US swimmer Nyad, 64, forges on with Cuba-Florida crossing

U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad is pictured before attempting to swim to Florida from Havana on Aug 31, 2013. Legendary US distance swimmer Diana Nyad forged ahead Sunday with her quest to become the first person to cross from Cuba to Florida w
U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad is pictured before attempting to swim to Florida from Havana on Aug 31, 2013. Legendary US distance swimmer Diana Nyad forged ahead Sunday with her quest to become the first person to cross from Cuba to Florida with no shark cage. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI, Florida (AFP) - Legendary US distance swimmer Diana Nyad forged ahead Sunday with her quest to become the first person to cross from Cuba to Florida with no shark cage.

In a display of endurance and spirit, the 64-year-old actually increased her speed after more than 24 hours in the water, her team said.

"Diana has swum 47.61 statute miles after 27 hours of swimming. Her average speed has increased to 1.76 miles per hour," her navigator John Bartlett said at 1600 GMT.

"She is swimming strong and riding the swells which are 3 to 5 feet out of the east behind her," he said in a posting on Ms Nyad's website.

"She is getting a little favou rable push from the current right now." Nyad set off from Cuba Saturday in her fifth and final bid to swim across the perilous Florida Straits without the protection of a shark cage, hoping to make the roughly 170km trek in 80 hours.

She has this would be the "last time" she would attempt to make her decades-old dream come true.

Last August, Nyad broke off her fourth bid to cross the stretch after battling lightning storms and swarms of jellyfish for more than two days.

Her first attempt was in 1978, when she was 28.

Nyad set an open sea record for both men and women by swimming from the Bahamas to the Florida Keys in 1979 - a journey that is the about the same distance as the Cuba-Florida swim, but which she has described as far less dangerous.

At a news conference Friday, the veteran swimmer expressed confidence that she would persevere this time around.

Not only was she hopeful that the weather and currents in the Gulf of Mexico would be better, she noted that she had a full-body suit - including a mouth guard, gloves and shoes - to protect herself from jelly fish.

She added that her dream of 35 years also sought to bring communist Cuba and the United States - which have been at odds for decades - closer together.

Nyad is accompanied by a 36-member team and several yachts and kayaks.

Australian Susan Maroney is the first and only person who has managed to swim across the Florida Straits. Protected by a shark cage, she did so in 1997 when she was 22.