Tag Archives: Matthew Webb


First of the Global Tribe of marathon swimmers

There is a shared heritage of our international tribe and this is the man who started it all in 1875. In Dover this statue stands on the prom in front of the ugly flats, facing the sea, about 200 metes beyond Swimmer’s Beach towards the ferry port. Marathon swimming is a heritage and history of triumph and disaster, storms and sun, dark nights and dull days, bright sunshine and howling winds, waiting and hoping and success and even death, hopes and dreams, cold and tired, pilots, crew, friends, family and swimmers.

Captain Matthew Webb -

It was Captain Webb who dreamed of the Channel AND achieved it … who (possibly or even apocryphally) gave us, English Channel swimmers at least, our motto: Nothing Great Is Easy.

 (not on the Dover memorial)

But it is everyone who tries, and fails or succeeds, who creates our history. We are, like most other tribes whose members are members by choice, a niche group. We exist, in our way, on the fringes, and most people don’t know we’re here. But Captain Webb will always be Primus of us all. I won’t claim Inter Pares for most of us, though when you can stand and talk face to face with greats like Kevin Murphy, Nick Adams, Freda Streeter etc and your friends from around the world, you can enjoy the mutual respect and feeling of belonging that all tribes of choice bring. Thanks Captain.

* I reviewed the biography of Captain Webb a long time ago.

First woman to ever swim an English Channel Double before doing a Solo, Lisa Cummins. With the Captain.

Review: The Crossing by Kathy Watson

The story of Capt. Matthew Webb is the starting point for modern Open Water swimming.

While there are other famous open water swims from before this time, Byron & Hellespont being the most famous, the dream of swimming the English channel was alive and well in the late 19th century, with other attempts before Webb’s first successful swim.

Watson’s book is a brief affair and an easy read, focusing on Webb’s biography as well as the successful Channel Swim itself, following an unsuccessful initial attempt.

Webb’s life was not a happy event. He was successful in his Merchant Navy career and a decorated hero for a mid-Atlantic life-saving attempt. After the Channel swim made him famous though he spent the remainder of his life chasing further fame, to lesser and greater degrees of success, but never to the same level as his Channel swim had achieved.
He drowned attempting to swim the rapids below Niagara Falls. It’s a depressing enough life but the book is enlivened by such items as the story of Paul Boyton , the “Fearless Frogman”, & Webb’s main rival, (and funnily enough to us), not a swimmer and wearing a an inflated rubber suit, who papers reported appeared before 100,000 people in Ireland.

This isn’t the definitive book on Channel swimming, which hasn’t yet been written, but it of interest to swimmers nonetheless. My main problem with it was the workman prose, which never matched the flow of its subject.