More Catalina history

More good stuff from Penny Dean’s history of Catalina Channel swimming. Here’s the story of Myrtle Huddlestone, who in February 1927 became the first woman to cross the Channel [emphasis added]:

Huddlestone, a 30 year old widow from Long Beach, had only begun swimming during the preceding year to lose weight. She had been motivated to enter the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in order to pay for her son’s education.

Her swim was far from routine. Beginning at 2:30 p.m., Huddlestone encountered one problem after another. Fog appeared after midnight and the lights on both support boats went out. Unable to see the boats, she drifted off and for three hours she was lost. During this time she was attacked by a barracuda. She received bites and cuts on the left side of her body. The fish kept returning and she had to beat them off with her hands. Finally, as the fog lifted the support boats found her.

Huddlestone did not eat or drink throughout most of the swim. As the hours wore on this took its toll. Then as she began faltering, she drank one-half pint of whiskey. Within minutes and approximately a half hour of completion, she became hysterical and was only semi-conscious. She was faltering quickly. The lack of eating, the whiskey, and the hours of exercise had the better of her so that she could not lift her left arm. Her son’s shouts were the only thing which motivated her to begin again. “‘Come on, Mama, come on, Mama, don’t give up.'” Laboriously she inched forward and was caught by the surf, pushing her closer to shore. About twenty yards from the shore she stood up and immediately collapsed in the water. She had to be carried to the support boat. For 20 hours and 42 minutes she had struggled; it was finally over. She lost consciousness a few minutes on the support boat. As she awoke her son cried, “‘Oh, Mama, You did it, doggone it, you did it!'”

Whiskey as endurance fuel. I hadn’t thought of that.