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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
For almost a year, Americans and Canadians facing each other across the Strait of Juan de Fuca looked on with cheerful confidence as swimmer after swimmer attempted to conquer the 18.3-mile-wide channel which splits western British Columbia from the state of Washington. The chilling, tide-ripped strait was supreme, citizens told themselves; it was a sort of Niagara Falls turned sideways. And to a man they felt certain that it would spit back all challengers like so many watermelon seeds.
One of those challengers was a logger from Tacoma named Bert Thomas, who looked more like a watermelon than its seed. A heavy-hipped 250-pounder, Bert showed up in Victoria, B.C. last March set on swimming the strait. He failed in his first attempt (SI, April 25) after four hours and 10 minutes in the water. But ex-Marine Thomas didn't give up. He tried three more times, but the relentless tide kept spitting him back on the Canadian shore.
Then Bert had an idea. He would start out from the U.S. side and head for Victoria. At 6:50 p.m. last Thursday the strait was flat and windless when Bert plunged in at Port Angeles, Wash. His big worry was the unpredictable tides, but before Bert had too much time to fret about them a flood tide gave him a boost toward the Canadian shore.
From then on Bert Thomas was a confident man, despite a left shoulder rubbed raw from the friction of his sidestroke. Each hour Bert would rest while a crew member aboard the work boat fed him orange juice through a plastic tube attached to a fishing pole. As Bert neared the lights of Victoria, radios aboard two other boats rocked with the exhorting strains of The Marine Hymn.
At 6:08 a.m. Bert sprinted the remaining 25 yards to the beach, where he was met by 2,000 enthusiastic early risers. After pocketing $2,800 in prize money, Bert Thomas announced he was looking for "a smart agent" to look after his interests while he got ready to swim back the "other way."
The most dedicated joint detective job in U.S.-Canadian history—ornithological division, that is—has been the postwar search for the nesting grounds of the tall, beautiful and all-but-vanished whooping crane. If Grus americana's nesting area can be found, the region can be made an inviolate sanctuary and a number of other thoughtful measures attempted to save the species—once a sky-filling race but now reduced to hardly two dozen birds. From Canada's remote Northwest Territories now comes a dispatch from John O'Reilly, SI's nature writer, which should thrill bird fans and conservationists roughly as much as the conquest of Everest and the four-minute mile thrilled adventurers, mountain climbers and track fans: the whooping cranes' nesting grounds have been found and North America's greatest ornithological puzzle has been solved. Using airplanes and helicopters, members of a joint U.S. and Canadian team scoured thousands of square miles of northern wasteland, on May 18 spotted two adult cranes beside a nest some 50 miles south of Great Slave Lake. Then a ground expedition headed into the crane country. "For five weeks," reports O'Reilly, "they fought mosquitoes and assorted biting flies, camped amid bears, buffalo and moose and finally were rewarded by the sight of whoopers."
Twenty-one cranes left their winter refuge in Texas last spring. Robert P. Allen of the National Audubon Society, leader in the 10-year search, now estimates that only six or seven pairs of these birds are mating, but he has been making further aerial searches. The condition of Robert Allen and his fellow experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service? "Worn out but triumphant."
FRIEND OF SPORT
Sportswriters, it has been said, are simply sports fans with typewriters. No one knew this better than Arch Ward, who died in his sleep last week at the age of 58. Like all good sports fans Ward was a hero-worshiper at heart. His idea of a perfect day's entertainment was to watch the greatest performers in any given sport assembled in the same contest. Thus it was that back in 1933, as part of the Chicago World's Fair, he conceived and staged the first All-Star baseball game, which he would have covered for the 22nd time if he had lived four more days. The next year he thought up and promoted the All-Star football game between the college stars and the professional champions.