HAVANA – Marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey powered through the Straits of Florida on Friday as she attempted a record 103-mile unassisted swim from Cuba to Florida.
Slathered with sunblock and lubricant to prevent chafing, the British-born Australian bade farewell to onlookers, dove headfirst into the calm, bathwater-warm seas off Havana and began stroking slowly northward with a kayaker as escort.
“There’s a lot of work that’s gone into this over the past year,” Palfrey said, thanking her husband, her team and Cuban officials who helped facilitate the trip. “It’s all coming together, and so exciting to finally get to this point where we can get started.”
A member of Palfrey’s crew was tweeting to fans, while a webpage updated her location every 10 minutes or so based on data from a GPS device worn by the swimmer. The site showed her making steady northward progress through the Straits of Florida, where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
“Swimming strong. Great conditions. Some jellies, but not bad,” read one tweet.
Late Friday, Palfrey was about 30 miles into the journey. “She is swimming strong and all is going well. Next update in the morning,” said Andrea Woodburn, who was managing Palfrey’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Palfrey will have to fight through physical and mental fatigue while fending off dehydration, hypothermia and dangerous marine life. She estimates that it will take 40 to 50 hours to make the crossing.
If Palfrey succeeds, she’ll go in the record books as the first woman to swim the Straits without the aid of a shark cage. Instead she’s relying on equipment that surrounds her with an electrical field to deter the predators.
Australian Susie Maroney made the crossing in 1997 at age 22, but with a shark cage. American Diana Nyad made two unsuccessful cageless attempts last year on either side of her 62nd birthday. Palfrey, a 49-year-old mother and grandmother, is more than a decade younger than Nyad.