DNOWS Header

Image Map

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Heroic Effort Stopped By Portuguese Man o War Venom

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

After a remarkable solo attempt by modern-day adventurer Penny Palfrey, the 72-mile Kaieiewaho Channel remains one of marathon swimming's most difficult feats. Penny was done in by a wall of Portuguese Man-o-War just before dusk on Saturday night, Hawaii time. Just after the 11-hour mark, Penny slammed into a wall of Portuguese Man-o-War that seared her every limb. "It was painful to watch," said Forrest Nelson who was on her escort boat. "She has scars on every limb."

"After she hit the Portuguese Man-o-War, she was in a great deal of pain, but she continued on for another hour. She did not want to stop. At the 8:10 pm mark [12 hours and 2 minutes after her start], it was just too much. She didn't want to stop, but there was no way she could finish. She was flying the whole way, swimming a shade over 60 km in 12 hours in 4-foot seas in 12-15 knot [wind] conditions."

Portuguese Man-o-War, the bane of all warm-water marathon swims, are nearly impossible to see in the ocean while swimming. Their sting feels like a branding iron is deeply pressed into your skin. The sharp, severe, continuous piping hot sensation is nearly impossible to erase from your mind and leaves long red welts on the skin that can last for days.

The Portuguese Man-o-War has stinging venom-filled nematocysts in its tentacles that can paralyze small fish and other prey. The venom travels to the lymph nodes that can lead to even more pain. Even upon death (when it washes on shore), the The Portuguese Man-o-War can sting just as painfully as the live creature in the water.

"Penny was on pace to complete the for under 30 hours. In the 12-15 knots, 4-foot swells, we were getting bounced around a lot. Penny was putting in a lot of effort just to put in a progress, not to go fast, just to move forward."

"The wind was always running perfectly perpendicular to our course, so she was always swimming in a trough. Feeding was tough in the swells," recalled Nelson as Captain Don Jones was working hard to keep the escort boat close to Penny. Jeff Kozlovich and Bill Goding were alternating paddling next to her.

With every limb covered in painful scars, the encounter with the Portuguese Man-o-War smack started a downward spiral that ended up being impossible to recover. But for over an hour, Penny forged on despite the pain. "It was like I went through a web of a very large jellyfish." Penny grit her teeth and continued to swim through to her next feeding. She knew that she may have to face these kinds of obstacles. But pain was too much and she was finally pulled from the water.

The 'web' was most likely a large smack (i.e., group) of Portuguese Man-o-War. As the sun was setting, it would have been impossible for Penny to see and avoid the small, light-blue colored creatures in the deep blue ocean.

"She was doing well. Very well. We estimated that she could have finished under 30 hours at the pace she was going. We were running a bit north of the rhumb line due to the winds. The plan was to take this until she got closer to Kauai. Then, depending on the currents near the island at that time, she would have had plenty of different opportunities for the final push."

But Penny never got that opportunity.

However, the 47-year-old grandmother and one of marathon swimming truly bold adventurers, took it upon herself to challenge the monstrous 72-mile (115 km) Kaieiewaho Channel. In fact, everyone on that tiny boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, braving wind, waves and the elements, is an adventurer with a heart of gold: Captain Don Jones, Jeff Kozlovich, Forrest Nelson and Bill Goding.

After being pulled from the water, it took her crew another 3 hours to reach Kauai in Captain Don's boat. Despite Penny's scars and pain, she was smiling and joking with her equally courageous crew, knowing that she had given it her all. To cross the Kaieiewaho Channel, Penny was looking at a 30-hour period where everything came together: the winds, currents, marine life and waves in order for her to conquer the 72-mile distance. She was able to manage most of those, but was done in by a very small creature.

But famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden defines success as a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

Penny certainly proved herself in the Kaieiewaho Channel and, in our opinion, is the very epitome of a successful marathon swimmer.

Copyright © 2010 by World Open Water Swimming Association

A Thank You Gift from WOWSA

WOWSA is celebrating the
1-Year Anniversary of the monthly Open Water Swimming Magazine
by giving you a free copy of the anniversary issue.

Open Water Swimming Magazine Anniversary Issue
File Size: 13MB


Download the file to your computer, and then right-click to extract the magazine which is inside the zip folder. The magazine is in PDF format.

CLICK HERE to download your free copy now.

Open Water Swimming Magazine

Open Water Swimming Magazine

The Open Water Swimming Magazine is the monthly magazine entirely focused on open water swimming heroes and heroines of every age, ability, and background. Published by the World Open Water Swimming Association, the Open Water Swimming Magazine is a free benefit to WOWSA members.

WOWSA Member Benefits include 12 issues of the Open Water Swimming Magazine, the annual 276-page Open Water Swimming Almanac, a free listing in Sponsor My Swim, outstanding product discounts from FINIS, an entry in Openwaterpedia and more...

The Other Shore

The Other Shore follows world record holder and legendary swimmer Diana Nyad as she comes out of a thirty-year retirement to re-attempt an elusive dream: swimming 103 miles non-stop from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage. Her past and present collide in her obsession with a feat that nobody has ever accomplished. At the edge of The Devil’s Triangle, tropical storms, sharks, venomous jellyfish, and one of the strongest ocean currents in the world, all prove to be life-threatening realities. Timothy Wheeler’s documentary brings Diana Nyad’s extraordinary adventure to life as Diana sets out to prove that will and determination are all you need to make the unimaginable possible.

2014 Open Water Swimming Almanac

An Almanac for Open Water Swimming

An almanac is essentially a body of knowledge which is so complete that it enables people in different fields to make predictions about the future of their respective industries.

This, for example, was the purpose of the traditional farmers almanacs. It enabled farmers to determine as accurately as possible which crops to plant for the greatest harvests in a given year.

But the farmers almanac was just one example among many.
There are, of course, many different kinds of almanacs.

In fact, there is even one for open water swimming...

Preview the Open Water Swimming Almanac:

The trends are very clear.
The tide is rising for open water swimming.


Open Water Swimming Event Sanctioning

World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation

Open Water Race Calendar

Coaches Education Program