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Maritime Open-Water Swims: Northumberland Strait

Data gathered with the aid of Jennifer Alexander, CBC Reports, swimmers, and others

 

Background

Long before the construction of the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to the north, swimmers sought to swim across the Northumberland Strait.  The first crossing is credited to Evelyn Henry on 15 July 1951.  Published times for Evelyn’s swim range between 8 hours 26 minutes and 9 hours 53 minutes.

 

In the absence of an official organizing body, the details of the various swims are sparse; however, there has been increasing interest in the swim since the year 2000.  Consequently, this listing has been compiled to help identify the real accomplishments of those who have made the crossing without swimming aids such as wet suits, swim fins, etc.

 

Jennifer Alexander compiled the original data and the associated extensive list of references.  We would appreciate receiving additional details from anyone who can provide such information.  Further details are reported on OpenWaterPedia.

 

The Northumberland Strait has proven to be an excellent training ground for the English Channel. In 1989, Barb MacNeill went on to become Canada's 15th person, and only Atlantic Canadian, to swim across the English Channel.  Mike Gaudet swam around Manhattan in 1985, and also made an attempt on the English Channel. Jen Alexander's 2006 English Channel attempt was aborted by the captain. Kristen Roe went on to swim the channel in 2010 after having swim the Northumberland strait on 3 separate occasions, one of which was a double crossing.                                                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Northumberland Strait coastline has changed considerably since Evelyn Henry first swam the strait. Prior to 1966, Cape Jourimain was Jourimain Island, and was not connected to the mainland. Construction of the Confederation Bridge began in 1993, and concluded in 1997. As the main piers of the bridge are 250 metres apart, the bridge can give swimmers a sense of their progress (or lack of) as they swim across the strait.

 The starting points and courses taken by the swimmers have varied greatly over the years.  The straight-line distance across the Strait is a minimum of 13 km from Cape Jourimain (1 on the map) at the eastern side of the Confederation Bridge (NB) to Borden (3) at the eastern side of the Bridge on PEI.  The bridge's slight bend increases its length over water to 12.9 km.

 

Swimming from Cape Tormentine (2) to Borden (3) adds a mile (1.6 km) to the course.  Longer courses, up to 32 km, have finished at Summerside (5) on PEI, or at an intermediate point on Seacow Head (4).

 

Tides and Currents

The Northumberland Strait experiences predictable but irregular tides. During the summer of 2008, the tides will last between 2h 47min and 8h 36min. Tide information can be found on the website of Fisheries and Oceans Canada https://slgo.ca/ocean/.

 

Currents peak at 2.0 knots (3.7 km/h) during the spring tide and, once each summer month, typically run at a minimum of 0.7-1.0 knots (1.3-1.9 km/h). Information on the tidal currents can be found in the Department of Fisheries and Ocean's "Canadian Tide and Current Tables". 

 

Due to the tides and currents, swimmers invariably cover a V-shaped or Z-shaped course, with the deviation from a straight-line being dependent upon their speed and the phase of the moon (Spring tide or neap tide). In contrast with the tides of the English Channel, which change 3-6 metres between high and low tide, the tides of the Northumberland Strait are far gentler, changing 2 metres at most, and occasionally not changing at all.

 

Water Temperature

All successful swims to date have been completed between July 15 and September 6. Near real-time and cumulative historical temperatures can be accessed through Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Remote Sensing service. Temperatures between mid-July and early September typically range between 18°C-20°C.

Marine Life

Jellyfish can be a challenge in the Northumberland Strait during the summer months.  According to the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, only five of the 56 species of jellyfish that occur in Atlantic Canadian waters are harmful to humans. Lion's Mane jellyfish are dominant, with moon jellies present to a lesser extent. Portuguese man-o-war are rare, and only get blown into Atlantic Canadian waters by the gulf stream at the end of summer.

At the height of their season, the frequency of jellyfish can be overwhelming, and can be as high as one jellyfish for every 4 square metres. Jen Alexander reports being stung 10 times during the first 30 minutes of one of her swims, and estimates being stung 45 times on her single crossing, and 60-80 times on her double crossing. Jellyfish seem to concentrate at the shore, and begin to die out toward the end of July.

There are large crabs near-shore; swimmers would be wise to look before putting their feet down. Fishermen claim that the strait is too shallow for sharks, and state that they have never seen them in the vicinity. (Near the bridge, the strait reaches a depth of 26 metres.) Seals also inhabit the strait.

On his web site “Swimming Downhill”, George Park recalls his participation in one of the Professional races across the Strait:

 

Recorded Swims

The details have been retrieved from various reports in the news media 

  • In the absence of an official recording body, there is no guarantee that these details are correct or complete.

  • Web-links are provided where possible to extra details on the swimmer.  

  • Unless otherwise noted in the Course & Notes, the swimmer has been assumed to be Canadian.

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Northumberland Strait -Starting and Ending Points

Records of the Northumberland Strait Swims