Swimmers cross Port Angeles harbor in Orca Bait event

Gift certificates handed out to top three finishers

Competitors in the second annual Orca Bait Swim enter Port Angeles Harbor on Sunday for the 1.5-mile race from the Sail & Paddle Park on Ediz Hook to Pebble Beach Park. The start was relocated from the boat ramp near the U.S. Coast Guard station due to rough water and a large vessel anchored near the finish. All 10 swimmers — nine women and one man — completed the race. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula News)

Competitors in the second annual Orca Bait Swim enter Port Angeles Harbor on Sunday for the 1.5-mile race from the Sail & Paddle Park on Ediz Hook to Pebble Beach Park. The start was relocated from the boat ramp near the U.S. Coast Guard station due to rough water and a large vessel anchored near the finish. All 10 swimmers — nine women and one man — completed the race. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula News)

PORT ANGELES — The second Orca Bait Swim from Ediz Hook to Pebble Beach Park drew 10 human competitors, but, much to the relieve of organizers and swimmers, none of the black and white predator kind.

While three orcas appeared at the inaugural 1 1/2-mile event in 2023, the only watery wildlife spotted this year were a couple of river otters propelling themselves across the choppy water in Port Angeles Harbor on Sunday.

The rough water and a large vessel anchored near the finish at Pebble Beach Park that was in the swimmers’ path led race organizer Rob DeCou to relocate the start from near the U.S. Coast Guard boat launch to the Sail & Paddle Park shortly before the event was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.

First-place finisher Katie Blose said that although the waves made visibility difficult at times, her husband, Jason, helped guide her as he paddled nearby in a kayak.

Blose’s winning time of 36 minutes, 20 seconds was almost 10 minutes faster than her second-place finish last year.

“I had a lot of fun and I wanted to do it again,” said Blose, 31, an occupational therapist at Olympic Medical Center.

Sarah Luigard, 24, said she couldn’t see anything after her goggles fogged up about halfway through the course. It was the first time in the open water for the former college swimmer, who borrowed a wetsuit for the event.

Nonetheless, Luigard finished in 55:39 — good enough for third place.

Luigard said she and her co-workers learned about the Orca Bait Swim online.

“We saw the name and thought it was funny,” said Luigard, who is an AmeriCorps worker with the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary education team. “I just thought I’d try it.”

Gift certificates of $100 from Fog Horn Olive Oil Company, $50 from Kindred Collective and $25 from Welly’s Real Fruit Ice Cream went to the top three finishers.

Like Blose, Mackenzie Marmol, 34, competed in the event last year and wanted to return.

“It was windy and choppy, but we were with the current,” said Marmol, who finished in 53:46. “I had to figure out the waves so they wouldn’t crash in my face.”

To help ensure the safety of the swimmers, 10 kayakers accompanied them along the route and a Brix catamaran followed behind. A U.S. Coast Guard vessel guarded the course and blasted Europe’s “The Final Countdown” as the last swimmers arrived at Pebble Beach Park.

After being bounced around by the waves, some of the swimmers were unsteady on their feet as they waded to shore at the finish.

“The walking was the hardest part,” said Gay Hunter, 72, a retired Olympic National Park museum curator.

The Orca Bait Swim was one of a number of activities at the Port of Port Angeles’ Maritime Festival over the weekend. The race was sponsored by Nor’Wester Rotary Club, the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Sound Community Bank, which provided its mascot, “Sounder” the orca, and Echo, a VW Beetle decked out like an orca that broadcast a soundtrack of Southern Resident J Pod vocalizations.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsulanews.us

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