First Man to Swim the English Channel Capt. Matthew Webb Part 2

About the first man to swim the English Channel Captain Matthew Webb, history and biography of the man who swam from England to France.


What was needed, Manager Kyle thought, was another big one like the Channel swim--something that no man had ever tried before. Like the Niagara River rapids below the falls, for instance--perhaps the angriest stretch of water on earth. If Webb could get through them he would again have done the impossible, and there would be a fortune in it.

At the foot of Niagara Falls there is a huge circular gorge of constantly boiling water. The Niagara River empties out of the gorge and is relatively quiet for a brief stretch. Then, about 2 mi. below the falls, it gathers momentum as the walls of the river close in. Through this ever-narrowing funnel a tremendous volume of water, wild for want of room, reaches a pace of nearly 30 mph and throws the surface into a series of great billows that break up to 30' high. These are the Whirlpool Rapids, some 3/4 mi. in length, and below them is the Whirlpool itself, a giant disk of foaming eddies and furiously revolving water.

On June 10, 1883, the captain came to Niagara Falls to examine the rapids. Attired in a pearl-colored derby and gray frock coat, he drove along the river on the Canadian side and surveyed the rapids from the heights above. Then he walked down to the water's edge for a closer view. A few minutes' study seemed to satisfy him. "A rum bit of water," was his only comment.

Six weeks later they were back in Niagara Falls determined to stage the event. During an interview with the press, the captain outlined his plan. He would, he said, dive into the river and let the current take him down toward the rapids. He would try to stay in the middle, away from the rocks along the river's edge. "When the water gets very bad I will go under the surface and remain beneath until I am compelled to come up for breath. . . . When I get through I will try to land on the Canadian side, but if the current is too swift I will keep on down to Lewiston [5 mi. below] on the American side."

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