Miami. British-Australian woman Penny Palfrey was close to her destination early on Sunday in her quest to swim unassisted from Cuba to Florida, ignoring jellyfish stings and shark sightings while breaking her own world record.
The mother of three and grandmother of two is seeking to become the first to complete the historic feat without a protective cage.
The 49-year-old, who left the Cuban capital of Havana shortly after sunrise on Friday, had already covered 139 kilometers, or three-quarters of her itinerary, her tweet said.
Before dawn on Sunday, she was just 27 kilometers southwest of Key West, her final destination.
“Penny is swimming steady and strong… She is still the boss in the water. She is all business,” an earlier post said, adding that her mental and physical state was solid.
By making it this far, she has already broken her own world record of the longest unassisted ocean swim of 59.64 nautical miles (110.45 kilometers), it added.
But she still faces risks on her way to completing the 166-kilometer trek to Key West, expected to take between 40 and 50 hours.
“About an hour ago she reported to her crew that she briefly saw hammerhead sharks below her that quickly vanished,” the post said.
Earlier, Palfrey’s support team reported that she had suffered “constant” jellyfish stings overnight and that her mouth was “very sore and painful.”
Still, slathered in a fresh layer of sunscreen she welcomed a new day in extremely calm seas with a smile and in good spirits, according to husband Chris, who is part of her support team.
Before diving into the water at Havana’s Hemingway International Yacht Club early on Friday, Palfrey had told reporters she was “a little excited, a little nervous.”
Palfrey is seeking to accomplish the feat in a “call for friendly relations between the peoples of the United States and Cuba,” according to the Cuban foreign ministry.
Cuba’s national commissioner for swimming, Rodolfo Falcon, told AFP that if Palfrey succeeds, “it will be something out of this world.”
“Sea conditions are not similar to the pool, where she trained for many hours. At sea, the salt water weighs you down,” said Falcon, who won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Susie Maroney, a former Australian marathon swimmer, swam from Cuba to Florida in 1997 when she was just 22, but she used a shark cage.
Veteran US endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 62, has tried, and failed, to complete the trek three times, twice without a shark cage.
Her latest attempt was in September, when she quit two-thirds of the way into the crossing after suffering dangerous jellyfish stings. She plans to try again this summer.
Two yachts, a kayak and a boat are part of Palfrey’s support team. The vessels are carrying ultrasound equipment to ward off sharks.
Palfrey, who was born in Britain and moved to Australia at the age of 19, is among the most accomplished open-water swimmers in the world and has completed swims in the Caribbean and Pacific without a shark cage.
Two years ago, she crossed the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco in three hours and three minutes, setting a new record for women.
Last year, Palfrey — who began swimming at age 9 — swam from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman Island, again without a cage.