Mare Incognitum

Mare Incognitum

My feet are weary
of these callused trails.

Time to step off shore —

far from the machines
to watch the bottom fall away
and get tossed by the swells
to contemplate the abyss and find
where the sea meets the fog.

To immerse myself
fully in the journey.

Down there, do you see me? (Do you care?)
Am I going the right way? (Does it matter?)

The destination is hidden
and the arrival uncertain.

But I am nothing
if not patient.…

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Swimming out of the Devil’s Teeth: Observing history at the Farallons

Swimming out of the Devil’s Teeth: Observing history at the Farallons

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.

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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. …

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Information Wants to be Free: Sandettie Lightship and the English Channel

Information Wants to be Free: Sandettie Lightship and the English Channel

(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.

sandettie lightship
Location of Sandettie Lightship in the English Channel

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 £6800 per 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.

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NOAA Buoy Cams: A (potentially) interesting resource

NOAA Buoy Cams: A (potentially) interesting resource

The National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), operated by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, maintains a global network of data-collecting buoys that provide useful information for, among others, open-water swimmers in their vicinity.

I utilized NDBC data in my observer report on Craig Lenning’s recent Farallon Islands swim.

Recently, I noticed a new feature on the NDBC website: A few buoy stations now have cameras!

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.

Current "BuoyCam" locations
Current “BuoyCam” locations

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)

And if I were planning a swim from San Miguel Island anytime soon, I’d probably be monitoring this guy daily.

A sampling of BuoyCam shots from today (click to enlarge):

Buoy 46054: 38 NM West of Santa Barbara, California
Buoy 46054: 38 NM West of Santa Barbara, California
Buoy 41009: 20NM East of Cape Canaveral, Florida
Buoy 41009: 20NM East of Cape Canaveral, Florida
Buoy 44007: 12NM Southeast of Portland, Maine
Buoy 44007: 12NM Southeast of Portland, Maine
Station 51021: mid-Pacific Ocean, west of Kiribati
Buoy 51021: mid-Pacific Ocean, west of Kiribati
Buoy 46061: Between Montague & Hinchinbrook Islands, Alaska
Buoy 46061: Between Montague & Hinchinbrook Islands, Alaska
Buoy 32322: S. Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador
Buoy 32322: S.


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Most popular threads in the history of the Marathon Swimmers Forum

Most popular threads in the history of the Marathon Swimmers Forum

Since launching in March 2012, the Marathon Swimmers Forum has grown to 935 verified members who have contributed 13,195 comments in 796 discussion threads.

Of those 796 threads, the most popular by far (as measured by page-views) was the discussion of Diana Nyad’s purported swim from Cuba to Florida in September 2013.

The top 25 threads in the history of the Forum are as follows. Relative page views for each thread are shown (indexed to the Nyad thread = 100).

  1. 110 miles, 53 hours: Questions for Diana Nyad [100]
  2. Best Goggles for Open Water Swimming and Triathlon [34.6]
  3. 10km training schedule – 3 months out [11.1]
  4. Waterproof MP3 players for swimming [9.4]
  5. Diana Nyad’s Directional “Streamer” [7.9]
  6. USMS OW SANCTIONING [7.6]
  7. You might be an open water swimmer if … [6.1]
  8. Recommended Products [5.8]
  9. The Animal Set Thread [5.8]
  10. Swim Videos [5.2]
  11. training for a 5km swim [5.2]
  12. Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2013 [5]
  13. What is an appropriate weekly mileage for completing marathon swims? [4.6]
  14. Sunscreen?! [4.5]
  15. Warming up after a cold water swim [4.3]
  16. Driven [4.2]
  17. Open Water Blogs [4.2]
  18. Diana Nyad’s epic swim [4]
  19. What type of Garmin is recommended for tracking distance and time of open water swims?


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There’s No Such Thing as a “World Record” in Open Water Swimming

There’s No Such Thing as a “World Record” in Open Water Swimming

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?

A swim from Santa Rosa Island to my hometown of Goleta is not meaningfully comparable to the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, despite both swims being 28 miles.

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)?…

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Farallones: The toughest marathon swim in the world?

Farallones: The toughest marathon swim in the world?

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).

For cold water, there’s the Straits of Magellan and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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). …

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