One by one, Pat Gallant-Charette is checking off her open-water swimming bucket list. And her most recent accomplishment was a big one.

On Saturday, Gallant-Charette, a 66-year-old grandmother of three from Westbrook, became the oldest female to swim the English Channel. She left Dover, England, at 4:55 a.m. and landed on a small sandy beach near the white cliffs of Cap Blanc in France nearly 18 hours later. The shortest distance across the channel is 21 miles, but Gallant-Charette likely swam farther while coping with ocean currents.

“I’m not going to lie, this one means a lot to me,” Gallant-Charette said Tuesday in a phone call from Dover. “This is my fifth record, and of all of them, this one means the most to me.”

Her family knows exactly what she means.

“To my mother, this was the Daytona 500, the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl,” said her daughter, Sarah Charette, who also lives in Westbrook. “She always wanted the record for the English Channel. To her, this is the most prestigious swim.”

It meant more to Gallant-Charette for another reason – her son Tom was there with her. He was on the boat next to her, counting strokes, encouraging her. Tom got his mother into open-water swimming when he persuaded her to compete in the 2.4-mile Peaks to Portland race in 1997 to honor the memory of her younger brother, Robbie, who died at age 34.


“It was heart-warming to have him there,” Gallant-Charette said of her son. “For 18 hours he was there, watching me swim. That’s like watching paint dry. But he never left my side.”


The English Channel crossing is Gallant-Charette’s fifth open-water record. The retired nurse also is the oldest woman to swim the Tsugaru Strait in Japan, the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, and the Molokai Channel in Hawaii. Gallant-Charette, who also swam the Strait of Gibraltar, had also set the record for the Catalina Channel in California in 2011 at age 60. Carol Schumacher Hayden broke that record on Sept. 27, 2016, at age 66.

Gallant-Charette swam the English Channel at the age of 66 years, 135 days, breaking the record of 64 years and 258 days set in 2010 by her friend, Susan Oldham of Austrailia.

“She’ll be coming back to swim it this summer to try to break my record,” Gallant-Charette said of Oldham. “I wish her well.”

This was by no means an easy swim for Gallant-Charette. For starters, it came just four weeks after she swam the Molokai Channel. Last year, after she had crossed the North Channel, she inquired about swimming the English Channel, but was told the schedule was full, so she set up the Molokai swim. Soon after, she got a call from Reg Brickell, her boat pilot, telling her a swimmer had canceled and he had an opening for the English Channel.


She never hesitated to accept the invitation even though she knew the timing was tight. “I have a very fast recovery,” she said. “Usually within two days or so.”

Still, she told few people about it, not even her 92-year-old mother, Marguerite Harnois. “My mother is awfully cute,” Gallant-Charette said. “But she doesn’t have tight lips. She would have told everyone.”

Gallant-Charette didn’t want other open-water swimmers to know she was going for the record. “We were sworn to secrecy,” her daughter said.

Gallant-Charette finally told her friends the day before she left for England.


The swim itself was difficult. The water was colder than Gallant-Charette had expected. She was vomiting early on. The current kept pushing her away. There was a moment when she saw a large dorsal fin near her. Not sure whether it was real or she was hallucinating – that happens sometimes when open-water swimmers get dehydrated – she kept swimming. “I thought to myself, ‘There are no sharks out here,’ so I kept going,” she said. It turned out to be a large ocean sunfish.


Later she was stung in the face by a jellyfish. “It was on my upper lip and nose,” she said. “It stopped me cold. I had to get it off, it was so painful.” But she wasn’t going to stop. “I was going to make it no matter what,” she said.

The last mile, when she could see the white cliffs of Cap Blanc, took almost three hours to complete because the current kept pushing her along the shoreline.

“I tell everyone I took the scenic route to France,” she said.

Finally, with Brickell shining a spotlight on the beach, she came ashore, completing her swim in 17 hours and 55 minutes and setting the record. “It was very emotional,” she said. “The first thing I thought of was my brother Robbie. ‘This is for you,’ I said. Then when I got back in the boat, I hugged my son and thanked him for energizing me.”

She’ll arrive in Boston on Saturday and then take a bus back home to Maine. She’s going to take the rest of the year off to recover, both physically and financially. She doesn’t have any sponsors and pays for everything on her own.

Gallant-Charette calls her swims “the adventure of a lifetime,” but they’re not cheap. It costs about $4,000 to hire the pilots for the boat – $6,000 for some of the other swims – then there are costs for flights and hotels and crews.


“I worked until I was 65, tucking money away,” she said. “I hope to stay healthy and continue my swimming. I want to take this as far as I can.”


Her next big ocean race won’t be until 2019 when she attempts to complete her Oceans Seven Challenge by swimming the Cook Strait in New Zealand.

In the meantime, she’ll keep swimming large lakes, such as Lake Ontario and possibly the Loch Ness in Scotland, where she might bump into Nessie, the mythical Loch Ness Monster. “That would be fun,” said Gallant-Charette. “I’ve spoken to my grandchildren about Nessie.”

She said some day it might be fun to have a relay across the English Channel with her grandchildren – Trevor, Kiersten and Gus. No one is going to bet against her.

“She’s setting the standard pretty high,” Sarah Charette said. “She is absolutely amazing. She’s really one in a million.”


Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

CORRECTION: This story was updated on June 22 at 11 a.m. to show that Carol Schumacher Hayden now holds the record for the oldest woman to swim the Catalina Channel in California.

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