On 24 August 1875, Captain Matthew Webb of Great Britain became the first person to swim the English Channel. His swim was considered a feat of the impossible at the time and he became one of the greatest ever peacetime heroes.
His zig-zag route across the Straits of Dover took approximately 21 hours and 45 minutes swimming nearly 40 miles (66 km) almost twice the official distance of 21 miles (34 km).
Webb swam by laying his chest down with his arms out straight in front, the palms of his hands touching. He then drew up his legs followed by stretching them out behind him until he was straight from the tips of his fingers to the tips of his toes. Webb then brought his hands and arms back in a graceful curve. His arms and legs were never in motion at the same time. He also kept his head slightly under the water with every stroke and then blew porpoise fashion when his head was out of the water.
After his record swim, Webb wrote a book called The Art of Swimming and licensed his name for merchandising. He participated in exhibition swimming matches and stunts. On 24 July 1883 Webb drowned during a dangerous swim through the Whirlpool Rapids on the Niagara River, downstream from the
Falls. He was 35 years old.
It would be nearly four decades and eighty failed attempts by various people before Thomas Burgess, on 6 September 1911, became just the second person to successfully make the crossing in 22 hours and 35 minutes at his 16th attempt.
By Ria Bleathman, (Reproduced from the Brighton Iceberger Newsletter 20 July 2023).