Not expecting a large turnout in the inaugural year of the Fenwick Freeze on New Year’s Day, 2005, Fenwick Island Resident JoEllen Cain ironed designs onto only about 40 T-shirts to hand to the event’s participants.
One can imagine her surprise when more than 150 anxious freezers registered to jump into the icy Atlantic on the first day of 2005. A record-setting 67-degree day — as measured in Georgetown by the National Weather Service — helped draw the 154 participants and nearly 300 people to the beach in the first year, according to event organizers.
“We figured if we had five or 10 people show up we would be totally ecstatic,” said Chris Clark, the Fenwick Island town councilman who has helped Cain organize the event each year. “We just got totally blown away by it. She wound up having to make about another 100 (shirts).”
Another early-spring-feeling day last year sent numbers soaring in the event’s second year. Some 235 registered to jump in on Jan. 1, 2006, with upwards of 350 people altogether heading out onto the beach. But even with early forecasts of weathers in the upper-40-degree range for New Year’s Day 2007, Fenwick Freeze organizers said they expect locals to brave the weather to again celebrate the new year with a dip in the Atlantic.
“Jumping in that ice cold water is a blast,” said Cain, the event’s founder. But, she added, “You’re out as fast as you’re in.”
This year’s event will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Monday on the Bayard Street beach in Fenwick Island and will include a bonfire, a DJ and professionally produced T-shirts to relieve some of the strain on Cain.
Registration costs $20, and includes a T-shirt and an icy dip. Willing participants can register from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 30 and 31 at Fenwick Island Town Hall or from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. the morning of the event. After the town covers its costs, proceeds will benefit the Sussex County Paramedics and the Fenwick Island Lifeguard National Competition Fund, supporting local lifeguards on their travels.
Freeze organizers donated $250 to the Fenwick Island Lighthouse fund in 2005 and $1,000 to that fund last year.
“When we started it, it was at that turning point where the town had been going through a lot of rough spots,” Clark said of the positive feelings that the event brought out. He said that cold weather might deter some from jumping in this year but it will not deter town residents from celebrating new year’s on the beach. “We wanted to start bringing the community together in other ways. It’s been a great thing for the community.”
Ocean temperatures off the coast of Lewes measured at almost 52 degrees on Christmas Eve, according to the National Weather Service. Oceanic temperatures in the area average below 40 degrees in January.
Clark — noting that he is usually in a full wetsuit when surfing this time of year — and Cain said they both plan to jump in on Monday as they have done the last two years, partly because of their position as organizers of the event.
A refreshing dip into the cold Atlantic is also a great way to celebrate a brand new year, Clark said.
“The first year, I never would have thought I would have done that,” Clark said, “but I did it and I lived (and) it really wasn’t that bad. Yes, it’s cold and your head splits like a frosty headache. But once you get out, the air feels so warm and you feel alive and vibrant,” he added. “It’s an interesting experience.”