Swimmers jumped off the dock at Dockside Restaurant and headed west toward the Heide Trask Drawbridge to begin the 3.5-mile Swim the Loop race early Saturday, Sept. 29.
Volunteer standup paddleboarders, kayakers and boaters headed to their destinations to prepare for the first-time open water endurance race.
The 58 swimmers, ranging in age from 11 to 69, fought against the currents as they circled around Harbor Island through Lees Cut, Banks Channel and Motts Channel trying to make it back to the starting point before the three hour time cutoff.
A group of onlookers rang cowbells from a dock on Lees Cut cheering on the wave of swimmers that passed by before the first mile mark.
Many who were lined along the waterway also yelled out for Ginger Connett, an avid swimmer and the only Wrightsville Beach resident who competed in the race.
Todd Pletcher, 42, swam up to the dock long before race officials expected anyone to finish. He stepped over the finish line with a time of 1 hour 23 minutes and 20 seconds, with an average per mile pace of 23 minutes and 49 seconds — a course record.
“I expected to be around 1:30, 1:35,” he said after he had a chance to catch his breath.
Pletcher said he was happy to take home first place after coming in second place during a 12.5-mile swim in Key West in June.
The race was the third time Pletcher had swam the loop. He said he would probably swim it more often now.
“It’s a fantastic swim, great course,” he said. “It’s just a great day for a swim.”
Pletcher has been swimming since he was only 2 years old and has been swimming competitively since he was 6. His swimming streak is similar to many of the other swimmers who made it to the dock shortly after he did.
Jimbo Short, 15, and his 11-year-old sister, Caroline, have also been competing from an early age and both took part in the open water race. Jimbo came in second with a time of 1 hour 31 minutes and 34 seconds.
He said it was tough swimming against the current.
“I didn’t go quite as fast as I wanted, but it was still a good swim,” Jimbo Short said.
Next year, he said he would try to swim straighter lines to help improve his time.
When Caroline made it to the finish line as No. 17, many stood in awe of the youngest race participant.
“The cool water. It felt good,” she said.
Caroline Short said everything about the swim was hard and she had to stop to catch her breath several times while en route. The race was the longest one she had competed in to date.
The Short siblings are both members of the Waves of Wilmington swim team and they had not swam the loop before the race.
Alicia Uhl, 35, was the first female to cross the finish line at 1 hour and 33 minutes.
Race director Kristen Smith said she had race volunteers taking notes throughout the morning with changes and things to remember for next year.
“I’m actually thinking about a shorter distance,” she said.
The shorter distance, in addition to the original loop, would start at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort for a 1.29-mile swim and would allow a larger range of swimmers to compete in the race.
“That’s just a good idea,” she said.
Swimmers who did not make it to the finish line in less than three hours were picked up on boats sweeping the loop. Smith said those swimmers would be able to take on the challenge again next year.