Rottnest Channel Swim

Published on Monday, 4 November 2019 at 11:02:00 AM

On 24th January, 1924, a German visitor named Gerd von Dincklage-Schulenburg made good on a bet he had made over a beer a few days earlier and swam from North Mole in Fremantle to Natural Jetty in Rottnest becoming the first recorded person to complete the swim. Despite being warned of the dangers associated with the swim, mainly the cold, rips and of course sharks, Gerd was not discouraged and completed the distance in 9 hours and 45 minutes.

The Weekend Mail consequently offered cash prizes to better Gerd’s record and just two months afterwards in March 1956, the first competitive race was held. The add generated a lot of interest so the West Australian Amateur Swimming Association (WAASA) suggested an elimination race in the sheltered waters of the Swan River in order to ensure that participants were able to make the distance and were not putting themselves in danger. From the 22 registered entrants, only 9 completed the course. Two swimmers withdrew before the race and only 4 made it from the mainland to the island. Trevor Seaborn, Neil Earl, Les Stewart and Toby Regan all beat Gerd von Dincklage-Schulenburg’s time. Another race was planned for the following year but on the advice of the WAASA the swim was restricted to sheltered waters of the river. It wasn’t until April 1969 that another recorded swim took place. This saw English Migrant Lesley Cherriman become the first woman to complete the Rottnest Channel swim.

Numerous attempts were made between 1969 and and 1989, when in preparation for the 6th FINA World Championships in 1991, the Rottnest Channel Swim Association was formed. The Associations’ priorities were to authenticate people who wanted to swim the Rottnest Channel, promote safety, to advise and encourage swimmers, in addition to collecting data from the crossings.

On 23rd February, 1991, the second official Rottnest Channel race was held. At 5.30am, 16 solo swimmers left Cottesloe Beach and seven teams of four swimmers left at 6am. Only 12 solo swimmers completed the 19.7km crossing, however all 7 teams were successful.

Despite the ever present risk of hypothermia and shark attacks, by 1998 the Rottnest Channel Swim had become the world’s largest open water swimming event, with 1150 competitors.

In 2003, the RCSA introduced the Rotto Rehearsal, a 10km swim to trial which swimmers must complete in less than 4 hours and 15 minutes in order to qualify for the main event. There is also a Virtual Rottnest Channel Swim which provides opportunities for those who unable to attend or don’t wish to compete in open water to participate in a pool environment.

The event is steadily evolving and increasing in popularity, attracting numerous international competitors. Today, swimmers have a support boat manned with a trained crew to ensure the safety of the swimmers. Extensive training and briefings for swimmers and all volunteers help ensure the efficiency and success of the event. However the Rottnest Channel Swim still remains a gruelling endurance event and should only be attempted by experienced registered participants during organised Rottnest Channel Swim events.

“The lure of doing the Rottnest Channel Swim has always been that it captures people’s imagination, challenges their swimming ability and encourages a higher level of swimming fitness,” says Founding member and life member of the Rottnest Channel Swim Association (RCSA) Kevin Holtom.

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