PROVINCETOWN — Swimmers plunged in early this year — at least by Saturday-in-Provincetown standards — with the 8:30 a.m. starting flag of the annual Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla coinciding with high tide on a muggy Sept. 9.
Some 250 people swam the 1.2-mile route along the East End beach in Provincetown, according to Jay Critchley, the event organizer, along with 80 kayakers and paddleboard riders. Another 38 swimmers participated in a parallel mile-long freshwater swim in Wellfleet’s Great Pond, while a dozen more took part by “swimming in place” from other places in Massachusetts as well as in Florida, Connecticut, and Vermont.
The swim is a moving annual ritual for participants and onlookers who gather on decks and at watch parties along the shore to cheer. Thousands of prayer ribbons honoring lost loved ones flap in the wind, “each with a message to a loved one who is deceased, but also someone you want to honor in your life now,” Critchley said.
When they register, participants pledge donations that the Provincetown Community Compact, a nonprofit founded by Critchley, donates to 12 other nonprofits focused on community health. The swim’s primary beneficiaries are the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, Helping Our Women, and Outer Cape Health Services. Businesses join in, too — 20 of them were sponsors this year.
The donations have reached “approximately $225,000” so far, according to Critchley, who was still busy tallying figures at the Independent’s Sept. 12 deadline, with pledges continuing to come in. The top fundraising team was from the Lily House, bringing in $39,000; the Great Pond Mermaids raised $9,700; and 67 swimmers and one kayaker each raised more than $1,000.
Paul Fanizzi was given the David Asher Volunteer award, which, Critchley wrote in a press release, recognized not only his longtime support of the event but also the way Fanizzi has set an example of resilience, rebuilding his namesake restaurant — not for the first time — after a December storm churned seawater into town.
This was the 36th swim. The first, in 1988, drew 18 participants who raised $6,000, according to a history on the event’s website, to “celebrate the healing waters and ecology of the harbor, while raising money for local health services.”