Despite a million gallons of partially treated sewage spilling into Casco Bay on Thursday and putting the Peaks to Portland swim in doubt, most longtime swimmers in the field of 389 who showed up for the race Saturday said the event was just as inspiring as ever.

Six-time winner John Stevens of Portland finished first in a time of 44 minutes, 13.4 seconds, followed by a five-time winner, Scott Yeomans of Southport (45:00).

Cheryl Daly of South Portland was the top woman, finishing in 49:04.9, and Kristin Jackson of Portland was second (49:17.3).

As many as 550 registered for the event that is capped after years of being expanded, and the 30-percent absentee total for the 2.4-mile swim was about what organizers expected. Typically, 20 percent of those who register don’t show for various reasons, said Helen Brena, the CEO of the YMCA of Southern Maine.

Brena said while Thursday’s sewage spill from the water treatment plant near the Eastern Promenade put the race in doubt, the water-quality test Friday left no question the event would go on.

Stevens wasn’t worried about the sewage spill.


“I won it five times in the 1990s, then didn’t do it for a long time,” said Stevens, 39, who was enjoying his first win in 20 years.

“I’ve been training for run-swim races and sprained my ankle three weeks ago. So I was worried about that.”

Others said the race has become such a summer festival and a gathering of Maine’s open-water swimming community that nothing could dampen the mood.

“I wasn’t worried. Casco Bay has gotten cleaner every year,” said Joe Kurlanski of Saco, who was doing the race for the 14th time and finished in 53:17.6. “The volume of water that moves in and out with the tide, it cleaned it fast. They may have lost some swimmer,s but there are many reasons why people who enter don’t show up. But 500 people keep registering every year. This is a great event.”

The results of a water-quality sample released Saturday found a slightly elevated level of colony forming units of bacteria, or cfu, per 100 milliliters of water. On Saturday, the results of a third water quality sample came back at 110 cfu per 100 milliliters. Results from a sample on Thursday morning were at 160 cfu per 100 milliliters. Results from a sample taken Thursday afternoon came back at 10 cfu per 100 milliliters.

The city announced Saturday that East End Beach would remain open, but an advisory remained in place because when there is an inch or more of rain in 24 hours, there is a high potential of elevated bacteria levels due to runoff.


Still, the event went on for cheerful competitors and spectators.

Michele Kurlanski, who came to cheer for her husband, said they hope their youngest son does the race with his father when he turns 16.

“It’s just a great event. There is such great energy here,” she said.

Paige Teller, a Maine Medical Center surgeon from Cape Elizabeth, was concerned about the sewage Thursday. But when she heard the water test results on Friday, Teller said she had no reservations.

“Oh yeah, I definitely was worried. But when the second water test came back, I felt much better,” said Teller, 42, who finished in 1:03:52.3.

“I know the (YMCA) had a lot on the line. But I also think they wouldn’t jeopardize people’s safety. I thought about it a lot Thursday and Friday. But I felt comfortable swimming in it.”


Swimmers came from as far away as Illinois, Iowa and California.

Christopher McWilliams, 31, of Princeton, New Jersey, was swimming the race for the third time and said his family came to Maine just for the event. He finished in 1:04:38.8.

“I knew that it was safe, because of the water test,” McWilliams said. “I wasn’t concerned. We didn’t want to miss it.”

The race has been held for 36 years and is one of the oldest open-water swimming races in the world. It’s a fundraiser for the YMCA of Southern Maine.

Brena said when she joined the YMCA of Southern Maine 12 years ago, the race drew less than 200 swimmers and brought in $16,000 to help fund summer camps, swim lessons, and programs for new immigrants. Now, it’s capped at 550 swimmers and raises $190,000.

“I’ve done it six times, so I know the feeling these swimmers have right now,” Brena said. “And this event raises the money that helps us teach 3,000 kids to swim each year, and for our day camps and programs. So it’s important to the community.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or:

Twitter: FlemingPph

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