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Australian woman will attempt world-record swim from Cuba to Florida

June 5, 2013
Chloe McCardel will attempt to set a world record by swimming from Cuba to the U.S. this month. (Photo: Chloe McCardel)

Chloe McCardel will attempt to set a world record by swimming from Cuba to the U.S. this month.
(Photo: Chloe McCardel)

By this time next week, Chloe McCardel could be on her way to a world record.

The Australian long-distance swimmer will attempt to be the first person to successfully swim from Cuba to the United States, setting a new mark for the longest solo unassisted ocean swim in the process. Depending on the weather forecast, McCardel has a window between June 10-19 to embark from Havana on the 170 kilometer (105 mile) journey across the Florida Straits to Key West.

“I’m swimming in what’s called the English Channel Rules, established in international marathons,” McCardel, 27, told USA TODAY Sports.  ”I won’t be touching the boat. I won’t be touching anyone else, no one’s allowed to touch me. I can’t have any flotation devices and anything that would help me move forward.”

The current record is held by fellow Australian Penny Paltrey, who swam 67 miles (108 kilometers) between Grand Cayman Island and Little Cayman in 2011. The Cuba to Florida swim was attempted four separate times by Diana Nyad, whose most recent attempt last August ended after she was pulled from the water after suffering jellyfish stings and being veered off course by inclement weather.

McCardel’s team has studied Nyad’s previous attempts in hopes of avoiding some of the hazards she faced along her way.

““Because it’s comparatively early in the summer, we believe that we’ve got less chance of running into box jellyfish,” McCardel said. “They’ll be hanging around but we won’t be running into multitudes of them like Diana did in the past.”

McCardel completed a double crossing of the English Channel in 2010 but was unable to become the first Australian to complete a triple crossing (three nonstop swims) in two previous attempts. She estimates that if all goes well, the swim will take between 55-60 hours, an amazingly long time for a person to be in constant motion.

“You’re extremely exposed to the condition of the water,” McCardel said. “You can’t build a tent or rest up and have a nap. You can’t slow down or have a rest. While I’m feeding, I tread water. It’s quite tiring to be upright in the water treading water and having a feed.”

To ensure her safety, she’ll have a crew of 32 people on a nearby boat. In addition to the boat’s captain and crew, there will be shark divers, kayakers, feeders and physicians, along with meteorologists and oceanographers who specialize in the gulf stream and can chart the best course and timing based on weather and tide reports.

““In a way, we’re sitting back more than other [prior] swimmers have in areas that we don’t believe we are the most competent to make decisions,” McCardel said of the researchers.

One area where McCardel and her husband Paul McQueeney, a fellow Australian who she met when he was training for his own English Channel crossing years ago, haven’t been as passive is their own charity fundraising. While they have refinanced their home mortgage in Melbourne to raise the $150,000 necessary to fund the trip, they have  been using the trip to raise donations for cancer charities. McCardel’s mother is a cancer survivor and they are hoping that their journey will inspire followers to donate to various organizations in Australia and the United States. While several companies in Australia and one in the United States have assisted in defraying some of the voyage’s costs, McCardel admits that this is probably her lone shot at achieving this goal.

““We’re not doing this attempt again, this is definitely a one-off,” she said.

We’ll keep you posted on McCardel’s progress once she gets underway later this month.


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