Albert Coward Honored By The Hall Of Fame

Albert Coward Honored By The Hall Of Fame

Albert Coward with Dr. Chris Stockdale in Italy in front of the Castello Aragonese and Procida Island where they swam a 1 km circumnavigation swim around the Castello for 27 consecutive years and began their 17 hour 28 minute tandem swim from Ischia to Castellammare across the Gulf of Naples in 1986.

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach.

One of the most appreciated compliments received by any athlete is from one’s own peers.

The Class of 2018 honorees in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame represent the largest group of individuals to be inducted in a single year over the institution’s history.

Each one of this year’s inductees are remarkable athletes who have completed incredible feats in the open water, as well as exceptional humans who lead inspirational lives on dryland. Some have achieved greatness in competitive events, some in solo crossings, some in unprecedented marathon swims. While their greatest swims are publicly well-known, it is the relentless dedication and numerous hours they put in hard, solitary training year after year that enable them to complete their swims in lakes, river, seas and oceans around the world.

The honorees are selected by their peers who include Nick Adams, Tamara Bruce, Penny Dean, Yuko Matsuzaki, David O’Brien, Skip Storch, Valerio Valli, Forrest Nelson, David Barra, Dr. Osama Ahmed Momtaz, Michael P. Read, MBE, Peter Bales, Elizabeth Fry, Marcella MacDonald, DPM, Captain Tim Johnson, Vojislav Mijić, Ricardo Ratto, Dr. Jane Katz, Valerie Parsons, Lynn Blouin, Kathrin Lammers, Sally Minty-Gravett, MBE, Evan Morrison, Philip Rush, Dan Simonelli, Ben Barham, Penny Palfrey, Carol Sing, Natalya Pankina, Petar Stoychev, Silvia Dalotto, Stéphane Lecat, Kevin Murphy, Greg Streppel, Peter van Vooren, Jacques Tuset, Attila Mányoki, and John York.

The Class of 2018 includes an Englishman born in Halifax, Yorkshire who has lived in Naples, Italy since 1978, Albert Coward.

Dr. Chris Stockdale explains the marathon swimmer. “Albert is the pioneer in marathon swimming in Italy’s Bay of Naples (Italian: Golfo di Napoli).”

Coward met Giovanna Raffone, his future wife, in Oxford, England in 1966. They were married in 1967 and moved to Naples in 1974. After finishing his Masters Degree in England, he and Giovanna returned to Naples permanently in 1978 – where they set up a beautiful, swimming-oriented bed and breakfast (Posillipo Dream). Meanwhile, Coward gradually set the stage for a history of open water swimming in the bay in his adopted country – and Raffone was on many of his marathon swims.

In addition to swims in his native country (14 times across Coniston Water, 7 times across Ullswater, and 6 times across Windermere), his most enduring legacy includes his numerous pioneering swims in the Gulf of Naples where he swam around Ischia 4 times, around the Isle of Procida, and between Torregravata and Bacoli on many occasions.

The highlights of his career:

In 1973, he swam 5.2 miles across Lake Coniston in 3 hours 40 minutes
In 1973, he swam an unprecedented 10 miles from Ischia Castle to Baia Port (the Gulf of Pozzuoli), Italy in 6 hours 37 minutes
In 1973, he swam an unprecedented 17 miles around the Isle of Ischia, Italy in 11 hours 31 minutes
In 1974, he swam 5.2 miles across Lake Coniston in 3 hours 25 minutes
In 1974, he swam 10.25 miles across Lake Windermere in 9 hours 35 minutes
In 1974, he swam 17 miles around the Isle of Ischia, Italy in 12 hours 16 minutes
In 1975, he swam 5.2 miles across Lake Coniston in 3 hours 15 minutes
In 1975, he swam a two way crossing of Lake Coniston in 7 hours 30 minutes
In 1975, he swam 10.25 miles across Lake Windermere in 7 hours 40 minutes
In 1976, he swam 3 miles across Pickmere Lake in 1 hour 47 minutes
In 1976, he swam 11 miles across Morecambe Bay in 4 hours 4 minutes
In 1976, he swam 8 miles across Torbay in 4 hours 34 minutes
In 1976, he swam 10.25 miles across Lake Windermere in 7 hours 10 minutes
In 1976, he swam a two way crossing of Lake Coniston in 7 hours
In 1976, he swam a two way crossing of Lake Windermere in 17 hours 4 minutes
In 1977, he swam across Lake Coniston twice in 3 hours 10 minutes and 3 hours 16 minutes
In 1977, he swam a 14-mile two way crossing of Lake Ullswater twice
In 1978, he swam Pickmere Lake in 1 hour 53 minutes
In 1978, he swam across Lake Coniston in 3 hours 5 minutes
In 1978, he swam a two way crossing of Lake Coniston in 7 hours 40 minutes
In 1978, he swam 7 miles across Lake Ullswater in 4 hours 25 minutes
In 1978, he swam across Lake Windermere in 6 hours 21 minutes
In 1980, he swam 9.6 miles Ischia inshore
In 1980, he swam an unprecedented 11.15 miles from the Isle of Capri to Pietra Salata (Posillipo-Naples), Italy
In 1981, he swam an unprecedented 18 miles from Ischia Castle to Naples Castle, Italy in 9 hours 50 minutes
In 1981, he swam 9.6 miles from Ischia inshore, Italy
In 1982, he swam 17 miles around the Isle of Ischia, Italy in 11 hours 31 minutes
In 1983 ,he swam 9.6 miles from Ischia inshore
In 1983, he swam an unprecedented 18 miles from Ischia Castle to the Isle of Capri, Italy in 13 hours 10 minutes
In 1984, he swam 18 miles across Lake Como (Lecco to Dervio), Italy in 9 hours 48 minutes
In 1985, he swam 18 miles across Lake Como, Italy in 10 hours 50 minutes
In 1986, he swam around the Isle of Ischia in 12 hours 14 minutes
In 1986, he swam 18 miles across Lake Como in 11 hours 14 minutes
In 1986, he swam 16 miles across Lake Garda (Torri Del Benaco to Malcesine), Italy in 8 hours 10 minutes
In 1986, he swam an unprecedented 26.3 miles (42.3 km) in a tandem swim with Dr. Chris Stockdale from Ischia to Castellammare, Italy in 17 hours 28 minutes
In 1986, he participated in the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli (OTL)
In 1986, he completed 19 x 5-mile training swims, 4 x 10-mile training swims, and 1 x 17-mile training swim in the area of La Gaiola, Capo Miseno, Naples and Palinuro, Italy
In 1987, he swam 11 miles from Torregravata to Baia and then Bacoli (the Imperatore), Italy in 4 hours 57 minutes
In 1987, he swam an unprecedented 9 miles from Palinuro Port (Salerno) to the Isle of Camerota and return in 5 hours 10 minutes
In 1987, he swam an unprecedented 17 miles from Palinuro to Acciaroli (Salerno), Italy in 9 hours 10 minutes
In 1987, he swam an unprecedented 16.3 miles from Sapri (Campania) to Priaia a Mare (Calabria), Italy
In 1987, he participated in the Maratona del Golfo Capri-Napoli (OTL)
In 1989, he swam 11 miles across Lago di Mergozzo, Italy

Dr. Chris Stockdale remembers his friend’s swimming career. “I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire Albert’s successes – and even more so when I think how they were achieved. When Albert was swimming in Italy, there were very few open water swimmers on the Italian west coast and Paolo Pinto was almost the only Italian on the international open water stage.

Albert trained alone without any financial support and almost no publicity, often with just the help of a friend in a rowing boat. Frequently, he would just get in the water and swim for hour upon hour trailing a small buoy and red flag in his wake. His training for longer swims was arduous and exemplary.

Albert swam in a day when open water swimming, as we now know it today, was a different sport – where risks were taken and the basic rules – simple costume, goggles, one hat, enter and leave the water unaided and never touch the boat – were absolutely at the core of an effort. Albert is scrupulously honest and his successes completely valid. Amongst them are many inaugural swims of considerable distance and he should be considered to be a true pioneer of our sport.

I have witnessed him at the end of swims in considerable distress, but never less than modestly delighted to have completed the task

Coward discussed his lengthy career:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How does it feel to be inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame?

Albert Coward: To say that I feel highly delighted at the prospect of becoming an honoree of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame would be the understatement of the year. I have always had a great admiration for the swimmers of this select body and their achievements ever since I took up the sport, and must admit that I still feel unworthy of the honour of being counted among their numbers.

The news that I have been nominated to join this sports elite of the greatest swimmers of all times is still hard to believe, but has awakened a passion that has laid dormant in my mind for the last 20 years when my long distance swims gradually petered out. I assure you that what I have written above is not a vain attempt to express false modesty, but a true statement of my feelings.

I must explain that my involvement with the world of swimming over the past few years has been regrettably overtaken by health problems, which fortunately have now been partly overcome. As an inductee to the IMSHOF, I now feel duty bound to get back into the water at all costs.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was the most satisfying swim of your career?

Albert Coward: The most satisfying swim of my career took place on August 12th-13th 1986. I had challenged Dr. Chris Stockdale, my friend and rival, to a 26-mile race across the Bay of Naples from Ischia Castle to Pozzano, Castellammare. We had planned this undertaking the previous year on the premise that to be called a true marathon swimmer, you had to swim the distance of a marathon (i.e., 26+ miles).

It was a truly epic swim starting at midnight and finishing some 17 hours later. We each had a fishing boat to accompany us and when we finally scrambled on shore there was only 21 minutes separating our respective arrivals. We had studied the nautical charts and had counted on getting some assistance from the mistral wind towards the end when we would be tired.

All in all, it proved to be a successful enterprise for both of us, more especially for Chris who in fact by accomplishing the feat had raised a considerable amount of money to donate to a charity fund for the hospital where he worked as a medical doctor. For me, I felt a great sense of gratification at being involved in a work of solidarity and brotherhood that Chris had organised.

I also felt personal satisfaction at having swum a parallel course which Pliny the Elder, the Admiral of the Roman Imperial fleet, had ploughed in these waters in a rescue attempt at Pompeii and Stabiae and Castellammare, close to Pozzano when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. – almost 2000 years earlier – but perhaps that’s another story. Finis coronat opus
[the end crowns the work: the goal gives value to the labor that produced it].

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What was the toughest swim of your career?

Albert Coward: This took place on a two-way 15-mile Lake Ullswater swim in the English Lake District. I had wanted to do two 15-mile swims within a few days of each other and we had successfully completed the first leg of the second swim when suddenly the heavens opened and a tremendous downpour set in, thoroughly drenching my oarsman/trainer.

A strong wind blew up and I suggested to my solitary crewman (i.e., friend/trainer) that we should abandon the swim and head for cover. But he would have none of it. It was difficult to keep with him and he refused to let me out of the water. I knew that most of our clothing would be wet through and I was worried that we had not left a dry towel in the car, to dry off when we eventually finished. Here in the middle of the lake there was a clash of wills – mine for giving in – his for going on at all costs. We finally finished the swim and thanks to his adamant stance, we had reached the bottom of the lake. I felt a strong sense of chagrin at the end, even though we had completed our mission. A most gruelling experience in many ways.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you describe some of your swims in Italy?

Albert Coward: The 28 km Round the Island of Ischia was completed on four occasions, the first in 1974 which was fairly easy to organise with a rowing boat and a willing crew of 2-3 rowers provided we stayed inshore and hugged the coast. We had to start early to avoid the wind that would blow up in the afternoon. A most scenic course with a regular change of scenery as we rounded each corner.

18-mile swim of Ischia organised by Circolo Nautico of Ischia on September 25th 1983. It was navigated by a local fisherman who boasted that he never used a compass. After five hours of swimming, we were joined by the president of the swimming club in his private boat who told us we were heading due east towards Monte Faito, instead of southeast towards Capri. The fisherman had apparently confused the mountain tops of Monte Faito on the mainland near Castellammare with those of Monte Salaro on Capri.

The fisherman was duly dismissed while the president directed his boat towards Capri and I followed. It was subsequently calculated that I had swum three hours in the wrong direction.

April 5th 1983 from Lecco to Dervio on Lake Como. Other participants included Chris Stockdale, Kevin Murphy and Michael Read. It was an enjoyable but hard swim with fantastic scenery.

27 km from Palinuro to Acciaroli 27 when I was invited to swim with Paolo Pinto, an Italian long distance swimmer. It was an uneventful swim.

18-mile from Ischia to Naples, castle-to-castle which was a most enjoyable swim. I hired a rowboat with an outboard engine that took us to the Ischia Castle. I swam back in 9 hours 50 minutes and could feel the current taking us down towards Naples. A fortnight later, I swam the reverse direction in 11 hours 31 minutes. There was interesting scenery in both swims. I was in my own waters, but it was a bit frightening crossing the shipping lanes between Procida and Ischia and trying to keep clear of hydrofoils on both occasions.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Can you describe your typical weekly schedule, including your swimming workouts, work and your dryland training, in your heyday?

Albert Coward: When I got hooked fish-like on distance swimming in 1973 having promised my wife that I would stop playing rugby now that I was as father, I managed to make contact with a long distance swimmer Jack Kerwin, a baths attendant in Bradford where I worked who in 1957, had become the first person to swim 7.5 miles across Lake Ullswater in the English Lake District. In winter, we would swim up and down the pool between 2 and 3 miles daily. My aim was to become a member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association and to do so it was necessary to swim the 10.5 mile distance across Lake Windermere.

Our training would consist of a daily 2-mile swim with an 3-mile swim on Saturday mornings. I might go jogging in the evening or have a workout in the gym with light weights and stretching exercises, but there was no interval or speed training in those days. Yet it was necessary to have swum 5 miles across Coniston lake the week before tackling the 10 miles of Windermere. I always had a ‘stepping stone’ system of building up distances gradually from swim to swim which helped to push back the pain that built up in the arms.

In 1974-1975 I spent a sabbatical year in Naples, Italy continued swimming in a pool. In the pool in winter basically repetition/interval training, certainly nothing revolutionary. Stroke improvement exercises. But I found I could go outdoors earlier with the improved water temperatures.

From April onwards, I spent more time per week swimming outdoors and worked out an inshore course between Marechiaro and La Gaiola of some 400 yards. Occasionally at the weekend, I would hire a rowboat and would swim alongside it from La Gaiola to Capo Miseno a five-mile open water course well away from the hydrofoil course, but passing through the mussel beds. My aim was to swim the 18 miles around the Isle of Ischia in July and I felt I needed the lash and splash of the sea which I couldn’t get in a pool.

In April, I would swim the 5 miles to Capo Miseno and row the boat back with my friend. In June, I would do a couple of 10-mile swims. Strangely, I never felt thirst during these swims, but only would drink as an antidote to salt water. However knowing that energy would be required for the latter part of the swim, I experimented with not eating or drinking for 3 hours and then eating/drinking when necessary every hour and on the hour.

The Ischia swim was achieved in July in some 13 hours. I returned to England and spent the next three years swimming the lakes and a couple of bays and returned to Italy in 1978 where I still live.

By this time, some interval training was included in the daily swims, but nothing revolutionary. What did proved to be a revolutionary innovation was to attach a cressi-sub buoy to my swimming trunks on a two-yard length rope so that I would be visible to all boating. The use of the red and white coloured buoy is an essential part of divers equipment in Italian waters, and this contrivance gave a sense of security and companionship as I swam and opened up a wider scope to training.

I could now swim unescorted inshore and was visible to all vessels. Incidentally, I have never personally seen the blue and white flag alpha, that is used compulsorily on British open water swims, ever used in Italy.

Now I could make better progress swimming by myself than by being accompanied by boat which would inevitably be subject to the vagaries of the winds, especially in the afternoons. The only drawback was that I could not eat or drink, but as mentioned before, I never really felt the need to do so.

My summer holidays were spent in Palunuro where I was now able to exploit this new freedom given by greater visibility especially in a seaside holiday resort where motorboats abound.

With regard to work, I was a teacher in England, first at a grammar school in Yorkshire and later at Bradford College. In Italy, I first worked as a teacher at the British Council and later moved to the University.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What is your most favorite place to swim?

Albert Coward: My favourite place to swim was in Palinuro, a seaside resort in south Italy just below Salerno. I would swim from a rock on the Maronti beach out to a large rock half a mile out in the sea so that I could swim circuits of a mile or so. I managed 17 circuits without stopping in preparation for my big race against Chris Stockdale two weeks later. I had tried to swim time-paced miles, but lost count of the time after the 6th circuit. In those days, it was deserted, but has now become a very popular place for parking motor boats. I was always by myself.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What were your favorite foods and drinks to take during your swims?

Albert Coward: After three hours of swimming, I would drink ‘Polase’ an integrator of mineral salts, and eat yellow Victoria plums as an antidote against salt water, and then would chew a couple of wafer biscuits. The search for ambrosia and nectar was never a great problem during the swim as I had begun stored up carbohydrates, etc. three days prior to the swims.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What are some of the most beautiful beaches that you have seen – anywhere in the world?

Albert Coward: The most beautiful beaches for me are those on the Isle of Ischia and those extending north of Palinuro towards Pisciotta and those of the dunes stretching south of Palinuro towards Marina di Camerota.

Albert and the other new members of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame emulate those exceptional 269 forerunners already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Since the class of 1963, our marathon swimming inductees from around the world have received the ultimate marathon swimming recognition. They have been immortalized with their names inscribed on the IMSHOF Sea Goddess, our ‘symbol of the sea’,” explained Chairman Christopher Guesdon.

When Captain Matthew Webb RN conquered the English Channel in 1875 nobody would have thought such a worldwide movement of marathon swimming would be born and where ethics and morals are paramount in pursuit of a successful marathon. The induction ceremony will be held on March 31st 2018 at The Chapel, Beaumont Estate, Old Windsor, UK.”

Copyright © 2008-2017 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones