Nearly all of their faces read the same thing: "Am I really going to run into Puget Sound on this chilly afternoon?"
A half-second later, they charged the shore and splashed, screaming, into the sparkling water adjacent to the Edmonds ferry dock.
As many turned around and ran back to the beach for the warmth of blankets and bathrobes, 88-year-old Carl Rautenberg of Edmonds dove in, first using a crawl stroke and then turning over on his back to swim.
"The water's only six degrees or so cooler than it is when I swim here in the summer," said Rautenberg as he waited for the annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge to begin. "It's my first time to swim here in the winter, but I will be fine. I just had to cross this one off my bucket list."
Rautenberg is a retired city engineer, public works director and community development officer for the city of Mountlake Terrace. The avid swimmer has lived in Edmonds for many years. Each summer he notices that children play in the water at the Edmonds beach, but rarely do adults swim unless they're wearing wet suits for scuba diving.
"Usually the adults just sit on the beach logs and watch the kids," Rautenberg said. "Swimming in cold water is refreshing, renewing and a good way to wake up."
Rautenberg joined his daughter Karen, 50, and some of her colleagues from the Edmonds School District in the chilly dip on Tuesday.
Also diving into the cold water was Ellison Maul, 8, of Edmonds. While her family, bundled up in heavy coats and hats, watched from the beach, Ellison and her uncle, Jason Hill of Sumner, got thoroughly wet.
"It was freezing, but now I'm going to do the Polar Bear Plunge every year," Ellison said. "When I got out of the water, I started to cry. First I was mad at myself because it was so cold, then I was crying because I was so happy I did it."
The annual plunge into the new year is becoming a popular Edmonds event, said organizer Brian Taylor. Even the Edmonds Fire Department showed up to offer assistance Tuesday.
Taylor, 49, owns Daphne's Bar, home of the Edmonds Uplift Society, which sponsors the plunge. Membership in the society of New Year's Day swimmers supports the Edmonds Historical Museum. Between memberships and donations collected at the beach, the society gives about $500 a year to the museum, Taylor said.
Hanging in Daphne's is a photo taken in 1932 of the original Edmonds Uplift Society, with members sitting around a table covered with bottles of Rainier beer. Today the society is a drinking club with a social conscience, Taylor said.
New members are welcome and are awarded a 24-ounce can of Rainier beer after they take the plunge.
More information about joining the club is at www.daphnesbar.com.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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