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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cuba To Florida. It's Possible. Is It Probable?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Tony Austin, one of the swimming community's most prolific and knowledgeable bloggers, described Chloe McCardel's upcoming 103-mile marathon swim across the Florida Strait from Cuba to Florida as "possible and I suspect she is capable physically and mentally to do it. Comparing this swim to the first Mt Everest climb by Sir Edmond Hillary would not be hyperbole."

A survey of other publications, including fans at the Marathon Swimmers Forum, hints at the excitement of McCardel's swim. As others have pointed out, McCardel has many assets and advantages in her corner:

1. She has youth, but not too much. At the age of 27, she is at the crossroads of her career where she has the wisdom of several marathon swims under her cap and the vestiges of many years of intense aerobic conditioning and speedwork.

2. She has confidence, but not arrogance. After two unfulfilled attempts at a three-way crossing of the English Channel, she understands that Mother Nature ultimately has the upper hand and holds the highest respect for the ocean that she cannot control.

3. She has support, both micro and macro. Her husband Paul McQueeney and her close network of experts around her is fully behind her efforts as is the greater global marathon swimming community that is volunteering their time and energies to support her charity swim.

4. She has speed and stamina to fight against the unpredictable currents and eddies that she will undoubtedly run up against. The Gulf Stream can run extremely quickly for miles and miles wide, or it can wither to a near dull stillness depending on the time and day. If she gets lucky, the Gulf Stream will be mild. But even if it is not, she has the tenacity and experience to made headway across the Florida Strait.

5. Mariners are on her side and she is on their's. Not only will McCardel have the benefit of some of the finest navigators and mariners in the marathon swimming world assisting her, but she will also place her trust in them. This interdependence between athlete and pilots is essential to success.

We believe distance - even at 103 miles - is not an insurmountable problem for McCardel. At a comfortable average of 2 miles per hour, a crossing of 50-60 hours is entirely within her capabilities.

We believe turbulence and chop - even when compounded by eddies and cross-currents - is not an insurmountable problem for McCardel. With her background as an Australian swimmer with numerous channel crossings and literally thousands of hours spent training, a crossing in rough water conditions is entirely within her capabilities.

We believe sharks - even encounters with the most aggressive types of sharks - do not present an insurmountable problem for McCardel. With a flotilla of crew around her and Shark Shields surrounding her on her escort kayaks, safe encounters with curious sharks are possible and should not serve to deter her progress.

We believe water temperatures - even at night and on the second day - will be seen more as comfortable rather than problematic for McCardel. There will be no real probability of hypothermia or hyperthermia.

We believe the high salinity of the Caribbean Sea - even after a day or two in the water - will feel terrible on her lips, tongue, throat and mouth, but those physiological changes will not serve to deter her progress.

We believe her expert navigation - even if it is not perfect - will generally enable her to hit somewhere along the southeastern coast of Florida. Mariners on her team will adjust to the unpredictability of the currents and eddies, especially as she approaches the Florida coast, and it is only a matter of time when she arrives.

But we believe the preponderance of photo-phobic jellyfish, specifically the box jellyfish and various other types of stinging creatures, that come up from the depths as night falls presents McCardel's greatest obstacle to success. The searing of the human flesh when it is hit by the barbs of the box jellyfish nearly has no equivalent in the animal kingdom. As the tiny barbs hit, the swimmer feels a dramatic agony that is all encompassing and immediately debilitating. Every cell in the body is alerted to the pain that cripples the swimmer. Survival is the only thought as the venom reaches to the very soul of the swimmer.

Without protective swimwear of any type, McCardel is willingly exposing herself to the box jellyfish unlike recent swimmers like Penny Palfrey and Diana Nyad. If she is lucky and can avoid the box jellyfish, then she will live up to the expectations that she and others have placed upon herself. But if she runs into the box jellyfish, she literally will have to be superhuman to overcome what is described as the most venomous creature on Planet Earth.

Watch McCardel in June 2013 here.

FOOTNOTE: To find out what happened, McCardel's explanation of her swim at her post-swim press conference is here.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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