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    Posted July 4, 2013 by
    port charlotte, Florida
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
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    Punta Gorda, Florida Freedom Swim 2013

    One of the hottest Fourth of July celebrations in Florida is also the coolest. The annual Peace River Freedom Swim kicked off at noon on the fourth.

    The swim is neither a race nor a competition and participants swim, paddle or float their way across the river at their own pace. A direct route is about 1.5 miles and can take anywhere from thirty minutes to four hours depending on currents, wind and the mode of transportation.

    Plenty of flags were in evidence as the crowd gathered for the start. They flew from kayaks (Photo 2) and motorboats. Others showed their colors in bathing suits and hats (Photo 3). One group even built their own raft, flying a black POW, MIA flag as well as old glory. A huge Florida flag served as a sun shade. They even had a grill on board to go along with liquid refreshments (Photo 4).

    The crowd included serious swimmers ready to take on the waves and wind as well as kayakers and the more casual swimmers using flotation devices and rafts. Motor boats accompanied the crowd to make sure all remained safe. The county sheriff’s office and fire department were on hand as well.

    Serious swimmers took a direct route across the river while the floaters were directed to follow the bridge and let a changing tide help them cross the river. The starting time was chosen to take advantage of the changing tide. While the event started at noon, latecomers were still getting in the water well after the starting time.

    The event is a laid back community festival with no rules other than “stay safe”. There are no entry fees or registration required (though the Coast Guard does like participants to sign in for safety purposes).

    Festivities continued at the ending point with live music, food and beverages.

    The event started over twenty years ago when a Punta Gorda attorney, Michael Haymans (Photo 7), and some friends heard that swimming across the river was a rite of passage for teens back in the 1940’s. Over the years the swim has grown to include hundreds, if not thousands, of participants.

    Photos and story by Robert Wilder Jr.
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