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By Sarah Sue Ingram
Pirates invaded Holden Beach Saturday and absconded with all the loot.
Actually, they swam, bicycled and ran away with all the loot.
Contestants from Charlotte had to hold onto their hats—their pirate hats—for the last leg as they crossed the finish line to win the Holden Beach Shipwreck Triathlon.
“It feels good to win,” said James Haycraft, 28. “The hardest leg was the run because my hat kept blowing off, and a Speedo is not the most comfortable thing to run in.”
The Charlotte contestants wore pirate attire only for the last leg—the run, which came after a long swim in the ocean and a bicycle race on the west end of the island.
“My mustache is stiff from the salt water,” Haycraft said.
Men’s runner-up Ashley Ackerman said, “It took two miles before I could feel my toes again. I was just peddling with my heels.”
The water temperature was 67 degrees for the contestants who jumped in the ocean several hundred yards to the right of the Holden Beach Bridge and swam left.
“They set the course up to go with the current,” Haycraft said.
From a distance, the ocean surface was broken by a flurry of white splashes.
“It kind of looks like fish feeding,” said spectator Pam Chappell, down from Greensboro for the weekend.
Kayakers escorted the swimmers as they freestyle-raced down to a green buoy parallel to the Holden Beach Pavilion.
“This is almost a perfect race day,” said spectator Jon Wallace. “Last year (during the first Holden Beach Shipwreck Triathlon), the water was very choppy.”
Swimmers emerged from the water Saturday already shedding their wet suits. The strip teases continued as they made their way to the racks with the numbered bicycles set up in front of the candy shop.
Police chief Wally Layne and officer Ian Evans stopped traffic on Ocean Boulevard for the contestants to cross unimpeded.
“I would love to do it,” Evans said of the triathlon. “It’s really great for the competitors. It’s a great goal to reach—even to finish.”
Holden Beach town manager David Hewett, 52, finished in both last year and this year’s triathlons. Saturday, he placed third in his age division.
“It’s something not a lot people can do,” Hewett said. “I’m sure more people can do it than are motivated to do it. It requires a wide variety of skill sets. You’ve got to be accomplished in three things.”
Melissa Bell won going away in the women’s division. She competed in a swimsuit adorned with a picture of a skull and also wore a pirate bandana.
“Usually beaches are flat, and that sometimes gets boring,” said the 31-year-old. “But the homes here are beautiful, and it was great getting crowd support at the homes.”
A small crowd assembled on the beach yelling “Great job,” “Yea,” “You’re doing a great job” and “Keep going!” as swimmers emerged from the surf. On the bicycle race on the west end and run on the east end, people came out of their oceanfront, second-row and Brunswick Avenue homes, sat in lawn chairs and cheered on contestants.
Bell said, “It helps motivate you to go faster, especially when you’re tired at the end (of each leg).”
She planned on celebrating her third triathlon victory this year by eating French fries and a veggie burger at Sharkey’s with her Charlotte colleagues.
“My in-laws have a beach house in Ocean Isle,” Ackerman said.
Catherine Hensley, who couldn’t compete in the triathlon this year because she’s training for a marathon in two weeks, cheered on brother and sister Kyle and Meg Hensley.
“They grew up coming to Holden so this is a nostalgic thing for them,” Catherine Hensley said.
One competitor had done an Iron Man in Idaho in June when the water temperature was 53 degrees, they said.
Contestant Bob Nixon had to pull out of Saturday’s race, lamenting, “I couldn’t breathe in that wet suit, and a kayaker had to tow me in.”
The competitors were cordial after the race.
Haycraft, the winner, walked up to one triathlete, vigorously shook his hand and said, “Great race, man, you rode that bike hard.”
Haycraft didn’t have any laurels around his neck, but he still had a “salt necklace” where the top of his wet suit had been.