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Australian swimmer Chloe McCardel poses in a swimming position in front of a painting of Ernest Hemingway inside a hotel at the Marina Hemingway after an interview in Havana, Cuba, Monday, June 10, 2013. McCardel, 29, is bidding to become the first person to make the Straits of Florida crossing without the protection of a shark cage. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Australian swimmer sets off from Cuba for Florida
Swim » Swimmer heads into the night, braving sharks, stingrays and strong currents.
First Published Jun 12 2013 09:35 am • Last Updated Jun 14 2013 04:58 pm

Havana • Australian endurance athlete Chloe McCardel stroked through the open waters north of Cuba on Wednesday, determined to become the first person to swim the Straits of Florida nonstop without a protective shark cage.

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The 28-year-old from Melbourne had covered about 12 miles (19 kilometers) by late afternoon, her team reported via social media. A boat that set out with her from Havana’s Hemingway Marina was joined by a second support vessel that had sailed from Florida.

In the morning, a smiling, upbeat McCardel arrived in a pink 1950s Chevy convertible at a rocky jetty in western Havana. She carefully adjusted her black swim cap and goggles while her husband applied grease around the edges of her suit to prevent chafing.

"As confident as I can be. I think it’s all going to work out well," she said of her chances. "It’ll be tough, though. It’s not going to be an easy ride, but we’ll get through it as a team."

McCardel then jumped feet first into the water at 10 a.m. sharp.

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Based on the afternoon update, she was averaging about 2 mph (3 kph) as she headed into her first night, a pace that would get her to Florida quicker than anticipated if she kept up that pace.

McCardel had said she expected to take about 60 hours to arrive in the Florida Keys, a little more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the northeast of Havana, braving sharks and jellyfish along the way.

The weather report for that time period called for clear skies. The sea off Havana was flat and glassy Wednesday, precisely the ideal conditions that McCardel’s science team had forecast.

The strait has been busy the last three summers, with fellow marathon swimmers Diana Nyad and Penny Palfrey making four failed attempts at the crossing between them since 2011.

Australian Susie Maroney successfully made the swim in 1997, although she did it with the benefit of a shark cage.

"It is the hardest swim in the world today," McCardel said Tuesday at a news conference in the Cuban capital. "No one has been able to achieve this. It’s possibly harder than winning the World Cup or getting a gold medal."

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