“I’m not sitting around pinching myself,” she said. “I’m still walking my dog, still playing Scrabble with friends. I planned to do this swim, so I’m not shocked. I’m glad it’s done. I no longer have to think, ‘Will I try this until I die?’”
Nyad embarked on her fifth attempt from Havana’s Hemingway Marina at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31. Bartlett, a boat builder and licensed captain from Fort Myers, had been monitoring conditions for weeks with advice from oceanographer Frank Bohlen in Connecticut. The computer models and altimetry readouts Bohlen sent were “right on the money” for a favorable Gulf Stream flow and what Bartlett first projected as a 60-hour swim with landfall at Bahia Honda State Park.
“We were 100 percent focused on getting to Florida, even if it was South Beach,” said Marlin Scott, a Key West charter captain who was part of Nyad’s flotilla as pilot of the Kinship, with his wife. He’d been on Nyad’s 2011 attempt. Four shark divers alternated six-hour lookout shifts. “If they saw anything, they jumped in. We’ve had 12 sightings of Great Whites in the Keys this year, so that was a concern. We were worried about swordfish, too.”
Nyad said she was “happy as a clam” for the first nine hours in 86-degree seas, pausing to tread water every hour or so to eat bananas and peanut butter sandwiches, sip an energy drink or a smoothie concoction blended with ginseng and honey by her friend and longtime business partner Bonnie Stoll.
“Diana’s cardinal rule is, she never wants to know how far she has to go or how far she has gone,” Stoll said. “She has her own way of doing things. When I used to run with her she had to go a minute past the time we were supposed to end.”
According to notes from observers Janet Hinkle and Roger McVeigh, Nyad kept a plodding, steady freestyle pace of 1.5 mph, following a white ribbon that hung off a starboard boom of the Voyager and dragged in the water, mimicking a lane line in a pool. Kayakers paddled adjacent and behind her and carried electronic “shark shock” repellent devices. She altered course slightly to avoid a freighter her crew dubbed the HMS Rust Bucket. At 6 p.m. she felt tingling on her skin — sea lice.
As dusk turned skies gray, Nyad braced for night — prime time for an attack by box jellyfish. University of Hawaii jellyfish expert Angel Yanagihara slipped under the surface in scuba gear to make the first of many scouting dives for jellies. Nyad ate pasta, then spent 15 minutes squeezing into her Lycra “stinger suit.” After pulling on her custom-made hooded silicone mask, she joked with the crew, demanding, “Give me all your money!”
Eleven hours into the swim, Yanagihara told the boats to kill their lights so as not to attract jellies. In the pitch black, Nyad followed a row of red lights on the ribbon. By midnight she had traveled nearly 20 miles. Nyad took nutrition breaks but felt nauseous. The mask, attached inside her mouth by a retainer, caused her to ingest saltwater.
At 4 a.m., Yanagihara and a shark diver reported no jellies, a kayaker got seasick and Nyad began vomiting. At 6:43 a.m., she removed the mask and suit.
“I was miserable, my mouth was cut up and I didn’t like the wind and the chop,” Nyad said. “But I had a mantra: Find a way.”