Imaginative Power Of Swimming: A Night on the Bosporus

Imaginative Power Of Swimming: A Night on the Bosporus

Courtesy of Dr. Tim Johnson, DPS, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Dr. Tim Johnson, DPS, an Honor Administrator in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, will write a series of perspectives on a number of issues based on his career in the open water swimming world. In addition to designing shark cages and doing the early computer modeling of currents and tides, Dr. Johnson conducted years of detailed research that he eventually compiled for his highly acclaimed book, History of Open-Water Marathon Swimming.

Imaginative Power Of Swimming

What is it about swimming that makes it such an important part of our lives? The repetitive nature of workouts, even if you practice in a lake or ocean, should seem humdrum. Swimmers learn over time to listen to their bodies and learn how to best make each workout special.

You become the expert on yourself and from that can set/achieve goals over time bring satisfaction to your life. You prove every day that you are special and learn that the troubles and tasks life throw at you will eventually give way to a resolution. Not all goals are honored with a medal, but you can find happiness in your growth as a person.

The lessons swimming teaches can be translated into your life no matter what path you have taken. This absorption and transition of ideals has been going on for a long time. What follows is an excerpt from my book, History of Open Water Marathon Swimming, of an imaginative story written long ago of how swimming played a key part in the duty of a military officer to report to his duty station after a leave. Mind you, the hero must travel from one end of the Mediterranean Sea to the other: The third swim was a swashbuckling an event as could be imagined happening in an impromptu manner.

The recounting of the swim is an excerpt from Chambers’ Journal published by the New York Times on September 14th 1873. This account is most likely a soldier’s barracks tale, told for its entertainment value.

A young English officer, unnamed so we will call him Chambers, was returning from Turkey to his regiment and had booked passage to Malta aboard the Pera, at anchor off Constantinople in the Bosporus. After a day ashore, he had but one coin left to hire a boat to take him out to it. A storm was coming up, but he secured an old Turkish seaman to row him out. His friends urged him to wait out the storm, but if he missed the vessel sailing, his career was finished. As they rowed, the seas rose and eventually the old man could row no more and the boat broached, turning them out into the waters of the Bosporus.

He came up and found the going very tough in the breaking seas as his swimming had been on lakes and streams. Eventually, he came upon an anchor chain attached to a ship. He attempted to rest, but found the swells prevented it and the current was pulling hard. Eventually, he released his hold and was sucked under the boat.

After bouncing down along the length of the vessel, he popped up in the lee of the boat and right next to a small boat. With the last of his strength, he climbed aboard once he could time his pulling with the lifting of the swells. There he rested until it occurred to him that he needed to catch his passage. He then attempted to raise the crew aboard the large vessel to which the small boat was attached.

They responded after a bit, were annoyed to find him in their rowboat, and hoisted the rowboat up to the main deck by davits only after a woman speaking Greek berated them. Once there, he attempted to negotiate to have them bring him to the Pera. They were reluctant and the coinage he had left was not persuading them. They suggested that he swim there, so well-known was the English skill at swimming. As the captain and the crew discussed their options, Chambers was surprised to discover the woman on aboard the vessel was Mme. Achmet, the wife of Achmet Pacha. All of Constantinople was looking for her: the Pacha had argued with his wife and she had run away.

To facilitate her departure, she has removed some items of value from the harem and had hired this boat to carry her home; she was Greek by nationality. In a double cross, they had anchored up and began negotiations with the Pasha for her return. The arrival of the Englishman was an inconvenience. When the captain and the crew returned, the captain told the woman to go below and began to struggle with her. Chambers grabbed him and landed two blows upon the Captain before the crew fell upon him.

As he lay upon the deck with swords and blades all about, in the distance was heard a voice hailing the vessel. It was the Pasha’s armed men come to retrieve their possessions. This became a matter of great concern to all on board. Ignoring Chambers, the crew hid in the shadows as the Captain went to the rail and timidly addressed the approaching galley. At this time, Chambers stood up and saw in the distance, approaching was the Pera, she had sailed; he saw his chances and career disappearing up in smoke when he jumped into action.

He signaled Mme. Achmet to be quiet and they climbed onto the rowboat on the davits. They cut the lines allowing the boat to fall into the seas. Grabbing the oars, he began stroking for all his might as the Pera approached and he knew the ship would not stop for him unless he made them. Lookouts on the deck saw him coming and tried to warn him off.

He crashed the rowboat into the side of the Pera as it passed. Once again, he was cast into the Bosporus. Immediately, lines were thrown over and he and the lady were pulled to safety. He had caused the accident because it was the only way possible to get the Pera to stop. Upon his return to his regiment, the Mme. Achmet spent some time with them as she outfitted herself in European costume before going onto Paris.

Chambers was rewarded with a diamond and his regiment with a silver salver.

This was a most remarkable fictional account of an accidental swimmer twice thrown into the water of the Bosporus in the same night.

  • Chambers’ Journal was a weekly paper published by Robert and William Chambers of Scotland beginning in 1832 that dealt with history, religion, language, and science. Many of the articles published were written by Robert. In this case, Robert seems to in the mood for an adventure tale. The veracity of the story was addressed in the last line of the story: “…and she gave our mess a very handsome silver salver, which still remains to bear witness to the truth of this plain unvarnished tale.”
  • For the sake of simplicity, let’s call him the local governor.
  • New York Times, September 14th 1873, A Night on the Bosporus from Chambers’ Journal.

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Steven Munatones