First person to swim across Strait did it in 1955
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Bert Thomas is shown training for his swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the pool of The Empress hotel in Victoria.

Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Among the sites that Andrew Malinak visited on a recent scouting trip to Port Angeles in advance of his wetsuit-free swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca was a monument on Ediz Hood dedicated to Bert Thomas.

Thomas, a Marine who fought in World War II, was the first person in recorded history to swim across the Strait.

He completed the 18.3-mile crossing from Ediz Hook to Victoria without a wetsuit in just over 11 hours July 8, 1955.

In those days, open-water swimmers received “thousands of dollars” for crossing large bodies of water, said Malinak, a 26-year-old Seattle man who hopes to become the eighth swimmer to cross the Strait today or Monday, depending on the winds.

Thomas was a combat swimmer for a Marine reconnaissance battalion in Pearl Harbor, according to an article that appeared on www.openwaterswimming.com.

He moved to Tacoma after the war to work as a logger and longshoreman but never lost his passion for open-water swimming.

In 1954, Thomas heard about a $7,500 offering to Florence Chadwick, a famous American swimmer and the first female to cross the English Channel both ways, for her attempt to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Hypothermia

Chadwick would have received $10,000 had she been successful in swimming from Victoria to Port Angeles, but she developed hypothermia 5 miles into the swim and boarded a support vessel.

After several of his own failed attempts to cross the Strait from north to south, Thomas, then 29, decided to start in Port Angeles on July 7, 1955.

Thomas left Ediz Hook with the outgoing tide in 46-degree water at about 6 p.m. July 7, 1955.

He was greeted by about 2,000 spectators when he arrived on Canadian shores at 5:05 a.m. the next day.

Thomas received $3,500 in prize money for becoming the first person to swim across the Strait.

He died of a heart attack at the age of 46 in 1972.

Last modified: July 27. 2013 6:02PM
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