The Hotel Rottnest Port to Pub swim pays tribute to the first ever crossings of the Rottnest Channel. Port to Pub's inaugural year - 2016 - marked the 60th anniversary of those crossings.
In 1956, German immigrant Gerd von Dincklage-Schulenburg became the first person to successfully swim across the Rottnest Channel. Mr von Dincklage-Schulenburg had been a successful spear fisherman and diver in Sri Lanka and had come to Perth in 1955 hoping to secure similar work. He was befriended by journalist, the late Hugh Schmidt. One version of the story describes a conversation at Rottnest’s Quokka Arms pub between von Dincklage-Schulenburg and Schmidt in 1956 where von Dincklage-Schulenburg boasted that he’d be able to swim from the Quokka Arms back to the mainland. A few days later, Schmidt had organised a support crew to accompany von Dincklage-Schulenburg from the mainland to Rottnest. Despite warnings of the dangers of sharks, strong winds, tides and water temperature, on 24 January 1956, von Dincklage-Schulenburg set off for Rottnest from North Fremantle’s North Mole.
Well known launch, Hiawatha, accompanied this swim, filled with leading members of the media and the Western Australian Amateur Swimming Association (WAASA). Von Dincklage-Schulenburg completed the 12 mile swim in 9 hours 45 minutes and was greeted by 200 people who gathered at the Natural Jetty to watch him finish.
The swim inspired the now defunct Weekend Mail newspaper to organise a race across the Channel – a chance for swimmers to qualify and better von Dincklage-Schulenburg’s time. The newspaper, on the advice of WAASA, held an elimination race one week before the swim. The results were to decide who would be selected. An 11 mile river swim from Fremantle to Perth (Bicton Jetty to Langley Park) was chosen for the elimination event. Of the 30 swimmers nominated, 22 started, and 9 swimmers finished. These included 18 year old Trevor Seaborn, Tony Rigoll, Mel Andrew, Harry Lapelaars, Neil Earl, George Winning, Les Stewart, Howard Bowra and Toby Regan.
After Howard Bowra and George Winning withdrew, on Sunday 25 March, 1956, the seven remaining men dived off Bill Lucas' launch, Corsair, which hove to alongside the end of the North Mole, bound for Rottnest Island. Each swimmer was followed by an auxiliary launch with a crew of four.
Only four of the swimmers successfully reached Rottnest Island. Trevor Seaborn was the first to Rottnest Jetty in the time of 7 hours 36 minutes 26 seconds, a mile and a half ahead of the field, and the only swimmer to complete the intended course. The remaining swimmers battled against a severe northerly drift and were led to Bickley Bay more than a mile to the south. Neil Earl finished in second place, Les Stewart third, with Toby Regan, who was almost 51 years old, just behind in fourth place.
Harry Lapelaars, Tony Rigoll and Mel Andrew all withdrew during the race.
Trevor Seaborn – 7h, 36m, 26s
Neil Earl -8h, 11m, 31s
Les Stewart - 9h, 34m, 56s
C. J. (Toby) Regan -9h, 35m, 00s
The event was a resounding success and Weekend Mail agreed to sponsor a second event the following year. WAASA said it would not be involved in another swim to Rottnest because it was considered too dangerous. The swim was transferred to the river, the same course as the previous swim.
No further attempts were made to swim to Rottnest Island from the mainland again until 1969.