A Historic Day in Open Water Annals
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on May 3rd, 2010

From today’s edition of Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac on the bicentennial of a historic open water swim. Here’s the account from the Writer’s Almanac site. (Note: I find the estimate of extra distance caused by the strong current to be highly questionable. I doubt that even a “champion swimmer” of Byron’s time could have swum 4.5km or 2.8 miles in 70 minutes, using the head-up style of breaststroke which prevailed at the time. Even today, swimming crawl, that would be a pretty good clip for a strong swimmer. T.L.)

It’s been exactly 200 years since Lord Byron swam across the Hellespont, on May 3rd, 1810. The Hellespont, now called the Dardanelles, is a strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, an inland sea in Turkey — another strait, the Bosporus, continues out of the Sea of Marmara and into the Black Sea. Together the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus form a waterway that separates Europe from Asia.

So by swimming across the Hellespont, Lord Byron became the first known person to swim from Europe to Asia. According to Greek mythology, the lovers Hero and Leander lived on opposite sides of the strait — Leander on the Asian side, and Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, on the European side. Every night, Leander would swim across the strait to see his lover, who hung up a lantern to guide him. Byron was inspired by this story. He loved to swim. And he was 22 years old, on the Grand Tour that many young men undertook.

In its narrowest spot, the Hellespont is only about a kilometer across, or .62 miles. But because of the strong current, it isn’t possible to swim straight across, and the swim is about four and a half kilometers, or 2.8 miles. Byron did the breast stroke the whole way, and it took him an hour and 10 minutes. But even though it wasn’t very far, it was the first famous open-water swim, and the first swim from Europe to Asia, and Byron’s feat was glorified. He certainly contributed to his own glorification — for one thing, he told his servant than when people asked, he should say the distance was three and a half miles.

One Response to “A Historic Day in Open Water Annals”

  1. […] Historic Day in Open Water Annals – http://www.swimwellblog.com/archives/418 200 years since Lord Byron swam the Hellespont […]

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