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.…

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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

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).…

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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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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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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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