First man to swim Cook Strait dies

The original article is posted (with pictures) on The Pess/NZStuff since 11:07 26/07/2010

Wellington long-distance swimmer Barrie Devenport, the first man to swim Cook Strait, has died in Australia, aged 75.

Devenport's long-time friend and fellow surf lifesaver Chris Billing said Devenport died in hospital on the Gold Coast early this morning (NZT) after a long battle with cancer.

On November 20, 1962, Devenport became the first person in recorded history to swim Cook Strait. He swam from Cape Terawhiti in the North Island to Wellington Rock in the South Island in 11 hours, 13 minutes.

Billing was one of Devenport's Worser Bay Surf Lifesaving Club support crew for the successful 26km crossing, after an attempt 12 months earlier had failed.

Since Devenport's swim nearly 48 years ago, 74 people have made the Cook Strait crossing, ranging from an 11-year-old boy to a 55-year-old woman. There have been three double crossings, and the fastest North-South crossing has been lowered to four hours and 37 minutes.

Devenport had kept a record of his achievements, which Billing said would be archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

Billing said Devenport's physical strength and fitness were huge assets in his Cook Strait crossing, but his mental strength had been the key.

A consultation with middle-distance guru Arthur Lydiard ahead of his successful crossing had paid dividends.

''He'd got in touch with Arthur Lydiard, who told him to get out running, which he did and he was super-fit.

''But what really got him through was his mental strength.''

Billing said Devenport turned that mental strength towards fighting cancer after being diagnosed two years ago.

''He's always been a strong person, had a strong mind. He fought it bravely, but cancer's one of those things, sometimes you just can't win.''

Devenport is survived by his wife Kristin and sons Wayne and Brent. A memorial service is to be held on the Gold Coast next week.