MIAMI, (Reuters) – In calm seas, 61-year-old American swimmer Diana Nyad stroked north on Monday into the Florida Straits in her bid to set a new world record with a 103-mile (166 km) crossing from Cuba to Key West in Florida.
More than 12 hours earlier and cheered on by well-wishers, the veteran long distance swimmer had plunged into the sea at the Marina Hemingway on the western outskirts of the Cuban capital Havana as the sun set in a fiery glow.
At 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Monday, CNN reported she was some 13 miles (21 km) from the Cuban coast, still in the early stages of a grueling swim expected to last around 60 hours.
The live CNN report from one of the accompanying boats showed Nyad stroking methodically through calm waters, nearby a specially equipped kayak that projects an electrical field to drive off sharks.
In the early hours of yesterday, when she was swimming through the darkness, a message on her Twitter account read: “It’s dark, overcast, with a hazy moon overhead”.
She will be stopping each hour to take liquids and high-energy food, treading water. Rules for the record ocean swim attempt forbid her to touch any accompanying boat.
Nyad, who was raised in south Florida and turns 62 later this month, tried the crossing from Cuba in 1978 when she was 28, but failed in the face of winds and heavy waves.
The same swim was completed successfully in May 1997 by Australian Susan Maroney, who was 22 at the time.
But Nyad’s claim to a world record will be that unlike Maroney, she is doing it without a shark cage in the straits’ warm, shark-infested waters.
Weather forecasters have predicted doldrums-like conditions until Thursday in the waters that separate the United States and Cuba, giving her a good window to complete the swim.
‘IN MY HEART AND IN MY BODY’
Nyad, who has the muscled body and broad shoulders of a marathon swimmer although she retired from swimming and took up sports journalism more than 30 years ago, says she is trying the swim to help people her age and older realize they still can do many things.
“A couple of years ago turning 60 I didn’t want to feel old yet. I started thinking what if I went back, what if I went back to the elusive dream of Cuba,” she said on Sunday before she started her swim.
“I started training and found it was in my heart and in my body … I want to be there to say we have many, many years of vitality and strength and service left in us.” She also wants her effort to help improve U.S. contacts with communist-ruled Cuba. Many Cuban rafters have died in the straits trying to escape to the United States.
In her heyday, Nyad set several world records, including swimming around Manhattan in 1975 in less than eight hours and a 102.5 mile (165 km) swim from Bimini to Florida in 1979.
None of those swims approached this one in length of time, and her longest training swim for the Florida Straits crossing was 24 hours.
She has five boats and two kayaks alongside her, which will keep her on course as she crosses the difficult Gulf Stream current, and provide her food and water at regular intervals.