Penny Palfrey has set another world record!
To the best of our knowledge, she is the first foreign woman to accomplish a solo crossing of the Tsugaru strait. She is also the only person in the world who has completed six of the seven swims which comprise the Ocean's Seven. Unfortunately, however, Chris was withdrawn from the treacherously rough waters after 7hrs of swimming.
Both started with fairly smooth water, then Penny hit some chop on the way. At one point, Penny felt as tossed about as if she were in a washing machine, yelling at her crew, "Let me out of here!" Her crew members could hardly stand upright on their 4.9 ton boat, which was pitching from side to side. Chris's crew faced the additional challenge of debris getting caught in the engine of their boat.
Originally, the course was planned with Penny attempting a round-trip crossing between Hokkaido and Aomori, comprising a direct course of 37.8 miles, but expected to swim 54 miles due to currents. She started at Cape Shirakami, Hokkaido and finished at Odomari, Aomori, on the main island of Japan. Chris started at Sai, Aomori and was expected to finish at Toi, Hokkaido.
Historically throughout her career, Penny has rarely had the good fortune of smooth conditions. Event organizers were very concerned that there were 2 typhoons in Japan that week. Lead event organizer Mr. Haruyuki Ishii decided to go ahead a day before the typhoons hit the region. It was hardly perfect conditions though, with winds of 3-4m, the highest being an 8m Northeast wind. In September, Tsugaru's waters are at their warmest, at 24c-25c. Penny was swimming fairly smooth in the beginning, but it wasn't possible to find the famously strong current, the "Tsugaru Warm Current". This could possibly have been due to the typhoons and other unpredictable conditions. She struggled for nearly 4hrs at the middle of the channel. She was swimming almost as if on a treadmill working against her, moving only 700m in 1hr at some points. The course was changed a few times, trying to keep the round-trip crossing a possibility for her. By the time she was out of the unfavorable currents, it was too late to make round-trip crossing, so she decided to take the shortest and best current to finish a 1 way crossing.
Penny started at 4:08:30am, and finished her swim at 6:34:04pm. Her official time for the 1 way crossing is 14:26:26, which was twice as long as she had expected for the single crossing. Chris started 6:15am, and was withdrawn at 1:15pm.
The rough currents weren't the only perils during the crossing; Penny felt what her boat captain believed to be a school of squid, and Chris had jelly fish to contend with. Giant tuna were also spotted jumping near the swimmers. Fortunately, though, due to the change of course, Penny never encountered any tankers or ferries, which would have caused her to hold up while they passed. The experienced pilots were a tremendously great help navigating this hectic waterway.
Penny, Chris, and their crew used Hakodate, Hokkaido as their base. Hakodate is the 3rd largest city in Hokkaido. They also seemed to make quite a "splash" in Toi, a small suburb of the main fishing industry area.
Mr. Takahito Yoshida, who is the Chairman of the City Assembly of Hakodate, based in Toi welcomed the swimmers and was very supportive of their efforts. They received exposure on the national news, and many people recognized the swimmers while out and about, giving them warm messages of encouragement for their big swim. Penny and Chris quickly learned a few Japanese words and charmed the locals, including the Deputy Mayor of Hakodate. Hakodate Deputy Mayor Mr. Toshiki Kudo presented a special Tsugaru Crossing swim certification to Penny and threw a party celebrating their achievement. It was immensely helpful that event coordinator Mr. Ishii and his swimmer Ms. Miyuki Fujita had already built a strong network within the local community, including the Toi fishing industry, the local Coast Guard, and the ferry companies. "This world-class swim would not have been possible without the full cooperation and feedback in support of the swimmers by the community," said Mr. Ishii, who will be running the Tsugaru Strait Swimming Association to support even more swimmers in the future, including those in pursuit of the Ocean's Seven.
While Penny and Chris were very busy preparing for the swim, they were able to do some sightseeing in Tokyo afterwards, in addition to visiting tsunami-ravaged Ishinomaki City, which was particularly moving for them. It was their hope that the message of their coming to this beautiful region to swim might raise the morale of those in this area, which was among the hardest hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and also to draw attention to the incredible beauty of this area and the spirit of its people.
September 28, 2011
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