The Splash, by David Hockney (1966)
Lord Byron recalls a swim in Venice in a letter to John Murray, 21st February 1821
Of what may be done in swimming, I will mention one more instance. In 1818, the Chevalier Mengaldo (a gentleman of Bassano), a good swimmer, wished to swim with my friend Mr Alexander Scott and myself. As he seemed particularly anxious on the subject, we indulged him. We all three started from the island of the Lido and swam to Venice. At the entrance of the Grand Canal, Scott and I were a good way ahead, and we saw no more of our foreign friend, which, however, was of no consequence, as there was a gondola to hold his clothes and pick him up. Scott swam on till past the Rialto, where he got out, less from fatigue than from chill… I continued my course on to Santa Chiara, comprising the whole of the Grand Canal (besides the distance from the Lido), and got out where the Laguna once more opens to Fusina. I had been in the water, by my watch, without help or rest, and never touching ground or boat, four hours and twenty minutes… The distance we could not accurately ascertain; it was of course considerable.
Travel writer and adventurer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died on 10th June, swam the Hellespont, the channel that links the Mediterranean to the Sea of Marmara, at the age of 69. He recounts this feat in a letter to Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, 18th December 1984
Next day we got to Channakale, where the Hellespont is about a mile across, steep ridges of Asia on our side, and of Europe on the other. I’d always longed to have a try swimming across, and suddenly confronted, couldn’t very well wriggle out. Next day I dived in not far from where HMS Goliath was sunk in 1915. I slogged along after the skiff, Joan [his wife] shouting encouragement and instructions across the stern… It seemed quite easy at first, the landmarks—lighthouses, mountains, minarets, forts—exchanged places with heartening speed, and the dreaded current didn’t seem too strong. A huge Russian tanker loomed from the north leaving a strong wash behind it which kept lifting me up and dropping me again. Only when we were halfway did I start to feel the dread current. The water suddenly became choppy and ruffled, and hard…