"Leave your sandals on," one said. He only gave his name as Gunther, but it turned out his real name is Stan Miner, a friend said later. Miner wore a pair of sneakers and a pair of polar bear-print boxer shorts.
A friend of Miner's advised that a beer belly is helpful in confronting the deep chill of the river.
While the air temperatures soared this New Year's Day into the mid-60s, the river temperature hovered just above freezing.
The group of three friends and the reporter stepped slowly into the waters. There are different methods of entering. Miner splashed in and dove headfirst. The reporter eased in, but after feeling the quick bite of the cold up to his knees, decided it would be best to get it over with.
"It's official when you get your head wet," Miner said.
The reporter did so by dunking himself and quickly returned to the shore, as did the other three. Once on shore, the reporter put his shirt back on and felt the satisfaction of doing something that many people are afraid to do. The warnings for people with heart problems to stay away from this type of activity, however, do not seem unwarranted.
Lester Curry, 38, of Williamsport, was part of the main group of swimmers on Saturday. He said there is a simple reason why he jumped into the river: "We're idiots."
Asked how the club came into being, Miner explained that he and a friend he referred to as "SpongeBob" began jumping into the river on New Year's Day in the early 1990s on a bet they made over drinks at a bar one New Year's Eve.
Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, estimated on Saturday there were 300 to 400 people attending the event, 100 of whom swam.
The Humane Society teamed up with the Polar Bear Club last year through Todd Bowman and his wife, Tracey. Miller said last year, the Humane Society raised about $4,000 through the event, and he expected about the same amount this year.
Todd Bowman wore a yellow foam costume suit of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants when he entered the river, and is the other half of the original duo who dared each other to swim in the Potomac.
Bowman, 42, of Sharpsburg, said this was the 14th year he participated in the plunge, and this year drew about as many people as last year, despite the weather.
Although "it's a little more dramatic when you have to saw through the ice," which they've done in years past, Bowman said.