The Bay of Islands Luminary reported in 1936 that, on January 30th, 15 year old Charles Baker accomplished the feat of swimming from Russell to Paihia and immediately back to Russell, a distance of over four miles. He was given refreshments at intervals and was none the worse for four hours continuous swimming. Both he and Joan Strawbridge had made the attempt a few years earlier but gave up because of the presence of sharks. 18 year old Phyllis Boucher, pictured here with Charles Baker, was apparently the first person to swim from Russell to Paihia, in 1929.

These days hundreds of people swim the 3.3km every November in wet suits and brightly coloured caps, escorted by a flotilla of kayaks and inflatable boats. This year the times for the crossing from Russell to Paihia ranged from 50 minutes to 2 hours 40 minutes.

This photo and story features in Russell Museum’s current exhibition, ‘ Shaped by the Sea’, which explores Russell’s maritime history from a social perspective – everything from early whalers to coastal steamships and changes to our wharves. Yes, we once had three of them servicing our town. The exhibition runs until the end of February.