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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Giulietta Carrelli: Artisanal Food-Craze Originator, and Open Water Swimmer

Giulietta Carrelli: Artisanal Food-Craze Originator, and Open Water Swimmer

One morning on my first visit to San Francisco to see Cathy, we got coffee in the neighborhood, at Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club. It’s an eccentric little place, with studiously quirky interior details and a parklet outside, handcrafted from local driftwood.

My preferred parklet seat, outside Trouble.

The coffee was excellent: a smooth, full-bodied medium-dark roast. Rounding out the eclectic yet focused menu were toast (hefty buttered slabs, sprinkled liberally with cinnamon), coconuts, and… grapefruit juice.

But the reason Cathy took me to this specific craft coffee shop in a city full of them, was to meet her friend Giulietta – the owner of Trouble, and an open water swimmer. Cathy knows Giulietta through China Beach, the main alternative to Aquatic Park for OWS in San Francisco.

It’s been nearly two years since my first taste of Trouble. In the interim, Giulietta has become something of a local celebrity, as “artisanal toast” has begun popping up on hipster-food menus throughout the city. Trouble is widely credited as the originator of this trend.

But this story goes far deeper than mere toast, and that’s why Giulietta recently became the first open water swimmer (as far as I know) to be featured on This American Life.…

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Swim Report: Bay to Breakers (Part 2 of 2)

Swim Report: Bay to Breakers (Part 2 of 2)

When we left off in Part 1, I was approaching the Golden Gate Bridge’s South Tower, on which I had been sighting for the past 40 minutes — most of that time separated from my kayaker.

Alone, tiny swimmer in a busy shipping lane, but with a confidence that surprises me still. The hubris of the front-runner?

toward mile rock
Toward Mile Rock and Lands End. Video still from Andrew B.

The ebb tide had swept me from Bridge to Bridge with astonishing swiftness — 6 miles in just under 1 hour, 8 minutes.

This was my third time swimming under the Golden Gate Bridge (Point Bonita, Kirby Cove), but my first in this direction (east to west — towards the ocean). It’s a different world “outside the Gate” – colder, windier, more exposed. More… oceanic. And crossing from the brackish sanctum of the Bay into the wild Pacific – rather than vice versa – is a profoundly different experience.

I was more than halfway to the finish, but the second half is the defining half. SERC has many swims in the bay, but only one that finishes at the breakers.…

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At the South End…

At the South End…

At the South End we are swimmers, rowers, runners, and handballers.

But even many of the rowers, runners, and handballers are swimmers too — because to us, there is no better place for it.

At the South End we swim with, against, and across the currents.

At the South End we swim outside the Cove… outside comfort zones.

At the South End we do Bay to Breakers the hard way.

At the South End we swig from growlers in the sauna.

They call us the “feral neighbors,” but all the best Open Water Swimmers are a bit feral at heart.

At the South End we ponder the swims that Can be done, rather than the ones that Can’t.

At the South End we know the quietest part of the city.

At the South End we are never alone.

“Leaving the City Behind.” Photo by Cy Lo, reprinted with permission.


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Swim Report: Bay to Breakers (Part 1 of 2)

Swim Report: Bay to Breakers (Part 1 of 2)

(A belated report on — not the longest, not the coldest — but the most comprehensive test of my open-water swimming skills I’ve experienced…)

May 27, 2013. Memorial Day. Bay to Breakers Day.

The day I earned my graduate degree in Open Water Swimming.


Bay to Breakers (B2B) is the most epic event on the South End Rowing Club swim calendar. It should be one of the most iconic long-distance open-water swims in America — yet hardly anyone knows about it outside San Francisco.

Even to most San Franciscans, “Bay to Breakers” refers to the 12km footrace from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach. According to the website, it is the “oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world” (since 1912).

But there’s another way to get from The Bay to The Breakers – longer, colder, and far more extreme:

bay to breakers
Bay to Breakers: The Hard Way vs. the Easy Way

Race director Bill Wygant began his pre-race email memorably:

There are times I wonder if Bob Roper fell asleep one night, had a nightmare and mistook it for an idea for a swim.  



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The Chas Lap

The Chas Lap

The “Chas Lap” is the longest, burliest standard training swim one can do in the Aquatic Park vicinity.

(By standard, I mean: It is readily understood by a two- or three-word phrase in the men’s and women’s saunas at the South End Rowing Club.)

The Chas Lap touches, by definition, the western and eastern boundaries of the area in which it is acceptable for South End members to swim unescorted. There are bigger, burlier swims possible elsewhere in the Bay, but – and here’s the key – if you swim across the path of potential boat traffic, you must have an escort vessel. A Chas Lap can be done unescorted, and therefore requires far less planning.

Important Safety Caveats:

  • Never swim outside the Cove alone! You could get injured or killed, and no one would know, possibly for hours.
  • Avoid swimming outside the Cove later than mid-morning. Theoretically you should be safe from boat traffic by hugging the pier or breakwater, but there are always many more boats in the afternoon. The more boats in the area, the more potential for some rogue idiot boat driver to ruin your day.


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The music of DRIVEN

The music of DRIVEN

[YouTube video]

[Narrator] Day breaks.

And almost miraculously, despite five hours of complete darkness and grueling conditions, Evan’s swim is still just on track to break the speed record.

But even though time is on his side, Evan’s will to push on teeters on the brink.

[Evan] I wasn’t motivated. There was no goal I had in mind — at least at night.

Really, there was just nothing else but: One stroke after another.

And then during the day, everything shifted a little bit.

There’s an unavoidable thing, with the sun coming up into the sky, and night turning into day. Life seems a little bit better.

I guess I thought to myself: Well, I made it to this point. I can’t really quit now. That would be ridiculous.

[Narrator] Evan doesn’t push on; he charges on.

[David Yudovin] If you’re motivated to make the swim, it’s going to work. If it’s deep in your heart, it will all fall into place.

[DRIVEN official website]…

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