PROVINCETOWN — When 243 swimmers dove into the Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla on Saturday, “It was a joyful return to the water,” said Jay Critchley, creator of the event and director of the Provincetown Community Compact, the organization that sponsors it. Last year’s event was conducted remotely because of the pandemic.

In Provincetown, the Swim started in the far East End, near the Breakwater and Harbor hotels. From there, 171 swimmers followed a route close to the shore, covering 1.2 miles to the finish line at the new East End Waterfront Park.

In years past, participants swam from Long Point across the harbor, but the presence of sharks inspired a new route. Critchley, ever optimistic, pointed out an upside: this way people can cheer from waterfront houses as swimmers splash by.

Prayer ribbons line the waterfront finish line on Sept. 11 for the annual Provincetown Swim for Life. (Photo Jay Critchley)

A Cessna airplane flew overheard, sharkspotting, just in case. It was supplied by Cape Cod Ocean Community, a Wellfleet-based nonprofit that advocates for shark safety awareness and surveillance.

Another 39 participants joined the Swim at Great Pond in Wellfleet. That course, for those who are “harborly challenged,” as Critchley put it, covered about two-thirds of a mile. Joan Nagle, 87, the swimming coach who first organized the Great Pond event in 2019, helped train and encourage the Great Pond Mermaids team this year.

With 33 other people taking part by “swimming in place” around the country, a total of 243 people jumped into the fundraiser this year. In addition, 150 or so volunteers kayaked, staffed the Mermaid Tea at the finish line, and worked to register swimmers at the Boatslip. Zoë Lewis saw to the music.

Swim for Life celebrates “the healing waters and ecology of the harbor,” according to Critchley, and money raised by the Swim goes primarily to the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Helping Our Women, and Outer Cape Health Services. Other local nonprofit organizations that promote health also benefit; those include Provincetown Rescue Squad Association, Lower Cape Ambulance Association, Soup Kitchen in Provincetown, Provincetown Schools, the Compact Community Fund, Accessible Provincetown, the West End Racing Club, and Cape Cod Children’s Place.

Forty-three swimmers and kayakers raised a thousand dollars or more and joined the $1,000 Club, according to Critchley. His rundown of this year’s top fundraisers noted that artist Jim Youngerman of Lenox, who designed this year’s Swim T-shirt, raised $12,433; Boe Morgan of the Moving Violations Team from Roslindale raised $10,683; Barbara Jo Ravelle of Wellfleet raised $6,198; Jonathan Scott of Provincetown pulled in $3,977; and Katherine Gail Strickland of Provincetown, a member of the Compact’s board, raised $3,585. Business sponsors provide a boost to the fundraising effort as well.

Ten-year swimmers Laurie Shields and Thomas Keske received Circle of Honor pendants created by Christie Andreson. Special recognition was given to Joe Stewart from Baltimore, Md., who swam for the 31st time. Stewart also organizes a sister Swim for Life in Maryland.

The sun sparkled on the day of the Swim, Saturday, Sept. 11. In remembrance of all that was lost on that date 20 years ago, the finish line at the East End Waterfront Park was marked by a 150-foot semi-circle on the beach, strung with prayer ribbons that blew in the breeze against a perfect blue sky.

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