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Peter Gibbs

On 8th August 2004, Peter Gibbs (56) became the 36th person and the second oldest person to swim across Lake Ontario in 18 hours 40 minutes. His course was Niagara-on-the-Lake to Leslie Street Spit, Toronto.

Born in 1947 (October 27) in the Parish of St. James, Barbados. Third child in a family of 6, he learnt to swim in the sea sometime between the age of 5 and 7 while playing daily at the beach. His early years revolved very much around the sea and beach activities. He swam in annual school sports from ages 9 to 18, and swam in the first organized age-group championships in Barbados in 1964 (15-17 years group). He also represented Barbados at Water Polo from 1964 - 1998, Central American & Caribbean Games (1966, 1970, and 1998), Pan American Games (1971), and numerous other local and regional championships. He was captain of the water polo team of the University of Guelph (Canada) in 1972.

He got back into swimming when Masters swimming came to Barbados in the 1980s.  He represented Barbados in the triathlon in the Masters World Triathlon Championships, USA (1992), Canada (1998), Mexico (2002), and numerous other local and regional championships. Peter has represented Barbados in Masters swimming in World, USA, and Canadian Masters Swimming Championships since 1985. Peter is a Senior Lecturer in Physics & Electronics at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus in St. Michael, Barbados.

Peter talks about his Lake Ontario swim:

"When I first decided to attempt a swim crossing of Lake Ontario, sometime in late 2003, I visited the Solo Swims of Ontario website and began to read the accounts of those who succeeded. Two factors stood out....firstly, most swimmers do not wait until they are over 55 years old to make the attempt, and secondly, an extract from the youngest male to cross.... Gregg Taylor (2003 - 19 hours 23 minutes).... "This lake has been considered one of the 5 toughest open water swims in the World. Only 35 people have made the trip successfully, some have even died trying.".... I had my challenge!

I worked out a program and gradually increased my training mileage from January 2004, peaking in July just before I left for Toronto. During this period, I swam approximately 600 km.....shared roughly between the pool and the sea. My longest swim session in the pool was 20 km while the longest sea swim was 12 hours, approx. 35 km. I had tremendous support from a regular Saturday morning sea swim group, some of whom also accompanied me for 6, 8, 10, and 12 hour sea swims, to help with pacing and company. Four from this group would actually meet up with me in Toronto and become the best set of pacers I could wish to have on the actual swim......Dianne Amundrud, a Canadian living in Barbados at the time, Joshua Ward, Victoria Alleyne, and Alexis Jordan.....the latter three are all Barbadian teenagers from age-group swimming and triathlon. 

I arrived in Toronto and had 3 weeks to get my body accustomed to the buoyancy of the lake water and the temperature. It turned out that the summer of 2004 in Ontario was not very warm!

Immediately after arrival, I trained solo daily in Lake Ontario off Marie Curtis Park under the watchful eyes of some young lifeguards appropriately wrapped in blankets and attired in wool sweaters.

The swim was initially set for Friday 6th Aug.2004, starting at 8:00 pm. From the very beginning in my plans, I estimated a swim time of 18 hrs ± 2 hrs, depending on conditions.

On arrival in Niagara-on-the Lake on Friday evening, however, Swim Master (Colleen Shields) and SSO Medical Advisor (Dr. Marilyn Korzekwa, MD ) concluded that conditions were too windy and cold, and likely to remain so into the night.

My support crew (in addition to the pacers) was now all assembled in place and we were ready to go but the weather would not cooperate. My two boats were: a 53 ft. Sunray "Margaritaville II " with Dennis, Rita Berry , son Mike, Jim Misner, Keesha MacDonald (sister-in-law), Samantha Gibbs (niece), Chris Gibbs (brother) and Anita (wife); a 10 m sailboat "Bajan Queen" skippered by Haynes Darlington and two crew. In the two accompanying rubber zodiacs were Tom MacDonald (brother-in-law), his son Christopher, and Chantel LaCosta (Christopher's girlfriend). 

It was not until 4:00 am Saturday morning that the decision was made … we would go at 6:00 am as conditions would be better, not ideal! There was some rest and refuelling during the night but no sleep and proper preparation plans were 'out the window'.

By 6:00 am everyone was re-assembled at the dock on the marina and I made my way to the jump-off site by the infamous gazebo starting area. At 6:20 am, Saturday 7th August 2004, I jumped into the cold, choppy waters of Lake Ontario and decided not to stop until I reached Toronto.

I averaged 60 strokes per minutes and felt strong despite the choppy conditions. As I headed towards the halfway point, the waters calmed and my stroke rate decreased to 55, my usual steady state average.

At the 7-hr feeding, I was told I had passed the halfway mark. I was still feeling good so was pleasantly surprised but knew the second half would be tougher. It was not long after that I noticed a drop in water temperature, stroke rate, and the choppy conditions returning. Throughout the swim so far, the sun had hardly peeped out.

After 12 hours, I was now fully convinced that the remainder would be quite tough. As darkness approached, these fears were confirmed and the 'fight was on'!

Hours 13 to 17 were robotic….I swam and swam but the lights of the city seemed to keep their distance. Tons of encouragement flowed from all those around me as I suspect they thought my morale was sinking but I never once thought I could not make it. The last hour, however, appeared to go by quickly and suddenly I was within a few hundred metres of the shoreline and, after 18 hours and 40 minutes, at 1:00 pm Sunday 8th August 2004, I slammed both hands onto a slippery rock on the Toronto side of Lake Ontario (Leslie Street Spit)…. stopped my watch and was quickly whisked off to a Coast Guard boat for medical check. Body temperature and blood sugar levels were down but within a few hours they were back to normal.

Despite it being 1:00 am, a crowd of cheering friends and family, together with the honking and flashing lights of the small flotilla of boats that gathered, made the finish quite memorable and a scene never to forget.

And finally, to all those who helped in any form or fashion, no matter how small, I express my deep gratitude."

 

The marine buoy data (Station 45139, West Lake Ontario) reported the following information during Peter's swim:

  • Wind speeds ranged from 3.9 to 15.5 knots, with direction WSW to NNE

  • Water temperature 19.7-19.9 degrees C 

  • Air temperature 18-20 degrees C