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Australian Olympians to Make Swimming History

Olympic ‘Dream Team’ to join the Port to Pub Swim to Rottnest

Australian Olympian and swimming champions will take to the Indian Ocean to compete in the inaugural Hotel Rottnest Port to Pub Swim to Rottnest on 19 March 2016.

Olympian swimmers, Eamon Sullivan, Jim Piper, Travis Nederpelt and Adam Lucas, will join Australian champions Mark Riley and Bobby Jovanovich to make up a ‘Dream Team’ of six and compete in the 20km race category.

The ‘Dream Team’, sponsored by Subiaco Sports Massage, and captained by Eamon Sullivan, will join hundreds of others to compete in the Port to Pub, which marks 60 years since the original crossings of the Rottnest Channel.

The Hotel Rottnest Port to Pub follows the original swimming route by Gerd von Dincklage- Schulenburg, who swam solo from North Fremantle to Rottnest in 1956, followed two months later by the first amateur swimming race to Rottnest on 25 March.

Les Stewart, who swam in the original race, will compete in the Port to Pub in a team of six and, at aged 80, will be the oldest person to swim across the Rottnest channel.

Mrs Ceinwen Roberts from the Port to Pub committee said it is the first time people are able to swim the channel in a team of six, which means swimmers can share the load and look forward to making the most of the festive atmosphere at the finish line.

“The sheer diversity of swimmers we are attracting demonstrates just how accessible this event is to swimmers of all ages and abilities,” she said.

“We are incredibly honoured to mark the crossing’s sixtieth anniversary with Australian champions, as well as 80-year old Les Stewart, who was one of just seven people to compete in the first amateur race in 1956. His swimming colleague of the time, and original race winner, Trevor Seaborn, will do the honours of sounding the starting horn in what will be the most authentic tribute to the swim’s history – making history in itself.”

Eamon Sullivan, who owns the popular Bib and Tucker restaurant at the event’s starting line, said he didn’t want to miss out on this once-only event to make swimming history.

“Against all the advice, Gerd von Dincklage-Schulenburg took to the water in 1956 and paved the way for hundreds of people to swim the most iconic swimming routes in Australia,” he said.

“We (the team) jumped at the chance of competing in a team of six. Not being as fit as we used to be, this makes it a more enjoyable experience. But for those who are really serious about open water swimming, a new 25km leg has been introduced, which will attract swimmers and swimming opportunities on the national and international circuit.”

The event’s 25km route that will make the Hotel Rottnest Port to Pub the longest open water swim in Australia, and one of longest swims in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Perth is such a water-loving state and this year will mark the most significant event on the swimming calendar,” he said.

History of the Rottnest Swim

In 1956, German immigrant Gerd von Dincklage-Schulenburg became the first person to successfully swim across the Rottnest Channel. Mr von Dincklage-Schulenburg had been a successful spear fisherman and diver in Sri Lanka and had come to Perth in 1955 hoping to secure similar work. He was befriended by journalist, the late Hugh Schmidt. One version of the story describes a conversation at Rottnest’s Quokka Arms pub between von Dincklage-Schulenburg and Schmidt in 1956 where von Dincklage-Schulenburg boasted that he’d be able to swim from the Quokka Arms back to the mainland. A few days later, Schmidt had organised a support crew to accompany von Dincklage-Schulenburg from the mainland to Rottnest. Despite warnings of the dangers of sharks, strong winds, tides and water temperature, on 24 January 1956, von Dincklage-Schulenburg set off for Rottnest from North Fremantle’s North Mole.

Well known launch, Hiawatha accompanied this swim, filled with leading members of the media and the Western Australian Amateur Swimming Association (WAASA). Von Dincklage-Schulenburg completed the 12 mile swim in 9 hours 45 minutes and was greeted by 200 people who gathered at the Natural Jetty to watch him finish.

The swim inspired the now defunct Weekend Mail newspaper to organise a race across the Channel – a chance for swimmers to qualify and better von Dincklage-Schulenburg’s time. The newspaper, on the advice of WASA, held an elimination race one week before the swim. The results were to decide who would be selected. An 11 mile river swim from Fremantle to Perth (Bicton Jetty to Langley Park) was chosen for the elimination event. Of the 30 swimmers nominated, 22 started, and 9 swimmers finished. These included 18 year old Trevor Seaborn, Tony Rigoll, Mel Andrew, Harry Lapelaars, Neil Earl, George Winning, Les Stewart, Howard Bowra and Toby Regan.

After Howard Bowra and George Winning withdrew, on Sunday 25 March, 1956, the seven remaining men dived off Bill Lucas’ launch, Corsair, which hove to alongside the end of the North Mole, bound for Rottnest Island. Each swimmer was followed by an auxiliary launch with a crew of four.

Only four of the swimmers successfully reached Rottnest Island. Trevor Seaborn was the first to the Rottnest Jetty in the time of 7 hours 36 minutes 26 seconds, a mile and a half ahead of the field, and the only swimmer to complete the intended course. The remaining swimmers battled against a severe northerly drift and were led to Bickley Bay more than a mile to the south. Neil Earl finished in second place, Les Stewart third, with Toby Regan, who was almost 51 years old, just behind in fourth place. Harry Lapelaars, Tony Rigoll and Mel Andrew all withdrew during the race.


* Trevor Seaborn – 7h, 36m, 26s

* Neil Earl -8h, 11m, 31s

* Les Stewart - 9h, 34m, 56s

* C. J. (Toby) Regan -9h, 35m, 00s

The event was a resounding success and Weekend Mail agreed to sponsor a second event the following year. WAASA said it would not be involved in another swim to Rottnest because it was considered too dangerous. The swim was transferred to the river, the same course as the previous swim.

No further attempts were made to swim to Rottnest Island from the mainland again until 1969.

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