Monday, May 20, 2013
Jim Charette was in his daughter's driveway in Westbrook on Thursday when he heard.
Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer
"It gave me chills," said Charette, whose wife, Pat Gallant-Charette, 61, had just become the oldest person ever to swim the Tsugaru Strait in Japan.
In 19 hours and 36 minutes, Gallant-Charette swam 33 miles, starting from the island of Honshu and reaching the island of Hokkaido in the middle of the night Friday.
"We all did a happy dance in the driveway," said her daughter, Sarah Charette, who was with her father, aunt and children when she got an email saying her mother had finished the swim.
Gallant-Charette, a Westbrook resident, is on a quest to complete the Oceans Seven Challenge, seven long-distance, open-water swims around the globe.
She's got four down and three to go.
In the last two years, she has crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, the English Channel, the Catalina Channel off California, and now the Tsugaru Strait.
She considered the Tsugaru Strait "the most difficult swim challenge of my career," she wrote in an email to her daughter earlier this week.
It took Stephen Redmond, a 47-year-old Irishman, four tries to cross it, which he did in July to become the first person to complete the Oceans Seven Challenge.
Gallant-Charette made it on her second attempt.
After she arrived in Japan last week, officials monitoring her swim first determined that the weather conditions were suitable for an attempt on Monday afternoon. At 4:05 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time -- 5:05 a.m. Tuesday in Japan -- she got in the water near the island of Hokkaido.
Strong currents kept Gallant-Charette swimming in a circle for more than three hours, and officials gave her an opportunity to get out of the water and restart another day. She took the offer.
Attempting the crossing around the same time was Anna-Carin Nordin of Sweden, who aspires to be the first woman to complete the Oceans Seven, Gallant-Charette wrote in a post on her blog.
Nordin, whom she called a "new friend," got out of the water after seven hours.
Both women had been stung by jellyfish more than 50 times, Gallant-Charette wrote.
"Hopefully the next start will be at a different location," she wrote.
Gallant-Charette got back in the water off the island of Honshu, headed for Hokkaido, at 4:11 p.m. EDT Wednesday. Nordin started her second swim around the same time; Charette didn't know her results Thursday.
The sky was blue and the water was calm, wrote Gallant-Charette's friend and boat crew member, Yoko Aoshima of Falmouth, to Sarah Charette in Westbrook.
Charette expected just a couple of emails from Aoshima during the swim, but they kept coming throughout the night.
She set an alarm to go off every hour to get updated weather and water conditions, her mother's progress and her speed.
Around 9 a.m. EDT, Gallant-Charette had less than four miles to go and was swimming at less than 1 mph.
A couple of hours went by without a blog post, and Gallant-Charette's fellow nurses at the Barron Center in Portland were starting to wonder whether she was at a standstill.
Her daughter was still checking her email every couple of minutes. The final update came around noon.
"I screamed, 'She did it!' " Sarah Charette said.
Gallant-Charette's boss at the Barron Center, Ann Marie Guevin, got a call at the front desk in the Alzheimer's unit.
"Pat did it. It was unimaginable," she said.
Next up is the Cook Strait in New Zealand in April, followed by the Irish Channel in September 2013 and the Molokai Channel in Hawaii after that.
But first, she has to take care of her 112 jellyfish stings and a broken rib she suffered as she climbed into the escort boat, she wrote in an email less than six hours after her swim -- about 6:30 a.m. Friday in Japan.
"Today is a rest day," she said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: