Crossing the channel

Calm weather welcomes 434 swimmers Monday

Swimmers’ strokes were all that disturbed the smooth Columbia River waters on Monday.

Under brilliant sunny weather, and with not a bit of wind, the 434 swimmers made the crossing under conditions radically different than 2001, when the annual event had to be canceled.

“After last year, this is beautiful,” said Craig Schmidt, director of the sponsoring Hood River Chamber of Commerce, who had to make the tough call last year to cancel the race, as weather reports showed increasingly strong winds coming west from Cascade Locks.

What a difference a year makes.

“This is as nice a day for the swim as I can remember,” said Cindy Winfield, who has volunteered for the event for “between 10 and 15 years.”

The swim was “very, very good,” said Anne Collson, of her first Cross-Channel. The St. Helens resident came last year, and was disappointed at the cancellation. She was enthused enough about trying the event again that she also coaxed her daughter’s swim team coach into doing the 60th Annual Cross Channel.

“It was really calm today. There were no waves, which made it easy to go straight,” said Scott Roy of Mililani, Hawaii, who finished first. His wife, Tristan, was not far behind.

The Roys were one example of how the Webster swim is a family affair. The Euwer family of Hood River and “Team Smith” of Portland both had five swimmers, and four members of the Boyce family from Fair Oaks, Calif., also made the 1.1-mile crossing.

But it was the Websters who had 12 members dive into grandpa Roy’s legacy. That made about one-eighth of all the Websters who had gathered for the family reunion in Hood River over the weekend. Another 20 members of the Webster clan rode the Sternwheeler Columbia River to the Bingen side, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce, to watch the swimmers dive into the water in stages of 10 at a time.

For Roy’s daughter, Sharon Harvey of Hood River, the large numbers of participants, Websters included, is a gratifying tribute to Roy Webster.

Harvey was on shore greeting swimmers and taking photos, but she has done the Cross Channel three times. She got her start swimming literally on her father’s back.

“I was four years old and he had me climb on his back and we dove into Puget Sound. That’s how I learned to swim,” Harvey recalled.

“He instilled in us the love of swimming and how special a sport it is,” Harvey said.

Some people love the Cross Channel so much they’ll do the event with a broken ankle.

“My doctor doesn’t like it, but I really wanted to do the swim,” said Tami Wagonfeld of Hood River, who injured her ankle while windsurfing five weeks ago.

She couldn’t kick with her left leg, so she supported it with a flotation device.

The Cross-Channel’s sturdiest participant, Joe Sullivan of The Dalles, swam for the 32nd consecutive time. Not far behind at 29 straight crossings were Doug Brenner of Portland and Jeff Gubman of Lake Oswego, and Jane Conn of Colville, Wash., with 27.

Swimming as teams were Stumptown Dog Paddlers of Lake Oswego, Salem Norm of Salem, Roy Robsters of Beaverton, and Guinness Athletic Club of Portland.

Dozens of boats lined the crossing route to help any swimmers in need of a rest. However, all participants made the crossing unassisted, including Eric Zimmerman of Roseburg, who swam with his six-foot inflatable alligator, known as Fred.

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