W is for Jabez ‘Jappy’ Wolffe

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 22 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Of the thousands of people who have swum the English Channel, the unluckiest has to be Jabez ‘Jappy’ Wolffe who made at least twenty-two attempts and never succeeded.

Wolffe was born in Glasgow in 1876, just a year after Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim unaided across the Strait of Dover and so sparking what has become an obsession for many wild water swimmers.

Wolffe was an accomplished marathon swimmer and completed the 24-mile return swim from Brighton to Worthing, 34 miles from Margaret to Herne Bay and back, Southsea to Ryde and back, Eddystone Lighthouse to Plymouth Pier, and Dover to Ramsgate. But the Channel always defeated him.

Between July and August 1906, Wolffe made three attempts at the crossing and failed each time. Nineteen further attempts followed between then and 1913, some accompanied by Pipe-Major Nicholls who played the bagpipes in order to keep Wolffe’s stroke rhythm in time at 29-32 a minute, but he never quite made it – once failing by a matter of yards.

But we shouldn’t judge Wolffe too harshly. Between 1876 and 1927, just ten people had managed to emulate Captain Webb’s feat. One of that select few was Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the Channel who was coached by Wolffe.

Other women he trained to success included  Hilda Sharp in 1928, Margaret Duncan in 1930 and Sunny Lowry in 1933 and Wolffe was also the author of a number of textbooks on swimming and springboard diving before his death in 1943.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

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