Aunt And Nephew Duo Cross The English Channel

Aunt And Nephew Duo Cross The English Channel

Prior to 1964, there were only two relay teams that successfully crossed the English Channel: the Rotherham Neptunus Swim Club that went from England to France in 11 hours 20 minutes in 1950 and the Folkestone Swim Club that went from France to England in 14 hours and 57 minutes in 1954.

Then, beginning in 1964, a slew of relay teams started to join the English Channel swimming fraternity, from the City of London School for Girls (F/E) 16:20 to the Denstone College.

So why were there so many relays beginning in 1964? There are specific reasons for this relay boom in the English Channel. And why did six people become the norm? And why one-hour rotations?

The concept of six people doing a relay had profound implications for the rest of the open water swimming world. Relays from the Maui Channel to the Catalina Channel adopted the standard 6-person relay concept.

Relay swimming was discussed at length by the Channel Swimming Association Committee in the early 1960s. The discussion of relays came about due to the discussions of John Unicum Wood who did much to advance channel swimming ideas. There were two main reasons for their instigation. Firstly, relays helped introduce to and motivate more people about Channel swimming and solo attempts. Secondly, relays helped generate more opportunities for the escort pilots.

Channel Swimming Association president Michael Read recalls sitting with Wood and Captain Leonard Hutchinson when the idea was muted. The idea didn’t gain much initial steam because, among other issues, relays would be too difficult to organize, but Captain Hutchinson liked the concept and was subsequently put to the Committee. The initial rules made it the same for all swims and thus the six-person, one-hour formula was set. Also, the Committee determined that if a swimmer could not complete his/her hour or swim when it was their turn, the team was disqualified. The rest, as evidenced by the number of relay teams over the past 5 decades, is history.

Fast forward and now relays come in various sizes.

Americans Todd Miller and Shannon Ward Swartz (shown above) finished their 2-person relay this week in 14 hours 33 minutes. Both aunt and nephew had done 4-person relays before. “You would swim 1 hour and rest 3 in the boat [in our previous relays]. The hardest part of this relay was being on the boat for 2 hours; we swam for 2 hours each. Knowing we would have to swim longer, we both just trained for longer periods of time with each swim.

We are from Minnesota, so we stay out in the lakes as long as possible in the fall. As soon as spring started to appear, we got back into the lakes for the adjustment of cold water. This year Minnesota had such a mild winter, the lakes warmed up very quickly.

Our pilot Chris Osmond was great. Our support crew was most helpful. We both enjoy open water swimming because the movement of the water is just so alive. We just keep swimming as long as we want, with no walls making us turn around. And the idea of achieving our goal is absolutely exhilarating.


We started our swim at 1:30 in the morning. It was a challenge, but that was yet another experience a person normally doesn’t do: dark sky, dark water, colder than normal. Then the sun came up and the rest of the day just got better and better.” Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source