Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation "Nothing great is easy", Captain Matthew Webb

06 Jul 2020Sad news about Charlie Gravett

Sad news about Charlie Gravett

Charlie Gravett passed away in the morning of Monday 6th July 2020.

It is a mighty loss to the world of swimming, when we write about the departure of the irrepressible ‘Charlie’ Gravett; the smiling, energetic and kind husband of Sally Minty-Gravett. It’s impossible to imagine Charlie without seeing both a smile on his and also on your own face, for he thrived on making positive efforts in the pursuit of other people’s happiness.

Charlie found joy in doing well, the things he loved, and he was a constant half of the popular Jersey island swimming couple of Sally and Charlie Minty-Gravett. To get some context of their broad and deep lives with our swimming world, imagine the celebrations that Charlie and Sally shared with us in 2016, with three big events, all an accumulation of a lifetime of effort by them both together.

2016 was a whirlwind year, and aged 73, Charlie was inaugurated into the International Marathon Swimming hall of Fame (IMSHOF) , and a few months later, he and Sally were together meeting Prince Charles, as she was awarded her MBE for services to swimming. Their wonderful hat-trick was completed later that summer with Charlie motivating 59 year-old Sally to successfully complete her two-way swim of the English Channel.

Between 1987 and 2015, Charlie piloted more than 90% of the swims around the Island of Jersey 41 miles (66 km); this included over 80 successful solo swims, and more than 40 successful relay swims either around Jersey, or Jersey to France.

Both swimmers carved out different paths earlier in their lives before they met. But a sneak peek at Charlie’s social media page states that the most inspirational person in his life and also his soulmate, is his wife Sally.

Charlie first ‘met’ Sally during a CSA Centenary Channel Race in 1975, celebrating the 100th year since Matthew Webb had become the first swimmer to go solo across the English Channel. They deduced that they were both on different swimming teams for the race, and years would pass before they actually met.

Charlie had a lovely way with people, and during his induction as an IMSHOF Honoree, Steve Munatones said “he makes you think, he makes you laugh, he makes you better.” Munatones, a key mover behind the scenes of the IMSHOF added that “he is an historian, an inspiration, and he helps people enjoy the sport.”

In fact, if you search any of the main open water swimming sites, Charlie’s name surfaces with highly regarded references. The Canadian Lake Ontario Swimming Organisation regarded him as one of the top 100 positive influencers in the world of swimming.

In 2015, when Ross Wisby, the Royal Air Force’s open water swimming manager, set the fastest record for the swimming circumnavigation of Jersey, he said that “the only thing that got me through the swim was my support team who never gave up in their belief that I would get the record," Charlie was one of that team.

It was the RAF where Charlie’s working career started, when aged 15 in 1959 he signed up for a 24-year commission concluding in 1983. After his service career ended, Charlie supported many charitable causes, one example of this included the ‘Holidays for Heroes Jersey’ event to help families of service personnel take breaks on Jersey island. Charlie organised the event and raised an incredible £24,000, and his values were evident not just in the fundraising, but in one key moment. While there was a competitive element between all the various forces who raced each other this was not the key, for Charlie he said “the race came to a poignant conclusion with many swimmers re-entering the water to accompany Nerys Pearce, a swimmer who is paralysed from the chest down, as she finished the race for the Help for Heroes squad.”

While Charlie always smiled on the surface, it was matched by a deep down care beneath his wonderful charisma to give the care that he could for those who suffered.

The Jersey Lifeboats organisation added “with heavy hearts and great sadness, we mourn the loss of Charlie … a much loved and respected supporter of the Jersey Lifeboat Association, and we are all proud to have known him. He will be very much missed.”

A message from one open water swimmer said of Charlie that  “he was a mainstay of the Jersey and Channel swimming communities and the pilot on my Round Jersey swim in 2009 - a reassuring presence for this nervous novice. He will be hugely missed.”

As well as being an administrator of distinction, Charlie was also a handy swimmer, and the Jersey Long Distance Swimming Club records show two local residents from the 1970s who swam Lake Windermere; Sally Minty in 1974 and 1975, and ‘Charlie’ Gravett in 1979 and 1981. Charlie also twice swam Lake Coniston and completed a Channel relay between England and France.

Charlie’s full name was Peter Norman Gravett but he always went by the nickname of Charlie. He was born in South East London on 19 June 1943 to a family called Easterway, but was adopted shortly afterwards by John Francis Gravett and Lena Louisa Gravett; nee Waters. Coincidentally, Charlie’s Dad was also adopted but retained his surname, and came from Bermondsey. Charlie felt that he was from somewhere close by, so he always put Bermondsey as his place of birth. Charlie’s Mum was from the Catford area of London, and he was brought up in Hove, Sussex. Charlie had two boys with his first wife Pearl, and they divorced in 1984.

In 1986, Charlie met Sally for real, and they married in August 1986 in Annan in Scotland. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Jersey with the goal of  setting up a swimming school on the island.

Sally’s Dad was president of the Jersey LDSC, and from then on, the duo poured their considerable energies into swimming; both in the water, and on the administration side.

Charlie had been a member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association since the 1960s, and knew everyone in the swimming world. His nature was to find qualities to admire and he constantly sought not only the positives in others, but also to respectfully understand people’s quirks and ambiguities.

Charlie spoke of John Slater the founding secretary of the BLDSA saying “He was forever an honest, cheerful Yorkshireman who gave both praise and a smack round the ear when circumstances required. Only ten days ago (December 2004) Sal and I were in Florida's Fort Lauderdale 'Swimming Hall of Fame' and I noticed his name smiling down from the plinth of nominees. He was a true sportsman for such an award and I shall remember him with affection and a laugh as I'm sure heaven is holding its sides with both Gerry Forsberg and John sampling the great man's finest malts with the occasional yarn thrown in. It's wrong to say we'll never see his like again, but those who now run our sport wouldn't go far wrong if they followed both of these great men's attitude, graciousness and sense of humour. John made it fun to go swimming - long may that be his epitaph." 

The water wasn’t Charlie’s only pride and joy, he also shed many tears supporting Tottenham Hotspur. Naturally, and with typically familiar vigour, Charlie threw himself into supporting the Spurs, and for nine years he was the president of the Jersey Spurs Supporters Club, retiring from the post in 2010. On his retirement, the JSSC gave “a big thank you to Charlie for his years of dedication.”

When people speak or write of Charlie, it brings a smile to the face, for he carried that happy demeanour wherever he went. Lucky the people who knew Charlie, and luckier still Sally who has so many positive memories and the absolute love of her Charlie to live by and share. 

Swim in Peace Charlie Gravett (19 June 1943- 6 July 2020)

 [John Tierney]

Charlie in his 'office'

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Wind Direction: ESE (110°)

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