History of Channel Swimming

A Short History of English Channel Swimming

Captain Webb is the start of this short history of English Channel swimming.

Who was the first to swim the channel? Why? and When? I’ll endeavour to answer these questions and more on this page.

The First to Swim the English Channel

Matthew Webb made his first attempt to swim the channel in August 1875, strong winds and poor conditions forced him to abandon the swim. Later that month he set off on a second attempt, covered in porpoise oil and with three support boats he landed at Cap Gris Nez some 21 hours and 45 minutes later. His zig-zag route across the channel was over 39 miles (64km), quite the achievement and set the bar for others to try and emulate his feat.
After this initial successful swim there wasn’t a crossing until 1911 and that of Thomas Burgess. Another gap is apparent during the First World War years, with the third crossing being completed by Henry Sullivan in 1923.

The First Female Crossing

It was only a couple of years before the first female to complete the swim. That honour goes to Gertrude Ederle. Gertrude who won gold at the Paris Olympics of 1924 and now coached by Thomas Burgess, really raised the game with channel crossing in 1926 with a 14 hour 34 minute crossing. While Ederle swam front crawl unlike the breast stroke preferred by Webb, this was a turning point of channel swimming.
Over the coming decades there’s been some 1415 solo swims registered by the channel swimming association. Taking in the record quickest of 6 hours 55 minutes to the longest being that of 28 hours and 44 minutes.
Nowadays, there’s many different types of attempts, relay swims, different strokes, some with wetsuits. yet the purity of the original channel swimming rules of wearing just a cap, goggles and a standard textile swimsuit hold dear to all marathon channel swimmers.

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