August 31, 1996
England to France
Distance swimmer finishes 20 year trip across English Channel
Special to the Telegram-Tribune
As long-distance swimmer David Yudovin climbed into the 64-degree English water before dawn, he was trying to complete a journey that began nearly 20 years ago.
In 1978, he’d fought his way back to health after a near-fatal heart attack 250 yards from the end of a marathon swim near Ventura. He’d trained and done other landmark swims. And now the 45-year-old Cambria resident and Los Angeles businessman was about to tackle swimming the English Channel.
Yudovin was ready; he’d had years of swimming experience and a rigorous monthlong pre-swim training schedule in Dover, England. He had his fierce desire, his official reservations from the channel swimming association and the approved gear for a sanctioned channel swim. Calling it gear may be stretching the point.
The only things between Yudovin and the always cold water and treacherous weather were a non-insulated swimsuit, goggles, earplugs and a heavy swim cap. The odds against a successful swim across the channel are certainly daunting. Even Yudovin, who had tried the swim three other times, acknowledged with a shrug and a grin that he can’t explain the lure of that 21-plus-mile stretch of icy water.
The channel is often laced with sewage, oil slicks, aquatic creatures (including stinging jellyfish), clinging seaweed and up to 400 ships a day. But most of all, channel waters are a digit-numbing cold. Although the water is about 10 degrees warmer than the average temperature of Cambria, it is still a long way from tropical or even comfortable, especially without a wetsuit.
Still, for many the siren call from the channel is strong. In the more than 120 years since Capt. Matthew Webb became the first to make it across the channel (taking more than 21 hours to do it), more than 4,000 other hardy souls have tried the swim. Hardiness is only part of Yudovin’s story.
Sure, he celebrated his 20th anniversary of swimming the Catalina Channel by doing it again, and an hour and five minutes faster than before. He has done 32 miles on a paddleboard in seven hours, 41 minutes. He and his wife, Beth, have sailed their 36-foot Catalina sloop to Hawaii and other distant ports. He also likes to do the previously undone.
Earlier this year Yudovin became the first to complete the nearly 4.4-mile Java Strait swim through the warm but treacherous waters from Bali to Java. The May 14 swim took him just 96 minutes. As a Bali publication said, “Considering that the crossing in the ferry (including the wait) takes around two hours, this might set a new trend for travelers without baggage.”
And true grit figures in the equation. For a heart attack survivor to contemplate swimming the English Channel, Yudovin acknowledges, he has to be a little loony. On Aug. 20, weather reports indicated it was almost a now-or-never call in the reservation he made two years ago for this attempt. Several nasty-looking low-pressure cells were due to start whipping up coastal waters with rain and wind the next day, and long-range predictions were equally bleak. That morning, “the weather was very, very calm. Real nice, glassy conditions; “very settled’ as they say here,” Yudovin said. So, he swam.
In typical English weather fashion, the calm didn’t last long. About eight hours out, Yudovin said, the first of the low-pressure cells swooped down and started pelting him with rain, strong tidal flow and heavily choppy water. Despite the inhospitable conditions, “I swam real strong,” Yudovin reported in a telephone interview from England.
During the swim, he could eat only a special nutritional supplement and could touch neither the boat that escorted him nor anybody on board. More than 13 hours later, he’d done it. He’d beaten the channel that had haunted his dreams for so long.
That night, when he climbed out near Calais, France, Yudovin was cold and tired, but too elated to feel it, he said. Many of the residents of nearby fishing villages had rushed to the beach to greet and congratulate him, having seen him approaching the shore. “We’re just flying on a cloud,” Yudovin said.
As he said of a previous swimming success, “It’s so rewarding and so fulfilling it almost tickles inside.”
Now that he’s conquered the channel, the Yudovin’s plan to “really mellow our lives out for a while. We need to just sit back and enjoy it,” he said, obviously looking forward to having warmer feet and some months with no time tables.
Some who know him well say the break won’t last long. Yudovin already has ideas for a couple of other “never done-before” swims and his business, Ocean Crystal Seafoods, is booming. If a heart attack at 27 didn’t slow David Yudovin down, success certainly won’t.
Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Cambrian.