Sally has been a long-term member of the BLDSA, since 1974 and has an amazing career of marathon swimming. Always enthusiastically-supported by her husband Charlie who had his own career of open-water swimming.
Charlie died on 6 July 2020 and the CS&PF posted a wonderful tribute, along with a more comprehensive item in Openwaterpedia.
Another article appears in 2021 article in the Jersey Evening Post.
Sally was inducted into the IMSHOF in 2005.
In 2005, Charlie sent me a wonderful article on Sally, to whom he was clearly devoted. It is reproduced below:
"The long and rather moist salt laden road that leads swimmers from around the world to initially contemplate and for many to undertake a crossing from England to France, or reverse, started for 18 year old Sally Minty on 18th August 1975. One hundred years previously at 12.56pm on August 24th Capt Matthew Webb, a 27 year old Merchant Navy officer had struck out from The Admiralty Pier which forms part of the western entrance of Dover harbour for his second attempt to become the first man in history to cross the Channel unaided, apart from his fortification of 'beef tea, hot coffee and a little old ale'. He had come ashore on Calais Sands at 10.41am on Wednesday 25th August 1875 after 21 ¾ hours of swimming. His famous epitaph which brings the faithful to Dover in pursuit of his and their common dream rings as true today as it did then 'Nothing Great is Easy!'
During the summer of that year one hundred years later The British Long Distance Swimming Association, the governing body of open water swimming events in Britain put together a mass entry relay of thirteen teams to compete in the swim from Wissant beach to the east of Cap Gris Nez in France and its closest point in England, Shakespeare Beach, west of Dover. Among the teams competing were a team of youngsters from the Channel Island of Jersey whose average age barely rose above fifteen. Swimmers from America and Egypt vied for success amongst relay teams from the British Isles.
The Jersey team swam to a very creditable third place, in a time of 9hrs 50mins. From among that team emerged four future Channel swimmers; Linda Devereux, Jane Luscombe, Robert de St Paer and Sally Minty. Following the relay Sally and Linda were back across the Straits within a fortnight. Linda clocking up 12hrs 5min and Sally who swam a day earlier in 11hrs 57min. Robert was to wait a full twelve month before he recorded 12hrs 7 min with Jane holding back for yet a further two years before recording the fastest time of the four in 11hrs 53min. All four returning quite remarkable times for such young swimmers. Their collective coach Maurice Lakeman a Physical Education teacher on Jersey must take much of the credit along with Sally's farther Leslie, a swimming teacher and sportsman of the highest calibre who had represented the Island at football, cricket, swimming, waterpolo and tennis.
In 1966 Denize Le Pennec from Jersey had become the first Channel Islander to swim the Channel. In a remarkable show of determination and courage she swam without goggles, breast-stroke for 20 hours 50 minutes from France to the most westerly landing ever recorded at Dymchurch. Denize had been coached by Maurice Lakeman and wrote her personal achievement not only the history books but a chapter in Channel Island's sports which will never be erased. From her swim grew the formation of The Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club. It has grown to be recognised world wide as a spectacularly successful club, with a record of 23 Channel crossings by 18 swimmers to date as the most successful club per capita of the 85000 inhabitants of the small nine by five mile Island.
Sally was born in the Belgian Congo on 16th July 1957 where her father was the manager of a rubber plantation working for Unilever. Almost before she could walk Sally was learning to swim alongside elder brother Chris in a home made canvas lined 'pool' devised by father Leslie, deep in the Congolese jungle. She emerged to return to Jersey with the family when the unpleasantness of civil war erupted. Jersey at that time had no indoor pool and the Minty family swam in sea pools and off beaches where her skill was honed. As a teenager she became a very successful competitor with the Jersey Swimming Club, racking up records some of which have survived until recent times. Built to stand the rigours of wind and ocean swell she became a natural open water swimmer and thus began her long career at sea.
On 29th July 2005 at 0527 Sally Minty-Gravett a 48 year old Aquatic Development Manager for Jersey's Aqua Splash Leisure pool walked into the water off Shakespeare Beach to the west of Dover harbour. Ahead of her a possible 45000 plus alternate rotations of front crawl arm stroke, taking her over 21½ direct miles, but more than likely closer to thirty thanks to tidal runs, of debris strewn water. Each wave comprising a mixture of ships oil, unmentionable items, flotsam with just a dash of jetsam, and salt water which numbs swells and disgusts the taste buds to such a state that nothing will taste the same as it should for several days afterwards. Not even chicken! 'Queen of the Channel' Alison Streeter has been here before; 43 mind-numbing crossings to date; but no woman has spread the experience over four decades which is Sally's target today. Firstly as a young 18 year old in 1975 she raced across to be presented as the fastest British cross channel swimmer of the year, a century almost to the day since the heroic, pathfinder Merchant Navy Captain Matthew Webb plunged off the Admiralty Pier steps at Dover's western harbour entrance and a tortuous 21 ¾ hours later waded ashore off Calais and into the history books as the first human to make it across the Strait's of Dover unaided apart from self determination, courage and a healthy intake of beef tea, rum and 'old beer'. How times change.
Sally followed her 11 hour 57 minute outing ten years later in 1985 when her day out was very nearly spoilt by French authorities who halted the swims of a clutch of over half a dozen swimmers whilst revered Channel Swimming Association official Ray Scott argued, in perfect French which must have scored heavily in his favor, the case against the swimmers being taken from the water as they crossed the French - south / east shipping lane. This six mile wide 'motorway' runs in opposition to the English side - north / west lane divided in mid channel by a further five mile separation lane for the 360 plus vessels which plough through the Straits between the Atlantic and North Sea and vice-versa each day, besides the plethora of cross channel ferries and pleasure craft which operate at right angles to the shipping lanes. The French were 'worried' for the safety of the swimmers and their escort vessels in their territory as a London to Paris Triathlon, in which her future husband 'Charlie' was involved as an official, the day previous which comprised far less able and capable swimmers had removed their swimmers to cross the respective shipping lanes, making a mockery of the crossing. After what seemed an eternity Ray Scott's bargaining endeavors were rewarded with the permission of the authorities who allowed the water-treading swimmers who were getting dizzy swimming in large circles to continue. Channel swimming rules ban the physical contact of the swimmer by touching either boat or fellow human during the swim and so they were forced to either end their dreams right there or to mark time on the crest of several waves as protracted negotiations proceeded over the marine radio waves to secure their onward transition. Sally's extended day at sea stretched into 15 hours and three minutes.
Seven years later in 1992 she began her crossing from the sands of Wissant Bay on the French coast and headed north to land with the pinpoint accuracy of her escort pilot on Shakespeare Beach. A swim denied to solo swimmer in present times again due to French bureaucratic intransigence, but that's another story. However seventeen years after her first crossing she was a mere eleven minutes later in arrival, it would hardly be fair to call it slower.
Now in 2005 for the fourth time the call of the unforgiving open sea was ringing round Jersey's St Catherine's Bay training ground as together with five 'Channel virgins' Sally led, inspired and knocked into shape with her determination and experience for a mass assault on the Channel. Jersey believes with righteous God given facts that per capita it has sent more swimmers into action than any other small community of 85000 souls. Since Denize Le Pennec completed the swim in 1966 swimming breast stroke without the aid of goggles, which grates sand into tired eyes just thinking about it, twenty-six crossings have been made to date by twenty-one local swimmers. Along with her younger brother David Minty, Sally and David are believed to be the only brother and sister to have at least two Channel swims each to their credit, with Richard Flambard also succeeding twice.
The 'preamble' to a swim is probably like no other day in any other sport. Competitors assemble in Dover several days, many from abroad much earlier before their allotted tide and become instant members of a very intense and self supporting fraternity. Based loosely on a gladiatorial training camp set up on the shingle of Dover beach, swimmers, supporters and bewildered onlookers talk of feeds, weather reports and jelly fish. They cheer the victor and genuinely feel the pain of those denied success due to a multitude of diversions, each hoping that when their day arrives they feel no pain, only the euphoria of joining the world's most exclusive club. More people have ridden rockets into space and climbed Mount Everest than have crossed the Channel by self propulsion. Gathered around the matriarch of Channel swimming, Freda 'The Channel General' Streeter, mother of 'our queen' Alison, who issues commands which to disobey, is to ………… well no one ever has! The 'community twirls and shuffles round like penguins sheltering from a snow storm with the occasional swimmer spinning off the outer rim for a 'crossing' only to reappear sporting a ludicrous suntan line between eyebrow and hair line where the heat retaining swim cap combines with goggle induced panda eyes and hopefully a similarly ludicrous ear to ear smile. A call to your chosen pilot, all of whom are masters of their craft, confirms the weather the night previous and if suitable an early morning wakeup at your B&B starts a very long day. Some two hours before the off your presence is required at the dock for a surreal greeting by the boat skipper, an old hand at the game who finds your Achilles heel as if by magic and berates you and your supporters for the flimsiest reason. It has a wonderful calming influence on the nervous system and within what seems a few minutes your trainer/second is greasing you up as the boat hove's to off of the eeriness of Shakespeare Beach.
Sally's moment has come and she's underway, ahead of her a course covered many times by many swimmers, but never the same twice. Aboard her boat, the good ship 'Anastasia' is skipper Eddie Spelling, an extremely humorous cockney geezer, an ex Parachute Regiment veteran, highly experienced in Channel piloting and a smashing bloke to boot. His right hand man Brian Watts shares Eddie's skills and humor, they take turns man about in piloting and managing the 36 foot escort boats every movement, keeping swimmer on course and under their ever-watchful eye. Official observer for the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation is Billy Beadle who takes note of all notable occurrences and logs everything from types of feeds, stroke rates, sea and air temperatures, wind speed and direction, plus various states of tide and surface condition. A small army of supporters also back up their swimmer and Sally's personal crew aboard are Denise Richards a fellow swimmer and great pal along with Cliff Golding a highly experienced Channel swimmer and great supporter of the Jersey club. Eric Blakely a reporter for Channel Television, himself a Channel conqueror is along to make a documentary of the swim and husband 'Charlie' completes the ensemble.
Starting an hour after High Water Dover means that Sally is taken by tidal influences out into the Channel across the mouth of the harbour, moving to the east at 60 strokes to the minute; a comfortable workmanlike approach. Marine sunrise, approximately half an hour before the golden orb begins its crawl skywards means that visibility is good and we can see fellow Jersey resident Ilse Eiselen setting out slightly behind us. As the sun continues to rise so do spirits and the first feed stop allows a very short detailed conversation lasting only a few seconds on how she feels and progress from our point of view. A product called Maxim used by the greater percentage of swimmers contains all the carbohydrates and nutrients required to maintain strength and supply the body with energy and calories to replace those expended by the enormous physical exertion. At each feed stop, normally on the hour, a drinks bottle is 'passed' inelegantly to the swimmer who will gulp down best part of a third of a litre of feed, possibly accompanied by a 'treat' of the swimmers' choice, perhaps a swig of mouth wash (which cleanses the palate), possibly not in the same style of a sorbet in good circles but it definitely stalls the onset of taste buds which will shortly resemble the bottom of a parrot's cage. A feed stop is scheduled to take no more than 30 seconds as each stop means that period of time in delay of reaching the French coast. Time is of the essence even if the feed stop lacks good manners.
Two hours into the swim a change is noted in Sally's stroke rate as it drops a notch or two and at the next feed she complains of feeling sick in the stomach and of light headedness. She rolls her eyes backwards and curses. Not a normal response at this time into a swim, the support crew are alarmed. Cliff feels it's down to nerves and she'll come through OK. Ilse has drawn alongside and is now one hundred yards or more in the lead, but it's not a race so there's no panic or reason to feel other than pleased that we seem to be through the worst and the half way point comes in at the seven hour point, well within schedule. At the next stop she is violently sick and again complains of light headedness, again her stroke rate has decreased. However she digs deep and resolves to carry on. After four hours we're half way across the north/west shipping lane and the sun has cheered things up as her stroke rate increases back to 61 and the addition of half a banana adds some improvement to her menu.
In just over 6 hours, having reached the separation zone in mid Channel, the shipping is now reduced to cross channel ferries that occasionally come fairly close. Dover Coastguard put out warnings of swimmers and their positions at regular intervals, thereby adding to the workload of the ferry Captains to avoid everything from super-tankers, half a mile long, container vessels reaching up ten to fifteen stories from sea level, along with our 36ft long escort boat with a diminutive figure close by. Cliff joins Sally in the water for the stipulated maximum fifty-nine minutes for a bit of human company. Always a lift in spirits to find someone else is prepared to suffer for the same cause. Cliff will swim alongside and as the weather is becoming a little overcast the company is gratefully accepted.
Shortly afterwards we enter the French inshore shipping lane, remarkably void of shipping compared to the English version. But that means less hindrance from wash of passing vessels and less maneuvering around vessels moving at right angles to ourselves for the pilot to concern himself with. Within the hour Cliff leaves Sally to her own devices as another feed is scheduled. By now we're making good progress and the French coast is growing evermore detailed as we drift towards land.
At eleven hours progress towards the French shore increases as we near, still maybe four or five miles to go Sal digs in and refuses sustenance in order to get in as soon as possible. The sea state is getting up Cliff orchestrates the ship borne support crew as we urge our champ on. Approximately three-quarters of a mile ahead of us Ilse is moving in nicely and we think that both swimmers will end up on the sands of Wissant. Fortunately within two hours the sea dies down and we see Ilse make land fall off to starboard.
With less than half an hour to go we're being taken by the tide towards the east of the bay but Sally is going like the proverbial train and is cheered even further by the sight of Brian preparing to lower the dingy which will escort her to the beach. Cliff prepares to swim the last quarter of an hour with her as Eric joins Brian in the inflatable to record the moment for posterity. Such is Sally's pace after thirteen agonizing hours that Cliff has trouble staying with her; Dee also goes in and swims in behind them to the beach armed with a waterproof camera - it is still only just before 6pm UK time and now the scene is bathed in brilliant sunshine! Cliff is armed with another waterproof camera and enters the rolling breakers just in time to witness Sally's first footfall on solid ground at Cap Blanc in thirteen hours and thirty-one minutes. Aboard the escort boat 'Charlie' has been giving a running commentary to BBC Radio Jersey at regular intervals and has now been regaling the radio audience back home on this historic moment for the last fifteen minutes as we approached dry land, the blaring of Anastasia's fog horn signals the moment of victory as official watches record the time and we all go ballistic. Ilse's escort boat 'Gallivant' with husband Jan, King of the Channel and CS&PF observer Kevin Murphy, pilot Mike Oram and crew Del Carter have come alongside to add their congratulations as Sally and her team swim back out to Anastasia sat in it's minimum draft of water some two hundred yards off shore. Swimmers and the 'inflatable' crew are 'recovered' back aboard and once settled the boat turns and heads back into the most perfect of sunsets for Dover, but only after coming alongside Reg Brickell's boat with another swimmer who we cheer on for his last mile.
Sally has become the first woman in the world to swim the course in four decades; 70's 80's, 90's and now the new century in 2005. She's elated, but after the earlier scare with a stomach problem and the light headedness things have gone exceptionally well. There's no soreness, no stiff shoulders or other muscular pain. In all she ended in tip top shape, due to a very sensible training regime and 'miles in the bank'. Will she call it a day? I doubt it!
In fact since Sally's forth Channel swim and the excitement in Fort Lauderdale she has stamped her credibility with a superb swim across California's Catalina Channel. In August of 2006 she covered the course from Doctors Cove Catalina to Port Vicente on the mainland north of Longbeach in 9 hours 51 minutes and the all too necessary 23 seconds. Following Alison Streeters 1984 crossing they are the only two British females to have successfully covered the course.
This has been the personal account of 'Charlie' Gravett, a very proud husband of an exceptional swimmer. None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent as each and everyone aboard Anastasia played their part in a wonderful days sport and a small moment in Channel swimming history. "
Photo by Rob Currie, Jersey Evening Post
Charile Gravett, Openwaterpedia | Sally, Openwaterpedia
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Created: 13th April 2022
Last Updated: 14th April 2022