SCARBOROUGH — Several days each week, Pat Gallant-Charette is content to swim laps along Pine Point Beach, her arms churning slowly, purposely, pulling her forward like a paddle wheel.

The 61-year-old Westbrook grandmother was there again Friday morning, training for her fourth Oceans Seven swim, following successful solo crossings of the Strait of Gibraltar, the English Channel and the Catalina Channel in the last two years.

Later this week, if all goes as planned, Gallant-Charette will slip into the warm coastal waters of northern Japan and brave the treacherous tides and unpredictable swells of the Tsugaru Strait. She flies out Tuesday and hopes to complete the estimated 14-hour swim sometime between Sept. 7 and 14, depending on weather and water conditions.

“It’s a very difficult swim,” she said Friday. “It’s 12 miles with strong currents and strong headwinds, and only two people have made it this year.”

One of those people is Stephen Redmond, a 47-year-old Irishman who is the only person to complete the Oceans Seven challenge, which he did on July 14, crossing the Tsugaru Strait on his fourth try.

Oceans Seven is an open-water swimming challenge created by Steven Munatones, a marathon swimmer and coach who founded Open Water Source, a website (openwatersimming.com) that tracks open-water swimmers and races around the globe.

In addition to the Tsugaru Strait, which lies between Japan’s Honshu and Hokkaido islands, Oceans Seven includes the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain-Morocco), English Channel (England-France), Catalina Channel (California), Cook Strait (New Zealand), Irish Channel (Ireland-Scotland) and Molokai Channel (Hawaii).

Gallant-Charette has set records as the third-fastest woman to swim the Strait of Gibraltar, in 3 hours, 38 minutes (2010); the oldest American woman to swim the England Channel (2011); and the oldest woman to swim the Catalina Channel (2011).

If Gallant-Charette succeeds in crossing the Tsugaru Strait, she will be only the 11th person known to do it and she’ll set a record as the oldest person to complete the swim.

Gallant-Charette started open-water swimming 15 years ago, at age 46, after her brother Robbie died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 34.

About a month later, her son, Tom, announced that he would swim the annual Peaks to Portland race in memory of his uncle, who had been a star swimmer at Westbrook High School. She decided to join him in the 2.4-mile challenge and fell in love with open-water swimming.

As her commitment to the sport has grown, Gallant-Charette has remained dedicated to other areas of her life, including two full-time jobs. She’s a registered nurse who works with dementia patients at the Barron Center in Portland and she cares for her three grandchildren about 40 hours a week.

She trains year round, 10 to 20 hours each week, at the YMCA in Freeport in the winter and at Pine Point Beach in spring through fall.

With each Oceans Seven swim, Gallant-Charette has gained experience that she hopes will help her in the Tsugaru Strait, which may be her toughest so far.

It’s certainly her most expensive swim, costing more than $11,000 for boat rental, government permits, airfare, accommodations, car rental and food. If she doesn’t complete the swim this time, she doubts she’ll make a second attempt because she and her husband, Jim, who operates an import business, finance her efforts.

Her husband won’t be joining her on this trip. She’ll be accompanied by friends and crew members Pat Whitney of Freeport and Yoko Aoshima of Falmouth. Aoshima is visiting her parents in Japan before Gallant-Charette’s arrival and she’ll act as interpreter and tour guide throughout their stay.

During the swim, Whitney and Aoshima will be in the boat, riding alongside Gallant-Charette, holding up signs with encouraging words, such as “Pull Harder” and “Go, Go, Go.” Some signs will feature names of people who inspire her, such as Sherri Kelley, a neighbor who’s battling cancer.

Gallant-Charette also will have the names of her late brothers, Robbie and Johnny, written in indelible black marker on either of her upper arms. Robbie is the reason she promotes Swim for Your Heart Feb. 14 events to support heart research and awareness. Johnny died at age 17, when he was electrocuted during a physics lab experiment at Westbrook High School.

During the swim, Gallant-Charette will stop every half hour or so to chug high-carb or cool drinks, or slurp canned peaches in heavy syrup. She knows from experience that the sweet, slippery fruit will ease the pain of salt blisters that form in her mouth after a few hours of swimming in sea water.

There’s also a chance she’ll encounter some of the giant squid, sharks and deadly snakes that roam the Tsugaru Strait. Though her skin crawls at the thought of what swims beneath the surface, Gallant-Charette has learned to disregard her fears.

“I’ve been stung, I’ve been bitten, and I’ve been bumped, heaven knows by what,” she said. “I’ve learned to put my concerns about marine life on the back burner and focus on my stroke, my boat crew and the people who inspire me.”

Sometimes, marine life provides inspiration, such as when she swam the Catalina Channel between Santa Catalina Island and Los Angeles, Calif. A mile from the end of the 21-mile swim, about 100 dolphins gathered around her and escorted her to the finish.

“At first I was frightened,” she said. “I saw something swim under me and I let out a scream like I’d never heard before. Then I realized what was happening and I was overwhelmed. It was as if they wanted to make sure I set that record.”

After the Tsugaru Strait, Gallant-Charette plans to swim the Cook Strait in New Zealand and the Irish Channel, both in 2013. After that, she’ll set her sights on Molokai Channel in Hawaii, hopefully completing the Oceans Seven.

Then she’ll start chipping away at what she calls her “bucket list of swims,” including a two-way crossing of the English Channel, doubling the 21-mile distance.

“I’m going to keep going,” Gallant-Charette said. “My mom is 87 and she still swims three days a week, so I still have plenty of years ahead of me.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this story.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]


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