Brian Lanahan - Around James Island

Circumnavigation of James Island, South Carolina

31.62 miles (50.9 km)

13 hours, 21 minutes on 11 October 2017

Observed and documented by Janine Serell

First circumnavigation swim of James Island



  • Name: Brian Lanahan
  • Age on swim date: 42
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

Support Personnel

  • Dwayne Schalles - pilot
  • Ken Immer - kayak, crew
  • Janine Serell - observer

Escort vessel: Key West 197 out of Summerville, SC.

Swim Parameters

Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.

Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.

Route Definition

Clockwise circumnavigation of James Island (South Carolina) starting and finishing near northeast end of Folly Beach.

  • Bodies of Water: Atlantic Ocean, Folly River, Stono River, Charleston Harbor.
  • Route Distance: minimum 31.62 statute miles (50.9 km)
    • GPS track distance: 32.6 miles (52.5 km)
  • Route Type: circumnavigation
  • Start and Finish Location: 300 yards SW of large jetty marking NE end of Folly Beach (32°40’55.9”N 79°53’15.2”W)
  • Route Waypoints (CSV)
  • Route Map


First known circumnavigation swim of James Island.

Swim Data

  • Start: 11 October 2017, 05:36:00 Eastern Daylight Time.
  • Finish: 11 October 2017, 18:57:53.
  • Elapsed: 13 hours, 21 minutes, 53 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp 79F 84F
Air Temp 76F 86F
Wind 3 mph 7 mph (S)

Other Notable Events: Beautiful October day, winds were mostly quiet, very little boat traffic was encountered overall, an increase in Charleston Harbor as expected. The crew was treated to sightings of many dolphins and Monarch butterflies, it was a magical day, except when the swimmer projectile vomited 3 feet in a perfect arc for at least 5 minutes.

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 15 minutes.
Download raw data: CSV, GPX

Speed Plot

Observer Report


Download PDF

Background & Logistics

by Janine Serell

James Island is a beautiful, unique island in South Carolina with a rich history. Nestled amongst the deep blue waters of the Charleston Harbor and the meandering Stono and Folly Rivers, James Island boasts scenic marsh views and a plethora of majestic trees. Once covered in farmland, James Island is now primarily a residential community.

The planning of this swim may have been more difficult than the swim itself. The waters surrounding James Island are very tidal, marshy, shallow, and with hurricanes coming through on a regular basis navigating these waters that are constantly changing requires an extraordinary amount of testing and planning. This swim was over 3 years in the making, multiple hurricanes along with ear infections, and general life interruptions caused multiple delays. Brian and team finally had a clear window on October 10 to finally attempt this swim which he completed successfully on his first try.

Elliott Cut

The keys to the kingdom on this swim was to get to Elliott Cut before high tide. Much like Hell’s Gate in 20 Bridges, if the swimmer can clear this spot they can be successful. He needed to hit the Cut at high tide so the water would not be moving, there’s a 20 minute optimum window for this, if he missed it the swim was over.

In preparation Brian conducted three test swims on the route. All of them trying to figure out the correct time to arrive at the cut. If he made the cut then he would be spit out thru the harbor and into the ocean, well maybe not that easy.

History of Elliott Cut

Elliott Cut is a short, narrow Waterway channel through a residential neighborhood of high steep banks connecting the Ashley River with the Stono River. Although references are made to “Wappoo Cut” and “Elliott Cut” as early as the 1770’s, Wappoo Creek, as charted, west of the Ashley River, becomes a winding shallow creek running north of Elliott’s Cut. Elliott’s Cut, named for William Elliott, was dredged to bypass the twists of Wappoo Creek and was dredged to the current depth in the late 1880’s as part of the Intracoastal Waterway Project.


This was the planned timetable for the swim on Tuesday October 10 2017.
Actual clock time from the log posted in red.

Tues Oct 10th Swim - Real HT @ Elliot Cut 1:30PM

  • 5:15am-Leave North end of FB. 5:40
  • 7:20am-Sunrise 7:20
  • 8:30am-Leave End of FB Country Park 8:10
  • 10:30am-Sol Lagare BL 10:47
  • 1:00pm-Maybank Bridge
  • 1:30pm-Entrance-Real HT@Elliot Cut 1:30PM 1:35
  • 3:45-Past Sunrise Park
  • 4:45pm-Ft. Sumter
  • 5:15pm-Submerged Jetty at Corner of Morris Island
  • 6:52pm-Sunset
  • 7:45pm-Finish North end of FB 6:57


by Brian Lanahan

I have spent the last two days recovering from and processing the JI swim. The positive responses I have gotten has been awesome and makes me very happy to be part of the Charleston community and the worldwide Open Water swimming community.

A lot of folks have asked about the timing of the tides so I will explain that first and then kind of go through the swim as I experienced it.

Timing the tides was key to this swim. We swam in from the ocean on the incoming tide and then swam out on the outgoing tide. This swim worked a like other island swims Key West/Manhattan/Jersey. We had to hit Elliot Cut at high tide within a 30-45 min window.

I kinda thought either we were going to make it through the Cut or the swim was going to be over. Over the last three years I swam most of the sections from Folly beach up the Stono River to the Cut. The one section I did not swim ended up being the toughest part.

The swim started at 5:40am from the North end of Folly Beach. This was a little later than I wanted but we built in about 30mins of extra time to make sure we made it through the Cut. The first 1:30 was to be in the dark. The Moon was so bright that when my hand entered the water the bubbles lit up. I was ok with swimming in the dark but I had a very hard time settling in. The first two hours I was thinking “Why am I even trying this?” and “You are not in shape.” I tried to force myself into thinking positively but it took till the sun came up and we passed the Folly pier on time to start thinking I might be able to do this. We made the first checkpoint at the end of FB County Park on time and I knew swimming in from the ocean to the Stono River was going to be tough. There was little wind but at decent ground swell. Ken Immer deserves a kayak merit badge for staying up right and getting me into the Folly River.

That’s when things got interesting. I had not swam this part of the route but did do a kayak recon trip and thought it was going to work. Once we got into the Folly River we realized that the incoming tide was pushing me toward Folly and away from the Stono. I put my head down and tried to swim through the tide but we were making very little progress till Ken got me over near the bank and out of the main flow. For about 30min I was going almost flat out and trying to get into the Stono. I thought the swim might end right there. Slowly I could see we were making progress and for about the last five minutes before we broke into the Stono River I was going 100% all out. Once we got into the river I was able to swim more relaxed but realized that we were now behind schedule. We decided to keep swimming till at least the next checkpoint to see if there was still a chance to make the Cut. At the next checkpoint we were only 17 minutes late so we kept going to the next checkpoint the Maybank Bridge. I could tell that we were getting a big tide push and I could see the bridge getting close fast.

About 200m before the bridge J9 gave me a time check and I knew we could still make it. I said ‘Fuck it let’s go!”. I swam so hard for the next hour I felt like I was going to throw up. I started cheering for myself in my head like I was watching it happen. When we started to get closer to the entrance to the Cut I could tell we were going to make it. We swam 8 hours and hit the Cut within 10 minutes of the plan. Once we were in the Cut I took a big feed and got some cold water poured on my head cause it was scorching hot. We made it out of the Wapoo River and into the harbor and it was a bit rougher but I could tell the tide was rolling going out. Dwayne gave me the option of getting over out of the main channel into calmer water and give up some push but we decided to stay in the main flow and ride the waves out. Dwayne picked an awesome line going out of the harbor towards Ft. Sumter. Then at about 10 hours and half way out the harbor I started feeling sick and my next feed came right back up. I haven’t thrown up that hard since college. After I got it all out we started swimming again and about 20min later on my next feed I took plain water and a banana and started feeling much better. Going pass Ft. Sumter I was a little freaked out because I had never swam this section and felt like I was getting pushed out away from Morris Island where we needed to go. Ken, J9 and Dwayne calmed me down a set the perfect line to the corner of Morris Island and back out into the ocean. The next 2 hours I was feeling better and we made our way south down Morris Island towards the lighthouse and the North end of Folly Beach. Going across the light house inlet was kinda tough and once we were in front of Folly again I was TOAST. I breast stroked the last 15 min cause I had nothing left. Ken led me in on a perfect line and I landed just south of where I started. The sun was going down and it was surreal finishing. I was like “Did that just happen?”

What made this swim happen was years of planning and finding people who believed that the swim was possible and believed in me. Janine, Ken, Dwayne and Phil were part of the whole process and I will forever be grateful for their support.

We live in a world where Sarah Thomas swam 100 miles in 67 hours and Courtney Moates Paulk just dropped a DOUBLE Catalina. In the world of OW swimmers I am definitely a small fish and I’m totally happy with that. I just love the community and how almost everybody worldwide reaches out to support each other, even when we fail.

Photos & Video

Click to enlarge.

Interview with Blue Sky Endurance