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Nearly 1,000 people join L Street Brownies for annual New Year’s Day swim

Swimmers including Billy Williams, of Medford, center, charged into the water during the L Street Brownies annual New Year's Day polar plunge into Dorchester Bay. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

On a windy morning with the sun shining through low clouds, nearly 1,000 people jumped into Dorchester Bay for the annual L Street Brownies polar plunge, one of Boston’s oldest New Year’s Day traditions.

“What better way to wash off all that was bad last year, than with a dip in the ocean?” said Anne Sarno-McIlwrath, 51, of Billerica, dressed in a pink-and-blue tutu, who took the plunge for the third year in a row.

“It sets a ‘can-do’ attitude for the New Year,” said Theresa Muller, 63, a fitness professional from Arlington.

Just before 10:30 a.m., “Tom Horn,” a South Boston native whose real name is Tommy McAuliffe, sat in the lifeguard chair on L Street Beach, and played the “Charge” fanfare on his tuba to mark the official start.


Sporting Speedos, Santa caps, and sparkling New Year’s hats, bathers broke through the yellow tape to charge into the calm 46-degree saltwater.

“It wasn’t as cold as other years,” said Marty Davis, 17, of Shrewsbury, who persuaded about a dozen friends to dress only in tight Speedos and bow ties for the plunge.

For some, it was their first New Year’s dip.

“It’ll wake you up, that’s for sure,” said Royce Lumadue, 33, accompanied by other residents of Hope House, a recovery community in Boston.

The air temperature was 42 degrees, with wind gusts of 25 to 28 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

“This is the windiest I’ve ever seen it,” said Robert Spurgeon, 59, of Natick, who was participating for the fourth straight year. “But I’m ready.”

The plunge, sponsored by the “World Famous L Street Brownies” swimming club of South Boston for more than a century, drew one of its largest crowds, said Danny Monahan, interim director of the city’s Curley Community Center, which hosts the event.


“This is the original polar plunge,” Monahan said, standing on the hard-packed sand. “The Brownies are a swimming club. This is about health and fitness, not about getting rid of a hangover.”

A group of bartenders from various Boston establishments — fresh from serving their last New Year’s revelers — wore matching white terrycloth robes, with a Reyka vodka logo, for a group plunge.

“Just something we all wanted to do together,” said Ashley Hudson, 31, who works at the Silvertone Bar & Grill in Downtown Crossing.

Money raised from the sale of L Street Brownies T-shirts and donations collected at the registration table are used to fund scholarships for the South Boston Sports Hall of Fame, South Boston Youth Hockey, and after-school programs at the Curley center. “It’s about charity,” Monahan said. “A lot of good comes from the plunge.”

He did not have an exact number of people who participated on Sunday, or the amount of money raised. There were no injuries or medical emergencies during the two-and-a-half-hour event, Monahan said.

The L Street Brownies, whose members swim in South Boston year round, volunteered to sell T-shirts, register participants, and direct them to changing rooms. “Let’s go folks, 50 strokes,” joked Richie Litto, 59, a Brownie who stood outside the ladies room.

“This is about health and fitness, not about getting rid of a hangover,” said Danny Monahan, interim director of the city’s Curley Community Center, which hosts the event.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Tom McAuliffe, of South Boston, ascended to the top of the lifeguard chair. Swimmers were waiting for McAuliffe to blow his horn before charging into the frigid water.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
One swimmer had a polar bear tattoo, referencing the 2013 plunge.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
This year’s swim had nearly 1,000 participants, one of the largest crowds in the event’s century-long history.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.