THE first Weymouth man to swim the English Channel is celebrating his 80th birthday today – with a dip in the sea.

Retired store manage Godfrey Chapman, known as Geoff, completed the 20-mile swim from France to Dover in 1951 as a competitor in the Daily Mail’s International Cross Channel Race.

Six decades later, Channel Chapman still enjoys a dip at Newton’s Cove, near the Nothe Fort, when the weather is fine.

Mr Chapman, who lives at Sutton Poyntz with wife Elizabeth, said: “Swimming has kept me fit. I shall be 80 and still swimming. It’s relaxing.

“If you swim and breath correctly, it’s as easy as walking.”

Mr Chapman was one of 20 swimmers out of 160 applications to the Daily Mail accepted to take part in the race.

The endeavour was funded by a publicity campaign organised by his friends, Percy Lane, Tom Stroud and Tom Watch, who sold 500 signed photographs to admiring Weymouth people.

He took 12 hours and 56 minutes to swim the Channel from Cap Gris Nez to the English coast near Folkestone.

He was the youngest person in the race and came sixth, with Egyptian swimmers finishing first, third and fourth.

Two Argentineans were given trophies by Eva and General Peron to present to whomever they thought most deserving.

One of the swimmers, who was related to Eva Peron, decided he deserved it for doing so well.

Despite landing near Folkestone, Mr Chapman still had to go back to Dover in a boat to pass through customs on his return to show that he had nothing to declare.

Mr Chapman said: “It wasn’t so difficult to swim for 12 hours. The difficult part was when you began to tire and had to make it to shore at the end against a very strong running tide.

“That was the worst of it.”

Swimming has remained a fixture in Mr Chapman’s life, and has been an enthusiastic member of the Newton’s Cove Wrinklies swimming club.

He swims every day from May to October if the weather is suitable and aims to continue for as long as he can.

Mr Chapman said: “There is nowhere in Weymouth where disabled, incapacitated people or those in wheelchairs can get into the sea to swim.

“There should be somewhere people can enjoy the sea.

“That’s when I will have to stop, when I am in a wheelchair.”

Fellow Wrinklies member and close friend Rodney Best said: “I’ve known Geoff since I was nine years old.

“We grew almost next door to each other and would go swimming in Newton’s Cove. He still outpaces me.”