, but being submerged in the midst of clingy stringy slimy vegetation feels pretty gross. We fret before the dip, we scream when we’re in the water, and we always laugh when we get out. Even on the worst days we are glad we did it. What could be better than that?
There are many reasons we enjoy this monthly splash in the sea: Our skin really does feel fantastic afterwards, it makes summer swimming a piece of cake, we feel young, and we share an instant fellowship with anyone who joins us for the dip. When one runs into such cold water, all thoughts leave the head and there is a total break from anything that might trouble the mind.
Why do we do it? When Lynne Cox was asked why she swam in the Antarctic Sea, her response could be echoed by any member of the Islesford dip of the month club, “Just thinking about it makes me smile.”
Islesford, April 17, 2007