KEY WEST, Fla. – Enduring jellyfish stings but otherwise encountering perfect conditions in her attempt to become the first woman to swim unassisted more than 100 miles from Cuba to Florida, endurance swimmer Penny Palfrey crossed the halfway mark Saturday as she pushed through the Florida Straits.
A GPS tracking device on Palfrey's support boat a few meters away from the swimmer shows she reached the halfway point near midday, according to her website.
Palfrey was swimming steady and strong and reported no physical complaints. She had finished 69 miles (111 kilometers) around 3 p.m. Saturday, breaking her personal best when she swam 67 miles (108 kilometers) between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman islands last year, according to crew member Andrea Woodburn.
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.
Earlier, at 8:38 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT), a little over 25 hours into the swim, the 49-year-old grandmother was 48 miles (77 kilometers) from her starting point at a marina in the Cuban capital, Scott Woodburn, who is part of Palfrey's landing team in the Florida Keys, told The Associated Press.
She is "alert and swimming physically strong," Woodburn said, adding that the bathwater-warm waters remained calm. "It couldn't be better for her."
The 20-year veteran of distance swimming is no stranger to jellyfish stings, which forced her to abort two past swims in Hawaii.
The British-born Australian swimmer set off from Havana early Friday. 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 briefly went down overnight when it had to be reset, but was working again early Saturday morning.
As she endures a second day, Palfrey will have to fight through physical and mental fatigue while fending off dehydration, hypothermia and 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. She would get to Florida Sunday afternoon.
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. Her support team consisted of more than a dozen navigators, handlers and medical personnel who were escorting her on the 44-foot (13-meter) catamaran Sealuver.
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 had to call them off due to a debilitating asthma attack and painful Portuguese man o' war stings. She plans to try again this summer.
Palfrey began the swim in a regular sporting swimsuit, but said Friday that she planned to put on a porous, non-buoyant Lycra bodysuit that provides cover down to the wrists and ankles whenever jellyfish may be a threat.