Sub-100 swims: Also known as “winter” for San Francisco open-water swimmers.
A sub-100 swim is when the water and air temperatures (in degrees F) sum to less than 100. For example, 50 degree water + 50 degree air = 100 exactly.
For our metric system friends, a sub-100 day conveniently converts to a sub-20C day, precisely.
Like much of the western U.S., San Francisco has been experiencing a bit of a cold snap lately. This morning at Aquatic Park we had 51-degree (10.5C) water combined with 37-degree (2.8C) air, for a combined total of 87 – which, I think, is a new all-time low for me.
I swam with my 6:30am group for our typical 45 minutes. Tellingly, the South End men’s showers were already running lukewarm when I arrived.…
My swim cap is tighter-fitting; my goggles are lighter-weight; and my swimsuit is constructed of chlorine-resistant polyester.
But aside from that, not much has changed from fifty years ago, when South End Rowing Club members waded into Aquatic Park cove wearing this:
Swim costume, circa 1960s. South End Rowing Club, San Francisco.
I’d argue that the only truly essential item is the goggles… but this is a family-friendly site.
Close-up of goggles from the same display.
Marathon swimming resists technology more than most sports, thanks to strict guidelines on swimwear enforced in the English Channel (our Everest) – guidelines which are widely emulated around the world. Indeed it’s a point of pride among many marathon swimmers, who value the connection with our sport’s pioneers. A level playing field across decades.…
Each fall and spring, the channel swimmer / bubble-cap aficionado / legendary South Ender known as El Sharko (occasionally “Sir Sharko,” sometimes shortened to “Sharko,” and just “Chris” to his wife) organizes a swim & BBQ at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park, north of San Francisco.
In homage to the white sharks who breed near the mouth of Tomales Bay, this event is known as the “Tomales Bay White Shark Swimming Association (TBWSSA) Chomp” (alternatively, “Tomales Bay Dangerous ‘Swim with the White Sharks’ Chomp,” often shortened to simply “The Chomp”). Sharko’s sanguine approach to the oft-repressed fact of VW-sized predators in our local waters is encapsulated by his calling card: “I never met a shark I didn’t like.”
Special “Chomp” course buoy, handmade by El Sharko.
Two days before Bay to Breakers in May (yes, it’s a belated report), an oversubscribed volunteer corps opened up a couple spots on another SERC club swim: Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park. Kirby Cove is the same beach on the Marin Headlands where Cathy finished her “Three Bridges” swim in March. Outside the Golden Gate, but not as far as Point Diablo or Point Bonita. At 4.2 miles (current-assisted), it’s one of the longer SERC club swims, so a bit odd to have on the same weekend as Bay to Breakers.
I wasn’t planning to swim that morning and showed up to help kayak or time. It turned out there were plenty of volunteers, so I figured what the hell… I paid my fee and changed, like a chubby Clark Kent, into my drag suit and parka.…
[Read Part 1]
When we swim in the ocean we share the water with an abundance of other life, some of it larger and toothier than we are. Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. And just because they’re there doesn’t mean they care about us, or want anything to do with us.
Members of the South End Rowing Club and Dolphin Club, who share a beach on Aquatic Park, San Francisco, were recently reminded of these truths when a three-foot juvenile salmon shark swam into the cove and spent a few minutes cruising around near our docks. Salmon sharks sport a distinctive white underbelly and are sometimes mistaken for juvenile Great Whites. Though adults can grow to 10 feet long, they’re generally not considered a threat to humans.…
The Candlestick “Nutcracker” is the longest SERC club swim – 10.5 miles – though some consider it not as challenging as outside-the-Gate swims such as Bay-to-Breakers and Point Bonita.
If anything, the most pressing challenge for Candlestick swims is support logistics – transporting all the kayaks down to Candlestick, setting the swimmers off on time, and modeling the ebb tide accurately in a relatively unfamiliar part of the Bay.
Photo by Robert Campbell, with approximate swim course shown in red.
Instead of swimming, I opted to pay back a portion of my volunteer debt and sign up for kayak support. It was my first SERC support paddle, and only my second overall, after the Semana Nautica 6-mile a couple weeks ago.
Despite the main kayak transport vehicle failing to show, we managed to arrive at Candlestick a few minutes before 6am – just 15-20 minutes behind schedule.…
Yesterday the South End Rowing Club of San Francisco and the Bondi Icebergs of Sydney officially became “sister clubs” as a delegation of visiting ‘Bergs joined us for a Tuesday morning Alcatraz swim.
In need of, I suppose, new challenges, I decided to attempt the swim using only sculling drill - both forward (hands in front) and back (hands by hips). I filmed the event with a GoPro on a head attachment.
I ended up resorting to a few strokes of backstroke (so as not to stretch out the support vessels), but for the most part I did it: Alcatraz to Aquatic Park… sculling.
Here’s 52-minute video condensed to just over two. Unfortunately the GoPro memory card reached capacity shortly after I entered the cove, so I didn’t capture the finish.…
This Sunday is the annual South End Rowing Club “Pride Swim,” a short ~1.2 mile flood-assisted swim from “Coghlan Beach” (fronting the Golden Gate Yacht Club) to the SERC beach. It is one of many LGBT Pride-related sporting events in San Francisco, the Proudest among cities, and one in which I will Proudly take part.
Course route: “Coghlan Beach” to SERC
Recently long-time SERC member Daniel M. sent the following message to the club email list, detailing some interesting history, placing SERC in the context of gay rights, AIDS, and the progressive tradition of San Francisco.
This email is one of many reasons I am Proud to be a South Ender.
Full names have been abridged in the interest of privacy.
This “Pride Swim” Sunday is in and part of a great progressive tradition of the SERC.
I renewed my membership at the South End Rowing Club this year, and am determined to get my money’s worth. So far this year I’ve done two club swims, a “sunriser” swim, an Alcatraz swim, numerous casual swims in and around Aquatic Park with fellow club members, and crewed on Cathy’s epic 3 Bridges Swim. Last weekend was the infamous “Five Coves of Death” – five laps around the perimeter of Aquatic Park at 5:00pm on May 5th. 5CoD is also the qualifier for Bay to Breakers, the crown jewel of the club’s long swim program.
What exactly constitutes a lap of Aquatic Park? This is a source of some confusion and controversy. A “tight cove” is shown in an illustration by Joe B.…
Recently I had the pleasure of joining the Alcatraz Swimming Society (ASS) for one of their weekly swims. The ASSes are a few South Enders who really, really like to swim to (and from) Alcatraz. The day I swam, it was co-founder Gary Emich‘s 985th Alcatraz crossing (!). Gary and Stevie Ray Hurwitz (also in the water) are in a heated but friendly race to 1,000 crossings.
We jumped at 6:45am from Pier 33 into slack-ish 51.1-degree water. Air temp was around 50-flat, putting the combined “open water chill factor” right at the feared 100 barrier. Heightening the thermal challenge were 10-knot winds (gusting to 15) out of the SW.
Sync-swimming with Stevie Ray.
I entered the water last, sprinted for a couple minutes to catch up to the others (and also to warm up), and then started filming.…
Last weekend I had the pleasure of escorting Cathy on a big, cold swim in San Francisco Bay to celebrate her birthday. We’re calling it the “Three Bridges” swim: She swam from the Third Street Bridge in McCovey Cove (the original location of the South End Rowing Club in 1873), under the Bay Bridge, and under the Golden Gate Bridge, before finishing at Kirby Cove on the Marin Headlands.
8.7 miles in 2 hours, 10 minutes (with a push from the ebb tide) in 51-degree water, without a wetsuit. It was a damn impressive, inspiring swim, and I’ve never seen Cathy swim so well. She seems totally at home in cold, rough water – and indeed she seems to thrive, the worse conditions become.
With El Sharko‘s steady hand at the tiller, I managed the feedings and aimed my GoPro:
Cathy’s “Three Bridges” SF Bay Swim: 3rd St, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.…
When we left off in Part 1, I stood aboard the SERC boat Dauntless, trying to summon feelings of, well… dauntlessness. I wore one blue polyester Speedo Endurance square-leg, two caps (yellow latex on orange silicone), blue Malmsten Swedes, and earplugs. I’d never worn earplugs before, but I think they helped quite a lot in keeping the cold at bay.
At the start. Photo by Lee Bruno
The nearest ocean buoy read 54.6F; the buoy inside the Bay was about a degree warmer. After reciting DBAP a few times, I leaped off the side of the boat – about a 4-foot drop. The water felt… actually pretty nice! I swam up to Cathy and wished her a fun paddle. She should have been in water instead of me; but as Plan B’s go, this was alright.…
Swimmers in parkas milled about, organizing their nutrition and applying lube. Paddlers secured their kayaks and stuffed dry-bags. Other volunteers helped launch Zodiac boats. It was earlier than most preferred to be awake on a Sunday morning… but the tides of San Francisco Bay wait for no one.
The Golden Gate as seen from Point Bonita. Photo by Flickr user Bob Franks.
Swimming in the Bay, the tides are king. The rising waters of the flood and the falling waters of the ebb must squeeze through the narrow Golden Gate Strait – magnifying the currents. The morning of June 3, we would be pushed through the Strait by a max 4.6-knot flood – impossible for even the fastest swimmers to fight, even briefly. Faster than any of the river currents at MIMS.…
For six years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area – and not once did it occur to me that anyone would swim in the Bay. Literally and figuratively, I swam in a concrete box. So when I returned this past weekend for the first time in several years, a top priority was a visit to Aquatic Park.
Aquatic Park. Photo by Chamois Moon
Part of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Aquatic Park is the hub of open water swimming in the city, and among most historically significant swim spots in the world. The cove – bounded by horseshoe-shaped Municipal Pier, Hyde Street Pier, and the Maritime Museum beach – is closed to boats and offers a safe, protected venue for cold-water swimming.…