An Audacious Attempt At Open Water Swimming History

An Audacious Attempt At Open Water Swimming History

In what our opinion will most likely be the most amazing open water swim of 2010, and frankly one of the most amazing marathon swims in history, one of the world’s most experienced and powerful marathon swimmers Penny Palfrey will attempt to swim 63 nautical miles (72.4 miles) in the Kaieiewaho Channel from Oahu to Kauai in April.

Penny, escorted by her pilot Don Jones, is planning to swim somewhere between 30-40 hours – through gigantic ocean swells, tremendously powerful currents and extremely strong winds that can whip up literally a sea of whitecaps.

Besides its length, the Kaieiewaho Channel is over 10,000 feet (3,040 meters) deep. It is just a massive amount of water is cross. In contrast, the the maximum depth of the 8.8-mile Auau Channel (between Lanai and Maui, the most popular channel to swim in Hawaii) is 108 feet (33 meters), the maximum depth of the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel (between Molokai and Oahu) is 2,300 feet (701 meters) and the 30-mile Alenuihaha Channel (between Hawaii and Maui) is 6,100 feet (1,900 meters).

Besides the elements, Penny will face marine life. Thankfully, Shark Shield, a long-time sponsor, will provide Penny with two units for her swims. Penny was gracious and happy to explain her audacious plans:

Q1. How many hours are you prepared to swim?
Penny: I’ll swim for as long as I’m able, taking into consideration the safety of myself and my crew.

Q2. Will Chris [your husband] do another Hawaiian Channel swim himself when he visits with you?
Penny: Yes Chris will be planning on swimming the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel. We’re still working out my boat swim crew details, but on such a swim, I feel that I’ll need shore crew too. Since Chris is going to be doing his own challenging swim, it might make sense for Chris to take the shore crew responsibilities.

Q3. What drives you?
Penny: Does anyone have the answer to this question? I love the water. I feel like I’ve come home when I do these long open water swims. I love the fish and especially the dolphins, the scenery, watching land slide away behind me, the crew letting me know how I’m progressing and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment when I’ve achieved my goal.
I love the way the open water swimming community help and support one another. I feel special when I look at the boat and see my crew there for me, watching over me, caring about me. I’m very much aware that open water swimming is not a solo lonely sport, but a team effort and this is not “my swim”, but “our swim”, and my accomplishments are always ours

Q4. Are you doing any special training? Are you preparing yourself any differently for this swim than other swims?
Penny: I’ve not really altered my training too much. I tend to be in tune with my body, listen to it and train accordingly. There have been many months of hard work behind me since my 64K Santa Barbara Island swim (in 17 hours 53 minutes) in September 2009 and feel that I’ve been steadily building my swims over the past 17 years or so. I do feel that I’ve lost some speed, but distance is more important than speed in the Kauai Channel.

Q5. What time of the day or night will you start?
Penny: I’ll listen to my pilot and other advisors with regard to a start time in relation to the tide; however, I’ll be pushing strongly for a morning start so that I can get some sleep before my swim. I don’t really want to start a 30-40 hour swim at the end of a day.

Q6. Will this be your toughest swim?
Penny: This will be by far my longest swim. Toughest, I guess so. I’ve done some tough ones before, and generally I find the elements dictate the toughness.

Q7. Will you film this swim?
Penny: My charter boat is very small. In fact, it has no toilet or galley and little space for my crew to rest. Therefore my support crew must be kept fairly minimal. Of course, with a big sponsor, and a fancy launch and movie crew, I’ll think about it. Seriously though, Chris and I love to share our swimming experiences with the global open water community as reflected in our website which is one of the considerations with regard to our need for the shore crew.

Last year, Penny became the second person to swim the treacherous, shark-infested Alenuihaha Channel from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui. Her gutsy swim took 14 hours and 51 minutes where Penny was tossed about by occasional 6-meter (20-foot) ocean swells where her crew would lose sight of her. She quickly followed up that effort with a 14.5K (8.8-mile) swim across the Maui Channel together with her husband. She also completed the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, placing second overall in 7 hours 17 minutes. Earlier in 2009, she participated in a 33 hour 33 minute 120K triple-crossing of Lake Taupo, the biggest lake in New Zealand.

Her adventurous spirit, obvious athletic abilities, courage and willingness to traverse the world in search of unprecedented marathon swimming feats, Penny is truly an open water swimming hero.

Copyright © 2009 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones