On Aug. 25, 1875, Captain Matthew Webb, a 27-year-old former English naval officer, accomplished a feat many thought impossible: swimming across the English Channel. The Channel's strong currents and cold temperatures were thought to be too menacing for any swimmer, but Webb was determined to prove everyone wrong. Smeared in porpoise oil to decrease his drag in the water, Webb battled the currents and stingrays for nearly 22 hours over a torturous 39-mile (63 km) course. Finally, he landed near Calais, exhausted but triumphant. In the century-and-a-quarter since, Webb's feat has been duplicated more than 1,000 times and his time has been more than cut in half, but no swimmer captured the imagination of the world the way Matthew Webb did.