Well known local seafarer Mr Brian Meharg, OBE, delivered a very interesting talk about endurance swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze, the first English woman to swim the English Channel and one of many to attempt the North Channel.
In his own inimitable style, Brian brought her story to life, a tale of hard work, derring do, successes and failures at a sport which was entirely up to the individual's grit and determination, with very little of the modern technology we would expect today.
No special diet, personal trainer, team to travel with her, not to mention her willingness to endure cold water for longer than we have managed to paddle in Ballyhome Bay in August before our ankles turned blue. Mercedes often requested music as she swam and the Hawaiian melodies on her faves list perhaps gave her the illusion of warmer climes.
Born in Brighton to German parents in 1900, Mercedes took to swimming like the proverbial duck and became an unusual celebrity as an endurance swimmer. Very photogenic even when slathered with a thick coating of lard, she appeared regularly in the tabloids and represented Rolex whose Oyster diving watches she proved waterproof. Large crowds and fans like Edith Lady Londonderry turned out to see her. Photographs and film of the large crowds in Donaghadee show just how popular she was, forcing her to vacate The Royal Hotel for a local farm in order to get some sleep.
Mercedes established the Mercedes Gleitze Homes in Leicester for homeless families, and the Mercedes Gleitze Relief in Need Charity continues to relieve poverty today.