First Across the Strait: Mercedes Gleitze 1928

TALIM mercedes gibraltarThe personnel of the American Legation must have been as excited as the rest of Tangier on April 5, 1928.  The swimmer herself would have been out of sight, a tiny figure among the waves and treacherous currents of the Strait of Gibraltar, though her flotilla of witnesses, onlookers, and supporters may have been visible.

But there was no doubt that English typist and marathon swimming champion Mercedes Gleitze was the first person – man or woman – to successfully swim the Strait of Gibraltar. (Photo from Open Water Swimming).

From the Daily Express of April 7, 1928:

"Before God, and on my honour, Miss Gleitze, unassisted, swam from the lighthouse at Tarifa Point, landing at Punta Leona on the Moroccan coast."  

Don Francisco Martin Bueno, Military Commandant of Tarifa

The Strait of Gibraltar Swimming Association (ACNEG) keeps a roster of successful swimmers, starting with Mercedes Gleitze, who took 12 hours 50 minutes.  The latest entry – just last weekend – did it in 3 hours 46 minutes.

TALIM Clare Delargy ProductionsSo what is the link between the Legation and this swimming exploit?  None, really, except that Northern Ireland based filmmaker Clare Delargy (photo, in the middle) used our "timeless backdrop" for her forthcoming documentary on Mercedes Gleitze.  There was even a young Irish swimmer with a Mercedes Gleitze hairdo on hand.

Delargy has enlisted Marllyn Morgan of Harvard's Radcliffe Institute, who has studied women swimmers from the 1920s:

While researching, Morgan was scouring newspapers when she noticed something peculiar: front-page articles devoted to women swimmers.  “This was in the mid-1920s,” she recalled. “So these women swimmers had Babe Ruth to contend against, and the boxer Jack Dempsey, and yet there were more front-page articles on women swimmers than on Babe Ruth.”

Rolex, associated with Gleitze since she swam the English Channel, is a sponsor.  According to filmmaker Delargy, Mercedes Gleitze was an early pioneer in product placement.

We are happy that our collection of the Tangier Gazette provided plenty of period detail, including maps, and that the Legation will evoke the 1920s for viewers of Delargy's documentary.

Now, Hollywood: when are you going to make the Legation the setting for a big budget film?

Gerald Loftus

1 thought on “First Across the Strait: Mercedes Gleitze 1928”

  1. Cool! Why isn’t she more famous? She is also the first person to swim from Cape Town to Robben Island. A major film should be made about her. Women’s libbers take note. What a gal!

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