Swim Route vs. Swim Track

Swim Route vs. Swim Track

Sometimes basic principles need to be stated. It is surprising how often media reporting of marathon swimming – and even swimmers themselves – get this one wrong.

A swim route is a predetermined, abstract path between the start and finish, composed of either a straight line or (if the straight-line path is interrupted by another land-mass) a series of connected straight-line segments.

For example, the route of an English Channel swim is the straight-line path between Dover, England and Cap Gris Nez, France (approximately 20.5 statute miles, typically rounded up to 21 by the CSA and CS&PF).

english channel route
English Channel ROUTE

A swim route is typically the shortest path between the start and finish, though in some cases a longer path may make more sense (if certain characteristics of the shortest path make it undesirable, e.g., adverse currents).

In contrast, a swim track is where you actually swam – including navigation error, tidal movements, and other variables that cause differences between the abstract/ideal path and the actual path. A swim track is typically recorded with a GPS device.

For example, here is the track of a slower English Channel swim: The swimmer is first pushed southwest from Dover by the ebb tide, then northeast by the flood, then southwest by another ebb, then northeast by another flood and into the French coast.…


Top 10 DNF excuses you never hear

Top 10 DNF excuses you never hear

Presenting the top 10 excuses for not finishing a marathon swim you never seem to hear….

10. Quite simply, I decided I didn’t want to swim anymore.

9. I lack persistence, and have a hard time finishing things I start.

8. I got sick — not because the waves were 10 feet high and thrashing me around, but because I drank too much the night before.

7. I am a really slow swimmer even when I’m fresh. When I get tired, I literally stop making progress in the water.

6. I stopped after the first leg of my planned/announced two-way, because the solid ground felt sooo good and I didn’t want to get back in the water.

5. Marathon swimming is stupid.

4. I was hopelessly naive, and didn’t have any idea what I was getting in to.

3. I had to poo, but was too embarrassed to do it in front of my crew.

2. I didn’t really care about finishing anyway — it was more about getting publicity and attention for myself for just attempting it.

1. I didn’t train enough.


Making Independent Swims “Count”

Making Independent Swims “Count”

For standard marathon swims such as the English Channel, Santa Barbara Channel, or Catalina Channel, swimmers need not concern themselves with “proving” they did the swim. For these swims, the authenticity of a swimmer’s claim is supported by the legitimacy of the local sanctioning organization — legitimacy derived from the marathon swimming community’s trust in the organization’s leaders and procedures.

A legitimate local sanctioning organization provides trained observers to document swims and verify adherence to the organization’s published swim rules. Although it’s difficult to “prove” an event witnessed by few, many miles out to sea, any swim ratified by trusted organizations such as the CS&PF, SBCSA, or CCSF is generally accepted without question by the marathon swimming community. A swim log completed by the official observer is viewed as the only “proof” needed (though ironically, these logs are almost never made public, and in some cases are held quite tightly by the organization).

But what about swims for which there is no well-established sanctioning organization? How do you make a swim “count” in ungoverned waters, without a trusted sanctioning organization to back up your claims?…


The warmest winter on record in San Francisco Bay

The warmest winter on record in San Francisco Bay

Here in San Francisco, the common sauna wisdom is that we just experienced one of the warmest winters in recent memory. The Dolphin Club’s Polar Bear Challenge was hardly challenging, and the South End’s “Dreaded 9th” of February swim was hardly dreaded.

Just how warm was it, though? I crunched the numbers from the NDBC, because, well, why not.

Here we see the last 15+ months of data from the Crissy Field station (FTPC1) inside San Francisco Bay, plotted in solid black. The dashed green, red, and blue lines show the long-term average, maxima, and minima for each day of the year, summarized over the eight years of available data from that station.

san francisco bay water temp

From July 2014 until just the past few days (early April 2015), Bay waters have been hovering 2-3 degrees (F) above the all-time highs (going back to 2006), and about 5 degrees above the long-term averages.

Eight years isn’t much data, unfortunately. Can we do better?

A bit: Lightstation 46026 – about two-thirds of the way out to the Farallones – has data going back to 1982.…


The top 10 most CONTROVERSIAL threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum

The top 10 most CONTROVERSIAL threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum

I know — shameless clickbait. So sue me (or hire “Henry James” to sue me).

Last week the Marathon Swimmers Forum turned three years old — and what a wild ride it has been! We’re entitled to a little fun now and then.

Without further ado, I present the ten most controversial discussion threads in the history of the Forum. You literally won’t believe your eyes!

10. Changes to NYC Swim qualifying event policies (read: CSA secretary Julie Bradshaw MBE’s allegedly unsanctioned MIMS record claims allegedly cause NYC Swim to allegedly withdraw recognition of alleged CSA English Channel swims)

9. Non-freestyle stroke ‘records’ in open water swimming (are complicated)

8. Lance Armstrong to compete in USMS meet? (or not)

7. Do you wear a wristwatch in marathon swims? (apparently, yes!)

6. Diana Nyad’s Directional ‘Streamer’ (is just the tip of the iceberg)

5. Not to start World War III, but… (in which the practice of “boat drafting” first came to widespread attention)

4. Who earns the title ‘Channel Swimmer’ (not, some would argue, those who use wetsuits)

3. Forum threatened with take-down by person claiming to represent Julie Bradshaw, Secretary of the CSA (my personal favorite)



Dead Fish Swims

Dead Fish Swims

A “dead fish swim” is a swim that even a dead fish could finish. (Maybe not literally… but sometimes almost literally.)

This is a bit of local (SF) open-water swimming lingo that I wish would be more widely used (hence this post).


Dead fish swims require bodies of water affected by substantial currents — as fast or faster than “fast” swimmers swim. Let’s set the minimum current threshold for a dead fish swim (arbitrarily) at 2 knots.

Most of the organized swims put on by the Dolphin and South End Rowing Clubs in San Francisco Bay are dead fish swims. Coghlan Beach to Aquatic Park on a flood (the traditional route for the fall Inter-Club Triathlon) is a dead fish swim. Pier 7 to Aquatic Park (the most popular SERC “sunriser” route) on a big ebb is a dead fish swim.

Even the challenging Bay to Breakers swim is sort of a dead fish swim — until the last mile or so, when the current goes slack and you have to get around Seal Rocks and into the beach via actual swimming (and bodysurfing).…


MSF panel ratifies five swims, endorses new world distance record

MSF panel ratifies five swims, endorses new world distance record

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—An international review panel ratified five marathon swims submitted to the Marathon Swimmers Federation (MSF) as part of the inaugural year of its Documented Swims program. The panel also endorsed Chloё McCardel as the World Record holder for Longest Unassisted Ocean Swim.

All ratified swims were independently observed, exhaustively documented, and conducted according to the highest standards of transparency and integrity.

This year’s review panel consisted of fifteen esteemed marathon swimmers from seven countries:

  • David Barra (United States) – Co-founder of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim and Triple Crown marathon swimmer.
  • Donal Buckley (Ireland) – Author of award-winning blog LoneSwimmer, MSF co-founder, English Channel and Manhattan Island soloist.
  • Anne Cleveland (United States) – Honour Swimmer, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
  • Sylvain Estadieu (France) – first male to swim the English Channel butterfly.
  • Elaine Howley (United States) – Co-founder of Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Association and Triple Crown marathon swimmer.
  • Andrew Hunt (Australia) – Triple Crown marathon swimmer and 11x Rottnest Channel soloist.
  • Andrew Malinak (United States) – MSF Rules co-author and one of only three ever to finish all seven stages of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim in the same year.