Date: July 01 2012
Endurance swimmer Penny Palfrey has muscled past halfway in her attempt to become the first woman to swim unassisted from Cuba to Florida, enduring jellyfish stings but otherwise encountering perfect conditions.
The British-born Australian was swimming steady and strong through the Florida Straits on Saturday (local Florida time) and reported no physical complaints, according to her support team.
About 6.30am today (AEST), roughly 34 hours into the swim, the 49-year-old grandmother was 111 kilometres from her starting point at a marina in Havana, according to her website's GPS tracking report.
She was positioned about 61 kilometres south-west of Key West.
Previously, her personal best was 108 kilometres when she swam between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman islands last year, according to Andrea Woodburn, part of her support team in the Keys.
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 barking orders at team members accompanying her on kayaks and a catamaran as she kept up a torrid pace in a battle that tested the limits of human endurance.
Woodburn said the swimmer was "physically and mentally strong".
"The conditions couldn't be better and she continues to progress to the Florida Keys," she said.
Palfrey, a 20-year veteran of distance swimming, is no stranger to jellyfish stings, which forced her to abort two past swims in Hawaii. She set off from Havana early on Friday.
A member of her 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 GPS device showed she reached the halfway point near midday on Friday, according to her website.
The daunting effort has been commonly reported as a 166-kilometre swim, however the GPS coordinates suggest it is more like 172 kilometres.
Multiple challenges loomed as Palfrey endured a second day, including the prospect of physical and mental fatigue and fending off dehydration, hypothermia and potentially dangerous marine life.
At her current rate, it would take her a bit more than 56 hours to complete the swim, slightly above her initial estimates.
Woodburn said if she continued the pace, Palfrey could arrive Sunday morning (tomorrow AEST).
If Palfrey succeeds, she will go in the record books as the first woman to swim the Straits without the aid of a shark cage.
Instead she is relying on equipment that surrounds her with an electrical field to deter the predators.
Her support team comprised more than a dozen navigators, handlers and medical personnel who were escorting her on the 44-foot catamaran, Sealuver.
Woodburn said Palfrey was being hydrated every 30 minutes with a liquid concoction containing electrolytes and carbohydrates.
Australian Susie Maroney made the crossing in 1997 at age 22, but swam inside a shark cage.
American Diana Nyad made two unsuccessful cageless attempts last year on either side of her 62nd birthday, but had to call them off due to a debilitating asthma attack and painful Portuguese man o' war stings.
She has announced plans to try again.
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