EASTON -- Nearly 600 swimmers are expected to take the plunge on June 12 for the 10th annual Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, a 4.4-mile race from Sandy Point State Park on the western side of the bay to Kent Island on the Eastern Shore.
The race, which attracts swimmers from as far away as California, is billed by organizers as the largest open-water swim event in the country.
Troubled by wind and tide problems in past races, organizers of this year's race said extra precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of the participants.
Wind and water current patterns are being studied by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and will be studied the day before the race, said Charles J. Nabit, a Baltimore-based nursing home operator who is this year's race director.
Relying upon the weather and water samples, race organizers plan to put the swimmers into the bay when the natural elements are at their weakest, a strategy that should enable most swimmers to finish the course along the twin bay bridges. Mr. Nabit said the race is tentatively scheduled to start about 9:30 a.m.
Similar methods last year enabled 510 of the 525 swimmers who entered the race to finish on their own. In the two previous years, however, strong wind gusts and a relentless ebb tide forced hundreds of swimmers to abandon the bay crossing. Those who gave up were plucked from the water by rescue boats and deposited on shore.
The 1992 bay swim was threatened with cancellation by U.S. Coast Guard officials, who called off the 1991 race after hundreds of swimmers were swept south of the bridges.
Fletcher Hanks, an Oxford resident who had organized the race that year, complained that the Coast Guard was at fault because it had delayed the start of the race by 40 minutes. By the time the swimmers reached the halfway point, Mr. Hanks said, tidal currents were too strong for most of the swimmers.
Mr. Nabit and Lyn Brooks, head of L. Brooks Productions in Baltimore, took over the race in 1992.
The new organizers limited the number of swimmers to 600 and brought in more volunteer boaters to stand by along the race course for rescue calls.
Once again, unexpected strong currents ran against the swimmers and forced more than two thirds of them to reach the opposite shore in boats.
Mr. Nabit said he believes this year's event will run as smoothly as last year's, when Chris Rutford of Lincoln, Neb., finished the crossing in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 22 seconds.
Gaithersburg swimmer Ellen Lucey finished in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 58 seconds for the best woman's time.
"I anticipate there will be a half-dozen swimmers who will give last year's winners a run for their money," said Mr. Nabit, who said 530 swimmers already have signed up for the event.
On hand to provide volunteer assistance will be 65 boats that are part of the Chesapeake Power Boat Association, as well as a number of Boston Whalers and kayaks.
"The powerboats are really the backbone of the safety fleet," said Mr. Nabit. "They put together such coordination that it's like a military exercise."
Profits from the $45 entry fees will go to the March of Dimes. The fee will be waived if a swimmer collects $100 in pledges to the charity.