Greatness Is Daring To Fail

An early morning chill pricked at Matthew’s lean muscular frame, as he stood contemplating the task that stretched before him.  A task, difficult in the extreme, and he shivered again as the realisation that he might soon be dead, began to gnaw at his forebrain like a dog persistently worrying a bone.

He felt slightly ill, as a whiff of porpoise oil rose to assault his nostrils, but as the morning light started its slow incremental climb to full intensity, he tried to ignore the butterflies in his stomach which had turned into cormorants diving headlong into the sea of his intestines.  He knew he must be going, but he had an irrational twinge of near hysteria and the sudden urge to turn and charge up the beach to the safety of the tiny cubicle.

He shivered yet again, but padded forward across the shingle and slipped into the cold unwelcoming sea.  Slightly ahead of him, he could hear the slap of the oars of the two man rowing boat as the first onrushing waves lifted its bow from the water, returning it just as suddenly to the following trough.

He concentrated on pressing on through the waves, determined to break through to the calmer and deeper water beyond, succeeding suddenly with a little start of surprise as his head and vision suddenly cleared.

The light was slightly brighter now, and the sounds of gulls wheeling overhead mingled with the crisp salt spray as the light wind lifted little petulant droplets from the tips of the waves callously tossing them skywards.  Matthew focused, his arms and legs assuming a mechanical motion almost of their own accord as he gradually slipped forwards trailing the lonely rowboat moving slowly across the miles of desolate water stretching to the horizon.

Time blurred, and his thoughts turned to firstly to his eleven brothers and sisters and then to his father, a doctor, a man of great respect in his home town of Coalbrookdale.  His father and mother though supportive of their son, had never really accepted or understood the driving ambition that drove their equally respected son, a Captain in the Merchant Navy and of the modern steamship ‘Emerald’ to such desperate lengths.  His constant compulsion to try something new, to excel, unbeknown to him, caused his dear mother many a night crying herself to sleep in the arms of her husband, and his father many a lonely night of contemplation.

The wind had picked up now, and the sky turned darker and angrier.  The little boat in front began to disappear and reappear as the sea commenced to heave and buck.  Somehow the sea seemed colder too, and Matthew felt the first pangs of fatigue nip at his limbs as he began to struggle to keep pace with the little rowboat.

His thoughts turned to what started him on this life of adventure, and to the time whilst serving as a second mate on the Cunard ship ‘Russia’ travelling the Atlantic between New York and Liverpool.  A man had fallen overboard, and he had dived into the sea in Mid-Atlantic in a valiant but failed attempt at rescue.

The man was never found, but Matthew suddenly found himself at the centre of the British Press with an award of £100 pounds, the Stanhope Gold Medal, and a notoriety, which frankly he suddenly seemed not to be able to get enough of.

He was still grinning when the slap of a particularly large wave brought him back to reality.  The sea was becoming really angry now.  The sky had darkened over and the wind had begun to howl like a demented demon.  Ahead the little rowboat had seen the danger and it had fallen back towards him.  In the lowering visibility Matthew could see the larger backup boat had now joined them, and that could only mean one thing, an abandonment of the record attempt due to the increasing strong winds and poor sea conditions.

Reluctantly he pulled himself up into the rowboat as it drew alongside him, and slowly and despondently the little rowboat headed towards its larger companion and to safety.  He had failed.

Two sharp stings rocketed Matthew’s thoughts firmly back to the present.  Today was the 24th August and the events of twelve days ago were still engraved into his brain.

Unfortunately, today was much better weather and he wasn’t tiring just as quickly, but in his daydreaming he had drifted into a shoal of jellyfish, and worse although he could see the shore, strong currents were preventing him from approaching Cap Griz-Nez.  If he didn’t begin to make some progress soon, he might be forced into another abandonment, and, it was beginning to get dark.

He gritted his teeth, pausing a moment to take stock.  The three chase boats with him on this attempt were also struggling with the current and were being pushed towards Calais.  Resigned now not to quit, Matthew turned and focused his attention on Calais, trying to ignore the numerous stings that were accumulating over his chest and limbs, each sting reinforcing his iron determination to succeed where before there had been only thoughts of failure.

Five hours later, and after a gruelling 21 hours and 45 minutes in the water, and in darkness, Matthew Webb staggered out of the water near Calais, the first person to swim the English Channel on the 25th August in the year of our Lord 1875.

Nothing great is easy, and Captain Matthew Webb had dared to fail.

This is a fictional account written from researched facts and I have taken liberties with the telling of the story.  This is an original work.  I hope you enjoyed it.

By Mark McGimpsey 

Explore posts in the same categories: Self Improvement

One Comment on “Greatness Is Daring To Fail”

  1. More, more, more — we want more stories like this.

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