2018 Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim: Cool 4th of July ‘happening’

2009 Freedom Swim. Photo courtesy the Sun Herald.
A past Freedom Swim. Photo courtesy the Sun Herald.

PUNTA GORDA — It started small and spontaneous. More than 25 years ago, Punta Gorda attorney Michael Haymans and some friends decided to celebrate the Fourth of July by swimming the 1.5 mile distance across the Peace River. They weren’t athletes in training; they had heard stories about how in the 1940s, swimming across the river was a rite of passage for teens.

They had a good time, they told their friends, and those friends told a few more friends.

Today the 2018 Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim attracts 500 or 600 participants each year.

Haymans, who is still involved, resists commercializing the event. He doesn’t charge participants, require advance registration or give prizes.

It’s a happening, not a race; some don’t even swim. There are stand up paddleboards, inflatable rafts, inner tubes, even folks on plastic noodles. Kayaks join the procession with dogs on board. Those who swim make it across the river in 30 minutes.

2009 Freedom Swim in Punta Gorda
2009 Freedom Swim in Punta Gorda, Photo courtesy Sun Herald.
Freedom Swim 2010
Michael P. Haymans, one of the founders of the Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim with participants in the 2010 event.
Punta Gorda and its two bridges over the Peace River
Punta Gorda and its two bridges over the Peace River

Punta Gorda’s spokesperson has described it as a “bobblefest.”

There are no rules except using common sense and courtesy. (Swim with a buddy!)

Many swimmers go for red, white and blue attire. For a few years, some swimmers took “freedom” to another level: They swam au natural and ran their swim suits up the mast of their sailboat. (Word has it that sailboat owner isn’t around any longer.)

Here’s the plan for 2018:

Because of construction of a boardwalk along the river’s edge, this year’s swim has two starting points: one if by land and one if by water.

FOR THOSE ARRIVING BY BOAT, use the traditional starting point in the water offshore of the public beach at the west side of the north end of the southbound U. S. 41 Bridge. That is Charlotte Harbor. Stay out of the construction site area. A briefing for swimmers starts at 10:50 a.m.

FOR THOSE WHO WILL USE GROUND TRANSPORTATION: Use the public sandy beach at the east end of Gilchrist Park near the PG Waterfront Hotel to enter the water in Punta Gorda. Swim, paddle or float to the channel and then round Marker 4 to meet up with the rest of the participants and then proceed to the landing point at Fishermen’s Village. A briefing for swimmers starts at 10:50 a.m.

Parking is available at Fishermen’s Village and at Gilchrist Park beach. A trolley will run between Fishermen’s Village and Gilchrist Park from 10 a. m. until 3 p.m.

Swimmers will land at Fisherman’s Village. Although there will be several vessels escorting swimmers, swimmers are responsible for their own safety and support team.

After the face, Fishermen’s Village will keep the swimmers happy with live music until the fireworks start with a variety of children’s activities such as face painting. The fireworks display over Charlotte Harbor begins at 9 p.m.

Fishermen’s Village Waterfront Mall, Resort and Marina is located off Marion Avenue, Punta Gorda. From I-75, take exit 164, turn left and proceed three miles to Fishermen’s Village. For more information,visit www.fishville.com.

Call 941-639-8721 for more information on Punta Gorda’s Fourth of July activities. If you want to talk to Haymans specifically about the Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim, call 941-661-5622.

Here’s a YouTube video of a past race.

Tips on participating in the Freedom Swim

The growth and popularity of the Freedom Swim has resulted in additional Coast Guard requirements. In order to keep the Freedom Swim alive, organizer Michael Haymans has agreed to some steps to ensure safety at the event.  These include:

  • Don’t walk across U.S. 41 to reach the beach. Park at Fishermen’s Village and use the shuttle.
  • If you are not a strong swimmer, don’t get in the water, Haymans said. Watch from the bridge or take a kayak or paddleboard. One year, a hundred participants were pushed upriver and had to be rescued by law enforcement boats, Haymans said. Swimmers requiring rescue by officials are a mark against the Freedom Swim, he said.
  • No children should participate on their own and no swimmers should undertake the swim alone. All swimmers should have close support.
  • All swimmers must sign in at the start of the race.
  • If you swim, Haymans says the best strategy is to parallel the bridge half-way across the river and then head for Fisherman’s Village. That way, he says, you avoid having the current push you beyond the finish point.

If you go, you can count on Michael Haymans to be there and swim it again.

“I wait until everyone is in the water,” Haymans said. “I try to be the last one.”

Things to do in Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda's Muscle Car City Museum
The Muscle Car City Museum displays Rick Treworgy’s personal collection of Detroit’s finest vehicles.

Punta Gorda is a great anchor to explore a region with lots of outdoors activities. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to things to do in Punta Gorda. A few things to recommend in particular, all covered in this story:  If you want an indoor activity, consider the first-rate Muscle Car City Museum. There’s a terrific fish shack in a quaint Cracker cabin there: I’ve written a story all about Peace River Seafood here.

Resources for planning a visit to Punta Gorda

Nearby destinations recommended by Florida Rambler:

7 Comments

  1. GO MATTHEW AND ZAC!!!!

  2. The ‘normal’ start time is determined by the time of the high tide at Punta Gorda/41 bridge. On 04Jul17 this happens to be at 11:41am. Rather than get a ‘late start’ and drag out the swim till the afternoon (lasts about 2 hours or so) the start time this year will be at 11:00am. The idea is to have the swimmers to be swept DOWNSTREAM rather than upriver – thus the advice to swim parallel with the bridge for 2/3 of the way, then turn downstream (with the tide) to Fisherman’s village. Have a ‘swim buddy’ and/or person on a boat (maybe kayak) keep an eye on you…
    Good luck and have fun!

  3. Pingback: 2013 Charlotte Harbor Freedom Swim: Coolest 4th of July activity | EYES! On News

  4. wasn’t the normal start time @ 8:00?

  5. Sally Weldon

    go Clifford and Tracy!!

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