Joe Locke: Farallon Islands to Golden Gate Bridge


Swimmer

Swim

Route Details

Support Personnel

Rules & Conduct

GPS Data

Log Observations

Recorded with Garmin Fenix 2, worn by observer.

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SPOT Tracks

Some trackpoints missing due to broken link between satellite and SPOT device.

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See Google Map for underlying GPS data.

Tides & Marine Weather

Current Model, Golden Gate Entrance

[Source data]

Orange-shaded area indicates time of swim.

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Summary of Weather Observations

Sun and Moon

Observed Water & Air Temperature

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Observer Narrative Report

On July 12, 2014, 45-year old Joseph Locke of Mill Valley, California swam from Southeast Farallon Island to the Golden Gate Bridge. Joe is the second known person to complete this 29.7 statute mile route, after Ted Erikson in September 1967. He finished in 13 hours, 58 minutes - 40 minutes faster than Erikson.

Other successful Farallones swims include solo efforts by Stewart Evans (August 1967) and Craig Lenning (April 2014), who both finished on the mainland in Marin County; and three six-person relay teams (in 1969, 2011, and 2011).

Joe’s swim was escorted by the Hyperfish, a 38-foot Delta Marine Charter Boat berthed in San Francisco and piloted by Captain Brent McLain and Second Captain Daniel Lazzari. Also on board were crew Karen Rogers, Kim Rutherford, and Earle Conklin; documentarians David McGuire (Shark Stewards) and Gretchen Coffman (University of San Francisco); and observer Evan Morrison (Marathon Swimmers Federation).

After a remarkably smooth ride across the channel, the captain tied off to the small white buoy in Fisherman Bay shortly after 10pm, July 11. The light of a full moon filtered through the cloud cover, offering excellent visibility. The lights of San Francisco were clearly visible to the east. The water temperature, confirmed on two separate gauges, was just under 54F. Air temperature 58F, no wind, no swells. Small waves lapped gently against the rocks.

Amid the cacophonous vocalizations of seals, seagulls, and common murre, we rested until Joe’s scheduled swim start at midnight (timed to catch the incoming flood tide).

Joe entered the water at 12:06am, quickly tagged the buoy and took off toward the city lights. By his first feed at 40 minutes, he had settled into a stroke rate in the mid-to-high 70s - which he would maintain through the first eight hours. Joe swam off starboard, breathing bilaterally with a distinctive water polo-style rhythm.

He swam from feed to feed, relentlessly, with hardly an interrupted stroke. His feed stops typically lasted 30-45 seconds, and involved very little talking - just an occasional request for water or mouthwash. He acknowledged our encouragement, mostly wordlessly, and seemed in generally positive spirits.

Around 2:30am, Joe was bumped a couple times by a harbor seal. This startled him enough that he briefly broke stroke - but after clarifying the species he continued on. In the calm, clear water we constantly saw jellies float by. Presumably some of these nailed Joe, but he never said much about it. Around 5:00am Joe removed the electronic shark deterrent from his ankle.

As the sun rose, the wind picked up - but only slightly. Maybe 3-5 knots, just enough to texture the water a bit. The Golden Gate Bridge, now 12 miles closer than when we started, was clearly visible on the horizon.

The sea temperature, which warmed to 55F almost as soon as we left the islands, was now pushing 56. Around 8-9 hours in, Joe’s stroke started looking a little less crisp, and his tempo declined to 70 SPM. For the first time, he asked for a progress report (“How far to Point Bonita?”).

Around this time, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear, the pilot adopted a slightly more northerly course. By 10:30am, we still did not seem to be getting any help from the flood. At this point a decision was made to move back to the south, closer to the shipping channel and deeper water. Soon thereafter, Joe’s progress abruptly sped up. At last, the flood.

When we passed Point Bonita and entered the Bay, the water had warmed to over 57F, with 12-knot onshore winds blowing across 2-3 foot NW swells. According to the captain, we were moving 2 knots in neutral. On the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge we were surrounded by the typical active boat traffic of a weekend afternoon in the Bay. A kiteboarder buzzed by and cheered. Tourist boats full of vaguely confused, uncomprehending stares.

Soon the Bridge loomed above. Victorious at last, on his seventh try, Joe tagged the concrete base of the South Tower. 45 seconds later, I stopped time when he cleared the base to the east, at 2:04pm. The models indicated 40 more minutes of flood current, but we weren't seeing it.

Joe was mildly hypothermic when he boarded the Hyperfish, but mostly just beat up, it seemed. We motored back to Aquatic Park, inched carefully into the Cove, and dumped off Joe for a final cool-down into the beach, followed by a short walk up the stairs to the Dolphin Club sauna.

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.

Published July 23, 2014.

Evan Morrison, Observer

Raw Observer Log

Click to enlarge.

Swimmer Narrative Report

When we started conditions could not have been better. The channel was like a lake - absolutely smooth and no one was even remotely ill on the ride out. We had a full moon with cloud cover so it was bright but not too bright. 

At the islands the wildlife was in full party mode. Birds were screaming, seals and sea lions were howling - it was Farallon mardi gras and they were all getting it on. The water temperature at the start was a balmy 53ºF. We found the buoy with over an hour to spare so everyone took a nap. I jumped in after midnight and had amazing bioluminescence - it was like swimming in a disco. But it was also jellyfish soup. Some would light up when I touched them. This was cool until they stung. 

There were all kinds: nettles, strings (one got stuck in my stomach hair - probably need to manscape next time), little tiny ones (one got in my mouth - really hurt) and big blobs. After a feeding or two in, I got bumped by something a few times - saw a large object move fast right below me. I stopped and my crew told me it was a friendly harbor seal. Luckily of the non-biting variety. 

I kept trying to not focus on how good overall conditions were because I didn't want to jinx it. I also had an issue of conditioning. I have not done any long swims for months as I have been taking my daughter to track meets on weekends and been assisting my mother who has ailing health. The cold was bothering me more than normally and about two hours in my shoulders hurt simply because I had not been properly conditioning. The water warmed up in the channel, but as morning came the marine layer kept the air cold and I didn't get that nice sun-baked layer on the top to the water that I was hoping for. The water was still cold at 55-56ºF, but not miserable as in some of my other low- or sub-50ºF attempts. 

About four hours in, my lower back started to cramp up as did my right calf. I was worried they would progressively get worse through the swim and shut down my mobility. This happened in other colder swims. Luckily they didn't. The fact that conditions remained very smooth until almost the end helped a great deal. If I were swimming in chop, I am sure the pain would have been much worse and significantly impacted my ability to swim. Still, from 5 hours in, this was one of the most uncomfortable swims I have had and remained so though the end. Luckily the pain intensity did not pick up and it was manageable. 

At roughly the 5-hour mark, we started to get pushed back by the ebb. I don't have the official report, but I am pretty sure my progress was slow until slack tide at 8:20. However, to avoid boat traffic, we were on the north side of the channel in shallower water. As the flood came on, we didn't get much impact because of the back-eddies at our position. After a few hours, a couple of my crew members figured this out and we re-positioned and started catching some of the flood, making good progress again. With a short distance to go, we were radioed that a tanker was coming down the north side of the channel right at our position. Thankfully my crew thought fast and we were able to cut a hard right and re-position in time. The flood pushing behind me helped me move quickly across the channel. 

As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, the tide had already started to change and was ebbing. The last 100 yards was a very hard push to make it under the Bridge. I had hoped to swim into Aquatic Park, but that is difficult against an ebb when a swimmer is fresh. After nearly 14 hours in the water and in quite a bit of physical pain, I called the swim after we cleared the Golden Gate Bridge. If we had been half an hour later, the ebb would have picked up driving us backwards and the swim would not have been completed. 

I cannot say enough about my crew: Evan Morrison, Karen Rogers, Kimberley Rutherford, Earle Conklin, David McGuire, and Gretchen Koffman. They were more focused, competent and supportive than I would have thought possible from anyone. 

I am looking forward to having more time for other things that really matter in my life. This sport takes away from many responsibilities and other enjoyments, especially from my daughter, which is my biggest priority as a single father and my mother needs care as well. It is also time I give back to others who are swimming since I have had such great support on my swims. I love open water swimming and have no intention of quitting but it is a tremendous consumer of time and money. It is time for some better balance.

-- Joe Locke

Other Documentation

Buoy Data

See linked page.