Monday, August 20, 2012

San Diego and the English Channel Connection

San Diego, California, where I spent more than 20 years of my prime life, is famous for two open water swimming events held annually. One is a mile/ half a mile open sea on Coronado Island on July 4th, thanks to the NASNI Coronado Navy Swim Association. The other is a one mile/two mile/three mile La Jolla Rough Water Swim (LJRWS) on Sept 9, between Scripps Institute (known previously Biological) Pier and La Jolla Cove. Both have shorter courses for younger and master (elderly) competitors. The former celebrates its 54th and the latter celebrate the 82nd this year.

The LJRWS was first held in 1916 in commemoration of the World's Fair Pan American Exposition in Balboa Park and the 2nd in l923 and the 3rd in 1931 and became an annual event after the 4th time in 1948, sponsored by the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce and Town Council. The course for the LJRWS has finally been settled after a number of variations throughout the years. The Gatorman 3 mile championship, swimming "cove to the pier and back" is similar to the "grueling" original endurance route of 1916, as per the LJRWS. The number of swimmers for LJRWS zoomed year after year from 7 men in 1916 to today's estimate of more than 2,000.

As a swimmer myself, I was interested in the above events and wanted to very much participate. However, I was stung severely by a jellyfish while swimming in one of the southern Los Angeles beaches and quit ocean swimming and thereafter engaged in pool swimming only.

While in San Diego, I followed the swimming career of Point Loma's native daughter, Florence Chadwick (1918-1995), who has a record of crossing the English Channel (aka: Dover Channel) a number of times. San Diego Union newspaperman Arthur Ribbel wrote in his "Yesterday in the West" that it was in 1950 that "San Diegans almost to the household, hung excitedly before their radios when their own Florence Chadwick was stroking her arduous way to world fame as an English Channel Swimmer. Some of those hometowners wondered if, during some of her grueling hours in the water, she didn't think back to the carefree times when she negotiated the Silvergate as a girl."

Florence began her swimming career at the age of five and entered swimming competitions at ten. Reportedly she never won a U.S. National Championship, but she won all the major west coast rough water swims, including the Silvergate and the La Jolla Rough Water Swim.

Florence, inspired by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, sought a way as to how she could accomplish her little girl dreams. She grabbed a chance to work for ARAMCO as a comptometer operator at a desert installation. After a year she got a transfer to the Trans-Arabian Pipeline Company office near the Persian Gulf where she began pre-channel training. She said "After two years I picked up the pay I have saved to sponsor myself and left for France to complete my training". What motivation and wonderful planning. When she finally swam in Dover, she broke the record time set by Gertrude Ederle 24 years earlier by more than one hour. She swam the 21 mile wide channel in thirteen hours twenty minutes. One year later, she became the first woman to swim from England to France, against the flow of the channel's strong currents. She swam 4 times, three times against the current.

My June 1982 diary noted the day Florence Chadwick was inducted into the Hall of Champions and, it was at this ceremony that she met Mayor Pete Wilson and Police Chief Bill Kolender. I also scribbled down Florence's reminiscence in my diary. "The successful swims are recalled in details, the unsuccessful ones are slipping from memory."


l. July 4th Coronado Rough Water Swim

2. La Jolla Cove Rough Water Swim

3. Florence Chadwick Record (1950-1955) at Dover Museum

Florence was a typist and swimming coach from California. 4 successes in 10 attempts. 32 years old when she became the first woman to swim from England to France in 1951, St. Margaret's Bay to Sangatte. This also made her the first woman to do the double as she had swam France to England in 1950 (Cap Gris Nez to South Foreland). Her three England to France swims each took the record for the fastest time, going from 16 hours 22 mins in 1951 to 13 hours 55 mins in 1955. On her last 3 successful swims she also attempted to swim there-and-back but gave up on the return leg.

England to France: 9/10/1951 (success), 8/2/1953 (failed), 8/15/1953 (failed), 9/4/1953 (success), 8/15/1955 (failed), 9/23/1955 (failed), 9/26/1955 (failed), 10/12/1955 (success)

France to England: 7/26/1950 (failed), 8/8/1950 (success)

1 comment:

Rob said...

A fourteen year old Canadian girl has just completed a swim across Lake Ontario so this is blog is timely. Thanks /arigato.