A number of swimmers worried about tides. Newport is at the southern tip of Rhode Island, for which the stale is named, and the first 15 miles of the race would be down the tidal Sakonnet River, which bathes the island's east shore. Unfortunately, coming downriver the swimmers would meet an incoming tide, and no one was very happy about it. Now they cached their food in cartons: Coke, honey, powdered glucose, jelly beans. Chewing jelly beans promotes salivation, and this is vital because salt water can swell marathoners' tongues and constrict their throats, making breathing difficult. Horacio Iglesias' staple would be the pulp from four cans of peaches run through a blender. Breakfast was set for 3 a.m., and by 10 everyone was trying to sleep.
At 3 a.m. Tom Hetzel looked haggard. He had lain awake for well over an hour, periodically exclaiming: "Tomorrow I fight the bull." Stella Taylor, a 32-year-old teacher of deaf children from Florida, and one of two woman entrants, was putting on lipstick and eye makeup. The night before she had put her hair up. "I always act as if I'm going to my funeral," she said. "I do better if I look my best."
The swimmers were silent. Some of them ate. Some didn't. Iglesias ate 12 unblended peach halves. A 23-year-old English swimmer named Geoffrey Lake ate 12 raw egg yolks beaten up with sugar. Soon all walked out in the cool dark and entered their bus.
Starting time was 6 a.m., and a couple hundred people were at Island Park in Portsmouth to watch. The swimmers coated their necks and underarms with grease to prevent chafing. Boats with signs numbered to identify their swimmers bobbed offshore. A helicopter deposited Governor Frank Licht on the beach, perhaps to throw out the first ball of grease, and suddenly everyone was swimming.
A mile out, Iglesias was in the lead with Schans a few hundred yards behind. With 24 miles to go, Iglesias was swimming 80 strokes to the minute, and far to their rear the day's first tragedy occurred. A 45-year-old incinerator stoker named Maurice Zatonsky went to rinse his goggles, both lenses fell out and he had to quit. In his only previous swim he hadn't worn goggles, and he stopped after 9� miles, nearly blinded by the salt water.
Halfway down the Sakonnet River the water was a warm 72�, to the chagrin of Matuch, who was far behind Iglesias and Schans. Unlike them, and most other modern marathoners, Matuch thrives in cold water. Twelve miles out and 4� hours into the race, Schans swam to within 150 yards of Iglesias, but this was the closest he would come. Iglesias finished in 10:21:20, won the $2,000 first prize and was now only a few points behind Schans in the world standings. Schans was second, 23 minutes back; he earned $1,000. The tide had been so strong near the finish in Newport Harbor that the America's Cup yacht Intrepid was barely making headway under full sail. Iglesias had predicted his time as 10:10. He had studied the tide charts, he said, and started fast to beat the tide coming into the river. The others, with the exception of Schans, had been caught.
An Egyptian named Marwan Shedid won $800 for third place, finishing in 11:25:25, but the greatest drama of the race was still unfolding. For 25 miles and 11� hours, Matuch, Abou-Heif and another Egyptian, Mohamed Hussein Gamei, had swum neck and neck, stroke for stroke. They were half a mile at sea, not stopping for nourishment, plowing through clouds of jellyfish. Finally, Matuch 's comment about Abou-Heif's staying power proved true. With half a mile to go, the Egyptian pulled away to finish fourth ($600), in 11:51:56, one minute and 15 seconds ahead of Matuch, who earned $400. Gamei was sixth, in 11:57:56 ($200). By the race's end, Matuch had drunk 18 bottles of Coke and 15 glasses of water.
And far behind, Ralph Willard, 56 and pot-bellied, was still in the water. He had been last from the start, and after an hour many thought he was through. After seven hours he was so far back that his boat crew begged him to get out. One of his crew even claimed to be having a heart attack. Finally, they motored off and left him. However, his son, who was also his trainer, leaped overboard and swam with him for an hour until a houseboat came along. A few hours and they wanted out, too, but Ralph Willard kept swimming. Marine radios throughout the area buzzed with the story. "He hasn't been fed for six hours," was one widespread report—an exaggeration. Finally, the race committee ordered him out. He wouldn't budge. He stayed in the water for 12 hours, until the race officially ended. He had swum 14 miles.
That night there was a farewell dinner for the swimmers, but few of them ate much. They sat around white-faced, telling each other how sick to their stomachs they'd been. Johan Schans had vomited five times. "You cannot imagine how it feels at the end," he said. "Like you haven't slept for three nights and had parties all the time." Some had experienced hallucinations. Moon Huffstetler saw the bottom in 90 feet of water before he quit at 18 miles. Stella Taylor kept seeing sharks. At the meal's end, a Newport city councilman announced the presentation of a little memento to the swimmers for their ordeal—a specially made ashtray. "What do you know," one swimmer said, "for once marathon swimming is getting some recognition." They filed up for their ashtrays. The ashtrays were decorated with a picture of a yacht. "America's Cup Race—Newport, R.I." the inscription read.