Pat Gallant-Charette, a 65-year-old grandmother from Westbrook, has become the oldest woman to swim across the North Channel from Northern Ireland to Scotland.

She is only the 41st person to complete the 21-mile swim, according to records compiled by the Irish Long Distance Swim Association.

Gallant-Charette took up open-water distance swimming in her early 40s, competing first in the 2.4-mile Peaks to Portland race in 1997. Since then, she has conquered the English Channel, Catalina Channel, Strait of Gibraltar and Tsugaru Channel in Japan. Those marathon swims, along with her accomplishment Wednesday, are part of her quest to complete the Oceans Seven Challenge, which involves crossing a channel from each of the seven continents.

On Wednesday, while battling nausea, jellyfish stings and water temperatures that averaged 55 degrees, she made the North Channel crossing in 14 hours, 22 minutes.

“It’s generally considered the most difficult swim in the world,” Gallant-Charette said by phone Thursday afternoon from Donaghadee, Northern Ireland. “Water temperatures are almost 10 degrees colder than the English Channel, and they won’t even look at you (for a crossing attempt) unless you’ve had a successful English Channel swim.”

MEDICATION CONTROLLED NAUSEA

Wednesday was her third attempt at the North Channel, where official crossing rules prohibit the use of wetsuits. Two years ago, she swam within half a mile of the Scottish shore before the tide turned and pulled her back out to sea. Last year, during her assigned two-week window, high winds prevented her from beginning the swim.

“So I was bound and determined to get this,” she said. “It was an exciting finish because there’s a small lighthouse (in Portpatrick, Scotland) and if you go past that, the swim is (impossible to finish). I made it just before the start of the increased tides.”

A month earlier, Gallant-Charette failed in her attempt to set a record as the oldest woman to swim the English Channel. More than 10 hours into the effort, she aborted the swim in large part because of nausea. On Wednesday, she wore a patch behind her ear with prescription medication.

“Instead of vomiting 400 times like I did in the English Channel,” she said, “I got sick maybe 10 times.”

When conditions are calm in the Irish Sea – as they were Wednesday – large Lion’s Mane jellyfish are everywhere. Gallant-Charette said her first encounter came in the first minute of her pre-dawn departure from Donaghadee and continued until she reached Portpatrick at dusk.

“There’s so many, you just plow right through them,” she said. “I got stung over every inch of my body.”

About halfway through the day, a jellyfish attached itself to her goggles. She could clearly see the dome, which she compared in size to a dinner plate. Shaking her head failed to dislodge the creature, so Gallant-Charette brushed away the brown tentacles, grabbed the dome and yanked it off her face.

“Last year there was a swimmer in the hospital for three days because of toxic effects from the stings,” she said.

She said one of two men who attempted the crossing Thursday gave up because of jellyfish stings. Gallant-Charette took some Benadryl during her swim because her lips began to swell.

Pat Gallant-Charette holds an American flag on the shore of Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, Thursday to celebrate her crossing of the North Channel of the Irish Sea the previous day. She left from Donaghadee and swam to Scotland. Photo by Tom Charette

Pat Gallant-Charette holds an American flag on the shore of Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, Thursday to celebrate her crossing of the North Channel of the Irish Sea the previous day. She left from Donaghadee and swam to Scotland. Photo by Tom Charette

“It does sting, but I can usually tolerate a lot of discomfort,” she said. “It was interesting to see the bottom part of that dome, just to see the tentacles coming out and knowing they were all over my face.”

Several gulls also followed her progress, with one paddling behind her for nearly five hours. She took nourishment every hour in the form of instant cream of wheat (maple flavor) mixed with warm water and a nutritional powder rich in complex carbohydrates.

Because of strong currents, she wound up swimming 26 miles – a distance second only to her 33-mile swim in Japan. As for the chilly temperatures, training off Pine Point in Scarborough beginning in early May gets her acclimated.

‘SHE’S AN ABSOLUTE INSPIRATION’

Gallant-Charette, who retired from her job as a nurse last November, started the Oceans Seven Challenge about three years ago. Each attempt is expensive – “This one probably cost me about $11,000,” she said – so she can afford only one or two per year. After aborting her English Channel crossing last month, she started a Facebook group for open-water swimmers called Disappointed but not Defeated.

“She’s a perfect witness to never giving up,” said Annie Smith, 25, of Freeport, a training partner who made it halfway across the English Channel in July. “She’s an absolute inspiration.”

The two remaining crossings in her Oceans Seven Challenge are the Cook Strait in New Zealand and the Molokai Channel in Hawaii. She’s already been to New Zealand twice, the first time waiting two weeks in vain for high winds to subside, and the second swimming for 10 hours – including three in an eddy while making no progress – before being pulled out of the water.

On Thursday, she sent an email to the organizers of the New Zealand crossing. She plans to save Molokai for last, perhaps next October.

“They have sharks,” she said.