Swim Report: Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park

Swim Report: Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park


Two days before Bay to Breakers in May (yes, it’s a belated report), an oversubscribed volunteer corps opened up a couple spots on another SERC club swim: Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park. Kirby Cove is the same beach on the Marin Headlands where Cathy finished her “Three Bridges” swim in March. Outside the Golden Gate, but not as far as Point Diablo or Point Bonita. At 4.2 miles (current-assisted), it’s one of the longer SERC club swims, so a bit odd to have on the same weekend as Bay to Breakers.

I wasn’t planning to swim that morning and showed up to help kayak or time. It turned out there were plenty of volunteers, so I figured what the hell… I paid my fee and changed, like a chubby Clark Kent, into my drag suit and parka. Game on.

I noticed “D,” one of the faster SERC swimmers, was also entered, but I hoped to not get “baited” into racing him. Better to take it easy and gear up for the more important swim two days later: Bay to Breakers (in which, incidentally, “D” was also entered).

We motored out to Kirby Cove on the Silver Fox, 24 swimmers and a gaggle of paddlers. The swim was scheduled to start just before slack tide at the Golden Gate (0832), building into a 4.7-knot flood (1134).

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Exact water temp is unknown because the NOAA-Crissy Field buoy was out, but I’d guess it was about 57F (13.9C). Air temp was mid-50s at the start, becoming warmer and quite sunny as the morning progressed.

Once everyone had swum into shore from the boat, we set off in two “pods” – the six fastest swimmers at 8:15, preceded by everyone else at 8:11.  Heading out I took too straight of a line into the channel, thinking it would get me into the current faster. This was stupid: I should have angled straight for mid-span of the Bridge (there wasn’t much current then anyway). That’s precisely what “D” did, and by the time I corrected my course, I was 25m out of the lead.

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Red line = my course. Blue line = straight tangent to Golden Gate Bridge mid-span

We were not assigned paddlers on a one-to-one basis, but within a few minutes I noticed Hank and his son shadowing me in a tandem kayak. I was treating this as a self-navigated swim, but they were a comforting presence and definitely helped keep me on a straighter line with less sighting.

I reached the Golden Gate Bridge, a bit north of mid-span, in 17 minutes, 30 seconds (0.77 miles, 2.64mph). Around this time I lost track of “D.” Oh well, I thought: I’m not trying to race this anyway. Not a race!! 

I saw a wooden rowboat off to my right (toward south tower), but no swimmer. Turned out he was there, but on the other side of the rowboat.

Full GPS tracks
Full GPS tracks (click to expand)

Onward I swam, angling across the shipping channel toward my destination. Meanwhile, it was turning into a glorious day! I felt the warmth of the sun on my back, and the Bay was as calm as it ever gets.

I watched the Palace of Fine Arts come and go, and soon the piers of Fort Mason came into view. Hank was motioning me to head further in, but I ignored him until around Gashouse,  taking my chances on missing the Opening. I did have a bit of a scramble right at the Opening – the flood was really picking up now – but I made it safely at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 12 seconds elapsed time (54:42 for the Bridge-to-Opening segment, 3.2 miles, 3.51 mph).

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Once inside the Cove, I saw no one behind me so I took a very relaxed pace toward the SERC beach. This, along with my failing to account for the effect of the flood inside the cove (pushing me too far east), caused a very close call at the finish.

As I approached the SERC pier, I finally noticed I was off course, and started crabbing back. At the same instant, I noticed “D” suddenly almost even with me, sprinting straight in to the finish. He almost got me. I found a final burst of speed and cleared the water first.

It’s not a race, people. Not a race!

I’m sure the timekeepers were highly entertained. Final time 1:17:06.

And a fine warm-up for Bay to Breakers…

See Dan Boyle’s Flickr page for some excellent GoPro images and video of the event.

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