Today marks the anniversary of the first recorded person to swim from England to France. Starting from Admiralty Pier in Dover, Captain Matthew Webb made the crossing without the aid of artificial buoyancy in just under 22 hours, despite challenging tides and a jellyfish sting. Captain Webb had just one failed attempt prior to his successful swim in 1875 and at the time, it was considered that he had ‘accomplished the impossible’.
Many years later – on 6 September 1911 and after over a dozen unsuccessful attempts – Thomas William Burgess became the second person to successfully make the crossing. British by nationality, Burgess spent most of his life in France and won a bronze medal with the French water polo team at the 1900 Olympics.
Between Webb and Burgess’ successes, there were more than 80 unsuccessful efforts to swim the Channel but in 1923, a third swimmer crossed from England to France and two swimmers came back the other way: Henry Sullivan (USA), Enrique Tirabocchi (Argentina) and Charles Toth (USA).
But, what makes one more successful than another? Of the five mentioned, Enrique was the fastest, completing the crossing in 16 hours and 33 minutes. The first woman to complete the crossing in 1926 beat all of her male predecessors by swimming the 14 hours and 39 minutes, having been trained by Burgess.
And then there is Alison Streeter, MBE and Queen of the Channel, who has swum the Channel 43 times! For that, she certainly deserves a medal! I’ll leave you to decide which one you think is the most successful Channel swimmer.