Same Water, Different Worlds: A tale of two swims in San Francisco Bay

Same Water, Different Worlds: A tale of two swims in San Francisco Bay


Last weekend I had the pleasure of escorting Cathy on a big, cold swim in San Francisco Bay to celebrate her birthday. We’re calling it the “Three Bridges” swim: She swam from the Third Street Bridge in McCovey Cove (the original location of the South End Rowing Club in 1873), under the Bay Bridge, and under the Golden Gate Bridge, before finishing at Kirby Cove on the Marin Headlands.

3bridges_gps

8.7 miles in 2 hours, 10 minutes (with a push from the ebb tide) in 51-degree water, without a wetsuit. It was a damn impressive, inspiring swim, and I’ve never seen Cathy swim so well. She seems totally at home in cold, rough water – and indeed she seems to thrive, the worse conditions become.

With El Sharko‘s steady hand at the tiller, I managed the feedings and aimed my GoPro:

Cathy’s “Three Bridges” SF Bay Swim: 3rd St, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.


Some interesting and sad context to Cathy’s swim: It was (coincidentally) the same morning as the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, during which one of the athletes died in the swim leg. At 2:01 in the video above, you can see the San Francisco Belle that would soon ferry the Escapees to the Rock for the start. As shown at 3:04, we passed by Alcatraz only a few minutes before the race start.

In a subsequent discussion on SlowTwitch, there was lots of hand-wringing about the frigid water temperature and choppy conditions.

Yes, it was cold and choppy out there. This is San Francisco Bay we’re talking about. Yet it’s impossible not to draw the obvious comparisons: These people were wearing wetsuits! They were in the water for maybe 40-45 minutes on average. Cathy was out there three times as long, without a wetsuit.

And she loved it! Watch Cathy’s video again (2:56) — look at the joy and confidence in her stroke as she plows through the chop. This is how she chooses to celebrate her birthday!

Now watch this video, from the Escape:

These people are in way over their heads. The guy at 0:10 can hardly swim! What the hell is he even doing out there? These two swims took place in the same water, literally minutes apart in time. Yet they might as well be from different worlds.


Here’s a semi-rhetorical question: Which event do you think was safer? The nearly-9 mile, 2+ hour swim without a wetsuit, or the 1-mile wetsuit-assisted swim?

In my view, there’s absolutely no substitute for proper training and preparation. Cathy was prepared for this swim; many of these triathletes, evidently, were not. A wetsuit is not going to keep you safe. Swimming competence will keep you safe.

While wetsuits may decrease the chances of an individual person drowning, I believe they actually increase collective risk – by giving people a false perception of safety and encouraging them to put themselves in situations they are not prepared for.

7 Responses to “Same Water, Different Worlds: A tale of two swims in San Francisco Bay”

  1. Donal

    2013-03-11T11:01:55+00:00

    8.7 miles in 2 hours, 10 minutes (with a push from the ebb tide) in 51-degree water?

    That’s stunning. Few people will appreciate that.

    Reply
    • Evan

      2013-03-11T11:47:23+00:00

      She will appreciate you said that! But will also probably say it’s no big deal for a South Ender :)

      Reply
  2. Chicken O'Sea

    2013-03-11T15:55:57+00:00

    Great swim and fab video!! What’s the song?
    Can’t wait to come back and swim with the SERCus

    Reply
    • Evan

      2013-03-11T16:04:28+00:00

      Thanks! Song is “Short Change Hero,” by The Heavy (credited on the Vimeo page). Coming out for the Five Coves of Death?

      Reply
  3. Chicken O'Sea

    2013-03-11T16:30:17+00:00

    Yes! Five Coves O’Death or bust!

    Reply
  4. “How much do I need to swim for – x – open water distance?” | LoneSwimmer

    2013-05-17T03:41:27+00:00

    [...] A Tale of Two Swims in San Francisco Bay (freshwaterswimmer.com) [...]

    Reply

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