Accepting The Risks Of Open Water Swimming

Penny Palfrey is a risk-taker. She accepts risk and understands that failure is part of the open water swimming equation.

She set off on two of the riskiest swims possible, on opposite ends of the extreme spectrum within several weeks of each other. It was a high-risk proposition, but if anyone could pull it off, Palfrey could.

Unfortunately, her 103-mile attempt from Cuba to America in the tropical warm water of the Gulf Stream was ended by Mother Nature and a ridiculously strong adverse current after 41 hours. Hospitalized as a precaution, she most certainly gave it her all.

She went home to Queensland, Australia to recover, but she was soon right back in the water – much much colder water – the next month in the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland.

With Observer George Meehan and escort boat captain Brian Maherg onboard, Palfrey set off at Orlicks Point in Ireland at 7:44am under good conditions (Force 2/3). On her last leg of the Oceans Seven, she showed stunning speed against a tide which had 2 more outgoing hours, covering 10km in 2 hours in 13.1°C – 13.3°C (55°C) water.

The early morning sun and clouds gave promise to a warm day and confidence reigned supreme. After 5 hours 17 minutes, she had covered 20km of the 34km distance. The conditions had flattened out although she faced some jellyfish blooms. At 6 hours, she had slowly down a bit, but she was still 10 minutes ahead of the record set by the Alison Streeter.

But history shows that Streeter did not succeed on her first try.

Captain Maherg commented on her blazing pace, “[Her pace] really doesn’t mean anything right now.”

His words soon rang true. Even with two hours of tidal assistance, Palfrey only covered 4 km as the water temperature dropped to 12.9°C. Her stroke count also started to all as cold became an issue.

As the tide started to turn for 6 hours, Palfrey had a choice: sit out the tide and continue swimming with tiny progress until the tide changed. With Anne Marie Ward onboard who experienced the same situation, Palfrey was prepared to bear this situation. After several more hours not making much ground, Palfrey was showing signs of advanced hypothermia by the 10-hour mark. Her crew knew that leaving her in for another 4 hours was not an option.

At 11 hours 20 minutes, her first North Channel attempt came to an end 8 km from Port Patrick in Scotland.

It was an admirable high-risk attempt that ended when her crew pulled her out for safety reasons. Facing these risks, accepting failure, and eventually overcoming both risks and failure are the hallmarks of successful adventurers and open water swimmers.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones