Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla
When people gather with passion and vision, great things are accomplished. For three decades, in one of the largest natural harbors in the world, thousands of swimmers braved its unpredictable waters−its chilly currents, surging tides, and their own deep fears−raising $5M for AIDS, women’s health, and the community.
Celebrating its 32nd year in 2019, this quintessential Provincetown tradition symbolizes the heroic efforts of a community devastated by the pandemic and its unequivocal response to it. The Swim for Life & Paddler Flotilla (a 1.4 mile swim), sponsored by the Provincetown Community Compact, has become a catalyst for a nurturing community, offering connectedness, healthy exercise and continuity for those who return year after year.
Provincetown Harbor is designated a “safe harbor” and is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. The Swim for Life is both a fundraising event and a celebration of this unique geological gift that gave birth to Provincetown and its symbiotic relationship to the sea. The activation of this water with human bodies navigating its magical essence, along with the neon-colored swim caps and kayaks, has become an important community tradition as we become more aware of the fragility of the natural environment and our place within it.
History: In the summer of 1988, artist Jay Critchley and dancer Walter McLean wanted to test their swimming ability by swimming across Provincetown Harbor. That summer, many New England beaches were closed due to pollution, but the Cape-tip beaches remained swimmable. The two made the swim and two weeks later organized the first Swim for Life, which continues to celebrate the healing waters and ecology of the harbor, while raising money for local health services. The first year 18 swimmers raised $6,000. In 1993 the Provincetown Community Compact, Inc. was formed as a non-profit, 501 (c) 3, tax exempt organization, serving as a sponsor of the event.
Always held the weekend after Labor Day and the busy summer tourist season, the event has grown to attract swimmers, kayakers, volunteers and friends from throughout the country and abroad. With the assistance of 150 volunteers and 400 swimmers, this annual fall ritual has become an event that defines the best of the Provincetown spirit.
Mermaid Brunch: In 1991, Helen Roczcewski, a local gourmet chef, produced the first legendary Mermaid Brunch at the home of iconic Provincetown artist Hans Hofmann, which immediately followed the Swim. The Mermaid Brunch has since been held at the Crown & Anchor pool, Bas Relief Park and the Boston Ferry. The free meal is attended by hundreds of participants and is open to the community. It now has a home on the spectacular Boatslip Resort deck following the Swim, catered by Far Land Provisions.
Prayer ribbons: From the lofty ceiling of the Meeting House to the deck of the Boatslip, from across Commercial Street to the State House in Boston, these five-foot long, inscribed colored ribbons are a dominant visual presence at the Swim for Life weekend. And in 2016, our prayer ribbons traveled to Washington, DC for World AIDS Day, and to Florida to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
Prayer ribbons were initiated in 1993 to provide a visual witness to the swimmers as they crossed the harbor from Long Point to the Boatslip, each swimmer with their own personal images, hopes and fears. Everyone is invited to inscribe the names of those they love along with personal messages to celebrate those living or deceased persons.
The ribbons commemorate the devastation that AIDS has done to our community, but they also challenge us to live our lives more fully and joyfully. They create a visual statement about Provincetown as a community, its contradictions, its conflicts, and its possibilities.
- Friday, September 6: Optional swimmer and kayaker orientation at 1:00 and 2:00 respectively at the Boatslip. At 8:00pm it’s the Celebration of Life concert at the UU Meeting House.
- Saturday, September 7: Swimmer registration from 9:00 to 10:00; boater and kayak registration 8:30 to 10:00.
- Swim start: 11:00am
The public is invited to greet the swimmers beginning at 11:30am. The Mermaid Brunch, open to the public, starts at noon; the awards ceremony is at 1:00pm (or after the last swimmer arrives).
More information is at the Swim for Life website.