Long Distance Swimming

For many people, 'swimming' is when you enter a body of water - and get a bit wet, maybe even splash around. Long ago humans would also have used rivers and lakes to wash in, and perhaps the sea for 'swimming', although not all coastal settlements did so. In time we began building baths (again - in Pakistan there are ruins of public baths dating back to the 3rd millennium BC) for hygine purposes. These swimming pools were found to be useful for entertainment also, and later on 'swimming galas' were held in them, from where competitive swimming developed. Outdoors swimming continued, and grew, and in 2008 a 10km open water 'Marathon Swimming' race included at the Olympic Games, which is swum in any suitable body of water at the host city. 


Besides swimming in especially constructed swimming pools, swimmers have always used any suitable body of water to swim in. Various terms are used to describe such swimming - including marathon swimming, long distance swimming, open water swimming, channel swimming and so on.

Long Distance swimming, as distinct from from Open Water Racing, takes place in any suitable body of water 

Since Henry Charteris Hooper completed the first Robben Island swim in 1909, many South Africans have braved the cold waters of the Atlantic swimming to, from and around the Island. Others have swum across False Bay - much warmer but also a longer swim, and also around Cape Point. In Port Elizabeth there have been swims up the Zwartkops river, and more recently the Bell Buoy Challenge in Algoa Bay - 8km from Hobie Beach to the Nautical Bell Buoy, situated some 2.5km off shore and 3.5km from Hobie Beach, and back. East London has seen swims in the Buffalo River, where the SA one mile championships has been held. The Cape Long Distance Swimming Association thrives in Cape Town. On 3 March 1974 Marie van der Merwe becomes the youngest swimmers to complete the Robben Island crossing.

These pages record a tiny part of the history of long distance swimming in southern Africa.

Some of the earliest heroes of South African Open were Margaret 'Peggy' Duncan, who also swam with Mercedes Gleitz, and completed the English Channel crossing. Peggy's channel swim was the first since 1928, and the only until 1933. The American press reported it quite extensively because she almost broke the record held by their own heroine Gertrude Ederle. Click here to see some of the press articles of Peggy's swim.

On the 8th November 1926 a race is swum from Robben Island to Roggebaai - sponsored  by the Cape Argus, it includes 6 men and 6 women - the youngest being Johannesburg schoolgirl Peggy Duncan, aged 15, who was also the only swimmer to complete the distance. Florrie Berndt, daughter of the Robben Island baker and nurse at the Island’s infirmary, also competes in the race but fails to finish -  a play called 53 Degrees is later written, based on her story. In 1932 Mercedes Gleitze did the double swim between Cape Town and Robben Island over two separate days.Other Robben Island swimmers include Astra Winckler (1935), Frank Lotz (1935), W. Slater (1935), Beth Wiid (1955), Eva Grant (1962), Amanda Basson (1969), Correen Swanepoel (1977) and Dudley Levine (1983). In 1956 Beth Wiid also swam the Straights of Gibraltar in June 1956 but failed in her English Channel bid in the same year.

Astrad Winckler

The history of long distance swimming is replete with stories of heroic achievements. A poet called George Gordon, known as Lord Byron, swam across the Bosporus in 1810, accompanied by William Ekenhead, who beat Byron to the other side by 5 min. Perhaps the most famous (English) long distance swim is the Channel crossing completed by Matthew Webb in 1875, who, like Byron, used a side/breast stroke to cover the distance. See articles on the Histories for more details of swimming history.

Peggy was the first South African to swim across the Channel in 1930. The next South African across the Channel was Peter Bales - 40 years later in 1969. In 2001 a teams of girls from DSG in Grahamstown completed a team crossing. 

Carina Bruwer was the first South African swimmer to round Cape Point.

Follow the links to see more about these adventurous and hardy swimmers. The cold waters (and Great White sharks!) of the Atlantic probably makes any long distance swim attempt in those waters seem more heroic.


A typical Cape Town open water swimming image - taken off Bloubergstrand.

Another South African challenger on the 7th February 1930 -  South African swimmer Patricia Retief, aged sixteen years old. (there is no record of her succeeding). Her costume badge is from DSG in Grahamstown, seen with famous channel coach Jabez Wolffe.


1930 Margaret Duncan 16h 17min
1959 Dennis Pearson (Rhodesia) 15 36
1969 Peter Elwin Bales 13 38
1979 Kevin Anderson 12 22
1987 Derek Yach 9 48
1990 David Riding 13 50
1992 Lewis Pugh 14 50
1993 Hirsch Swim Team (Relay) 10 58
1994 Susan Fraenkel 12 5
1994 Otto Thaning 10 29
1995 Hulme Scholes 14 24
1995 Gary Austin 13 20
1996 Redhill School 10 48
1996 Theodore Yach 14 25
1997 Richard Landsey (Zimbabwe) 15 39
1997 Gary Austin ( a member of Benoni Northerns Team crossing in 2001)    
1997 Sarah Wylie 12 21
1999 Bobby Jo Bassingthwaite (Namibia) 13 51
2000 Eels 10 51
2001 D.S.G. 10 30
2001 Benoni Northern Mixed 14 49
2001 Greg Bastik 10 37
2002 Wayne Chaitman 11 17
2002 Channel Champs - Warren Mills, Chris Reardon, Anton Truter, Wayne Delbroux, Gareth Ball, Steve Bartel 11 20
2002 Lewis Pugh Fan Club/Cape Long Distance Swim Assoc.  13 07
2002 Steven Klugman 10 7
2003 John Dickerson 10 9
2003 Jonathan Crowther 11 26
2004 Hugh Tucker 13 37
2005 Carina Bruwer 12 03
2005 Dion Woodburne 13 44
2005 Ilse Eiselen-Botes 11 2
2005 Brian Allen (Zimbabwe) 11 55
2005 Mark Rosenberg 15 25
2005 Queens Park (4 person Relay) 10 07
2005 Epping Forest Flotsam (Relay) SA/UK 13 17
2006 Bruce Salt (Namibia) 13 46
2006 Barend Nortje 8 59
2006 Michele Santilhano 19 08
2007 Barend Nortje 10 30
2007 Andy Pfaff 13 59
2008 Chris Green 14 7
2008 Kieron Palframan 12 03
2008 Baren Nortje 11 47
2008 Ryan Stramrood 12 54
2008 Fredrik Louw 11 55
2010 Andrew Wilkins 13 51
2010 Don Perrott 12 16
2010 Stanley Roos 15 58
2010 Aquamen (Relay) Raymond and Nicholas Basson, Dominic Haworth, Jonty Harbinson 13 10
2010 Richard Child 14 33
2011 Roger Finch 12 39
2011 Mark Templeton 14 10
2011 Angela Lurssen 17 01
2012 Wayne Arthur 10 30
2012 Camewron Bellamy 16 29
2012 Herman van der Westhuizen 11 25
2012 Myles Wilson 13 11
2012 Patrick Thomas 13 56
2014 Anthony Pearce 9 33
2014 Janine Pearce 10 30
2014 Phia Steyn 14 22
2014 Otto Thaning (aged 73 - in 2017 holder of oldest swimmer record) 12 53
2017 Jean Craven 11 44
2017 Chris Fourie 13 30
2017 Emil Berning 12 53
      Warren MillsChris ReardonAnton TruterWayne Delboux,Garreth Ball,Steve Bartel

The recorded history of long distance swimming in southern Africa probably started at the Cape, where the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association manages such events today.  Henry Hooper is best known as the first swimmer to complete the Robben Island crossing. The motive for such swims was often gambling, as gambling on swimming feats was an old tradition in England - although this aspect is not always reported.


In 1988 Belgium swimmer Annemie Landmeteres completed the first crossing of False Bay.

Another legend of Cape Long distance swimming is former Western province butterflyer Steve Klugman, who also crossed False Bay and also holds the records for a number of Robben Island crossings. Below with Barend Nortje on the right.

Barend with Steve Klugman

Man breaks record for 34km False Bay swim

A Cape Town swimmer has broken an 18-year record for the swim across False Bay from Rooi Els Point to Miller's Point and become only the fourth person to have completed the 34-kilometre distance.

Barend Nortje, 33, finished in 9 hours and 17 minutes, breaking Belgian swimmer Annemie Landmeters's record of 9.56, set in 1989.

Nortje, who has swum the English Channel, braved difficult weather and the sharks of False Bay during the swim, said Peter Bales, chairperson of the Cape Long Distance Association.

He had been "waiting for weeks for suitable weather", Bales said.

"It was an outstanding swim - he was looking very good."

The swim has been attempted 20 times, with Landmeters being the first to complete it. The others were South African swimmer Steven Klugman in 2004 and Carina Bruwer, of Cape Town, last year.

Since 2004, the association has used the electronic Shark Shield, attached to the swimmer's support boat.

Today the most internationally famous long distance swimmer from cape Town is undoubtedly Lewis Pugh. He wrote the following about swimming around Cape point:

The fact that the Cape of Good Hope has two very different waters on either side – icy cold and often unforgiving on the Atlantic, and warm and generous in False Bay – makes it the most perfect place in the world for an endurance swimmer to train.

One of my most memorable swims was the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope I did with three friends in 2004. Tony Sellmeyer, Gillian Atwood, Kevin Andersson and I swam the 12 kilometers from a little beach called Neptune’s Dairy, around Cape Point to Buffels Bay. It took us just over 3 hours, and just after the start we were buzzed by a Great White Shark. I say ‘buzzed’ because of the energy we all felt as it torpedoed by underneath us – I’m not sure that the creature even registered that we were there, but we were certainly acutely aware of him! We could have chosen to give up the swim then and there, but we elected to push on. And stick very close to each other.


Yach pak 30km se yswater aan


Theodore Yach, een van Suid-Afrika se legendariese kouewater en langafstand-swemmers berei hom tans voor vir ‘n 29.5km dag lange swemstryd in die ysige Atlantiese-seewater van Kaapstad.

Yach (51) gaan Desember die koue water aandurf om die eerste persoon te wees wat dié roete sal swem.

Die swemsessie skop in Drieankerbaai af, strek om die hele Robbeneiland en eindig weer in dieselfde baai.

Hy gaan slegs ‘n gewone swemskostuum dra, ‘n swemkappie en swembrille.

Die geleentheid word jaarliks sedert 2001 gehou om geld vir die Vista Nova-skool vir kinders met spesiale behoeftes in te samel.

Yach gaan sowat 12 ure in haai-besette seewater met 'n temperatuur van 12°C swem.

Peter Bales die voorsitter van die Kaapse Langafstand-swemvereniging het die roete vergelyk met dié een wat die Engelse Kanaal oorsteek wat beskou word as die “Everest” van oopwater-sembyeenkomste.

Die Engelse Kanaal is wel ‘n paar kilometer langer, maar Yach se roete gaan baie kouer wees.

Yach hou tans die wêreldrekord vir die swemmer wat die roete tussen Robbeneiland en die vasteland sowat 54 keer al geswem het.

Hy het ook in 1996 die Engelse kanaal in 14 uur en 25 minute voltooi.


'Madman' conquers False Bay

Cape Argus - February 16, 2004. A Cape Town swimmer braved choppy seas and strong winds to become the first South African to swim across False Bay.

Steve Klugman, 39, of Sea Point, has already swum to and from Robben Island and crossed the English Channel. Yesterday he completed the 34km between Rooi Els and Miller's Point in 14 hours and 15 minutes.

And why did he do it? "I am mad in the head. I am insane."

This is only the second time that anyone has completed the swim from Rooi Els to Miller's Point. Belgian Annemie Landmeters completed the swim in the 1980s.

Klugman began swimming when he was six years old, but started taking long-distance swimming seriously about three years ago. "I've wanted to do this for for a long time. I thought yesterday was a good day, but it was actually the wrong day to do it."

Conditions were "atrocious" because the sea was choppy and the strong wind disorientated him.

"It was not that bad when I started, but after four and a half hours the conditions deteriorated. I should have given up then."

He said if he had attempted the swim on a good day it would only have taken nine and a half hours.

Despite the tough swim, Klugman was elated when it was successfully over.

"It is fantastic and I am glad I've done it."

And would he do it again? "Never. For those who are looking at doing it, good luck!"

The swim raised funds for the Red Cross Children's Hospital and was made possible by Master Currency.


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