The many ways of crossing the English Channel

People sail along the English Channel at dusk in Lion-sur-Mer, northwestern France February 27, 2019. — AFP pic
People sail along the English Channel at dusk in Lion-sur-Mer, northwestern France February 27, 2019. — AFP pic

PARIS, July 24 — By plane, hot-air balloon, gondola or jet-powered wing, crossing the English Channel has been a journey to spark the imagination.

Ahead of French inventor Franky Zapata’s bid on a turbine engine-powered “flyboard” tomorrow, here is a look back at some other inventive crossings between France and Britain over the centuries.

By balloon

In January 1785 France’s Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jeffries became the first to cross the Channel by hot-air balloon. Leaving from Dover in England, they touched down in a forest three hours later in Guines, near Boulogne-sur-Mer.

More than two centuries later, in May 2010, US adventurer Jonathan Trappe made the crossing in a chair carried by a cluster of 55 multicoloured helium-filled balloons.

He travelled around 100 kilometres from Ashford in Kent, England to a French field outside Dunkirk.


In August 1875 Britain merchant marine captain Matthew Webb became the first known person to swim across the English Channel, accomplishing the feat in 21 hours and 45 minutes.

American Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to do so in August 1926. She took 14 hours and 31 minutes.

In September 2010 limbless Frenchman Philippe Croizon became the first quadruple amputee to swim across, taking about 13 hours using specially designed flipper-shaped prosthetic legs.

By plane

The first aeroplane flight across the Channel was accomplished in July 1909 by French constructor and aviator Louis Bleriot. His monoplane took off from Calais and landed in Dover 37 minutes later.

In 1979 US cyclist Bryan Allen made the same crossing on board a pedal-powered aeroplane, taking three hours.

On the water

The first hovercraft crossing was in July 1959. British test pilot Peter Lamb took around two hours.

In August 1984 British brothers Rick and Stephen Cooper did the same on a pedalo in a little over eight hours.

Former French cyclist Yvon Le Caer pedalled across on his AquaCycle in September 1985 for a 148km route that took under 17 hours.

Frenchmen Dominique Vaast and Francois Bocquet used a two-person kayak to cross in June 1986. Their 200km trip between Portsmouth and Le Havre took just over 26 hours.

In September 1987 British swimming coach Steve Butterworth, who had one leg amputated, made the journey on monoski pulled by a small speedboat.

Venice gondoliers Vittorio Orio and Enzo Liszka navigated their specially adapted gondola from Dover to Calais in July 2001, covering 34km.

Glider and parachute

In November 1988 French inventor and adventurer Yves Marre crossed in a homemade motorised glider in about 90 minutes. He was briefly held by British customs officers when he landed in a field near Dover.

French navy officers Thierry Demonfort and Bertrand de Gaullier were in November 1999 the first to make the crossing by parachute. They jumped in a two-person parachute from 8,000 metres at Dover and landed near Calais after 25 minutes.

In July 2003 Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped from a plane about 9,000m above Dover and glided to France in 35 minutes, wearing only a specially-designed suit with a 1.80m long carbon-fibre wing. He landed by parachute.

In September 2008 Swiss adventurer and pilot Yves Rossy made the France-Britain crossing in under 10 minutes using only a jet-powered carbon wing strapped to his back.

He started by leaping out of a small plane at 2,500 metres and reached speeds nearing 200km before deploying a parachute to land. — AFP

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