Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Crossing - Kathy Watson

In August 1875 Captain Matthew Webb became the first man to swim the English Channel. Feted and adored, praised and imitated, for a while he was the most famous man in Britain and his gallant 22-hour endeavour helped to make swimming the popular sport it is today. It was to be both the highlight of his life and the start of his ruin.

This was an interesting and well written biography of the man whose name I first knew from matchboxes. This book explains how - and why - Webb became known as "England's Glory". It is a sympathetic portrait, written by a swimmer, but I think Webb would have been easy to like - modest, unassuming, hardworking. He was not flashy, and he wasn't a speedy swimmer - he preferred breaststroke to the new crawl style strokes - but he was strong, dogged and determined. I can empathise with that! His epic swim was fuelled by beer, brandy and sandwiches - the cutting edge of sports nutrition!

Hero is perhaps an overused word these days, but I think Captain Webb was a true one - whilst serving as second mate on the Cunard Line ship Russia, travelling from New York to Liverpool, he attempted to rescue a man overboard by diving into the sea in the mid-Atlantic. The man was never found, and Webb nearly lost his own life.

Webb drowned trying to swim the Whirlpool Rapids in the Niagara River.

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