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Penny Palfrey’s World Record Open Water Marathon Swim 103 miles, that’s 166 kilometres from Cuba to Florida, USA, this coming June 2012! Support this amazing swim and follow Penny’s progress.

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Executive Summary

In June 2012, Penny Palfrey will be attempting a feat of epic proportions. She plans to swim from Havana, Cuba, across the Florida Straits to the State of Florida (USA), a distance of 103 Miles or 166 kilometres. If successful, Penny will break her own world record for the longest unassisted open water ocean swim. This swim will make news headlines around the world, especially in Australia and the USA, where Penny will complete her epic journey.

The Challenge

From Cuba to Florida, is 103 miles (166 km) of Open Ocean known as the Florida Straits. For most avid swimmers, conquering the Florida Straits is incomprehensible. The likelihood of spending the better part of three days AND nights in the ocean with sharks, jellyfish, the relentless tropical sun and the gulf stream currents make this swim no more than an impossibility for even seasoned marathon swimmers. According to the experts, Penny is probably the only swimmer in the world today who is capable of crossing this body of water.

Perhaps due to the close proximity of Cuba to United States, and perhaps due to the tension between the two countries for almost fifty years starting with the Cuban missile crisis, Americans are very interested in attempts to swim the Florida Straits.

There were two unsuccessful attempts in 2011 to swim the Florida Straits. Up to 1.3 million people followed these attempts on line. And all the major USA TV networks covered the stories. Penny was naturally interested in these recent attempts, following her record breaking swim in the Cayman Islands which is just south of Cuba.

The Athlete

Penny Palfrey – Marathon Swimmer Extraordinaire

Penny has a long history as an open water marathon swimmer, and she is considered the best in the world.
In the open ocean, she is fast, strong, and has extraordinary will power to overcome the elements and succeed in her quest.

This is why she was handpicked to attempt the “Bridging the Cayman Islands” swim in the western Caribbean. A joint initiative of local business and the Cayman Islands Government, it involved two swims. On June 6, 2011, she swam the 8 kilometres between Cayman Brac and Little Cayman Island in record time. Then on June 10, she swam 108.24 kilometres or 68 miles between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman Islands, in 40 hours and 41 minutes, breaking the world record for the longest unassisted open water ocean swim.

For the Cayman Islands overnment, the main purpose in supporting and sponsoring the ‘Bridging the Cayman Islands’, was to create international awareness of its crystal clear waters and its attractiveness as an idyllic, active and healthy holiday destination.
The event was hailed as a huge success. The finish of Penny’s swim appeared on television networks, and in the print and online media around the world. And Penny, as a mother and grandmother, captivated the hearts and imagination of everyone in the Cayman Islands, particularly women and children. After the swim, Penny was invited to a sitting of the Cayman Islands parliament, and received a standing ovation from both houses, as she was nominated for an “Honorary Order of the Cayman Islands” for service to sport and promoting the Cayman Islands. She is the only non-Caymanian ever to be so nominated.

Penny has a swimming career spanning decades, and many other amazing achievements to her credit.

Born in Scarborough, England, in 1962, Penny represented England in the pool as a teenager. She migrated to Australia just before her 20th birthday, and scaled down her swimming to raise her three children. After her youngest was born Penny returned to the pool for a little fitness training, in between family duties. Realising she was still competitive, she increased her workouts to see what she was capable of. One thing lead to another, and in 1993, she was selected to swim for Australia in the 25 kilometre open water event, alongside Shelley Taylor-Smith and Melissa Cunningham (the 1991 and 1994 world champions respectively).

Again, Penny took a break from top level swimming as her children were getting older and required more of her time. Needless to say the children all learned to swim. During this time, Penny was able to do some masters swimming, and picked up numerous gold medals at international competitions and several masters world records.

Penny then returned to open water swimming in 2000, and over the next five years, collected a string of podium finishes in the 25 kilometre open water nationals and the 20k Rottnest Channel Swim (Australia’s biggest open water swimming event).

In 2006, as Penny’s children began leaving home, Penny turned her attention to international channel swims, where she really attracted the attention of the global open water swimming community.

Penny lives in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. She is recognized by her peers as the best open water ultra marathon swimmer in the world today, and one of the greatest marathon swimmers of all time.

Records, Honours and Recognitions

World Records

  • Little Cayman to Grand Cayman – 108.24 klm in 40 hrs 41 mins – world record unassisted open water ocean swim.
  • Santa Barbara Island to Pt Vincente, Los Angeles – 65 klm in 17 hrs 53 mins – first and only person to finish this swim. By comparison, a relay team of two swimmers took 33 hours to finish this swim. And a quality team of six swimmers took 18 hrs 44 mins to complete the same swim.
  • Alenuihaha Channel from Hawaii to Maui – 50+ klms in very rough conditions in 14 hrs 51 mins – she broke a 39 year old record by over 5 hours in completing this crossing.
  • Kaiwi (better known as Molokai) Channel from Molokai to Oahu – 42.4 klms. Penny has the two fastest times for this famous channel, 11 hrs 40 mins and 12 hrs 07 mins. And she is the only woman to swim the Molokai
    channel more than once.
  • San Miguel Island to Gaviota, California – 45 klm in 11 hrs 29 mins – First and only person to accomplish this crossing. Locals said this swim, in the cold and rough waters of that area, is unlikely to be repeated by anyone for years.
  • Strait of Gibraltar – one way crossing 15 klm in 3 hrs 3 mins and two way crossing 38 klm in 8 hrs 27 mins. Penny broke both women’s records in the one swim. She broke the two way crossing record, which had stood for 20 years by over 2 ½ hours.
  • Santa Rosa Island to Santa Cruz Island, California – 10.6 klms in 2 hrs 26 mins. First person to complete this swim, and record holder.
  • Cayman Brac to Little Cayman Island – 8 klm in 1 hr 53 mins. Course record.
  • Lake Taupo, New Zealand – anchor person of an all women’s six person relay team, which, together with a men’s team, did a triple crossing and broke the world record for the longest ever relay in fresh (open) water – 120.6 klm in 33 hrs 33 mins.
  • Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Florida – 37.6 klms in 7 hrs 51 mins – women’s course record holder.

Other Notable Achievements

  • Inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • English Channel – two crossings, resulting in seven awards from the Channel Swimming Association.
  • Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, New York City – 3 race finishes. Overall winner in 2007 and women’s winner in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
  • Cook Strait, between the north and south islands of New Zealand.
  • San Pedro Channel, between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles.
  • Tsugaru Channel, between Honshu and Hokkaido, Japan. – First non Japanese woman to complete this crossing.
  • Penny has swum five channels in the Hawaiian Islands group – more than any non Hawaiian.
  • Rottnest Channel Swim, Perth, Australia – nine race rossings, including overall winner on two occasions.
  • Magnetic Island to Townsville – record holder for most crossings, twenty.
  • Penny leads the race to complete the ‘Oceans Seven’, marathon swimming’s equivalent of mountain climbing’s “Seven Summits”. No one in the world has completed all seven channel crossings. Penny has done six, and is scheduled to tackle the final swim in August 2012. Swimmers from around the world are keen to complete the ‘Oceans Seven’ with a few swimmers having done four of the channel crossings. The first person to complete all seven will receive worldwid recognition.
  • Nominated three years in a row for the title of “World Open Water Swimmer of the year”. In 2011, she is on a short list of twelve women for the ‘Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year’ title. Penny’s Bridging the Cayman Islands Swim has also been nominated for the title of ‘Open Water Performance of the year’.

Team Penny Palfrey

We have a great and experienced team of people supporting Penny in her world record attempt. Highly experienced watermen from Australia, Hawaii and the USA mainland, who know Penny and have worked with her before. They maintain responsibility for her strategy, safety and protection, her regimented and critical feedings, and validation that she swims within the rules. Our team includes qualified and experienced medical personnel, expert kayakers, and divers who will keep any inquisitive sharks at bay without harming them.

We also have an excellent boat pilot and crew, with experience in escorting swimmers and kayakers in the Florida Straits.

Sponsors can back Penny knowing that not only is she the best and most experienced marathon swimmer in the world,  she will be supported by the best and most experienced open water marathon swim support team ever assembled.

Contact Information

For further information please contact;

Penny Palfrey   Chris Palfrey


Follow Penny Palfrey on twitter.

Follow Penny on facebook visit her ‘Penny Palfrey Athlete page’



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Open water swimming crossings and races in Australia and around the world. Stories and reports of our adventures in and out of the water.