Catalina Channel data analysis

Part 1: A History in Numbers

The Catalina Channel was first conquered in 1927 by George Young of Canada, in 15 hours, 44 minutes, 30 seconds. Since then (through September 2011) there have been 259 successful solo crossings by 220 individuals, including 7 double-crossings.

The short list of double-crossers includes some of the greatest marathon swimmers in history.

From the mainland (M-C-M):

From Catalina (C-M-C):

Of the 252 one-way crossings, only 19 went from the mainland to Catalina (M-C). Penny Lee Dean still holds the overall record for this direction: 7:15 in 1976. With the exception of the Swim 22 relay last year, there hasn’t been a one-way M-C crossing since 1977. The most recent M-C crossing was achieved by Suzie Dods in 2010.

The remaining 233 one-way crossings started at Catalina and finished on the mainland (C-M). The 10 fastest C-M crossings are as follows:

My 8:55:59 ranks as the 24th-fastest swim, a mere 11 seconds ahead of David Blanke, Elizabeth Fry, and Marcia Cleveland’s tandem crossing in 2005.

The slowest C-M crossing was achieved by Paul Chotteau of France in 1936 - a herculean 33 hours, 50 minutes! The median C-M crossing is 11 hours, 10 minutes.

Of the 240 C-M crossings (including legs en route to a double):

Four swimmers have crossed the channel using a stroke other than what we now call “freestyle”:

Part 2: A Growing Sport

On January 15, 1927, Wrigley Ocean Marathon, and in so doing, became the first person to swim across the Catalina Channel. For his achievement Young earned a $25,000 prize - approximately $325,000 in 2011 dollars, and richer (even in nominal dollars) than any current cash prize in professional marathon swimming.

Seven of the DNF’s in the Wrigley Ocean Marathon - four men and three women - returned later that year to try again; four finished. But Catalina Channel swimming didn’t catch on after this rousing first year. Over the next 25 years only two more swimmers added their names to the list. Despite a brief resurgence in the late 1970’s (including double-crossings by Penny Lee Dean, Cindy Cleveland, Dan Slosberg, and John York), the typical number of calendar-year crossings was still 5 or fewer into the mid-2000’s.

Catalina Channel solo crossings per year, 1927-2011

Then it took off. In 2005, 12 swimmers crossed the Channel. Followed in subsequent years by 13, 8, 25, 16, and 29 crossings. So far in 2011, there have been 22. What happened? My guess would be the marketing of the “

Catalina Channel solo crossings - Cumulative

Part 3: Men vs. Women

From 1927-2004, there were 90 successful swims by men and 44 successful swims by women (a ratio of 2.05 to 1). From 2005-2011, there were 80 successful swims by men and 49 successful swims by women (a ratio of 1.63 to 1). So, the gap is narrowing…a bit.

Here, again, it would interesting to see the data on failed swims. Is the ratio of men to women the same for failed swims as for successful swims?

Side note: I decided to split the data-set at 2005 because it offered similarly-sized groupings, and because this was the year when there was a surge in popularity of Catalina Channel swimming (possibly due to the advent of the “triple crown”).

And here are the average & median finish times for each group (C-M one-way crossings only):

**Average** **Median**
**Men 1927-2004** 13:14 12:14
**Women 1927-2004** 12:17 11:03
**Men 2005-2011** 11:23 10:51
**Women 2005-2011** 11:00 10:39

In both eras, women are faster - despite lower levels of participation. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given that women have the overall records in both directions - Karen Burton from Catalina (7:43) and Penny Lee Dean from the mainland (7:15). Interestingly, in my analysis of MIMS times I also found women were almost uniformly faster.


These analyses have not been validated or endorsed by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation and should be considered “unofficial.”

Posted 03 November 2011 in: analysis Tags: Catalina , data