Hundreds of well-wishers crowded the beach outside Morritt’s resort in East End Sunday night to greet Penny Palfrey as she walked ashore after more than 40 gruelling hours in the sea on her record-setting swim from Little Cayman.
Mrs. Palfrey, 48, broke a world record with her time of 40 hours, 41 minutes across 67.25 miles of open water between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman.
She beat the existing record for the longest solo unassisted ocean swim by four miles.
“This is one for the ages,” said Frank Flowers, the organiser of the Australian/British swimmer’s effort.
After almost two days at sea, her body supported by the water, it was anticipated that Mrs. Palfrey would only have the strength to crawl onto the sand, but she stood up, her arms in the air in victory.
Her face was swollen, puffy and nearly unrecognisable from so many hours in the salt water by the time she reached land at 10.07pm. She had set out from Little Cayman at 5.27am Saturday.
She was quickly put on a stretcher and taken to the Cayman Islands Hospital to be kept under observation overnight and was likely to have been put on an intravenous drip to replace fluids and salt lost during the epic swim.
But by Monday morning she was doing fine.
“She should be released today and will be at happy hour at the hotel this afternoon,” said Steven Munatones, who also helped organise the swim.
During the swim, four sharks were spotted at different times near Mrs. Palfrey.
Twice, as her support team on the Carib Princess tender boat watched, the sharks came within a few feet of Mrs. Palfrey. Local fisherman Charles Ebanks, who was among the support crew on a small inflatable power boat, used dead fish to draw the sharks away from Mrs. Palfrey, then snagged the sharks using a hook and line attached to rubber matting.
Using a machete, he killed the Oceanic white tips in the water. Mr. Ebanks told the crew the sharks were aggressive and would have continued to threaten Mrs. Palfrey.
He said he had also dealt similarly with another shark early Sunday that had been in the waters near her.
The fourth shark spotted near the swimmer had disappeared by the time Mr. Ebanks reached Mrs. Palfrey on his boat.
The sharks were six to eight feet long. One came within about four feet of a kayak manned by Richard Clifford, who was a few feet away from Palfrey, escorting her through the water.
One Rib, or small inflatable, that stayed close to the swimmer throughout had a shark shield attached to it which is supposed to repel sharks with electrical pulses.
The killing of the sharks has caused controversy with members of conservation groups asking why it was necessary.
Although she had slowed down considerably from her starting speed of 88 strokes per minute as the swim went on, Mrs. Palfrey made good headway on her final mile. Members of her support team had been dropped on shore a little earlier so they could be there when she touched land.
Mr. Clifford and Mr. Munatones swam out to greet her.
On shore, among the large cheering crowd, were the Flowers family, sports minister Mark Scotland and MLA Cline Glidden.
“She looked like she’d aged 20 years. That’s a combination of the sunscreen she’d put on her body and the natural absorption of salt water. She didn’t look that well. Her tongue was swollen up, her lips were chapped but she was able to walk on shore and acknowledge her friends…,” said Mr. Munatones a few minutes after she was taken by ambulance from East End.
“When the [medics] asked her to get on the gurney… she was able to do it by herself. Mentally, she is there and physically she’ll recover,” he said.
Mrs. Palfrey’s record beats the existing longest open water swim of 63 miles held by three swimmers who crossed the English Channel and back, said Mr. Munatones, who administers swim records for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.