Whidbey Adventure Swim turns another lap for second year

Steve Polucha comes up for air on his way to winning last year’s Whidbey Adventure Swim. This is the second year for the open water 1.2 and 2.4-mile races.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Steve Polucha comes up for air on his way to winning last year’s Whidbey Adventure Swim. This is the second year for the open water 1.2 and 2.4-mile races.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

Anyone looking for a brisk, a very brisk, swim and race in September can end the search.

The Whidbey Adventure Swim will return for its second run Saturday, Sept. 8 in the open saltwater of Saratoga Passage. Just off the shore from Seawall Park in Langley, a few dozen bold souls will slip into the chilly, 58-degree water for either the 1.2- or 2.4-mile race.

“There are very few open water swims in conditions like this in the sound,” said Jeff Jacobson, one of the registered swimmers.

“It could get windy and choppy. It changes, it’s always different. A pool is always the same. You get out of it and into the water, the conditions are always changing.”

The cold temperatures and unpredictable nature of open water limit who can and will compete in the Adventure Swim. Race organizers state on the registration website and forms: “These swims are not for the inexperienced.”

Risks like hypothermia or drowning inherent to swim races led organizers to regulate the race’s registration. Wet suits are required, unless the swimmer receives approval from the coordinator, Jean Fankhauser. Swimmers in the 1.2-mile race need to be able to swim the first .6 mile lap in less than 30 minutes, and racers in the 2.4-mile course must complete the first half in under 50 minutes.

Safety could be part of the event’s name, since it’s one of the most visible parts of the course. Three power boats will patrol the course, five lifeguards will be on hand, at least seven kayakers will cruise the perimeter and track swimmers and the South Whidbey Fire/EMS water rescue crew will scan the area. On land, an aid squad from Whidbey General EMS will be ready to assist, just in case.

“This is a very challenging course with water temperature expected to be 60 degrees or less,” Fankhauser said. “And although this event was planned around slack tide, swimmers can expect current flow during the race.”

Swimmers begin on the beach at Seawall Park. They wade out into the cool, still morning water. When the horn sounds, the once glassy surface becomes a mess of splashing and thrashing that ripples along in a triangle. Some of the swimmers enjoy wild waves, even if they are not the preferred racing conditions.

“Rollers can be a lot of fun,” Jacobsen said.

Chilly water drew Jacobsen for therapeutic reasons. He said it alleviates some pain in his joints, much like an ice bath for athletes. Jacobsen, 68, has had lots of practice in cold, open water since his days as a teenager in Lake Michigan.

“Because I’m dealing with arthritic problems, swimming in cold water is great for those problems,” he said.

Last year, the course records were set at 27:58 in the 1.2 mile by Steve Polucha, and 55:10 in the 2.4-mile race by Rick Ferrero. Sheila McCue set the women’s record for the 2.4 mile in 1:16:24.

Unlike last year, there is no limit to the number of possible swimmers. As of Aug. 13, only eight people were registered, which organizers said was similar to last year’s amount before a flood of entries arrived in the two weeks before the swim. Fankhauser said he expected at least 40 swimmers, which would be an increase of 14 from the inaugural Whidbey Adventure Swim last year.

“There seems to be a flurry of people at the last minute and we are accepting day-of-race registration,” Fankhauser said.

Registration costs $40 and is due Sept. 3. Late and day-of entries cost $50. In addition, swimmers are required to be a United States Master Swimming member or purchase a one-day membership for $20. All swimmers get a race T-shirt and are entered into a raffle with prizes from Whidbey area businesses. Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m., and there is a mandatory meeting before the race at 9:30.

To register, go online to For more information, email Fankhauser at

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