In September, with its favorable tides, the English Channel takes on the challenge of a horde of swimmers. About one in 10 succeeds in crossing it, and over the years these winners have become so numerous that, as London's The Observer noted, swimming the Channel "is looked upon as only slightly more tiresome a way of making the journey than taking the Dover packet boat or the air ferry from Lydd."
But in 1961 an Argentine named Antonio Abertondo completed the first round-trip swim and that, everyone conceded, was a feat worth cheering. To a burly Chicago research chemist, Ted Erikson, it was a challenge. He tried it last year and had to quit halfway through the return trip. This year he decided to mount a scientific assault. Into a computer he fed such details as his stroke rate, speeds and directions of Channel currents and wind velocity. An experienced pilot would do better than a computer, old salts said. It would not work, they insisted.
It did not work. Again Erikson had to give up on the return trip. He rested three days and tried again, still relying on the computer. Another failure.
On his third attempt in eight days, Erikson turned from the computer to Arthur Liddon, Dover pilot, who plotted the course from an accompanying boat. Fourteen hours and 15 minutes after entering the water at St. Margaret's Bay, Erikson stepped ashore near Calais, rested eight minutes and plunged in again. Shoals of jelly fish impeded him and hallucinations (the pilot boat turned into a rosebush) disturbed him. But he closed his eyes and swam on. Thirty hours and three minutes after he had set out, Erikson stepped ashore at the foot of a cliff just east of Dover. His time was 13 hours faster than Abertondo's.
Now Erikson is planning to train his son, Jon, who is 11, to become the youngest ever to swim the Channel. Without computers.
NOW FOR THE 20TH HOLE
The 19th hole has always been thought of as the stop at the country club bar at the end of a round but now, on the state fairgrounds at Sacramento, a golf course with 19 holes, actual holes, is to be built.
Eighteen holes still will constitute a round of golf, but from time to time the course will be rerouted to allow a fairway or green to be rested, repaired or watered.
And in California, where new highways are constantly cutting through open spaces, the additional fairway will be land insurance for the future.