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Portuguese man-of-war again thwart channel swim

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Australian long-distance swimmer Penny Palfrey began an attempt yesterday to swim the 72-mile crossing from Kaena Point on Oahu to Kauai.

Painful Portuguese-man-of-war were again the downfall of Australian long-distance swimmer Penny Palfrey who called off her second attempt to become the first person to cross the 72-mile channel between Oahu and Kauai last night.

Palfrey had been in the water for 7 hours and 39 minutes when she called off the effort after swimming 16 miles from Kaena Point. She had hoped to complete the Kaiele Waho Channel swim in 30 to 40 hours. Her escort boat took her out of the water and she spent the night on Kauai and was to hold a Waikiki news conference later today.

On Openwatersource.com, Palfrey wrote: “I’m so sorry. I felt so bad for being so determined to do it with everyone who has helped me. But the jellyfish hurt. In the end, I didn’t know when there was a new one (that was going to sting me again).”  

In April, Palfrey ended her first attempt at the Oahu-to-Kauai channel crossing after 12 hours because of Portuguese man-of-war stings.

Last night she wrote: “I got hit over and over again, but I was right on the same pace as before. I thought I might have been going a little slower than before, but I was at 16 miles around the 7 hour mark. The jellyfish were hanging off of my arms on both sides. I had them on my hands too as I was trying to get them off. But I couldn’t get them off, their tentacles were wrapped around my arms. They were all over the place. Then I got hit right in the face and that really hurt. But the one which stung me on my ear is what is really hurting now.”

A spokeswoman for Palfrey clarified that it was Portugese man-of-war, which are a related species but are not jellyfish, that caused the stings.

Palfrey began her swim at 11 a.m. yesterday. She said she swam through 3-5 foot swells in the last major channel in the Hawaiian Islands to be uncrossed. The temperature in the water was 78 degrees.

“The jellyfish are preventing me from finishing – or perhaps they are protecting me from the cookie-cutter sharks that want to take a bite out of me,” Palfrey added.

She used two Shark Shields — which create a low yield electrical field around the swimmer, but has no long term effect on fishes — as protection. 

Her escort boat had been lined with glow sticks for a long night of swimming. Two kayaks also escorted her during the swim.

In the end, Palfrey wrote: “I can prepare for distance, tides and other things under my control. But there are things you cannot prepare for, like jellyfish. During the previous attempt when I got hit by one jellyfish, I thought it was a one-off, especially since others have swum in the other channels and not been hit. Even in my Maui-to-Lanai and Hawaii-to-Maui swims, I hit ocean swells and currents, but I didn’t hit jellyfish. I think I can do the distance, currents and swells, but the jellyfish were still there.”


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