Warm sunshine and helping hands greeted the 497 swimmers as they emerged from the Columbia River Monday in the 70th Roy Webster Cross Channel Swim.
Six percent of all swimmers were members of the Webster clan. The clan took the one-mile dip as part of the tradition initiated by the late orchard elder.
“I love it; I think it’s important,” said Sharon Webster Harvey of Salt Lake City, Roy’s daughter, who got a chance to pose for the first time with the Chamber of Commerce’s life-sized cutout of her father.
The youngest swimmer was Noah Webster, 10, of Salt Lake City, great-great-grandson of Roy.
The Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler ferried the swimmers from Hood River to Bingen, where they jumped into the water in flights, and made their way south, escorted by a flotilla of volunteers in watercraft, coordinated by the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office.
On shore, volunteers helped the swimmers out of the water while others handed out T-shirts and refreshments — including pears and apples from Webster Orchards in Pine Grove.
Hundreds of well-wishers welcomed them from the banks at Best Western Hood River Inn, where Rick Canavaro of Bi-Coastal media did announcements and interviews with swimmers.
The day went smoothly, said Nancy Curtis, events coordinator with the sponsoring Hood River Chamber of Commerce.
“The most surprising thing was how many people showed up on time to register,” she said. “Generally they linger a little and take their time — not this year. It was sold out and people knew it, so they were here and ready to swim.”
“It was beautiful day!” said Tifani Rule of Camas, who swam for the first time, with Jan Beyer.
“It was awesome; fun to do it with a friend,” said Beyer, also of Camas.
“There was great energy going over on the boat; everyone was really excited — it was a great event,” Rule said.
The oldest swimmers were William Holman, 81, and Catherine Jenny, 77. The swimmer who traveled the farthest to get here was Christiane Fritz, of Austria.
The chamber issued “Spirit Awards” to the 32 Websters, and the 14 members of the Pond family, who also swam as part of their reunion.
“They chose to do their family reunion here in part because of the swim,” said Emily Curtis of the chamber. Local businesses donated bags of goodies.
All told, there were 201 men, 282 women and a record 33 swimmers under 15 years of age. Notable participants included:
n Tina Ambrosino, 17, who has swum every year since age 10;
n Jane Conn, who has the longest cross-channel streak, with 36 consecutive swims
n Norberto Maahs, of Hood River, who did his 35th, and Doug Brenner, his 29th.
n Eric Zimmerman of Salem swam for the 20th year with his inflatable crocodile, a prop from the old “Crocodile Dundee.” He emerged from the water with his daughter, Stephanie, of Roseburg.
“This is a great event to be at; a great motivator,” Eric said.
“Thank you for all the sponsors and volunteers. They put on a great show.”
First across was Livi Cox, 14, of Vancouver, Wash., in her first cross-channel.
“It felt good; it felt really cold at first, but then once you got going it felt great,” said Cox, a ninth-grader at Union High School.