In near ideal conditions Saturday morning, Alex Mukai found one final advantage at the very end of the 35th annual YMCA of Southern Maine Peaks to Portland swim.

Mukai, 18, of Cape Elizabeth, had stroked the flat, relatively warm waters of Casco Bay in virtual unison with five-time defending champion Scott Yeomans. But as the two leaders swam toward the finish area at East End Beach, Mukai was farther offshore in a bit deeper water.

That allowed Mukai to get in a few more strong strokes while Yeomans had to repeatedly stand and then dive forward. Mukai gained the advantage and had the lead when both began a final on-foot race through rocky shore and sand, and he reached the finish line of the 2.4-mile race in 43 minutes, 41.4 seconds.

“This is something I’ve pictured so many times in my head,” Mukai said. “I can’t believe it, man. This is crazy.”

Mukai finished second in his first Peaks to Portland in 2014 and was third last year.

Most swimmers use a kayaker as a guide, hopefully meeting the kayaker shortly after the start to lead them around House Island and steer them clear of the strong current toward Fort Gorges. Mukai said his mother, Laurie Small, did a great job of keeping him focused, on target, and away from lobster buoys and the occasional curious seal.

“She made sure I wasn’t looking (at Yeomans). She kept saying ‘focus on me, don’t worry about him,'” Mukai said. “I think last year I got too caught up in trying to match everyone and I burned myself out.”

Yeomans, 52, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, fell in the finish chute as he tried a futile sprint to catch Mukai and finished in 43:46.3, two seconds faster than his 2015 time in raw, rainy conditions.

“I had to run for so long because the water was only about six inches deep. It was too shallow to get paddles in,” Yeomans said. “That’s when I got behind. It had been five in a row so there was a little pride in there, but I’m just happy to finish and I’m 52, so anything I can accomplish at this point is OK.”

Justin Burkhardt, 36, of Cape Elizabeth finished third in 44:12.0.

The women’s winner was Elizabeth Mancuso, 30, of Boston. A veteran open-water swimmer making her first appearance at Peaks to Portland, Mancuso finished 10th overall among the 444 finishers in 47:02.2.

Kirsten Read, 51, of Arundel, the 2013 women’s winner, was second among women in 47:35.1, 12th overall.

Read was actually the first woman to reach the finish at East End Beach. She swam in the first of five waves of swimmers with the top men. Mancuso started in the third group.

While still dripping salt water, Read predicted her time wouldn’t hold up.

“There are some hotshots in the next waves,” Read said.

“The advantage for me was I was able to find my kayaker right away because I was able to get right to the front of my wave,” said Mancuso, who swam at Dartmouth and was the overall winner of the 8-mile Boston Light Swim in 2010.

Peaks to Portland benefits the YMCA of Southern Maine with all net proceeds helping fund children’s programs at the Y’s Biddeford, Portland, Freeport and New Gloucester facilities. This year the field was expanded to a maximum of 500 swimmers, each paying an entry fee of $125. For the first time, swimmers also committed to raising a minimum of $100. The event usually raises between $60,000 and $75,000 according to Helen Brena, CEO of YMCA of Southern Maine. Brena said the new fundraising push will increase that total over $100,000.

Amber Craig of Portland personalized the importance of the race when she told the swimmers and their kayaker guides how the YMCA offered her needed support and child care when she moved to the area three years ago. A letter from Craig was placed in the swimmers’ registration packet.

“My children are able to go to summer camp because you’re willing to swim across the ocean,” Craig said before the race.

As she and her kids helped hand out medals to each finisher, Craig explained she was able to continue to work because of the child services the YMCA provided. Craig decided to share her story, “because I want people to know about their programs and I really think it’s important to know that it’s OK to be willing to ask for and accept help. The people at the Y do it in a way that they make you feel equal. They gave me the ability to work. They really changed my life.”

Yeomans said he read aloud Craig’s letter to relatives who live in the area.

“We had dinner at my 98-year-old aunt’s house last night and I read the letter to everyone and they were all crying,” Yeomans said. “That it has that big of an impact in someone’s life, you think about that as you go across.”