All-time Historical Big Swims Down Derwent River

All-time Historical Big Swims Down Derwent River

Courtesy of Christopher Guesdon, Tasmania, Australia.

There have been open water swimming events of various types and distances on the Derwent River since 1803 when Hobart, the capital and most populous city of the Australian island state of Tasmania, was settled. Founded in 1804 as a penal colony, Hobart is Australia’s second oldest capital city after Sydney. The city is located in the state’s southeast on the estuary of the Derwent River, making it the most southern of Australia’s capital cities and its harbour forms the second-deepest natural port in the world.

Christopher Guesdon explains, “These swims have been conducted by many swim clubs and individual organizations, namely regatta associations. The Australian Long-Distance Swimming Federation was formed in 1973 in Hobart to facilitate recognition of the new sport as this was not forthcoming from the pool orientated national body. The Foundation members and subsequent office bearers were myself as President, Deputy President Dick Campion, Secretary Sue Guesdon, and John Koorey as an Executive Member.

The Foundation changed its name in 1980 to the Australian Marathon Swimming Federation when John Koorey became the President and the Australian Championships moved to Sydney, New South Wales. The Australian Marathon Swimming Federation organized the national open water swimming championships until FINA and therefore Australian Swimming Inc. took over open water swimming in 1986.

In 2018, there were as many individuals swimming in hundreds of separate events in Australia in open water competitions as there were members in pool swimming clubs. These numbers didn’t include those plunging into the open water on their own as an activity for health and fitness reasons.”

The Big Swim Derwent River Marathon started as a 34 km swim from the New Norfolk Bridge to Tasman Bridge in Hobart. Guesdon was the first to challenge the course on Australia Day 1973. “The Big Swim Derwent River in Hobart is considered one of the most difficult marathons to complete. The varying weather patterns can be extreme. Southerly weather brings winds from Antarctica in the great Southern Ocean via Storm Bay. The Derwent is a tidal river with the fresh water from the source and salt water stretching upriver for 20 km.

The late, legendary Des Renford from Maroubra Surf Lifesaving Swim Club was the first to complete the distance on January 25th 1975 in 10 hours 54 minutes. Dick Campion set the fastest time in 1976 in 9 hours 19 minutes. Jenny Anderson was the fastest woman in 9 hours 44 minutes set on January 26th 1976 and the first non-Australian was Daniel Curtis in 15 hours 57 minutes on January 31st 2015.

Des Renford, Dick Campion and I are all Honorees inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. Jenny Anderson finished second in the 1975 Internation Long Distance Swimming Federation World Championships [but] 39 years had elapsed when Daniel Curtis of the USA became the first non-Australia to complete the swim on January 31st 2015 in 15 hours 57 minutes. Relay swimmers from Park Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, Geoff MarshMike WatkinsStephen GodfreyDon MarshGary Everingham and Don Hallett swam the 34 km in 6 x 1 hour relay in 1974 in 7 hours 43 minutes. The Park Beach Surf Lifesaving team used the English Channel relay model of the time of 6×1 hour recurring relay.”

The long swims on the River Derwent in New Norfolk are held on dates around or on Australia Day January 26th.

Guesdon continues to explain the history in the area, “The history on the Derwent swims is not restricted to one course and a few swimmers.  There are numerous courses swum on this great river Derwent, across, up and down the river. There are three bridges used as starting and finishing lines.  Since 1973 when the Australian Long-Distance Swimming Federation was formed, 46 swimmers have competed in the various races in the Derwent at marathon distance. The body was run by volunteers who in fact underwrote the sanctioned events both financially and with manpower. The organizers provided accommodation, boats, watercraft and personnel.”

Guesdon provided the Derwent River Big Swim all-time results:

1st: 25 January 1975, Des Renford in 10 hours 54 minutes, first person to complete the swim
2nd: 26 January 1976, Dick Campion in 9 hours 19 minutes
3rd: 26 January 1976, Jenny Anderson in 9 hours 44 minutes
4th: 1974, Relay team Park Beach SLSC in 7 hours 43 minutes with Geoff MarshMike WatkinsStephen GodfreyDon MarshGary Everingham and Don Hallett rotating on 1-hour legs
5th: 31 January 2015, Daniel Curtis in 15 hours 57 minutes, first international swimmer [shown above]
6th: 1 January 2020, Emma Radford in 7 hours 46 minutes
7th: 7 March 2020, Lynton Mortenson in 11 hours 10 minutes
8th: 13 December 2020, Ross Youngman in 9 hours 11 minutes
9th: 7 January 2021, Richard Jones in 10 hours 8 minutes
10th: 9 January 2021, Brenda Norman in 7 hours 4 minutes (new record for fastest woman)
11th: 24 January 2021, Sharon Young in 9 hours 53 minutes
12th: 30 January 2021, Anna Strachan in 7 hours 31 minutes
13th: 12 February 2021, Stuart Donnachie in 7 hours 54 minutes
14th: 13 February 2021, Val Kalmikovs in 7 hours 58 minutes
15th: 28 February 2021, Eric Bateman in 10 hours 27 minutes
16th: 8 March 2021, John van Wisse in 6 hours 49 minutes (new overall fastest swim)
17th: 12 March 2021, Doug Hughson in 9 hours 29 minutes
18th: 20 March 2021, Luke Richards in 9 hours 37 minutes

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Steven Munatones