Tokyo Park Hyatt Pool
Gertrude Ederle, The Miracle Mermaid
Gertrude Ederle was 19 when she became the first woman to swim the English Channel. She made history on 6th August 1926, less than a year after she had abandoned her first attempt after 9 hours in worsening weather conditions. Women's swimming had only been an Olympic sport for 14 years and, in a newspaper opinion poll, one man dismissed her chances with "She hasn't the strength, I don't believe any woman has". However, the Wall Street Betting Commission had shortened her odds to 3-1 after the near success of one of her rivals.
The shortest route from France to England is 21 miles from Cape Gris-Nez to Dover. Gertrude and her team spent the tense months leading up to the 6th August waiting in Cape Gris-Nez for the weather to warm, for the water temperature to rise above 56 degrees and for the tides to become favourable. There was, also, rivalry and occasional open fire between her and the four other hopefuls for the "first woman to swim the channel" title (at one point her and fellow American, Lillian Day, had a tug of war over the trainer Bill Burgess until Gertrude raised her price to 20,000 Francs buying his exclusivity). Training in Cape Griz-Nez focussed on acclimatising to the icy English Channel, open water distance swimming, walking and eating to gain insulation.
Dubbed "the Miracle Mermaid" by the press she was the image of a flapper with bobbed hair, a love of the Charleston and a talent for playing the ukulele. On the morning of her swim she must have looked striking in navy blue silk shorts and matching brassiere with a thumbnail American flag, designed by her sister Margaret, and a red swimming cap. Channel swimming is not a glamorous business though and, when the Miracle Mermaid, strode into the sea she was wearing three layers of grease - first olive oil, then lanolin and finally lard and Vaseline.
Gertrude started swimming shortly after 07.00 French time flanked by her support boat, the Alsace, and the press boat, La Morinie. As she swam her nutritional sustenance came from chicken broth, cold fried chicken and hot chocolate with emotional sustenance coming from the gramophone music that Margaret was playing from the Alsace. It's hard to imagine the strength of mind that it takes for a 19 year old girl to swim 21 freezing, salt scraping miles through strengthening winds and changing tides. Mind tricks were also at play when press politics led La Morinie to try to make Gertrude touch the side of the boat and therefore be disqualified.
After 5 hours she had swam 11 miles and by 15.00 she could see the white cliffs of Dover. By 18.00 Burgess wanted her to quit but was outranked by her father. By 18.50 she had rounded the Goodwin lightship which was flying the Union Jack in her honour. The cross currents created by the notorious British summer weather resulted in her course being altered towards Kingsdown Beach. Channel Swimmers have been known to fail in the last mile and at 20.45, half a mile from shore, Gertrude seemed to reach her lowest point before looking towards the beach and seeing crowds of English wellwishers that had gathered to celebrate her victory. She swam on and, at 21.48 French time, 20.48 British Summer Time, and 14 hours and 39 minutes after leaving Cape Gris-Nez, Gertrude Ederle came ashore as the first woman to swim the English Channel.
- Pools with inspiring views. When you swim at the Tokyo Park Hyatt, you are in the sky. High up on the 47th floor with views of the super sexy Shinjuku skyline, this 20 metre pool combined with the bright lights below pushes you to work harder on your laps. www.tokyo.park.hyatt.com. For a completely different view, take a dip in the eco infinity pool at the Wildernest Resort in Swapnahandha, Goa. After a tough day of nature treks, this pool makes you feel like you are swimming off the ghats into the valley below. www.wildernest-goa.com.
- Swim the English Channel. For serious swimmers who are considering the gruelling cross channel swim, your first port of call should be the Cross Channel Swimming Association who are the governing body. For more about Gertrude Ederle, I would suggest Gavin Mortimer's book "The Great Swim" which I read to research this article. Mortimer describes the battle to be the first lady across the channel and, when he describes the 6th Augugust 1926, you feel like you are swimming beside Gertude.