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Australian swimmer sets off from Cuba for Florida
Swim » Swimmer heads into the night, braving sharks, stingrays and strong currents.

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The challenge also outstrips by far, at least in terms of distance, anything she’s done before. McCardel, who has twice made a double crossing of the English Channel, said the most time she’s spent in the water continuously is 25 hours.

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She is swimming under English Channel Marathon rules, which means she cannot touch her support boat or hold on to anything. Nor can she wear a full-body wetsuit, which would help protect against exposure and jellyfish stings, or use a shark cage.

A piece of equipment called a Shark Shield creates an electromagnetic field around her in the water, discouraging the predators from getting too close.

McCardel plans to stop every half hour or so to sip an energy drink, preferring that to solid foods.

She and her team have spent the last nine and a half months planning the trip and studying others’ attempts to try to figure out why those athletes were unable to complete the swim.

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The team picked June for the attempt in a bit of a tradeoff: While seas are warmer later in the summer, this month typically sees lower concentrations of box jellyfish, whose dangerous stings have scuttled past attempts.

They even took the lunar cycle into account. Moonlight attracts jellyfish to the surface, and that should be less of a problem as she set off under a new moon.

McCardel said she believed she could succeed where others fell short because she assembled an unprecedented team that includes scientists on land who are experts on the Gulf Stream current that flows through the straits.

They will be crunching data in real time and feeding information to her support boat, a 44-foot catamaran dubbed the Sunluver, so the mission can dodge things such as the powerful eddies that have swept other swimmers off course.

"The advantage that this gives us is that we can foresee 10, 20, 30 kilometers ahead," McCardel said. "So if we can slightly change our course to avoid things in the future, we’re less likely to get picked up by an eddy off the Gulf Stream and pushed in the wrong direction."

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