Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review of "The Great Swim" the story of Gertrude Ederle by Gavin Mortimer



I got this book for my birthday in 2009 from Cathi, but I hadn't taken the time to read it until this year.  The book was a delightful read for me.  I highlighted certain statements in the book that made me either laugh, find absurd, inspired by, or made me sad.

Some things that made me laugh:
  • One of Gertrude's uncles was so excited about watching her finish her crossing that "he jumped a little too far forward and fell right through a skylight into the tug's lower deck where he lay groaning and cheering in the same breath." p 224
  • Otto Kemmerich made his English Crossing "making no attempt, as he went, to hide his webbed gloves.  The British reporters protested that they gave the German an unfair advantage in the water, but Kemmerich just shrugged and pointed out that there was nothing in the rules of Channel Swimming to prohibit them."  During his swim "Kemmerich swam smack into a large dogfish and was hauled semiconscious from the water.  The British reported grinned from ear to ear and suggested that perhaps the dogfish had mistaken the German's webbed gloves for a duck." p. 217-218
  • An editorial in the Morning Post suggested that another star be added to the American flag in recognition of what [Ederle] had accomplished. p. 183
Some things I found absurd:
  • Ederle made the statement: "I have made up my mind to swim the Channel this time or sink.  It wouldn't be nice to drown, but I'll feel like it if I see I'm going to fail and they will have to take me out of the water unconscious." p 126
  • "England or drown is my motto" p. 130
  • Mercedes Gleitze attempted to swim from Duhnen, Germany to England (a distance of 300 miles), near the end of WWI without a support boat, and without any notification to anyone of what she was doing.  She quickly got swept by the tide up the North Channel.  "Gleitze was a strong swimer, but her belief that she could swim in stages from Germany to England was suicidally stupid." p 79
  • The New York Evening Post published an article that stated that "greasing ran counter to the spirit of Channel swimming". p 207
  • Once Mille Corson swam the channel shortly after Ederle, the British Press portrayed Ederle in a less than proper light, "Having lionized her at first, now they were claiming she had cheated." p 195 
  • Her trainer Bill Burgess, at some point when the swim was going exceptionally bad, was attempting to convince her to quit.  When she refused, she approached her Dad and sister, both of them refused as well to pull her.  Fortunately the conditions changed for the better and she made great progress.  But what really threw me is this:  "[Burgess] sidled up to Ederle and asked for the outstanding balance of his fee, the same fee that he had doubled two months earlier as a condition for coaching her exclusively.   Ederle settled the account to the last cent, but Burgess' hand remained outstretched.  A bonus, perhaps, he suggested with a smile, for helper her achieve her goal.  He stammered something about being entitled to a cash honorarium.  Ederle gave him a look that fried him to a crackling, and walked out without even a polite farewell." p 177-178
  • Ederle, among others often had bands on board to play music so they could be heard by the swimmer to lift their spirits.  At one point "Ederle began to set her strokes to the rhythm of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", but Burgess ordered her to stop fooling around." p.140  (Swimming to music is currently illegal in Channel Swimming)

Inspiring things:
  • In March 1926 Clarabelle Barrett "swam her first mile when the temperature was thirty-seven degrees, a feat of endurance so impressive it made the sports pages of her local paper, New Rochelle's Standard-Star." p 57
  • Twenty of Barrett's friends had each loaned her a hundred dollars to cover her round-trip fare to England. p 57
  • In 1928 Ishak Helmy finally got across the Channel. p. 280
Sad things:  
  • Jabez Wolffe had tried and failed to swim the Channel twenty two times! p. 62
  • After Ederle swam the channel, later in the year she was joking about her deafness with her boyfriend as they discussed the possibility of marriage.  "With my poor hearing it might be hard on a man". She'd expected a reassuring hug in return, "but instead he said 'I guess you're right, it would be hard on a man'" and left." p 276
I loved this book!  This is now in top three of favorite open water books!
Post a Comment