It was cold, there were some vast tankers plying up and down, and the rip current at the centre of the channel was throwing up white horses that looked like Grand National winners. A launch full of photographers was following us, and failure would not be private. The lads on the boat rubbed us down with axle grease and with a great scream we committed our bodies to the deep.An underwater gust rolled me over, and from then on, the channel churned me emetically around. Yes, somewhere behind me was the grumbling of the escort boat's engine, and somewhere way ahead Steve was burrowing efficiently towards fame, and somewhere to one side David was grunting and swallowing water, but I was in my own tiny world, hedged in by waves and the sides of my goggles, vaguely conscious that stretching down and down below was the vertiginous green of the channel. If I stretched my neck up I could sometimes see the hills of Asia, but there was never any sense of movement.He has organised most of the successful attempts on the Hellespont in recent years. We lumbered over to municipal pools and floundered up and down.
We should have a go, I said to Steve and David (fat, pale, thirty-something pie-eaters like me).
If a club-footed syphilitic like Byron could do it, so could we.
The Bulgarian red spoke, and it said yes, and before it could withdraw I had put a deposit down and committed us to the swim. The European shore, at Abydos, is inside a restricted military zone, and rumoured to be mined.
The Hellespont itself is a marine motorway, carrying a huge volume of traffic between the Mediterranean and Istanbul and the Black Sea.
The contribution of this article by writer and adventurer Charles Foster is gratefully acknowledged.
With a shout and a prayer and a curse, we leapt at dawn from a boat into the water of the Dardanelles and started to swim from Europe to Asia.
The Hellespont was assumed to be swimmable only by gods.
But then, after one failed attempt, Byron did it, and it has been done from time to time since.
The Hellespont hit the mythological headlines a long time ago. The Hellespont has a nasty current ripping down the middle of it and a reputation for chewing up ships. Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite, and sworn to perpetual celibacy. Just as in most relationships, ancient and modern, the bloke did all the travelling.
Leander, who lived on the Asian side, had the misfortune to fall in love with Hero, who lived in Europe. She held out a lantern, and he swam each night towards it. One night the wind blew out the lantern and that current took Leander out into the Aegean. The heartbroken Hero had the decency to hurl herself into the Hellespont and the myth was born.