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Texan Sets France-to-England Channel Swim Record

August 14, 1985

DOVER, England (AP) _ A Texas geologist set a new record Tuesday for the fastest swim across the English Channel, starting from France, and proposed marriage to his girlfriend on the way. She accepted.

Peter Johnson, 26, of Midland, Texas, took 8 hours 20 minutes to swim the 21 miles from Cap Gris Nez, between Calais and Boulogne, to St. Margaret’s Bay, near Dover.

He shaved 14 minutes off the previous France-to-England record, set in 1984 by Lyndon Dunsbee of Dover, England, said the Channel Swimming Association, which supervises swims and keeps records.

The fastest-ever crossing was made by an American woman, Penny Lee Dean, who in 1978 swam from England to France in 7 hours 40 minutes.

Four hours into the swim, Johnson proposed to Julia Hughbanks, 28, also a geologist from Midland, who was riding in the escort boat. Johnson and Miss Hughbanks are to marry next year, they said at the end of the swim.

″I did not think I had anything left four miles out (from England), but I managed a sprint at the end to get the record,″ Johnson told The Associated Press.

″It was an all-out effort, and the last four miles seemed like 10,″ Johnson said.

Miss Hughbanks said of the swim: ″It was nerve-racking.″

Johnson’s coach, Tom Hetzel, said the swim was delayed when the escort boat broke down in mid-channel.

″The boat lost engine power, and we lost about half an hour while the sails were hoisted. I think we would have been close to Penny’s record if the problem with the escort boat had not developed,″ said Hetzel.

Another American did not succeed in crossing the channel Tuesday. Robert Sondheim, 35, a planning supervisor for disabled people from Sharon, Mass., set out from France with Johnson.

Sondheim swam for eight hours but gave up four miles from Dover. His swim raised $14,000 for charity, the Channel Swimming Association said.

A six-man relay team composed of Belgians and Japanese swam from France to England in 8 hours 33 minutes, but high winds and waves forced them to abandon their plans to immediately swim back to France. Each team member swam for 30 minutes at a time.

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