September 2007

Jumping off the wharf — sometimes a distance of twenty feet when the tide is low — into the frigid Gulf of Maine water has become a rite of passage and a tradition on many Maine Islands. Little children and adults watch with amusement and amazement as the jumpers overcome their fear.

Knees shake and toes curl over the edge of the railing just before the leap. Time hangs in the air, then a scream, splash, a few seconds of silence as momentum propels the body under water. On the surface again – the swimmer lets out a whoop, half expressing shock at the water temperature and half responding to the thrill of victory! Onlookers cheer.

It usually takes about 45 minutes before a rookie will actually jump. The first few times are the most challenging. Our children’s friends had no idea what they were getting into when they came to visit. They look, watch others jump, and figure out how to get out of the water in the fastest possible way. It is one of the best examples of peer pressure I have ever observed. Often the first jump is from the slip – a ramp used by passengers to disembark from the ferry when the tide is low. It is often the first jump for the uninitiated. The drop to the water from the slip can be 0 to 4 feet but the water temperature is still frigid, and the swim to the ladder or float takes a few minutes.

On hot summer days experienced jumpers gather on the wharf to wait for the ferry boat and the captive audience of commuters and tourists. Onlookers watch the kids in bathing suits lining up to make a splash. One or two even climb to the top of the shed that provides shelter during inclement weather — increasing the distance of the jump and increasing the awe factor. The boat engine roars and the seasoned jumpers leap into the surge of water spewed from the stern of the ferry as it pulls away. The swimmers ride the wake. The whoops and hollers are almost drowned out by the engine noise of the boat as it continues to the next Island. The kids jump over and over again their skin turns red as a boiled lobster and lips blue as the water.

I think the jump prepares one to take calculated risks later in life. To overcome the fear one will observe, assess the situation, figure out a strategy, and make the decision to take action. The thrill of the ride accompanies the sense of accomplishment.

As the sun sets and we sit down to dinner, there is a lively discussion of the days’ activities, including a rehash of the jump – “Did you see so-and-so jump from the shed? The water temperature wasn’t that bad! It was awful! I never thought I could do it!”
Betsy Hanscom, owner of Maine Warmers, publishes a monthly e-newsletter with a special sale for subscribers only, announcement of monthly drawing winner of a free warmer, and Snippets — stories of Maine. She inlcudes photos and a monthly quote. This month’s special is a Bunny Bed Warmer. To sign up please go to Maine Warmers and follow the links to sign up through Constant Contact. She does not share your information and you may unsubscribe at any time.