Hundreds of swimmers were hauled from the water by escort boats near the Bay Bridge yesterday when a strong current forced the Coast Guard to halt the eighth annual Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim.
In addition, State Police arrested the organizer of the event, Fletcher Hanks, 72, of Oxford, who they charged with attempting to run two legs of a "triathlon" event along state roads without a permit. Hanks could not be reached for comment.
A total of 720 swimmers were pulled from the water by dozens of Coast Guard and private boats as a strong, two-knot current swept contestants from the 4.4-mile course, running from Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis to Hemingway's Restaurant on the other side of the bridge. Under normal conditions, organizers would expect to assist at least 150 swimmers who could not finish the event.
Only 164 contestants completed the swim event, which was called off by the Coast Guard at about 10:30 a.m., about two hours early, according to Michael Sida, a second-class petty officer at the Coast Guard Station in Annapolis.
No injuries were reported.
But the troubles didn't stop when the swimmers left the water.
Although the organizer had worked with the Coast Guard on the bay swim, he failed to get a permit for the next two legs of the planned "triathlon" to Rehoboth Beach, Del., according to Lt. Gar Menefee, commander of the Centerville State Police Barracks.
The event was to have included a foot race along Md. 18 to Centerville, and a bicycle race along Md. 304, Md. 309 and other roads toward Rehoboth.
Hanks previously had been denied a permit for the event for safety reasons, and was told last Thursday and again yesterday that he could not run the race without a permit, according to Lt. Menefee.
When he attempted to continue with the event with the relatively few swimmers who completed the first leg of the event, Hanks was charged with failure to obey a lawful order of the police, a misdemeanor, said Menefee. He was released on personal recognizance.
Police also arrested a participant in the event, Philip D. Edelen, 30, of Chestertown, on a charge of failure to obey a lawful order for attempting to continue in the event.
Menefee said many of those who emerged from the water at Hemingway's were surprised that the event would not be allowed to continue, but did not challenge the order.
"The problem with the event was the routes of travel are state routes that carry heavy traffic on the weekends," said Menefee.
He noted that some are single lane, 50 mile-per-hour roads with no shoulder, and "there's a very great safety concern, for not only the participants but the motoring public."
The annual swim event draws hundreds of contestants, some from as far away as Texas, Chicago and California.