The 1902 drawing by P. Frenzeny from photographs by Lang Niel of a “masked swimmer in the water: the method of refreshment and Holbein abandoning the attempt off Dover, after about twelve hours in the water” is an illustration of a fascinating portion of early English Channel swimming history.

Montague Holbein made several attempts across the English Channel.

In 1901, he tried to swim from France but was pulled out four miles from Dover. His attempt so badly damaged his eyes from the salt water that he was unable to see for four days.

But he came back twice more in 1902, this time wearing a mask composed of American sticker’s plaster with glass let in to enable him to see. It effectually preserved his eyes from injury like his previous attempts.

On his first attempt in early August, he failed again due to a tidal flow, heavy seas and a strong head wind, again four miles from Ramsgate. According to the accounts at the time, he covered a distance of 18 miles as he was covered with special oil and his mask doing breaststroke at 25 strokes per minute. He soon switched to backstroke at a 20 stroke-per-minute pace. Due to the turbulence in the Channel, his support crew got seasick with of them returning to shore.

During his attempt, he ate beef essence in liquid form and sandwiches, but he was eventually pulled out when he could not make any headway against the tides.

In late August, Holbein started his attempt in 63°F water. However, he was taken out of the water within a mile of Dover after an attempt of 22 hours 21 minutes. His crew used two powerful acetylene lamps to follow him through the night as he started at 3:20 pm. He did not repeat any attempts thereafter.

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