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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Open Water Odyssey Across The Hellespont

While Eleanor Studley was honored by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame for becoming the first woman to swim the Hellespont in 1929, she was not the lone swimmer across the feat. The Smith College graduate went on the Odyssey of 1929, a college girl’s cruise in the Aegean Sea, together with Lucy Hancock of Vasser College and Eugenie Paterson of Smith College.

Their crossing from the Sestos Cliffs on the European side took 80 minutes as they swam to the Asiastic side on a sandy outpost below the Xerxes throne. The trio of American college co-eds were accompanied by coach Carl Michael and Odyssey director Byron MacDonald who had also escorted 17 college men across the Hellespont in 1928.

Studley recalled, "The currents were strong and there were high waves. I did not mind about the current." When the three young women clamored separately on the sandy beach at different points along the Asiatic side, Studley smiled at the news that she had swum faster that the men’s record. Later, she sent a succinct telegram to her father: Swam Hellespont. Eighty minutes.

The trio of Massachusetts pioneers were inspired by the descriptive account of swimming across the Hellespont by American adventurer and author Richard Halliburton in The Glorious Adventure. His words describe his adventure across the Hellespont:

"At two o’clock I removed my clothing, and, my heart pound with excitement, stood at the water’s edge praying to the water gods to deliver me safely on the other side. The summer sunshine blazed from a cloudless sky upon the sinister sapphire stream that lapped invitingly at my feet. With nerves keyed up to the highest pitch I yet held back in fear lest I fail. I plunged. The Asiatic shoe across the channel rose hazily.

I struck out straight for it, with Rodric and the boat hovering close beside. Before I had gone half a mile, whatever “form” I may have begun with soon vanished and I thought only of covering the greatest possible distance with the least possible exertion: Back-stroke, side-stroke, dog-paddle, idle floating, any old thing to keep going.

My body whispered: ‘You cannot possibly swim five miles in such a current’ but Inspiration shouted: ‘This is the Hellespont – what matter if it’s fifty!’ I plunged. By half past two I looked back toward Europe to find, to my alarm, that I was already abeam the Sestos bluffs. It made me realize how relentlessly I was being swept downstream. Before 3 o’clock I was in mid-stream. The wind had constantly increased, and now was churning the water with white caps. Every few minutes I was half drowned when the resentful waves broke unexpectedly over my head. It seemed to me I swallowed half the Black Sea. Nausea seized me so painfully that several times I was ready to give up. But the increasing cold was the worst thing of all. The water flows so rapidly, even the surface has no opportunity to be warmed by the sun. After the first hour I began to grown uncomfortably numb.

However, the Throne of Xerxes was not far off now. All along, this had been a guide-point. And yet, as I drew near to it, I realized the ricocheting current was sweeping me parallel to the shore about ten teimes as fast as I was approaching it. The trees and rocks began to gallop past. From midstream I had calculated that I would land half a mile above the tip of Abydos point, but the mile soon became a quarter, a sixth, a tenth. After two horus in the water, within 300 feet from shore, I was being swept past the ‘last chance of solid ground, just as and where Leander had been swept 2500 years before – and should I fail to reach the beach by ever so little, the current would drag me across the Hellespont, back to the European shoe whence I had started.

Never have I felt such utter despair: a five-mile swim – my Hellespont – to miss achievement by 100 yards! Never have I struggled so desperately, my eyes became blurred, seeing only the land not far from me. I ceased to know where I was, or what I was doing, here in this cold, tormenting, boundless ocean. Mechanically, I thrashed the water with my weary arms and legs.

Then – bump – my knees struck bottom. I was swimming hysterically in less than three feet of water, for the shore sloped so gradually that, even at 300 feet out, the water was not waist-deep. With not one second to lose, I stood upright, and staggered ashore, with Rod, who had jumped into the surf, right beside me, and flopped on the last foot of ground on the point. And so the Hellespont, that treacherous and briny river, was swum once more
."

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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