Channel Swimmers

Chris Gibbs

The King of Barbados

It was 1985 at the World Masters Games in Toronto. The Canadian team of the University of Western Ontario was on the last leg of the 4x50 m Free relay and in first place on its way to breaking the World Record in the 160+ age-group. Zajchowski, Finlay and Bulza had already swum and none knew at that time that Finlay and Bulsza would go on to become marathon swimmers of note in Canada. Three swimmers from Barbados had already swum their hearts out and now Angus Edgehill was fighting to pass Dick Weick - an All American fly swimmer from the days before the dolphin kick. Both teams broke the World Record, but Angus won out, and the Bajan team stood proud with the World Record. Chris Gibbs was a member of that Bajan team.

So, 18 years later, there I was on the beach in Dover in 2003 and I get introduced to a Channel aspirant from Barbados. Other than a memorable trip there in 1978, the only thing I know is the team that beat us . . . and there he is, as modest as ever, with his Canadian wife Lawrie.

Jeez, did Chris dislike that cold water of the Channel ! It took several days before we saw him out of his sweat suit and in normal clothes. But each training session in the harbour brought him closer to his dream. With a typical annual success rate of 40% on Channel attempts, it can be a roller coaster of emotions as you make friends with swimmers who will be beaten by tides, smiled upon by the winds, or just fail to get to start because of the weather. And then there's the few that we all aspire to join . . .

In late August 2003, Chris Gibbs became one of those few when he crossed the Channel from England to France in 11 hours 30 minutes. And, in so doing, at age 58, created history by becoming the first Barbadan to swim the Channel. Chris had been a national swimming champion in Barbados and had been well-recognized since his boyhood. But, as the first crossing, this was the crown that could never be topped.

Prior to Chris's swim, we spent many evenings at Varne Ridge Holiday Park (VRHP) just looking out to sea, dreaming, joking, and supping on Guinness. The Canadian, British, Aussie, Irish and Barbadan contingent with our hosts at VRHP were trying to break our nervousness with an hour-or-two's relaxation before bed. You become a sort of Family, but you don't really get to know what the other does away from the water - because the water is your prime focus - that's why you are there - it dominates every hour of every day until that final immersion and the challenge is met ! During the merriment of those evenings, an ill-tuned British and Irish duo verged on song but were unable to get support from the guy (Chris) who we were told could play the guitar. Little did we know of the quiet, modest, Barbadan !

Many months later, January 2004 - in the height of the Canadian winter and the Australian summer - we heard of Chris's accident - crushed while working to repair a trailer. A search of the Internet revealed more than Chris's accident. For us that had visited Barbados in the past, we suddenly became aware that he was one of the band, The Merrymen, that sailed the Jolly Roger. On the CRS Music web site, on the Merrymen link, the extent of Chris's talent soon became apparent. It was no time before I had opened the contents of the Islands CD, downloading the audio samples, and finally finding track 8 . . . I sat there with tears in my eyes listening to that rich bass voice of Chris Gibbs singing "Barbados I Love". There could not be a more appropriate title and wording to express Chris's love for his homeland. Read the words of the song . . hear the song on the CD . . . and try to understand the passion that lives within Channel aspirants.

So, it was really no surprise to find that Chris's colleague, Emile Straka, had written a song that he recorded with the Merrymen to celebrate Chris's crossing of the Channel. The song Three Cheers for Chris is readily accessed on YouTube.

In January 2005, Chris had largely recovered from his accident and was back swimming again, having helped his brother Peter with his 2004 Lake Ontario conquest.

Thanks Chris for your music, passion, and continued inspiration . . .

A Poetic Tribute to Chris

Created: 17th February 2004
Last Updated: 26th September 2017