Steve Canavan: Channel swim? No Webb-ed feet for me!

Swimming the English Channel demands a high level of traning and ability.
Swimming the English Channel demands a high level of traning and ability.
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A thought has struck me. I’m quite a strong swimmer – indeed I once completed four full lengths at the local swimming baths, albeit with a brief break after each length – and I want to do something noteworthy while I’m still able, so I’m thinking of having a bash at swimming the English Channel.

I mean how hard it can be? Loads of people have done it, including a kid still at 
primary school – Thomas Gregory was 11 when, in the late 80s, become, not surprisingly, the youngest person to achieve the feat.

But swimming the Channel hasn’t always been so do-able. Captain Matthew Webb, famously, was the first to succeed in August 1875.

After wading into the water near Dover and adopting a steady breast-stroke, he arrived in Cap Gris Nez in Calais 21 hours and 45 minutes later.

Alas he got a bit carried away, wrote a book called The Art of Swimming, and announced he would prove how powerful and perfect his swimming was by breast-stroking his way through the Whirlpool 
Rapids below Canada’s Niagara Falls.

Most observers thought it impossible – and they were right. Webb failed to emerge at the other side and his lifeless body was later dragged from the water.

Presumably sales of his book slumped a little afterwards. But fair play to Webb and his crossing of the Channel for – and this shows how tough it was back then – it was another 36 years and 80 failed attempts before someone else managed it, a chap called Thomas Burgess.

I like Burgess for not only did he feast on ham and eggs prior to setting off (an athlete’s meal if ever there was one) but he didn’t really bother to do any practice beforehand.

Prior to attempting his Channel crossing his longest swim was six miles.

Despite this woeful lack of preparation, Burgess somehow managed to get from England to France, though it took him almost 23 hours.

After reading about all these frankly exhausting-sounding efforts I have, reluctantly, decided to abort my plan to join them.