It was the 111th Annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the LStreet Brownies in South Boston.
It was the 111th Annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the LStreet Brownies in South Boston.Dina Rudnick/ Globe Staff

Bagpipes and drums played “When The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

The few and brave sported a tight Speedo or a string bikini.

They wore plastic Viking helmets, brandished swords, and blew horns.

More than 600 swimmers conquered frigid Dorchester Bay for the 111th Annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the world-famous L Street Brownies Swimming Club on New Year’s Day.

“It’s over,” shrieked Cindy Hodas, 55, a first-time plunger from Andover. “Thank God.”

Gary Brake of Billerica sipped champagne after taking the plunge.

“I went in head first,” said Brake, 51, who wore Cape Breton plaid-inspired swim trunks.

When the plunge started at 9:30 a.m., the air temperature was 24 degrees, and the water temperature in Boston Harbor was 42 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.


But that did not deter the hundreds of swimmers and their supporters, including a former Boston mayor and Vatican ambassador, Ray Flynn.

“This is always a great day in South Boston,” said Flynn,who clutched the hand of grandson Braeden O’Doherty, 7, as he watched two daughters plunge into the water.

This year, the annual rite was dedicated to the late William McDermott, a noted Boston election lawyer and loyal Brownie who was struck and killed by a car in February while crossing Day Boulevard at L Street.

“Billy was a wonderful friend to so many,” said Jack Dever, president of the L Street Brownies. “He was here with us every year, helping to organize all of this.”

McDermott, who was 67, swam most days of the year in Dorchester Bay with his fellow Brownies. But he never swam on New Year’s Day.

“He handed out the towels,” said his son, Liam McDermott, 35, who stood at the front of the pack, wearing a Boston College hockey jersey to honor his late father’s alma mater.


McDermott and his sister, Deirdre Habershaw, 31, took the plunge in his memory. “It’s 2014, and it will be a year of healing for us,” he said.

The sky was a brilliant blue, the water icy and choppy. Swimmers snapped selfies with cellphones and jogged in place to stay warm. They chanted “Let’s go swimming.”

The bullhorn sounded, and the mad dash to the shore commenced. The bagpipers and drummers broke into the “Marines’ Hymn.”

“I sort of feel shocked that I did it,” said Maribeth Burke, 49, a West Roxbury resident, bundled up in a colorful beach towel after taking her first-ever plunge.

She was coaxed into taking the plunge by her friend Heather McGowan.

Hundreds stampeded into the water Wednesday for a frigid ringing in of the new year.
Hundreds stampeded into the water Wednesday for a frigid ringing in of the new year.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

“She got her first plunge in before she turns 50,” said McGowan, 42, a Newton resident who said she has participated in two polar plunges in Provincetown.

Eight former swimmers at Salem State University reunite every year at the plunge, held at the BCYF Curley Community Center. They don Viking helmets, a nod to their alma mater.

“It’s just a way for us to celebrate New Year’s and a sport we still love,” said Steven Cinella, 41, of Medford, who said the teammates swam at Salem State from 1990 to 1994.

His daughter, Katie, 8, wore a helmet and guarded the group’s plastic sword. “It was cold,” the youngster said, shivering after a quick dip.

Leah Spivey of Tewksbury said she dressed as a “sexy snowflake.” She wore white tights, a bra with dangling cotton balls, and glittery accessories. A character creator, Spivey was part of a group from Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell who plunged to raise money for their social action committee. “I only put my toes in,” said Spivey, 37. “It was too cold for me to go in . . . and risk melting” like a snowflake in salt water.


There is no charge to participate. Money raised from the sale of T-shirts and hot chocolate is donated to the South Boston Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund and to the youth hockey association.

The L Street Brownies hope to raise $3,000, enough to fund two scholarships for a high school graduate from South Boston.

“A lot of good comes from this swim,” Dever said.

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