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Australian Begins Cuba-U.S.Swim, Braving Sharks

posted 12 Jun 2013, 09:34 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 Jun 2013, 09:35 ]
Aussie marathon swimmer Chloe McCardel sets off into the Florida Straits -the latest athlete to attempt an unassisted swim from Cuba to Florida.

HAVANA, CUBA (JUNE 12, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Under a bright tropical sun, Australian Chloe McCardel jumped into a calm, crystal clear sea on Wednesday (June 12) and began her quest to become the first person to make the 103-mile (166 km) swim from Cuba to the United States without a shark cage.

If all goes well, she hopes to swim through the Straits of Florida in about 60 hours and reach Key West on Friday (June 14) night.

McCardel will use a team of scientists in the United States to help guide her through the Gulf Stream, the powerful and unpredictable current that has stymied many previous attempts at the record swim.

Only one person, Australian Susie Maroney in 1997, has completed the Cuba-U.S. swim, but she used a shark cage, which helps cut through the water.

Twenty-eight-year-old McCardel and husband Paul McQueeney lathered her body with a whitish grease to protect against the sun and chafing.

The swimmer's past accomplishments include two double crossings of the English Channel.

McCardel dived into the straits to start the feat from a promontory at Havana's Hemingway Marina, the traditional starting point of Cuba-U.S. swims.

McCardel said she is making the swim to encourage donations for cancer research, which can be made on her website and to encourage better U.S.-Cuba relations, which have been sour since the Caribbean island's 1959 revolution.

In addition to the treacherous currents, she will face the dangers of sharks, stinging jelly fish and unpredictable weather as she heads north.

She'll be surrounded underwater by an electromagnetic field to ward off sharks.

Her swim has been timed with the season and moon phase to minimize the presence of the venomous box jelly fish which have plagued previous swimmers, particularly American Diana Nyad last August on her fourth failed attempt at the crossing.

Even though the forecast calls for calm seas and light winds, history has shown that conditions can change quickly in the straits, brewing up wave-churning squalls that wreak havoc with long swims.

The scientific team, part of a small army of 50 people assisting McCardel, is a new twist to the swim that is the Holy Grail of marathon swimming.

McCardel told reporters on Tuesday (June 11) that the scientists are all experts on the Gulf Stream, which changes constantly as it courses west to east through the straits, and will use real time data on its currents to create computer models forecasting what lies ahead.

Last summer, British-born Australian Penny Palfrey got tantalizingly close to the Florida Keys but couldn't finish when she swam into a Gulf Stream eddy that pushed her in the wrong direction.

This time, in theory, that can be avoided because the crew of McCardel's accompanying boat, the Sunluver, will be warned and can lead her around any such pitfalls.

Under marathon swimming rules, McCardel cannot touch the boat or hang on to anything while she makes the crossing.

She'll pause briefly every 30 minutes to gulp down a nutrient-fortified liquid meal from a bottle.

As the swim goes on, she'll have to battle through fatigue from the extreme physical exertion of her swim and a lack of sleep.