Penny Palfrey Finishes Bridge Swim In 40 Hours 41 Minutes

The original article is posted (with picture) on partnersite The Daily News of Open Water Swimming since Sunday, June 12, 2011

Penny Palfrey successfully completed her 68-mile swim from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman in 40 hours 41 minutes 12 seconds.

After a delay of two days, Penny and her international crew decided to forge ahead despite the less-than-ideal conditions.

Hoping for easterly winds and an accompanying current, Penny made due despite cross winds and adverse lateral currents. But Penny assembled an escort crew from Australia, Japan, Ireland, Cuba, South Africa, Scotland, New Zealand, Scotland, Nicaragua, Cayman Islands, Hawaii, New York and California. Frank Flowers, the visionary behind Penny's Bridging The Cayman Islands swim insisted on bringing in the best to help Penny plan and complete the unprecedented swim and world record attempt at the longest unassisted ocean solo swim.

"I looked at the total distance as eleven 10K swims back to back," explained Penny. "I have a very specific feeding pattern that my team provides me very 30 minutes. The feeding pattern is repeated every 8 hours. They also provide me with my times for each 10K swum, so I know how to pace myself. That way I will know how much I need to leave for the finish."

Her first 10K was 2:30 (after an uneventful start shown here), her second 10K was 2:50, her third 10K was 2:38, her fourth 10K was 2:44 until the currents started to play havoc with her solid performance.

Her earlier predictions ranged from 30-40 hours of swimming, but over the first one-third of the swim, she averaged a 2.3 miles per hour pace. After she passed the 24-hour period, her stroke count continued as is, but the distance covered fell to 2K per hour. The decrease in speed had to do with an oncoming current that hit her head-on and a sea filled with 4-6 ocean swells with an occasional 8-foot roller and plenty of whitecaps.

Her husband and fellow marathoner Chris handled her feeds with Dan Boyle of New York. Kayakers Richard Clifford of New York and Jeff Kozlovich of Hawaii. Frank Flowers and Red Sail Sports provided a crew of experienced mariners who drove close to Penny only a few meters away in Zodiacs despite the turgid sea and swells the entire distance.

The kayakers were provided with radios and safety gear while the Zodiac near Penny had a GPS unit. Her trainers provided her with her feedings every 30 minutes. The kayakers and Zodiac traveled alongside a 65-foot tender that stored the supplies for both Penny and the crew. Ahead of the flotilla was the 65-foot Cayman Times which set the course bearings across the deep Cayman Channel. The Cayman Times had a chef on board as well as the 3-person medical staff, support crew and media representatives from Radio Cayman and the Caymanian Compass.

Penny's greatest fears were sharks and Portuguese man 'o war. She was followed by four oceanic white tip sharks, while pilot whales and dolphins occasionally played alongside. She was protected by two Shark Shields in the water, dragged along by the kayak and Zodiac. For the nasty stinging jellyfish and Portuguese man 'o war, Penny designed a face and neck covering but fortunately she did not have to use it.

The four separate sharks encounters were nearly shark attacks if not for the heroic actions by Charles EBanks. The first one Charles took care of less than 100 meters from Penny in the dark - the others were dramatically closer. "You can't let the white tip sharks stay around you - or they will continue to bother you."

The second shark encounter was closer when a 7-8 foot white tip shark nearly took a chunk out of Richard's kayak. Crew on the mother ship yelled at Richard to get his attention as the shark came up behind and under Richard. Not wasting a moment, Richard steered away from Penny and started to whack at the shark. As Richard splashed, the shark veered away from Penny. Then Charles who has chased down a criminal on land only a few days ago, sprang into action with his Zodiac.

He came out with a machete and quickly sliced up a fish and tossed it in the water 10 meters behind Penny. As the shark was being diverted, Charles tossed another fish in the water, set a hook and dropped it in the water. As the shark started to thrash around, Charles grabbed the line with his bare hands and tried to move the shark away from Penny. All support crew were at the ready, but Charles tried to drag the shark a safe distance from Penny, all the while standing in his small Zodiac. Within seconds, the shark head for the depths and swam off.

Meanwhile, Penny stroked on with her shoulders in pain. "I never felt this pain before. Just be patient," she told her crew. "We'll get there."

Then a third and larger shark came up right under Penny's protective flotilla. But Charles was right there and leaped into action while the rest of the crew were in awe. He drove his Zodaic between the shark and Penny, attempting to chase the shark away from Penny who never let up. He tossed over a dead fish, hooked the shark and wrestled with it for several seconds. This enabled Penny to have a wide berth and diverted the shark's attention from Penny.

"Not today, Bobo," smiled Charles at the shark as Penny was simply able to swim away, moving towards Grand Cayman Island.

Her additional fears included dehydration and hyperthermia. "I lose about 1100 ml of fluid every hour and I try to replace that's amount during my feedings, but I can only (stomach) about 600 ml. Because the water is so warm, my drinks are chilled."

She also reapplied sunscreen lotion on her body during the feeding stops and occasionally reapplied a mixture of lanolin and zinc oxide under her swimsuit where chaffing was likely to occur. Her crew also had back-up plans and supplies for a 45-hour swim...that were never needed.

"I remember her two attempts at swimming 72 miles between Oahu and Kauai," said Jeff, her kayaker on her attempts last year. "She was so badly stung. She has Portuguese man 'o war all over her body which made it impossible for her to continue. But she had swum a little over 36 miles in 12 hours, so I think this distance is doable."

"She just keeps going," said Richard who first met Penny during one of her Manhattan Island Marathon Swims. "She has this unbelievable ability to keep going. We're there to protect and guide her, but she really is focused and gets the job done."

As Penny entered the reef surrounding Grand Cayman Island along with a helicopter escort, the white sand beaches were filled with several hundreds of awe-struck well-wishers. After 40 hours in the water, it was not easy for Penny to either stand nor walk. But after so long in the water, she was anxious to get to land, no matter how long it took or who painful it appeared.

So what is next for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famer with yet another world record under her trademark pink cap? Is there any way to top this international logistical and operations team? From The Daily News' perspective, it will be hard to top this swim and its organization with all the local support received from the Flowers Group, Red Sail Sports and the government of the Cayman Islands.

We shall see...for now, Penny is recovering in a local hospital and cherishing in this incredible Bridge she built between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman.