Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Palfrey beyond halfway point in Cuba-Florida swim

KEY WEST — Endurance swimmer Penny Palfrey approached the three-quarter mark Saturday on her trek from Cuba to the Florida Keys, encountering jellyfish stings but otherwise perfect conditions in her attempt to become the first woman to swim the more than 100-mile route.

The British-born Australian was swimming steadily and reported no physical complaints other than the stings, according to her support team.

At 8:30 p.m. EDT, roughly 37.5 hours into the swim, the 49-year-old grandmother was 76 miles from her starting point at a marina in the Cuban capital, according to her website's GPS tracking report. She was positioned about 30 miles south, southwest of Key West.

Previously, her personal best was 67 miles when she swam between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman islands last year, according to Andrea Woodburn, part of her support team.

Palfrey reapplied sunscreen and grease to prevent chafing and said the water conditions had been excellent other than the extreme heat. She even spotted a few hammerhead sharks and dolphin pods.

Crew members said she was in full control of the effort, instructing team members who are accompanying her on kayaks and a catamaran.

"The conditions couldn't be better and she continues to progress to the Florida Keys," Woodburn said.

Palfrey set off from Havana early Friday. A member of her crew was tweeting to fans, while a Web page updated her location every 10 minutes or so based on data from a GPS device she wears. The effort has been commonly reported as a 103-mile swim, but the GPS coordinates suggest it is more like 107.

At her current rate, it would take her a bit more than 56 hours to complete the swim, slightly above her initial estimates. Woodburn believes if she continues the pace, Palfrey could arrive this morning.

If Palfrey succeeds, she will go in the record books as the first woman to swim from Cuba to the Keys 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, but called them off due to a debilitating asthma attack and painful Portuguese man o' war stings. She plans to try again this summer.

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