Kemmerich, Otto

Otto Kemmerich, born in 1886, was an outstanding pool and open water swimmer from Germany who was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968 as an Honour Swimmer. A member of the German Olympic swim team, he was one of the original unassisted marathon swimmers.

Otto Kemmerich, born 1886 in Husum, Germany; drowned August 1952 at Utersum, Foehr, North Frisia

In the 1920s he was considered one of the best long distance swimmer in the world. His life was marked by numerous records in long-distance swimming. In addition, he devoted himself to dressage work in various circus companies and worked during his last years as head of a health insurance company in Husum.

Most of his swims he swam without any assistance – and without a boat. In his equipment that he carried along with him, he always had a watch, a compass, and a seamap which he carried in a duffel bag. He marked his position in the water with a red flag.

In 1923 he swam Lake Constance. In 1925 he conquered the 80 kilometers between Fehmarn and Warnemünde. An endurance swim from Fehmarn to Denmark earned him a prize from the Danish newspaper Politiken .

In the summer of 1925, he planned to cover the route from Husum via Nordstrand, Pellworm, Hooge, Langeness, Foehr and Amrum to Sylt. Because of treacherous ocean currents, no one was able to swim through the 15-kilometer passage between Amrum. He had to give up exhausted between Amrum and Sylt.

In 1926, he tried to swim through the English Channel between Cap Gris-Nez and Dover at top speed, but had to give up nine miles off the coast: probably attacked by a shark and injured heavily on the hand. In 1927 Otto Kemmerich set a world record in continuous swimming: he stayed in the water for 32 hours. In 1927 he announced he would make another Channel attempt in the 1928 season, accompanied by his pet sealion Leo. No further attempts are recorded

In the summer of 1929, he swam the 100 kilometers of water between Pillau (East Prussia) and the seaside resort of Sopot in the Gulf of Gdansk without any accompaniment in 23:15 hours.

During a storm he crossed the Westerems from Rottum to Borkum on August 17, 1929, the following day he completed the stage from Borkum to Memmert during storm, rain and sea. Taking advantage of the tidal current and having been in the water for more than 12 hours, he reached Norddeich around 20:30.

On September 3, 1929 Kemmerich swam the 62-kilometer route from the lighthouse Staberhuk (Fehmarn) to Warnemünde despite unfavorable weather in 20 hours.

In 1938 he swam from Borkum to Norddeich.

After years of not swimming, he started, age 66 years, on July 25, 1952 from Esbjerg (Denmark) to Husum. His goal was to swim the 200-kilometer stretch of the sea, to go from island to island without a dinghy, and then to restart after a break, as soon as tide and weather allowed. He succeeded until Hörnum on Syl. In front of him he now had the 15-kilometer-long passage between Sylt and Amrum, where he had once failed in 1925. Despite warnings, he started; three times the high swell threw him back to the beach. He made a fourth attempt – the last time he was seen alive. On 17 August 1952 his body was recovered between Amrum and Föhr. He still carried flippers, compass and his watch, which had stopped at 15 minutes before 7 o’clock.

Swims by Kemmerich, Otto

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