The English Channel (‘La Manche’)

Moonrise over La Manche by Dimitry B

Without the English Channel we would all be in a good deal of trouble. In the spirit of appreciation, Peter Moore jots down some of its vital statistics. Additional research by Murali Podila


The Silvery English Sea

‘The Channel is that silver strip of sea which severs merry England for the tardy realms of Europe’, wrote an anonymous author in the Church and State Review, on 1 April, 1863.

The author’s reverence was well-founded. The Channel did for Napoleon Bonaparte, who regarded it as little more than a dirty ditch, and it did with similar efficiency for the steel and frightful force of Adolf Hitler’s panzer division in 1940.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. All told, the English Channel has been helping us fend off nasty continental types since the days of Stonehenge, jugs of mead, King Arthur, burnt cakes, round tables and Merlin’s beard. And with this in mind, I’ve decided that it is high time for a statistic appreciation of the silvery strait. After all, it is one of the most formidable geographic barriers in history.

The English Channel: Statbox.

—  The start point, the furthest to the West, is generally considered to be at the Scilly Islands and Ushant. The end point, the Eastern end of the channel, is the Strait of Dover is between Dover and Calais.

— Its length is about 350 miles long, but its width varies from 150 miles to 17 miles.

— It’s area is about 29,000 square miles (or 75,000 square kilometres)

— The channel narrows from 112 miles to only 17 miles, going from west to east.

— The widest part of the channel is about 150 miles, between Lyme Bay and St.Malo. The narrowest part is at about 17miles between Cap Gris Nez and Dover.

— The width of the Strait of Dover, where a lot of ferries operate, is 21 miles.

— The deepest point, at Hurds Deep, is at 180m. It’s shallowest at the Strait of Dover at about 45m.

— The English channels is quite densely populated on both shores with significant port towns and cities on either side of the shore such as:

Portsmouth (population of 360,000)
Bournemouth ( 383,713)
Southampton (304,400)
Le Harve (248,547)
Calais (104,852)

— The first known person to swim across the channel (Dover to Calais) was Matthew Webb, he completed it in 21hr 45min.

— The fastest person to swim across the channel was Petar Stoychev from Bulgaria; he did it in 6hr 57min.

— The oldest person to swim across the channel was George Burnstad who swam across the channel at the age of 70 years and 4 days.

— The youngest person to swim the channel is Thomas Gregory who swam across the channel at the age of 11 years and 11 months.

— By the end of 2005, 811 individuals had swam across the channel a total of 1185 times

— The person who has crossed the channel the most times is Alison Street MBE, who has swam across the channel 43 times.

— The first crossing by air was on the 7th January 1785 by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jefferies. This was done by using a balloon.

— The first passenger ferry crossed the channel on the 10 June 1821, now there is a ferry going from Dover to Calais almost every 45 minutes for most of the day!

— The first aircraft flight with passengers was made in 23 August 1910 carrying the pilots’ cat and the mechanic.

— The surface temperature ranges from 7°C in February to 16°C in September.

— The temperature of the water does change with depth on the well mixed waters in the eastern side of the channel. But the temperature drops to about 5°C in the eastern side of the channel.

— The overall climate changes a lot and is dependent on cloud cover and wind. The temperatures generally vary from -5°C to 12°C in the winter to about 20°C to 30°C in the summer.


image credit: dimitry b

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