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Sag Harbor’s frosty plunge raises funds for ambulance corps

After three years of cancellations, Sag Harbor brought back its annual "frosty plunge," drawing 32 people into Windmill Beach's cold waters on Feb. 27, 2016. The event raised more than $600 for the village's ambulance corps. (Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

For a quick second Saturday, it looked like the calendar in Sag Harbor had suddenly flipped to July.

The sun was shining on Windmill Beach, women in bikinis and men in swim trunks chatted, a teenager clutched a shark-face inflatable toy, and the resort village’s Long Wharf was lined with people.

But the screams of “Oh my god, it’s so cold!” a few minutes later as more than 30 people sprinted out of the 42-degree water of Sag Harbor Bay and the urgent pleas of “Give me my sweatshirt!” revealed that it was still February and time for the “frosty plunge.” The event is a fundraiser for the Sag Harbor Ambulance Corps.

Some, like Joyce Arbia, 13, of Sag Harbor, were jolted by the experience.

“Going in it was like minus 20,” Arbia said as she shivered standing on the beach in near-freezing temperatures and anxiously waited to go home to take a hot shower. “Hanging out it’s like minus 20.”

“She’s crazy,” said sister Cassie Arbia, 16. “I’d probably be sent away in an ambulance.”

Tom Tait, 43, on the other hand, was unfazed. He nonchalantly stood shirtless for a few minutes after exiting the water and was in no hurry to put on his fleece jacket.

“It’s really not that bad,” he said. “It’s invigorating.”

Tait came down with his wife, Shannon Early, from Wappingers Falls, a village in the Hudson Valley. Early, 43, grew up in Sag Harbor and said she looked forward to attending Saturday’s HarborFrost festival -- of which the frosty plunge is a part -- and seeing old friends without being surrounded by massive crowds.

“I was really excited that I can go to a local event that’s not inundated with traffic,” she said. “I can see a lot of familiar faces that get lost in the summer.”

Saturday was the sixth annual HarborFrost -- an all-day series of events created to draw visitors to the village off-season -- but only the third frosty plunge. Ice and snow led to the event’s cancellation in 2013, 2014 and 2015, said Ed Downes, a former president of the ambulance corps.

Thirty-two people took the plunge Saturday, raising more than $600 for the corps with their $20 entrance fees, said corps volunteer Astrid Edwards.

Jon Diat, 54, is a frosty plunge veteran. He said this year’s event was shorter than past years’.

“It’s high tide, so we got into deep water pretty quickly,” the Sag Harbor man said. “Last time, we had to go out 30 yards.”

Diat was still wearing the rubber and fabric shoes with which he went in the water.

“You’ve got to wear the shoes; otherwise you get colder much more quickly,” Diat said. “You don’t want bare feet. That’s the strategy.”

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