Like swarming fish with psychedelic-colored heads, some 600 swimmers wearing wet suits and red and green caps bobbed across Chesapeake Bay yesterday in the 12th annual swim to raise money for the March of Dimes.
Swimmers wearing red caps -- those expected to swim more slowly -- waded into the water first on a hazy morning at Sandy Point State Park, followed 15 minutes later by more experienced swimmers wearing green caps.
James Kegley, 36, a free-lance photographer from Washington, reached Kent Island ahead of everyone else, winning The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim and shaving 1 minute and 10 seconds off last year's winning time.
It was the seventh time he had won in as many times entering the 4.4 mile endurance swim between the twin spans of the Bay Bridge.
"I am surprised. There were a lot of really fast swimmers who I figured would beat me," Mr. Kegley said. He said the wind and choppy water did not deter him from reaching the shore in 1:32:52.
Eight minutes later, the first woman finished the race. "It was really wavy, and I got sick a couple of times, but I kept swimming," said Zena Herrmann, 34, of Catonsville, a member of the University of Maryland Baltimore County Masters swim team.
The rest of the 600-member field soon dotted the shores of Kent Island, looking disoriented and haggard.
"It was pretty warm, and the current wasn't too bad," said Lukas Filler, 18, of North Potomac, who was among the first swimmers to reach Kent Island.
"Two years ago, I came in last, but after this I'm definitely doing it again," he said.
Bill Taylor of Phoenix and his 15-year-old daughter, Kate, said the water was excellent for swimming. "We decided to [enter the race] as a family. Physically it was very hard."
Five swimmers couldn't finish the race and were plucked from the water by one of 100 kayaks and rescue boats provided by the Chesapeake Bay Power Boat Association, the Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard and the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.
In previous years, a strong tide and wind gusts prevented many swimmers from finishing.
Organizers said the swim had such a high completion rate because of the quality of the swimmers.
The swimmers' pledges and entrance fees, combined with corporate donations and raffle ticket and T-shirt sales, raised about $20,000 for the March of Dimes.