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.

A marathon swimmer for each month of the year

A marathon swimmer for each month of the year

A couple months ago, my Forum and Federation co-founder Donal (of had the brilliant idea to create a Wall Calendar of Marathon Swimming:

MSF 2015 Wall Calendar

– to recognize outstanding photographs of (and by) marathon swimmers around the world.
– to render a ‘snapshot’ of the year in our sport — a sport that few ever witness, outside the small contingent aboard an escort boat.
– to raise a small amount of funds to offset the operating expenses of our website,

Donal posted a Forum thread soliciting images, fielded the submissions (over 100), and winnowed them to a mere dozen — plus one of his own, ‘The Channel Swimmers,’ as a cover:

'The Channel Swimmers.' Image by Donal Buckley
‘The Channel Swimmers.’ Image by Donal Buckley


The resulting set of images is (in my clearly unbiased opinion) stunning, and eloquently captures the peculiar beauty of our sport. The calendar can be previewed and/or purchased here:

The MSF 2015 Photo Calendar features an already-iconic image of Anthony McCarley on the beach near Cap Gris Nez, having just swum across the English Channel.…


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.…


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.


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. …