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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why 6 In The English Channel And On Open Water Relays?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

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 57 minutes in 1954.

Then, beginning in 1964, a slew of relay teams started to join the English Channel swimming fraternity:

- City of London School for Girls in 1964 (F/E) 16:20
- Denstone College in 1964 (F/E) 11:27
- Spitalfields Market in 1964 (F/E) 14:36
- Rochester Swim Club in 1965 (F/E) 10:47
- British Petroleum Ltd Swim Club in 1965 (E/F) 13:37
- Phoenicians Swim Club in 1965 (F/E) in 9:58
- Middlesborough in 1965 (F/E) in 10:15
- Radcliffe Swim Club in 1966 (F/E) in 9:29
- Oundle School ’66 in 1966 (F/E) in 11:45
- Portsmouth & Southsea LGS in 1966 (F/E) in 12:06
- Girl Guide Association in 1966 (F/E) in 13:10
- NW Area Sea Cadets in 1966 (F/E) in 12:09
- St. Bernadetts Youth Club in 1966 (F/E) in 16:16
- Tunbridge Wells Monson Swim Club in 1966 (F/E) in 9:45
- St. Richards of Chichester in 1967 (F/E) in 14:09
- Stoke on Trent in 1967 (F/E) in 12:33
- Stoke on Trent in 1967 (E/F) in 17:39
- Pirelli General/Br.Transport in 1967 (F/E) in 13:57
- Tyldesley Swim Club (E/F) in 11:37
- Bank of England in 1967 (F/E) in 12:17
- International Relay in 1968 (E/F) in 10:37
- Monson Swim Club in 1968 (E/F) in 12:45
- 4th Btn. The Queens Regiment in 1968 (F/E) in 9:55
- Bolton Dolphins in 1969 (E/F) in 11:25
- Haagse Bluf Team in 1969 (E/F) in 9:29
- Lamorbey T. & Swim Club in 1969 (F/E) in 17:58

There are specific reasons for this relay boom in the English Channel that began in 1964 with 3 successes of 10 swimmers per team from France to England. "It was obvious to the Channel Swimming Association that relay swims were to be very much part of the future, most importantly to provide more work for the pilots - who were hardly making fortunes, and for the fact that they might encourage relay swimmers to make solo attempts and of course, unwittingly, the potential to raise millions of ££££s by being sponsored for charities." wrote International Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Open Water Swimmer and International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame inductee Michael Read.

As the Channel Swimming Association rules were formalized for the 1965 season, the steppingstone for solo English Channel aspirants was established and became a memorable way to experience marathon swimming with friends and teammates as well as a much-appreciated means to generate additional income for escort pilots.

But why did six people become the norm? Why not 2 or 3 or 4 swimmers?

Why did the one-hour rotations become the norm? Why not 30 minutes or 2 hours?

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

Read recalls the history behind the English Channel relay rules. “Relay swimming was discussed at length by the Channel Swimming Association Committee in the early 1960′s. The discussion of relays came about due to the discussions with [Honorary Secretary] John Unicum Wood who did much to further channel swimming relationships and ideas. There were two main reasons for their instigation. Firstly, as a way of getting more people into channel swimming and, as a result, hopefully get a few solo attempts from the relay swimmers. Secondly, to generate more opportunities for the escort boatmen.”

Read recalls sitting with Wood and renowned 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. It was subsequently put to the Committee. The initial rules made it the same for all swims and 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 increasing number of relay teams over the past 5 decades around the world, is history.

Facebook page photo shows the Total Immersion in the English Channel or The EC6 relay team including former English Channel record holder Christof Wandratsch, masters 1500m world record holder Kirsten Cameron, US Olympic Trials qualifier Steve West, All-American masters swimmer Bernie Zeruhn, British national masters champions Andrew Chamberlain and Dave Warren.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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