Attack Of The Jellyfish (The Sequel)

Penny Palfrey on Hanalei Pier after her April attempt -- note red sting marks

After being turned back again by swarms of Portuguese Man-o-War, Penny Palfrey says her dream of swimming to Kaua’i is not dead

Australian long-distance swimmer Penny Palfrey gave the Kaieiewaho Channel between Oahu and Kaua’i – her second shot this year – attempting to swim the 72-mile channel that turned back King Kamehameha’s mighty warriors. But just as in April, when she was stung brutally by hordes of Portuguese Man-o-War, she once again encountered her nemesis.

Angry red marks on her face, back, chest and arms told the tale of the stinging beasts when, about 17 miles and eight hours into the swim, her crew pulled her out for her safety. She estimated the entire swim might take just under 30 hours.

“I can’t believe it,” says Palfrey, a 47-year old wife, mother of three and a grandmother who hails from Queensland,Australia. “I’ve never met with them in any of my other crossings, and I’ve done two in Hawaii – the Alenuihaha from the Big Island to Maui (43 miles) and the Au’au Channel from Maui to Lanai (the reverse direction in which an annual event there is swam, 9.98 miles).

“I had hoped the encounter I had in April was a one-off and hoped to swim this Kaieiewaho Channel, but the pain was just excruciating, with stings in my face, arms and across my back.”

In April, Palfrey described the stings she experienced, saying, “It was like putting your fingers into a power outlet: bang and then stop. The hits I was getting were 240 volts.

“I felt like I was on a heart machine, it was flinging my limbs. I tried to speak and couldn’t talk – it’s a neurotoxin.”

Now, seven months later, she was experiencing it all over again.

This time, the first sting Palfrey felt was about an hour-and-a-half into the swim, and she says she was still recuperating when she got another. From then on she was stung about every hour-and-a-half, the time narrowing until she was getting stung stroke after stroke with no time for recovery.

“Sting after sting, I had tentacles hanging off my arms,” she says. “It was absolutely impossible.

“I know they’re in the waters and people occasionally get stung, and during the day, I could pick them off my arms and could see them, but in the dark, I couldn’t see them to pull them off. When I used my hands, I got stung, so I resorted to using a cloth from the escort kayak next to me.”

Long-distance swims require support. Capt. Don Jones of Captain Don’s Kauai Sport Fishing and Ocean Adventure, based on Kaua’i, provided the escort boat service for Palfrey.

Also on board were Steve Munatones, her swim adviser; Jeff Kozlovich, her personal trainer, and long-distance swimmer Bill Goding, who, with Kozlovich, took turns paddling the kayak next to her.

Palfrey is a nominee for this year’s World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year and for the 2010 World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year. When she left here in April, she headed to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where she was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

?It recognizes the top marathon swimmers of all time in the world, and fewer than 100 people in history have been inducted,” says Palfrey. “The first was an Englishman, Capt. Matthew Webb, who in 1875 was the first person to swim the English Channel without the use of artificial aids.

“I’m the only Queenslander to be inducted.”

Palfrey and husband Chris, also a distance swimmer, own a tax business and plan their swims for their post-tax season.

“We’re coming to Hawaii again in March, when Chris and I plan on swimming the Molokai channel, about 22 miles long,” she says.

In April, Chris swam the Molokai Channel as Penny was swimming to Kaua’i. He finished in 12 hours and 53 seconds, breaking an existing record for that crossing by 20 minutes.

In April, the Palfreys enjoyed a brief stay on the North Shore here; on this trip, they headed back to Oahu and Waikiki Parc Hotel, which hosted them prior to the swim and gave press advisories throughout the event.

“It’s unfortunate,” says Palfrey about not completing her attempt this time. “I still think I can swim that distance.

“If we can find out something about a different time of year, I’d like to – I’ve got to try to get around these Portuguese Man-of-Wars.”

Palfrey plans on continuing her extreme swimming adventures – minus the stinging beasties, preferably. “I’m really hoping to do a few more extreme channel challenges over the next 10 to 15 years,” she says. “I appreciate I can’t turn the clock back, but when I’ve had enough or don’t want to swim any more, I’ll be looking to swimming smaller, 10K swims in some beautiful places.

“It’s not all about winning – you meet nice people from all over the world.”

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