Winds cancel ‘75th’ Cross Channel Swim event

DISAPPOINTED: 10-year-old Cullen Kahler is comforted by his sister, Carley, and their father, Dave, as they get off the boat Sunday.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
DISAPPOINTED: 10-year-old Cullen Kahler is comforted by his sister, Carley, and their father, Dave, as they get off the boat Sunday.

“Disappointed. But we understand,” C.T. Wells of Camas said while awaiting a bus at Hood River marina.

Wells’ comment was shared by many early Monday morning after Hood River County Sheriff’s Department ordered that the Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim be cancelled due to high winds.

The swim was cancelled for a second year in a row; in 2017, the event was called off because of the Eagle Creek fire. Hood River emergency support services had to be diverted to the Eagle Creek fire, which caused the event cancellation, noted Mike Glover, president/CEO of the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the annual event. Smoky conditions and closure of Interstate 84 were added complications last year.

On Monday, Laurel Roof of Hood River said, “It’s a little disappointing. It was my first year.

“I just turned 50 and had trained for it and wanted to cross it off my list, but I can do it next year. And I can see it would probably not be a good idea. It’s blowing hard and it’s probably just going to get worse.”

Officials determined that the wind created unsafe water conditions for both the swimmers and the watercrafts that form the safety corridor for swimmers. Swimmers ride the boat to Bingen and then jump into the river in groups, known as “waves,” of 10 or so at a time, and are escorted by a flotilla of boats, SUPs, kayaks and other craft to a welcoming crowd on the beach at Best Western Plus Hood River Inn.

Instead, Chamber of Commerce assembled a fleet of shuttle buses to take swimmers from the marina back to the hotel of their vehicles.

“Calling off the swim at the last moment — especially after last year’s cancellation — was the last thing anyone wanted to do, but safety for everyone involved is of paramount importance. We appreciate everyone’s understanding,” Glover said. “One of the best things about this open swim is that it is in the middle of the incredible Columbia River Gorge Natural Scenic Area, but because of that, nature is really ultimately in charge. We look forward to seeing everyone back here next year and hope that third time is the charm for 75th annual swim.”

Said Jerry Bolland of Clackamas, swimming for the third year, “I did two years and last year was cancelled and I was ready. It’s a bummer, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. The whole reason I do this is to make me get in shape. I’ll start training for next year.”

“I’m really disappointed, my first year in this event and my first in any kind of open water event,” said Leah Hinkle of Portland. “There was a lot training and anticipation down the drain, but I’ll make the best of it, maybe go and swim in Lost Lake.”

“I’m 10 and this was my first chance,” said a tearful Cullen Kahler of Vancouver, comforted by family members, one of about 500 people who got on board the Columbia Sternwheeler but never left the Hood River marina. Cullen was there with his parents, Mary and Dave, and his sister, Carly, who all had on their orange 75th anniversary swim caps and were ready for the mile-long crossing.

“He’s been hearing about it his whole life. He was on the boat and, ‘We’ve waited so long, let’s just go.’” Dave has swam for many years with Kahlers’ daughter, Olivia, who was first-to-cross on several occasions.

This year, Carly was planning to be first one out of the water.

Mary said, “She ditched us. We were in wave four and they asked for an extra person for wave two, and she ditched us.” Carly kept her arms around her brother as the family waited for a shuttle bus back to the hotel.

“I told them they should scrap ‘the 75th’. That one’s jinxed. We’re going to move on to year 77,” Mary said.

“I’ve done this for years and some years it was kind of choppy, and it was kind of fun. It’s great little community thing,” Dave Kahler said.

The Columbia’s biggest and oldest open-water swim got its start in 1942 when local orchardist Roy Webster decided to challenge himself by swimming across the Columbia River from Bingen to Hood River. It has only been cancelled four times since it became an organized event.

In the seven-and-a-half decades since Webster’s inaugural swim, thousands of people from across the country and around the world have taken on the challenge. Each year, the event attracts 500 participants who brave the 69-degree waters and swim one mile across the iconic Columbia. The Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim is presented by the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce and The Fruit Company.

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