Palfrey swim brings Cayman notoriety

World marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey bridged the Sister Islands and Grand Cayman when she recently broke a world time record swimming from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman. 

It started quietly enough with a swim in April from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman by two swimmers from California, Steve Munatones and Lexie Kelly. 

They were setting a speed record between the Islands that they expected marathon swimmer Penny Palfrey to beat six weeks later. 

Munatones, who runs a website targeted at open water swimmers, wrote about that swim on his site, but mostly only media in Cayman mentioned the swim, which was followed the next day by a group of a dozen swimmers including Governor Duncan Taylor, who swam the five miles between the Sister Islands. 

Fast forward six weeks. It was Palfrey’s turn to cross the Bogue Channel between the Brac and Little Cayman – the first leg of her two-part Bridging the Cayman Islands adventure. 

She completed the swim six seconds faster that Munatones and Kelly had done. Again, this mostly garnered medica interest locally, but the build-up to her world record breaking effort had begun. 

The following weekend, the Australian/British grandmother Palfrey, 48, completed a gruelling 67.25 mile swim from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman in 40 hours and 41 minutes. 

As she raised her arms above her head in a sign of victory at finishing her epic swim, the crowd that had waited to greet her on an East End beach erupted in cheers and the swimmer was briefly blinded by camera flashes and television lights. 

Those images of the swimmer raced around the world. 

News wires, television stations, radio shows and news sites carried reports of Palfrey’s swim, highlighting the Cayman Islands as a sports destination for swimmers. 

Premier McKeeva Bush, in a parliamentary debate last month, pointed out such an event brought Cayman to the attention of the world. 

He said Palfrey had been interviewed on Yahoo! Shine, an online site for women, about her expectations about her swim before she had set off on her challenge. That site receives 21,235,536 unique visitors each month, the premier said. 

He listed the many international news organisations that interviewed her or ran stories about her swim, including Reuters, Fox Sport, Yahoo News, ABC Australia, Associated Press, Hong Kong Standard, Canadian Press, the Weather Network and CNN, as well as TV networks throughout the United States that picked up her story. 

The premier said: “All this coverage accumulated into approximately 211.4 million international consumer impressions. That’s a huge audience. We can’t pay for that kind of publicity. This is good.” 

Other sports are also bringing international recognition to Cayman as interest grows in events like the annual Flowers Sea Swim, Norseca Beach Volleyball Championship, Cayman Squash Open, Friends Invitational Pro Am Golf Tournament, Cayman Islands marathon, CARIFTA Games and road cycling events.  

“These are sports tourism – all adding to our tourism product,” said Bush. 

Commending the Flowers Sea Swim this year, at which he handed out awards, Bush said this was the type of event the government had to support. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of people, including many visitors – nearly 300 visitors with their families, visitors who participated… this is something that we support and push,” he said. 

He said when organiser Frank Flowers first suggested holding the swim, which has now been running for 19 years, he had wondered if it would take off.  

“But boy, has that caught on. It is so clean and the people there are so proud and enthused. We have champions coming in, Olympians being there,” said Bush. 

Speaking soon after Palfrey made it to East End on Sunday night, 12 June, Sports Minister Mark Scotland also commented on the impact Palfrey’s record-making solo, unassisted, ocean swim would have on Cayman. 

“It’s phenomenal for us to be put in the record books like this. It will again put Cayman on the map in terms of sports tourism,” he said. “All the big sporting events we’ve had here in the past few years have come off really well. The facilities, the infrastructure and organisation here shows that we have to exploit that and this one in particular augurs well for open water swimming.” 

A few days after she was back on dry land, Premier Bush announced that the swimmer, along with boxer Charles “Killa” Whittaker, would be awarded Honourable Member of the Order of the Cayman Islands and Member of the Order of the Cayman Islands for their contributions to sports on the Islands.