The English Channel is a section of the Atlantic Ocean that separates France and England. The Channel is about 560km (350 mi) long with an average depth of 63 m (207 ft). The width of the Channel varies from 240 km (150 mi) to the narrowest section, known as the Strait of Dover, at just 34 km (21 mi). It is at this point that many remarkable crossings of the English Channel have been made, including many crossings by long distance swimmers. Let’s find out who was the first person to successfully swim across this stretch of water.
Who was the first person to swim the English Channel?
One of the first documented attempts to swim the Channel was the failed attempt of J.B. Johnson in 1872. A year later Matthew Webb, captain of the steamship Emerald, read about the attempt and was inspired to try it for himself. He left his job and began training for this big swim. His first attempt came on August 12, 1875, but the strong wind and waves meant that he had to call off the swim before it was completed. Just 12 days later (August 24) he completed the first unassisted swim across the English Channel. He reached France in 21 hours and 45 minutes and had to contend with jellyfish stings and strong currents that prevented him from reaching the shore for many hours. His course was not straight and he actually ended up swimming approximately 64 km (39 mi).
The first woman to swim the English Channel was American Gertrude Ederle. The former Olympic gold medallist crossed the Channel on August 6, 1926 in just 14 hours and 39 minutes.
Argentinean Antonio Abertondo was the first male to swim the channel in both directions without stopping in 1961. Canadian Cynthia Nicholas was the first woman to achieve the same feat in 1977. The first three-way swim without stopping was completed by American Jon Erikson in 1981 and in 1988 British swimmer Alison Streeter was the first female to achieve this feat. Streeter also holds the record for the most Channel crossings with a total of 46 successful swims!
Did you know?
Matthew Webb was no stranger to the water. As a second mate on the ship Russia he dived overboard in a failed attempt to save a man who had fallen. In 1863, he rescued his brother from drowning in the river Severn.