By fortuitous circumstance, I’ve been fortunate to observe two out of the four successful solo swims in recorded history between the Farallon Islands and the California mainland.
In April, Craig Lenning stunned the marathon swimming world with the first successful Farallons solo in nearly 50 years (read observer report). And then 12 days ago, Joe Locke claimed Ted Erikson’s record on the longer, trickier course to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I recently completed the observer report for Joe’s swim
Craig and Joe are two of the toughest swimmers I’ve ever seen, and I was honored to accompany them on their respective journeys.
The Farallons, a grim rocky outcropping at the edge of the continental shelf, are similar in land mass to Anacapa Island but more than twice as far out, across far angrier seas. They’re often visible on a clear day from San Francisco, especially from elevation, but I think most San Franciscans hardly notice them. Living in the Outer Sunset (which my girlfriend, a Farallon relay swimmer herself, jokingly calls the “Inner Farallons”), I can see them from my living room, and I watch them every chance I get. …
(tl; dr — 10 years of English Channel weather data, in a single CSV file. And some fun charts.)
Weather can turn on a dime in the English Channel, and the dreams (and finances) of English Channel swimmers often turn on the weather.
The most important source of information about that weather is a 156-foot lightvessel called Sandettie, which serves as both a floating lighthouse and a weather station. Here’s a nice photo.
Sandettie collects a variety of important meteorological data – air and sea temperatures, wind speed and direction, wave height and period, humidity, and barometric pressure. These data are then fed back to the UK Met Office, who publish the most recent 24 hours’ of observations on their website.
Anything before the last 24 hours are what the Met Office call “chargeable data” — at the rate of £6800per 10 years, per two elements (e.g., air temp & sea temp). According to the today’s exchange rate, that converts to no less than $11,575 USD.
LOL! (And yes, I actually requested a quote from the Met Office.)
Just sayin': In the US, quality-controlled meteorological data are available from NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center — for free.…
Granted, there are currently only 11 BuoyCams worldwide, most in locations people have never swum (and probably will never swim), but still: Potentially an interesting resource for marathon swimmers, if this program expands.
Just imagine: How cool would it be to have a camera on Sandettie Lightship? (n.b., that’s a UK Met Office buoy, not NOAA)
There is (almost*) no such thing as a “world record” in open water swimming.
The term “world record” implies that the activity being measured is comparable across different contexts (hence “world”). A 200m Butterfly swum at The Nat in Indianapolis can be compared to a 200m Butterfly swum at the beautiful new facility at Belmont Plaza, because both pools have been measured at 50m. A 200 Fly is a 200 Fly is a 200 Fly.
Open water swimming is, in most cases, not comparable across different contexts. And isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that, at some level, why most of us are drawn to OWS in the first place?
What about “world records” for specific swims? Obviously a Catalina Channel swim is incomparable to a Maui Channel swim, but surely a Catalina Channel swim is comparable to a Catalina Channel swim? Excluding weather and conditions, surely we can say that Penny Lee Dean swam the fastest crossing of the Catalina Channel (7 hours, 15 minutes, 55 seconds in 1976)?…
What’s the toughest marathon swim in the world? Some would say the North Channel.
For pure distance, there’s the 72-mile Kaieiewaho Channel between Kauai and Oahu (one relay, zero solo swimmers), the 61 miles from San Nicolas Island (never attempted) to Southern California, and the Straits of Florida (no unassisted swims).
But for sheer overall toughness – distance, water temp, and… intangibles… – I’d choose the Farallon Islands – some 30 miles out to sea from the Golden Gate Bridge (20 miles from Bolinas, 27 miles from Point Bonita).
Before last week, there had been two successful solo crossings, both in 1967. Dolphin Club member Lt. Col. Stewart Evans completed the first on August 28, finishing near Bolinas in 13 hours, 44 minutes. A few weeks later on September 17, my friend and fellow Promontory Point swimmer Ted Erikson swam all the way to the Bridge in 14 hours, 38 minutes.
Last week I was the observer on the third successful Farallon solo swim (the first in 47 years). …