Emma France's Journey to Swimming the English Channel:

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There are marathon swims all over the world, and although not the most challenging, the English Channel remains the pinnacle of the marathon swimming world.  Some of the other great swims include:  the Catalina Channel; the great lakes; the North Channel.  As my ultimate aim is to swim the channel, this section refers mainly to the English Channel.

The English Channel

Quick Facts:  The Challenge

Quick Facts:  The Rules

Quick Facts:  The Statistics (at 18th April '09)

Interesting fact #1
For reference, by 2004 Everest summit had been climbed 2,049 times according to http://www.everesthistory.com/everestsummits/summitsbyyear.htm or nearly 2x as often. In 2005 a cracking year there were 79 crossings of the channel whilst in 2004 there were ~330 climbs to the summit of Everest.

Interesting fact #2
The earliest swim was 29th May (Kevin Murphy in 1990) and the latest swim 28th October (Mike Read in 1979). Only 0.7% of swims are before July, 20% in July, 59% in August, 19% in September and 0.9% in October. The median day to swim is 16th August


In the early afternoon of 24th August 1875 Matthew Webb dived into the English Channel from Admirality Pier in Dover.  His swim took him 21 hours and 45 minutes.  He sipped on warm brandy while swimming breaststroke the whole way.

However  Captain Webb was not the first to attempt the feat.  The first known attempt was by J B Johnson who in 1872 swam for just over 1 hour before finally giving up!!

In 1926 American Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the Channel, in a then world record time of 14 hours and 39 minutes.

How far is it?

The channel is 21 miles as the crow flies from Shakespeare Beach in England to Cap Gris-Nez in France.  The swim can be up to double this distance as the tide pushes you up and down the channel in an 'S' curve.

How many people are successful?

I've heard many versions of these statistics.  It appears that historically the success rate used to be in the region of 1 in 6.  However, more recent statistics indicate that the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation achieve a success rate of approximately 80%.  Much of this can be attributed to the training and guidance on offer in Dover by a small band of dedicated people who turn out come rain or shine to help and advise swimmers led by the 'Channel General' Freda Streeter.

The chart below shows the number of successful first swims per year.  You can see how popularity has increased in recent years.

The chart below shows the total number of successful solo crossings per year.  2007 is the most successful year to date.


Are you allowed to stop?

Yes.  You stop for regular 'feeds' of warm carbohydrate drink and some light food such as banana or cadburys mini rolls.  During this feed you cannot touch anything or anyone except the pole or net used to pass the food.  The stops are kept as short as possible as the more you stop, the more you risk being pushed back by the tide - the time delayed may cause the swimmer to miss a run of tide into France and extend the time of the swim by several hours.

Can you wear a wetsuit?

No!!  You are only permitted to wear one traditional swimming costume, one swimming hat, goggles, earplugs and grease.  This ensures that the rules and conditions of the swim have remained the same throughout history.  Not many swimmers wear channel grease now though, most just use Vaseline to prevent rubbing.

Are there any big boats in the English Channel?

The English Channel is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.  There are two separate shipping lanes.  Every day over 400 boats pass through and across them, including super tankers.  All boats are frequently alerted over the radio whenever there are swimmers in the water, sometimes shipping gets very close!

What other hazards are there?

Jellyfish, sewage, debris, seasickness, hypothermia.



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