Craig Lenning: Farallon Islands to Muir Beach


Observer report written by Evan Morrison on behalf of the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation.

Swimmer & Swim

Name: Craig Lenning     Age: 34     Nationality: USA     Hometown: Denver, Colorado

Route Description: Southeast Farallon Island to Muir Beach, Calif.

Body of Water: Gulf of the Farallones, Pacific Ocean

Straight-Line Distance: 25.7 statute miles

Date: April 8, 2014    Start: 6:02 am    Finish: 9:49 pm    Elapsed: 15 hr 47 min 22 sec

Sanctioning Organization: Farallon Islands Swimming Federation (FISF)

Route Details

Start: Offshore buoy in Fisherman Bay (37.702350 N, -123.001933 W)

Finish: Muir Beach near mouth of Redwood Creek (37.859258 N, -122.576069 W)

Route plan changed mid-swim from original destination of Golden Gate Bridge.

Support Personnel

Pilot: Vito Bialla           Co-Pilot: Patrick Horn           Vessel: Sequel (Belvedere, Calif.)

Crew Chief: Jamie Patrick         Navigator: David Holscher

Observer: Evan Morrison (Marathon Swimmers Federation and Santa Barbara C.S.A.)

Rules & Conduct

Equipment Used: MSF Standard. Craig wore a single silicone cap, opting not to avail himself of a neoprene cap as allowed by FISF.

Rules Followed: MSF Standard, with FISF local exception of starting at offshore buoy due to regulations prohibiting access to island.

Feeding: every 30 minutes from the boat. Carbo Pro flavored with Cytomax and a splash of apple juice. Delivered with optional bottle of plain warm water. Occasional UCAN, ibuprofen, and Tums.

GPS Tracks

Recorded with Garmin Fenix 2, worn by observer.

Weather, Conditions, & Tides

Beaufort Wind Force: 1.5 - 2.5

Wind Speed: 1-3 kt (min) -- 8-10 kt (max)

Water Temperature: 54F - 57F

Air Temperature: 50F - 57F

Swells: NW 4-5 ft, moderating to 2-3 ft in late afternoon.

Skies: Fog (start) to partial sun to fog (finish).

Astronomy

Sunrise: 0644 Sunset: 1938.

Twilight: 0513 (astronomical), 0546 (nautical), 0617 (civil).

Twilight: 2109 (astronomical), 2037 (nautical), 2005 (civil).
Length of Day: 12h54m.

Length of Visible Light: 13h47m.
Moon: waxing gibbous (63%)

Observed Water & Air Temperature

Observer Narrative Report

On April 8, 2014, 34-year old Craig Lenning of Denver, Colorado completed the third solo swim in history from the Farallon Islands to mainland California, and the first since 1967.

The swim was supported by pilot Vito Bialla, co-pilot Patrick Horn, navigator David Holscher, crew Jamie Patrick, and observer Evan Morrison, aboard the Sequel, a 43-foot Grand Banks East Bay Yacht out of Belvedere, Calif.

We arrived at Fisherman Bay at the northwest corner of Southeast Farallon Island at 5:50am local time. The water measured 54F (12.2C), with 50F (10C) air and 5-knot winds. Our visibility was limited by fog and darkness (44 minutes before sunrise), but we could just make out the shadow of the pointed peak of Southeast Farallon Island. Screeching waterfowl and barking pinnipeds filled the aural landscape, though we could not see them.

Craig jumped into the water just after 6am. The swim began, per FISF rules, when he touched and released from a small buoy approximately 150 yards offshore from the island. The Farallons are a protected National Marine Sanctuary, and access to the land is strictly prohibited. The buoy is 29.6 statute miles from the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point; 27.0 miles from Point Bonita; 25.7 miles from Muir Beach; and 20.5 miles from Bolinas Point.

The planned destination was the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at Lime Point (29.8 miles). Official start time was 6:02am local time. Within minutes, the islands disappeared into the fog, and we would not see them again that day.

Craig began swimming with an initial stroke rate of 54 strokes per minute. Over the duration of the swim, his stroke rate ranged from a minimum of 52 SPM to a maximum of 58 SPM.

Conditions were considered quite favorable for swimming, given the notoriously volatile marine weather common to the area. Winds ranged from 5 knots at the islands in early morning, to 8-10 knots mid-channel in the early afternoon, to 3-5 knots in the evening near the coast. Medium-period swells of 4-5 feet rolled through from the Northwest, moderating to 2-3 feet in late afternoon. Water temperature increased gradually throughout the day, from 54F at the islands to 57F at the 6-mile buoy (46237), then back down to 55F as we approached the Marin coast. Fog at the islands gave way to partial sun and a clear view of the mainland, before the fog descended again in the evening.

Craig remained in seemingly good spirits throughout the swim. Though he became increasingly physically exhausted near the end, he never displayed any sign of hypothermia or mental incoherence. In the mid-afternoon, Craig reported some minor stomach malaise and forewarned us that he may need to vomit at some point. Subsequently he managed to settle himself down without being sick with a dose of Tums and somewhat slower feed stops. 

Wildlife: A few curious seals mid-channel. No cetaceans or large fish sighted. Craig reported making substantial contact with a single jellyfish in the late afternoon, and this was the only obvious distress we noticed in him in all day.

Every 30 minutes (coinciding with Craig’s feed stops) I recorded our distance to mark -- distance from current position to destination @ Golden Gate Bridge. After steady progress of 0.75-0.85 statute miles per 30 minutes, approximately halfway through the swim Craig’s pace increased abruptly to over 1 mile per 30 minutes. This acceleration occurred between miles 14-17 (Hours 8-10), and coincided with the scheduled end of the ebb tide at the Gate (slack 4:10pm).

This led us to believe that Craig was catching the beginning of the flood tide which, as planned, would suck him into the Bay and his intended finish at the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately, the acceleration ended as abruptly as it began, and Craig’s progress returned to 0.7-0.8 miles per 30 minutes. Between 5-6pm, when we found ourselves still more than 10 miles out from the Bridge, we became concerned that Craig would not reach his destination before the tide turned against him.

We briefly considered the strategy of evading the ebb current by sneaking through the slack water in the coves east of Pt. Bonita, but given Craig’s statement at 5:30pm (11h30m elapsed) that he had “six hours left” in him, but not more, we started discussing a route change, and a finish somewhere along the coast of the Marin Headlands.

At Craig’s 6:30pm feed stop, Vito explained the situation to Craig and presented him with two options: Swimming another 4-5 hours and finishing at Muir Beach, or swimming another 9+ hours and trying for the Bridge. Craig expressed some concern over whether FISF would recognize such a swim, but after certain assurances were made, Craig accepted the option of finishing on the nearest land, as Lt. Col. Stewart Evans had done 47 years before him.

The destination now officially changed to Muir Beach, we began tracking northeast in the waning daylight. Craig, who thus far had swum without any paddlers or pace swimmers, requested a pace swimmer once the sun set. Dave Holscher jumped in after the 7:30pm feed stop, with 3.2 miles remaining to the beach.

Craig’s progress briefly spiked again between 7-9pm; possibly we caught the tail-end of the flood as we approached the coast. At 8:30pm, Patrick Horn replaced Holscher as buddy swimmer, with just over 1 statute mile remaining. We figured Craig would finish in the next 30-45 minutes. Instead, an hour later we were still 500-600 yards off the beach, seemingly stuck in a back eddy.

Patrick got back on the boat at 9:30. At 9:40, I decided to join Craig and accompany him into the beach. The fog was dense and we would have no way of seeing him clear the water or stopping the official time from the boat. A local Muir Beach firefighter who had been watching the swim online guided us into the beach with a flashlight.

Craig cleared the water at 9:49pm, after 15 hours 47 minutes 22 seconds (timed via waterproof GPS watch which accompanied us into shore). He was steady on his feet and carried on a brief conversation with our local guide, so there did not appear to be any imminent health danger. After posing for a picture with his new fan, we waded through the small surf and swam a short distance back to the Sequel.

I witnessed this swim in its entirety, start to finish, and attest that it was conducted in strict accordance with the rules and spirit of traditional marathon swimming.

Submitted to Farallon Islands Swimming Federation, April 11, 2014.

Evan Morrison, Observer

Raw Logs

Click to enlarge.

Photos & Video

Buoy Data

* time (GMT); wind speed (m/s); wind gust (m/s), wave height (m), dominant wave period (sec), average wave period (sec), dominant wave direction, air temp (C), water temp (C)

Data from NOAA Buoy 46026 (17.8 miles W of Ocean Beach)

Data from NOAA Buoy 46237 (SF Bar, 6 miles SW of Pt Bonita)

Water Temp Data from NOAA Buoy 46214 (24.5 miles W of Pt Reyes)