Thursday, July 26, 2018

Swimming for the Bay: Open Water Swimming Tips from Elizabeth Beisel

by Elizabeth Beisel

I am ecstatic to finally be a part of the Save The Bay open water Swim! I got my start in swimming simply because I grew up in the Ocean State and my parents wanted me to be safe in and around the local waters. The love I developed for Rhode Island waters turned into an Olympic swimming career and I couldn’t be more grateful for everything this state has provided me.

I am fortunate enough to now have a platform to give back to the state and bring awareness to the pollution and litter in and around our beaches, and that is why I am most excited to join Save The Bay this August 4 in their 42nd annual open water Swim. 

We, as Rhode Islanders, must protect our waters in order to preserve them for the generations to come. I was able to swim in Narragansett Bay my entire childhood because of the efforts of people who came before me. Now it is my turn to pay it forward. 

Join me on Saturday, Aug. 4, as we support Save The Bay’s efforts to make our Bay a swimmable and safe place for everyone, and follow these simple open water swimming tips.

1. Warm up. Waters can be especially cold up here in New England, but no matter what the temperature is during your race or swim, you always want to make sure your body is warm and loose before you start. If the event coordinators allow it, hop in the water for 10 minutes before the start and loosen up. This will help your body acclimate to the water and relax the muscles, which is huge for preventing injuries. If there is no warm-up allowed, do some stretching and get your heart rate up by jogging or doing a few jumping jacks. You will swim faster and your body will thank you for it.

2. Fueling. Chances are, you won’t be swimming with a water bottle attached to you during your event. Start hydrating your body a bit more a day or two before your swim to avoid dehydration. Eat something before your swim. If you can’t stomach a lot of food early in the morning, eat a high calorie bar or smoothie that is easy to digest and won’t make you feel too full. Food is our energy source and you definitely want to be fueled up before a grueling swim.

3. Equipment. If you are doing an open water swim, you want to be as comfortable and confident as possible in your gear. If you are wearing a wetsuit or a suit that might rub your skin, rub baby oil or Vaseline on your skin where chaffing might occur. This will decrease the chances of your skin being raw after the swim and will make the event itself much more enjoyable. I suggest wearing two layers of caps: first cap, then goggles on, then second cap. This will help your goggles stay on during the swim.

4. Sighting. This is a crucial part of open water swimming. Because you have no line on the bottom to follow, you must become comfortable with lifting your head straight ahead to see where you’re going. Practice this skill in the weeks prior to your event; it will make it easier on your neck come race time and you will be comfortable knowing how to spot your course. Be familiar with your course before you dive in for your swim so if you get separated from your pack, you are able to still swim calmly and confidently in the right direction. Make sure you have a good pair of goggles that won’t fog up or blur your vision.

5. Pace yourself. Open water swimming is never a sprint. Start off at a comfortable pace and slowly start picking it up as the swim goes on. Keep your heart rate steady and under control so that you finish the swim strong and feel good the entire time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Homeschool is Cool on Narragansett Bay

by Rachael Lewin, communications intern, Save The Bay

Homeschooling began to grow in popularity in the 1970s when educational theorist John Holt advocated for the reform of public schools. Holt asked parents to consider schools without walls, where kids can learn at their own pace in their own environment. This experiential-based approach has grown significantly over the years and now more than 2 million U.S. children are being taught from home.

In 2008, Save The Bay added a new program, Homeschool is Cool, to its robust set of marine science environmental education courses. Once a month from September to May, children ages 6-14 meet for two-hour sessions to explore Narragansett Bay through its various creatures, watershed and habitats. Learning progress is tracked in journals that students use to take notes and draw pictures of their observations. All of Save The Bay’s education programs are linked to national science standards and Rhode Island’s grade span and grade learning expectations, making Homeschool is Cool a win for parent-teachers and students alike.

On a typical chilly day in February, some 25 children from kindergarten to third grade arrive at the Bay Center abuzz about the day’s activities. Educators have already been down to the dock to gather microscopic plankton from the Providence River, and the lesson starts with a primer on these tiny organisms. The students learn that plankton are the most abundant species in the Bay, and can range in size from miniscule to larger than a human. With older kids helping the younger ones, microscopes in the plankton lab at the Bay Center give these young marine scientists the chance to look at the different types of plankton up close, and then the students draw what they see in their observation journals.

Craft activities help reinforce the marine science lesson as students “make” a plankton out of Play-Doh and spaghetti. And since plankton float, rather than swim, in the water, the students are challenged to make spaghetti plankton that actually float. Contagious excitement fills the room as the students cheer and clap for the “plankton” that looked like they might actually float. In the end, spaghetti and Play-Doh prove to be less-than-buoyant and all the plankton eventually make their way to the bottom of the container.

“Programs like this are so great because they allow for my kids to have some real hands-on experience with the animals they’re reading and learning about. They come home eager to share what they learned and inspired to continue learning about the Bay and all the different aspects that make it so special,” said a mother of an excited third grader.

On a hazy March afternoon, homeschoolers and their families gather on the dock at Bowen’s Landing in Newport. After the group receives life jackets and safety guidelines, the excursion to look for seals begins. Before heading out to visit the seals at their favorite hangout spot, the educators introduce Sealia, Save The Bay’s life-size harbor seal model. On the outside, Sealia is simply a stuffed animal, but on the inside she is anatomically correct, with removable plush organs.

The educators break down the replica, explaining how the seals’ six inches of blubber along with a metabolic rate higher than land mammals, keeps them warm. The children learn that Narragansett Bay is an ideal location for seals’ winter vacationing because it is a safe place to rest, free from common predators, with a bounty of fish to eat.

As the boat makes it way to one of the seals’ favorite spots, Citing Rock, underneath the Newport Bridge, the educators talk about the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which helped raise the seal count in the Bay each winter from less than 20 to more than 500. Once the rock is in sight, the children swarm over to the side of the boat to catch the best view. The rocks seem to be overflowing with the majestic mammals, with a few bobbing around in the water seemingly approaching the boat to say hello.

The parents, marveling at the large number and beauty of the animals, stand back to allow the youngsters to be in front. Some hold up their phones to take pictures, some chat amongst themselves about the days activities. Homeschooling has become much more than just parents teaching their children at home. An aunt of one of the students pointed out that when enrolled in traditional schooling, weekends feel so hectic and busy, especially if sports and other extracurricular activities are a part of the schedule. Homeschooling, she said, allows for more family, time whether during the week or on the weekends, and that doing programs like this during the week eliminates the worry of weekend crowds. Parents work together to connect classroom lessons and experiences, creating communities of families who use this style of education and programs that make these experiences possible.

A father of one of the young adventurers shared his memories of struggling through school and constantly feeling behind his peers, so when it came time for his own kids to go to school, homeschooling was the answer. He and his wife quickly realized that this style of educating is a learning experience for the parents just as much as the kids, but seeing his son’s passion and excitement for learning makes the extra work worth it.

“Our homeschool programs further our mission to connect all students in Rhode Island to Narragansett Bay” said Grainne Conley, Save The Bay education program manager. The longest lasting memories come from experiences, fond memories of time with family or friends. So why not intertwine them with education? For more information on all of the programs Save The Bay offers, visit

Monday, July 9, 2018

Olympic Swimmer Elizabeth Beisel joins the Save The Bay Swim

by Katy Dorchies, marketing and graphics specialist

Swimmers and kayakers have myriad reasons for participating in Save The Bay’s annual Swim fundraiser—for some it’s about pushing their physical limits, while for others it’s simply about helping to protect the Bay. For Save The Bay’s first community Swim Ambassador, it’s all about giving back to the hometown waters that helped her reach her goals.

“I grew up on the beaches of Narragansett Bay, which is where I fell in love with the water,” said three-time Olympic medalist and Rhode Island native Elizabeth Beisel. “That love helped me accomplish my dreams to represent Rhode Island and the United States in the Olympics.”

As Save The Bay’s first Swim Ambassador, Beisel will offer welcoming remarks to participants in Newport on August 4 before jumping in the water and tackling the 1.7-nautical-mile swim challenge alongside other swimmers and kayakers. She will then present final awards from the Swim’s finish at Taylor Point in Jamestown.

Swimmers and fans, however, won’t have to wait until August to hear from Beisel. In the summer months leading up to the event, she will teach two youth swim clinics, share open-water swimming tips through Save The Bay’s blog and social media and participate in a takeover of Save The Bay’s Twitter account.

“I feel so fortunate to now have the chance to give back to the waters I learned to swim in, and that’s why I’m so excited to participate in the Save The Bay Swim,” said Beisel. “It’s so important to protect and restore our shorelines, beaches and Bay, and this is a perfect and seamless way for me to get involved. Let’s help save the Bay for the future Olympians of Rhode Island.”

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Love Affair with Landscape

by Lorena Pugh, painter

I have worked for years as a contemporary still life artist, rethinking the traditionally narrow definition of still life. I've enjoyed a comfortable degree of success, particularly for my four-foot pears wrapped in translucent tissue. Being a mid-career artist with national or international recognition, as I am, switching subject matter is a big deal after working for years to gain a following.

But it was love. A love affair that began two and a half years ago in a rural village in France, where I painted the beautiful landscape for seven weeks. Coming home to Narragansett Bay, I saw endless opportunities to grow as a landscape painter. I wanted to paint big waves and little coves, octopi and cormorants. I reached out to Save the Bay about some kind of collaboration for a show.

I thought of Save the Bay because in the summer of 1986, I did my first swim across Narragansett Bay. That was in the early days when kayaks and wetsuits weren’t ubiquitous. You dodged ores from 100+ rowboats and shivered in your skimpy suit, but it was wonderful, and I was hooked on open-water swimming. Over the years, I have developed a deep appreciation for all that Save the Bay does to make our Bay a good place to dive into.

Supporting Save the Bay with my paint strokes as well as my swim strokes meant we needed a venue, preferably a large space for those BIG waves I wanted to paint. The art gods smiled on us, because in a matter of weeks, the director of Dryden Gallery in Providence asked if I would like a solo show in their Grand Gallery—300 liner feet of wall space for paintings I had yet to create. I said yes, and grasping the enormity of what I just agreed to, nearly blacked out.

Dryden Gallery was more than happy to share proceeds with Save the Bay and so the biggest professional undertaking of my life began.

I started painting small plein air pieces in January 2017. Plein air painting is done outside, entirely at the sight, and over the past year and a half, I have relished spending time just looking and recording what I see along the shores, observing the changes in the water and air and the migration of life around the Bay.

Over the winter, I finally got those BIG, life-sized waves out of my head and onto canvas. One is 24 feet; the other is 16 feet. And a painting of a cloud reaches about 10 feet.
I bought a nautical map of Narragansett Bay and have put stickers in areas I have painted and in areas I want to paint. It will be included in the show so guests can find where each painting originated.

Now, with the good weather and only three months until the October 6th opening, I am heading back out to paint like the wind!

I will have close to 200 paintings by October, yet there are hundreds more I would love to paint. Our Bay is so rich with life and beauty; I hope you will come celebrate that with me at Dryden Gallery on October 6 for the benefit of Save The Bay and Narragansett Bay.