British-Australian swimmer Penny Palfrey smiles as she is flashed a thumbs up at the start of her bid to complete a record swim. Ramon Espinosa/AP/Press Association Images

Granny attempts Cuba-US swim without shark cage

“A little excited, a little nervous,” Palfrey told reporters before diving in. “Beautiful sea, beautiful sunrise.”

BRITISH-AUSTRALIAN SWIMMER Penny Palfrey today launched an historic attempt to swim unassisted from Cuba to the United States, seeking to become the first do so without a shark cage.

The 49-year-old mother of three and grandmother of two jumped into the sea shortly after sunrise from the Hemingway International Yacht Club in western Havana, headed for Florida’s Key West. The swim is expected to take between 40 and 50 hours.

“A little excited, a little nervous,” Palfrey told reporters before diving in. “Beautiful sea, beautiful sunrise.”

The swimmer arrived at the dock under a clear sky wearing a blue bathing suit, gray cap and goggles, her face, legs and arms lathered with sunscreen. She waved an Australian flag.

“Swimming strong. Great conditions. Some jellies, but not bad,” Palfrey’s support team tweeted after she covered 2.06 nautical miles (3.81 kilometers) in her first hour. And by 9:28 am local, the team said Palfrey was about 5.2 nautical miles (9.6 kilometers) north-northwest of her departure point.

Palfrey is seeking to accomplish the feat in a “call for friendly relations between the peoples of the United States and Cuba,” according to the Cuban foreign ministry. Cuba’s National Commissioner for swimming Rodolfo Falcon told AFP that if Palfrey succeeds, “it will be something out of this world.”

“Sea conditions are not similar to the pool, where she trained for many hours. At sea, the salt water weighs you down,” said Falcon, a silver medal winner at the 1996 Olympic Games.

Susie Maroney, a former Australian marathon swimmer, swam from Cuba to Florida in 1997 when she was just 22, but she used a shark cage. Veteran US endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 62, has tried, and failed, to complete the trek three times, twice without a shark cage.

Last year, Palfrey — who began swimming at age nine — swam from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman Island, again without a cage.

- © AFP, 2012

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