SCARBOROUGH – Gray and drizzling, the weather at midday Wednesday was gloomy enough to keep almost everyone out of the choppy waters off Pine Point Beach.
Pat Gallant-Charette, however, would have welcomed worse conditions.
“The rougher, the better. That’s how I look at it,” said the 60-year-old distance swimmer.
Since April, Gallant-Charette has been swimming six days a week at Pine Point in preparation for her third attempt to cross the English Channel. She leaves for Dover, England, on Sunday.
A grandmother of two, Gallant-Charette lives in Westbrook with her husband, Jim Charette. If she successfully completes the English Channel swim this month, she’ll be the oldest American woman ever to do so. The current record-holder is 59 years old.
It’s 21 miles from Dover to the shore of France, but the swim is more like 30 miles because of the currents, Gallant-Charette said. A particularly strong current kept her from finishing the swim on her first attempt in 2008.
She made it within less than 2 miles of the French shoreline, but after four hours without further progress, her crew of family members riding in a boat alongside her pulled her onto the deck.
On her second try, in 2009, she never made it into the water.
Swimmers attempting to cross the channel are given a 10-day window during which officials monitor the weather and decide if it’s safe. Two years ago, Gallant-Charette’s allotted time started and ended before the weather cleared up.
Before she left England, she signed up for her third attempt. The window she got was for Aug. 18-28 of this year.
Although the English Channel slots were all booked for last year, Gallant-Charette didn’t take a break from swimming.
In June 2010, she recorded the fastest time for a woman over 50 years old to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, which she accomplished in 3 hours and 28 minutes. Unlike in the channel, the current in the strait helped her go faster, she said.
Regardless of what she comes up against in the channel this time, she said she’s not letting her crew pull her in. Gallant-Charette said Wednesday that the only way she won’t get across is if she’s not allowed to start.
“I am not getting out of the water until I’m climbing onto the beach of France,” she said.
She expects the swim will take her about 18 hours. She plans to walk onto the shore with her nephew, Christopher Gallant, by her side.
It was the death of his father, Robbie Gallant — Gallant-Charette’s brother — due to a heart attack 14 years ago that inspired her to start swimming at the age of 46.
Her son, Tom Charette, who was swimming for his high school team at the time, signed up for the Peaks-to-Portland swim to honor his Uncle Robbie. She told her son she wished she could do it, too.
“You could if you tried,” he said. So she did.
This year, Gallant-Charette similarly inspired another inexperienced swimmer. Yoko Aoshima, who moved to Falmouth from Japan three years ago, was learning to swim at the YMCA in Freeport when she watched in awe as Gallant-Charette lapped the pool over and over.
Aoshima asked her about her training, and the two women became friends.
Now, Aoshima, who swam in the Peaks-to-Portland race for the first time this summer, joins Gallant-Charette on just about every swim at Pine Point.
“If I did not meet her, I would never do it,” Aoshima said.
Gallant-Charette’s daughter, Sarah Midgley, accompanies her mother at Pine Point during the colder months, but not to swim. She brings her young children down to the beach just to make sure her mother doesn’t get hypothermia in the 40-degree water.
“She’s an inspiration,” said Midgley, who will be updating her mother’s blog and Facebook page while she’s in England.
Gallant-Charette, who grew up in Westbrook with seven siblings, has taken a different combination of family members with her to England for each attempt. This will be the first time her late brother’s son has been among the crew, and she thinks it might be a good omen.
“I’m hoping it was meant to be,” she said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: