PORTLAND – Scott Yeomans found a way to stay calm Saturday during the grueling challenge of swimming across Casco Bay.
Yeomans could have sunk into a panic in the middle of the open water at the Cyrus Hagge YMCA Peaks to Portland Swim. When those moments started to set in, he looked to Beth Ansheles, his guide in a nearby kayak.
“She always has a really calm look on her face,” Yeomans said of Ansheles. “That kept me calm and focused on my swimming and my stroke, and not trying to get too ahead of myself. I tried to keep building the whole way.”
A little more than a mile off the shore of East End Beach in Portland, Yeomans made his move to put himself in position to be the first person to cross the finish line of the 2.4-mile open-water swim from Peaks Island to Portland.
“It was more of a move right before Fort Gorges,” said Ansheles.
“Right before we got to the other side, the other swimmer swung out and we stayed on the course.”
The field for the 30th annual race included 279 swimmers from 16 states, including Maine, and featured the race’s namesake, Cyrus Hagge of Portland, who finished in 52 minutes, 50.7 seconds.
But Yeomans, a 47-year-old resident of Bethlehem, Pa., was the first finisher.
He completed the open-water swim in 43 minutes, 28 seconds, more than 41 seconds ahead of Matt Libby of Freeport, who was timed in 44:09.9, and nearly a minute ahead of Derek Hawkes of Westbrook, who finished in 44:20.5.
“I saw that there were 300 swimmers (registered) for this year so I thought, top 10 is really good,” said Yeomans, who competed in his third Peaks to Portland in honor of Jini Ansheles, his 93-year-old aunt who lives in South Portland.
“You never know who’s going to be at the races and I didn’t really know where I was during the race, either. You just stare at your kayaker. And if you start looking around, you’re going to get too distracted. You have to stay focused on your stroke and keep going.”
More than two minutes after Yeomans reached the shore, Kristen Desrosiers of Gorham became the first female finisher for the second consecutive year.
Taking advantage of an incoming tide, a water temperature of 64 degrees and a warm, sunny morning, Desrosiers finished the swim in 46:59.1, cutting more than a minute off her 2010 time of 48:03.
Desrosiers’ twin sister, Katelyn, was the third female finisher, just behind Christine Beecher of Scarborough, who was timed in 47:24.4.
“It was really sunny and the water was really flat,” said Desrosiers, 20. “It was perfect. Last year it was really foggy and there were more waves.”
She also had the help of her kayaker, Jake Wilson, who guided her for the second straight year.
“I trusted him to where he was leading me,” Desrosiers said. “This year I was a little less nervous, too. But it’s wanting to get there. Looking back, when I look from here to (Peaks Island), I think, this is really awesome.”
Priya Ahluwalia was one of 16 swimmers to cross Casco Bay without a wet suit, and said she opted to swim in her first Peaks to Portland in a blue racing swimsuit instead of what she felt was a constraining neoprene (synthetic rubber) bodysuit.
“It kind of felt like you were swimming in a shirt and pants,” said Ahluwalia, 17, who ended the swim in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 6.2 seconds. “The water conditions were fine. In a lot of areas you could really feel the cold, then it was warm but I thought it was fine.”
And like Yeomans, Ahluwalia didn’t focus on the possibility of straying off the course.
Instead, she found a focal point, and like Yeomans, relied on her kayaker, Jean Esposito.
“I didn’t look at the landmarks when I swam, but I had my kayaker and I watched her as I swam,” Ahluwalia said.
Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at: