Tricky currents end Penny Palfrey's Cuba-Florida swim

British-Australian swimmer Penny Palfrey adjusts her cap as she prepares for her attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, as her husband Chris stands by, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, June 29, 2012.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

(AP) KEY WEST, Fla. - A 49-year-old grandmother and veteran endurance swimmer scuttled her quest early Sunday to become the first woman to swim unaided from Cuba to the Florida Keys, unable to close the gap on the last 26 miles of a more than 100-mile ocean odyssey.

Penny Palfrey had fended off painful jellyfish stings while keeping an eye on hammerhead sharks as she attempted the crossing without a shark cage. But her support team said the tricky currents of the Florida Straits proved to be her biggest obstacle, thwarting her achingly close to her goal.

All told, the British-born Australian athlete had been swimming nearly 41 hours since plunging into balmy waters near Havana, Cuba, on Friday to start out. She was about three-quarters of the way into her swim when she gave up the effort about midnight, just 26 miles south of Florida's Key West.

Her crew tweeted few details early Sunday of the end of her quest but said: "Penny Palfrey had to be pulled out of the water ... due to a strong southeast current that made it impossible for her to continue her swim. Penny is presently on her escort boat being taken care of by her crew."

"She is fine," Andrea Woodburn, one of the team members, confirmed by telephone from Key West.

Wooburn said early Sunday that she had been in contact with the escort vessel during the night and it was unclear where it would head next. She had no immediate details on Palfrey's physical condition or the currents she had encountered.

The Straits are notorious for their fickle ocean currents, including the powerful Gulf Stream. But whether she encountered problems with the Gulf Stream or a side eddy of that current or some other were not immediately apparent.

At last report about 10 p.m. EDT Saturday (0200 GMT Sunday) — roughly 39 hours into the swim — Palfrey was 79 miles from her starting point at a marina in the Cuban capital, according to an online GPS tracking report. She was positioned about 28 miles south, southwest of Key West.

But two hours after the 10 p.m. Saturday report, it appeared based on GPS data that she had made difficult headway before scrapping her effort. GPS data released online suggested she had been averaging as much as 3 mph while swimming at her strongest Saturday, before her speed then slowed to 2 mph and less after sundown.

Earlier Saturday, however, Palfrey's crew reported she had been swimming steady and strong in calm, tepid ocean waters that were virtually ideal for the attempt at the record books. She also had reported no physical complaints other than the jellyfish stings more than halfway into the swim.