Monday, March 14, 2011

Penny Palfrey Molokai to Oahu Swim

The Scupper Pro kayak on the way out to La'au Point 
Penny Palfrey swam the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu, in some rough conditions and on a day when everyone was asked to stay out of the water, in a record time of 11:40:33.  That's what the record books will say.
I got a first hand view of a few other details.
At a little after noon on Thursday the 10th of March, Penny, her husband Chris, Steve Munatones and I boarded the Go Airlines flight from Honolulu to Molokai.  I guess Go uses this flight to let the newer pilots earn their wings. When our pilot who looked like she was a teenager and was wearing braces asked if we had any questions, How old are you? and have you ever flown a plane before?  came to mind but we all stayed quiet and enjoyed the short flight right over the route that Penny would be taking the next morning.
On Molokai we had lunch at the health food store and picked up a few supplies before heading to the Molokai Hotel. Everyone had a relaxing afternoon and I was hopeful of an uneventful evening that would best let Penny prepare for the ordeal that was ahead. Dinner (where we met the boat captain Jim Dickson and his son Cody) was quiet and relaxing and all left relaxed and ready for an early sleep with a 3am alarm.
At 11:30pm, after only an hour and a half of sleep, there was a loud banging on the door and we learned that there was a earthquake off Japan and a possible tsunami headed toward Hawaii. Steve and I quickly packed and went off looking for Penny and Chris in their room. They were already packing and soon all of us were instructed to go to the Molokai High School Gym where we found . . .a gym. I didn't even try to sleep. Penny did try first on the bleachers then in the darker and quieter backseat of our compact rental car.
Penny's last chance for a nap on the boat ride
 to the start of her swim
The few times I had a conversation with her that morning she was just doing the math - it was two hours from that gym to her starting point of the swim. If they let us go at noon it would be a 2pm start. She was determined to go no matter what time.
This is a sign of a great athlete. Nothing was going to deter her. And this was a very unsettling time.
We tried several times to get to the harbor but the police turned us back it was only on the third try did we manage to get to the harbor. The other good news was the coffee shop that was frustratingly closed on our previous passes was open. We needed it.
Upon arriving at the Kaunakakai harbor we saw what all the commotion was about. Just as we drove up a serious surge was happening. It went far up the beach then, as it was receding, there were breaking waves headed out to sea. Still no other reaction from Penny other than "lets get going." After unloading, Chris drove the car back to the rental office and ran back the half mile to the harbor. We all got on the boat and headed for La'au Point.
That trip was uneventful, beautiful and quite calm and took about an hour and a half. We we turned the corner at the point and everything changed. The wind coming down the Kaiwi Channel was 20 to 25mph and there were whitecaps everywhere.  Finding a safe place for Penny to start was a challenge. Not only was the wind strong but a six foot Northwest swell was hitting that part of Molokai and the surf was big and dangerous. We eventually found a safe place for her to start and she was off and swimming at 10:54am.
She asked me to be on her right as she just finds it easier to see the paddler that way. I hated to start off that way but told her no. That was way too risky. The breaking wind waves could wash me right on to her. Her left was much safer and she understood.
I was in the kayak next to her for the next three hours. It was intense. Not good conditions for swimming but I was loving the drama of it all. Wild wind, whitecaps, deep blue water and breaching whales all around us and Penny with that fast and relentless cadence.
At the time I wasn't doing the math that everyone on the boat was doing but could tell, despite the conditions, she was fast. And she kept it up.
I was cold and was glad when Cody took a few hours on the kayak. As anyone knows who has spent hours on a small boat in rough seas going slowly, being on the boat is not exactly a break. I did manage an hour and forty five minutes without getting sick but when I went below to get out of the sun to send a text message - well that combination of being below deck and trying to read  . . . I was throwing up over the rail and was so glad to be back on the kayak in the wet and wind because I don't ever feel sick then.
Jim and Cody were taking turns at the helm and staying as close as was safe. Sometimes that seemed a bit far but I understood and both were exceptional at handling the boat.
And Penny kept swimming fast! Then it got dark. I was musing at this point how fit she must be to keep that pace up hour after hour in such rough conditions.
No Man-o-war this time.
The final challenge was the finish. As expected with a dropping tide the current moves to the north toward Makapu'u. We were being pulled too far north and the last mile or so Penny had to fight her way back south to Sandy Beach. There is only about a hundred yards of safe beach here and you have to go straight in or you'll end up on some nasty reef. The boat stopped about 500 yards offshore and I guided Penny in to right outside the surf. I was so happy and impressed. Laura Miller and  Beth were there with a dry towel and many words of congratulations. I paddled the kayak back to the boat, shook hands with Chris, Steve Jim and Cody and jumped off and swam ashore where I was able to give Penny a big hug before she and I went off to whatever adventure comes next.

Thank you for the inspiration, Penny. You are amazing. See you and Chris in the Caymans.

Penny Palfrey Molokai to Oahu swim in 11:40:33. (fastest time ever for that channel)

For more on this swim: The Daily News of Open Water Swimming and the Open Water Source

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Amazing! Congrats to all of you