FRANCE – A Westbrook woman swam across the English Channel this week, possibly setting a record for being the oldest American woman to accomplish the feat.

Pat Gallant-Charette, 60, made it to the shores of Northern France Monday afternoon, according to posts on her blog by her daughter, Sarah.

“OMG, she did it! she did it she did it she did it,” read a post at www.patgalant.blogspot.com/ which appeared on the site at 3:14 p.m. Eastern time Monday.

Her exact time and swimming distance is not yet recorded, but posts on the blog tracking her progress show she went in the water at 11:11 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, or 4:11 a.m. in England. Another post indicated she crossed the channel in just under 16 hours.

Gallant-Charette traveled from Shakespeare Beach, near Dover, England, to Cap Gris Nez, France, through an area of water known as the Strait of Dover. It is the narrowest part of the channel, about 21 miles, but according to Gallant-Charette and the Channel Swimming Association, a British group that organizes channel swims, strong currents force swimmers to take a longer route before arriving at the French coast. Many swimmers will travel a total distance of more than 30 miles before arriving in France, Gallant-Charette said.

Gallant-Charette posted a lengthy message to the blog Tuesday night, confirming her success and describing her experiences. She reflected on how she began swimming after her son, then 16, encouraged her to try after her brother, Robbie, died of a heart attack at age 34.

“I never imagined that 14 years later that I would successfully swim the English Channel at the age of 60,” she wrote.

Robbie’s son, Christopher, was among the family members who joined Gallant-Charette, watching from a spotter boat as she swam, and relaying news of her progress via text messages. Christopher, Gallant-Charette said, wrote Robbie’s name on her arm before she jumped in, and stood on the deck, watching and supporting, for the entire trip.

“Since I had 4 crew members (on the boat), I instructed them to rotate monitoring my swim every hour. So they could have a break,” she wrote. “Chris never took a break.”

This was Gallant-Charette’s third attempt at crossing the channel. The first was in 2008, when currents forced her back 1.7 miles from the French coast. The second attempt was canceled in 2009 due to weather conditions.

Throughout the day Monday, dozens of family members, friends and fans kept tabs on the drama through a series of blog posts by Gallant-Charette’s daughter. In Gallant-Charette’s post recapping the trip, she wrote that at one point, when she came within a mile of Cap Gris Nez, she thought she would be able to make the cross in under 12 hours, but then a change in the currents swept her back.

“I knew at that point my swim would be an additional four to six hours,” she said.

The seas were rough, with 4-foot waves coming at her from every direction, in an environment Gallant-Charette described as “like swimming in a washing machine.”

“I landed on the rock formation of Cape Grey Nez,” she wrote. “It is beyond words to explain the feeling of reaching France.”

Current data on records for crossing the channel were not available at press time, but the channel association has records on its website as recent as 2007.

According to those records, Gallant-Charette did not set any speed records, but the site lists a British woman, Linda Ashmore, as the oldest in the world to swim the channel. In 2007, when she crossed, her age was 60 years, 10 months and four days. Gallant-Charette’s precise age was not available, but if she is older, her trip may have set a world record.

No records were available listing the oldest American woman to cross the channel, but an article from United Press International on Gallant-Charette’s swim indicates she beat a 59-year-old American woman who held the previous record.

Gallant-Charette said she plans to return to Maine on Tuesday.

Pat Gallant-Charette, 60,of Westbrook made it to the shores of
Northern France after swimming across the English Channel on
Monday. (File photo)


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