Kim Hedges and Sarah Roberts - Round-Trip Brothers Islands

Loop (CW) around Brothers Islands from China Camp

10.4 km (6.5 miles)

4 hours, 31 minutes on 4 October 2020

Observed and documented by Katie Ross




Name Gender Age Nationality Resides
Kim Hedges female 42 USA San Rafael, California
Sarah Roberts female 36 USA Redwood City, California

Support Personnel

  • Neil Heller - crew chief
  • David Roberts - kayaker
  • Brent McLain - boat pilot


Katie Ross

Escort Vessel

Name Type Port
Tango Fletcher rigid-hull inflatable, 27 ft Hyde Street Marina, San Francisco

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Tandem Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Kim: Textile swimsuit (TYR), cap, goggles, earplugs. Sarah: Textile swimsuit (TYR), cap, goggles, earplugs, sunscreen.

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay
  • Route Type: island loop
  • Start and Finish Location: China Camp Beach (just north of pier) (38.000977, -122.461300)
  • Turnaround Location: The Brothers (37.963134, -122.434251)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 10.4 km (6.5 miles) (map)


First known swim of this route.

Swim Data

  • Start: 4 October 2020, 06:05:00 (Pacific Daylight, America/Los_Angeles, UTC-7).
  • Finish: 4 October 2020, 10:36:10
  • Elapsed: 4 hours, 31 minutes, 10 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 62 67
Air Temp (F) 62 67
Wind (knots) 2 7

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 5 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Kim: Carbopro/Tang/electrolytes, chocolate Skratch, water. 1st feed @ 1 hr, then every 30 min. Sarah: Carbopro, Skratch, Gu, fruit puree. Every 30 min.

Observer Log

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Observer Narrative Report

by Katie Ross

The mood was positive and optimistic when we met at 4:15 a.m. at the SERC. From there we connected with pilot Brent at the Hyde Street Pier for the trip to China Camp Beach, in San Rafael. If successful, this would be the first (recorded) swim to the Brothers Islands from the China Camp Beach. (Kim and Sarah had a prior unsuccessful attempt.)

Brent McClain was the veteran skipper. Neil Heller managed navigation and provided observation assist. David Roberts gave support on the kayak.

Warm water and calm weather, illuminated by an almost full moon, greeted us when we arrived at the beach. The two entered the water to start the clock at exactly 6:05 a.m. Almost immediately, the crew could tell that this swim was different than their prior attempt at this swim.

Kim and Sarah were strong as the sun rose. There was a beautiful pink sky over Mt. Tam. Only one tanker passed on the way to the lighthouse but did not delay their cross of the channel. The tides cooperated and help to carry the two to East Brother Island in just under an hour and fifteen minutes.

Seals and an eddy greeted us at the West Island. Kim and Sarah powered through the water with little progress as we waited for another tanker to pass before the two could cross the channel to better water. Once across, the tides were again in our favor and the two made good ground. Along the way we had warm weather, warm water, and the stern of a sunk sailboat. The two successfully landed in great time with great spirits.

Crew Chief Narrative Report

by Neil Heller

My eyes popped open. Zero dark thirty hadn’t yet arrived. Yet, another swimming adventure was about to begin. On this day, Kim Hedges and Sarah Roberts planned to swim from San Pablo Bay’s China Camp Beach near San Rafael to a pair of islands called the Brothers, around the Brothers, and then back to China Camp Beach—a round-trip distance of roughly seven miles. Since this swim passed another small island pair known as the Sisters, Kim and Sarah named their first attempt “Hoes Before Bros,” and this second attempt “2 Hoes 2 Bros.”

It seems like most marathon swims require darkness. This day was no exception. Zero dark thirty meant 4:30 a.m., when we would meet SF Boat Support’s Captain Brent McClain and board his vessel Tango at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier. Tango is a rigid hull inflatable boat equipped with a really fast outboard motor. At the appointed time and place, we met Captain Brent, he invited us to board his boat, we loaded our gear, and we headed north for the fourteen-mile journey to where the swim would begin. In addition to the swimmers and captain, our team included Katie Ross to observe and document the swim, David Roberts to kayak and provide drinks and feeds to the swimmers, and myself to crew and look after the swimmers as their factotum.

On schedule, we left the dock and motored to China Camp Beach. Heavy fog set in during the early morning hours requiring extra caution as Captain Brent piloted Tango. The thick fog practically hid Alcatraz as we passed its eastern shores. We then motored past Angel Island where the fog thinned. The fog finally cleared as we left Angel Island in our wake. The trip to the start of the swim took about an hour. 

As the swim was about to begin, Kim and Sarah prepared themselves for their marathon. They applied copious amounts of sunscreen and zinc oxide to protect their bodies from both sunburn and chafing. Not wanting to feel left out, I took the opportunity to apply sunscreen as well. At 5:55 a.m., only still slightly past zero dark thirty, we launched the kayakers and swimmers and watched the lights strapped to their goggles as they made their way to the beach. Marathon swim rules for this route required the swimmers to both initiate and complete the swim with their feet on dry land. Captain Brent used his spotlight to ensure the swimmers had, in fact, started their swim on dry land. 

At exactly 6:05 a.m. Captain Brent sounded his air horn and the swim began. The swim from China Camp Beach to the Brothers required the swimmers traveling south while crossing a major shipping channel. The start time coincided with the current going in the same direction as the swim. After leading us a couple of hundred yards due east, Captain Brent plotted a straight-line course heading southeast slightly above our destination. He chose this line to ensure the swimmers benefited from the current while leaving sufficient distance for the current not to push them too far south and miss the islands altogether. Neither the swimmers’ pace nor the current’s speed let us down. Swiftly, they moved approximately three miles per hour. We passed the Sisters quickly after setting a course towards the Brothers.

As dawn broke, the swimmers had been in the water for about twenty minutes and hadn’t yet entered the shipping lane. At this point, Captain Brent informed us an oil tanker would be transiting the shipping lane. “Not to worry,” he told us, since his chosen course would allow the tanker to pass in front of us with a tremendous safety margin. In fact, the tanker swiftly went by, our swimmers held their line, and the Brothers drew closer. 

The Brothers are a pair of small islands. They look more like two rocks sticking out of the bay. Appropriately, they named the eastern brother East Brother and the western brother West Brother. East Brother has a lighthouse and a beautiful Victorian house that also serves as a bed and breakfast; Kim and Sarah share a fondness for lighthouses.

Just before arriving at the Brothers, David gave the swimmers their first feed. Both Kim and Sarah consumed some secret potion. Each potion appeared different in color yet seemed to give them the nutrients required for them to keep swimming. 

We rounded East Brother quickly and the swimmers immediately turned to the west towards West Brother. Unlike East Brother, West Brother appears more like a barren rock with birds and seals claiming it as their home. The turn west also meant Kim and Sarah no longer swam with the current, but rather, they now swam across the current. While this slowed their pace, they still advanced westward with the Brothers protecting them from the southbound current’s full force. However, once they passed West Brother and turned north, the southbound current held them in place. This turned to their advantage since another southbound tanker would shortly pass in front of us. 

Captain Brent communicated with other vessel captains. As our swimmers maintained their holding pattern by swimming into the current, Captain Brent informed us the tanker had changed its speed to a slow bell. Slow bell is a ship’s minimum speed. Flank bell—full speed—would be the opposite of slow bell. With the ship on slow bell, and the current still ebbing, i.e., heading southbound, we needed to keep the swimmers out of the shipping lane until we could be certain the tanker would pass in front of us. 

Once the tanker passed, the swimmers initiated their shipping channel crossing heading northwest. Due to the strong ebb, they actually advanced southwest. Safety mandated that the priority was crossing the channel quickly, regardless of advancing towards the final objective of China Camp Beach. We knew once the current reversed from the ebb to the flood, the inbound flow would accompany the swimmers back to the finish. On schedule, and consistent with the tide charts, the current did switch from ebb to flood. 

David continued to provide Kim and Sarah their feeds every thirty minutes. Also, at thirty-minute intervals, Katie counted stroke rates, measured wind speed (7 mph) and water temperature (64-67ºF), recorded latitude and longitude, took notes, and noted observations. As the swimmers’ crew, my role was to ensure they could safely swim, evaluate their mental fitness, look for signs of distress (like hypothermia), and try to stay out of everyone else’s way. Generally speaking, I gave myself an A+ performance with appropriate grade inflation noted.

Kim and Sarah appeared to really enjoy their swim. They laughed, smiled, told jokes, and seemed truly in their double hydrogen-oxygen elements for the entire experience. They maintained their strong pace and approached China Camp Beach. After swimming four hours, thirty-one minutes, and ten seconds, Kim and Sarah safely completed THE first-ever “2 Hoes 2 Bros” swim when their feet touched dry land.

Swimmer Statements

by Kim Hedges

In the spring and summer of 2020, when the world around me was crumbling and/or literally going up in flames, I took a lot of walks in a park not too far from where I live that I’d always meant to spend more time in, McNears Beach Park. It’s right at the southwest corner of San Pablo Bay, close to where it joins the SF Bay. I had done one very short swim off of McNears several years ago, early in my open water swimming days, but never since; the SF Bay is generally more compelling. And yet I had some training in the bank for a couple swims that disintegrated due to COVID, and, like just about any open water swimmer would, when looking at the bay I would start wondering what the long swim options were out there.

It turns out not a ton, as the NOAA map that I downloaded of San Pablo Bay reveals that it’s overall pretty shallow, and extremely shallow along almost its entire perimeter, where there are yards and yards of marshy/mudflat areas. Still I felt like there had to be some kind of 10K+ swim options. One of the routes I started messing with was from McNears, which does have a sandy/rocky beach (though still a much better idea to access at higher tide). I did a rough estimate of the distance from McNears out around one and both of the Brothers islands near Richmond, one of which has a lighthouse on it. The route was a tad too short from McNears. Then, however, I mapped it from the beach at China Camp State Park, which was right up the road from McNears … bingo. Plus, this route took you over the deepest water in the area (the San Pablo Strait), and I generally prefer to avoid shallow water.

I told my friend Sarah about the idea—we’re both big lighthouse fans, and there isn’t really anything about this swim that dictates that it’s necessary to do it solo (unless you really care about speed records I guess, which neither of us do). She was totally interested.

Our first attempt was in August 2020. I’d like to mention in general that the boat ride from Hyde St. all the way up to San Pablo Bay in the pre-dawn dark is delightful. It feels really far, and yet it’s still kind of part of SF Bay, and with a clear sky (which it was for both of our attempts) the stars are gorgeous.

We learned several things on our first attempt, including the epic nastiness of the mudflats. When we jumped out of the boat at China Camp we both sank into the mud to about our knees. It feels kinda silly for a split second or two, but quickly becomes alarming when you realize you’re still sinking and have no idea when it’ll stop. When we got to shore I had to catch my breath not really from the water temperature (warm), but from the reflexive panic of sinking deep into slimy mud (peppered with mysterious sharp objects; we both discovered cuts on our feet and legs later).

Another general statement I’d like to make about both attempts is that this area, particularly as you approach San Pablo Strait, is even more beautiful than I’d expected, and provides a really unique perspective on Marin and the East Bay. I felt like I was in a very scenic punchbowl— calm water, pretty colors, and the spot feels ringed by mountains. And again, reminiscent of the boat ride up there, you feel like you’re somewhere else entirely, but you’re not far from the main SF Bay.

Not too long into the swim I could feel what was supposed to be a tiny flood giving an inordinate amount of resistance. Additionally, I started to get the impression that the islands weren’t getting any bigger. This is a common illusion on long swims, so I held on to a bit of hope for a while … until it continued to be clear that the islands were really not getting bigger (later, our tracker route indicated that we were kind of moving sideways, rather than towards the islands). We’d meant to catch some ebb on the way down and ride the flood back, but it was clear that we’d started much too late in the cycle: we got flood for the first half when we only wanted it for the second. David and Brent indicated that whenever we stopped we lost ground. Sarah and I had a pow-wow, and it looked increasingly likely that if we ever did reach the islands, by the time we did the flood might be dying, which would leave us facing the ebb, i.e., another uphill battle, all the way back to the start. I did not want to turn a 3-4 hour swim into an 8-hour swim for no good reason. (Not to mention, that was way over the time estimate we’d given to the boat captain.) Thus, I got out of the water first—a super-weird feeling, I have to say. I think this was the first time I’d quit a swim when neither the water conditions nor my physical state would have prevented me from continuing. It also felt weird to watch Sarah continue to swim for a while (at first she said she’d just try to reach the islands at least); almost felt like an out-of-body experience, watching what could have been me, in real time.

One other aspect of this area that I got to witness more once I got back on the boat, and which I think applies to both our attempts but more so the first, is the interesting boat traffic in the area. There was a veritable ballet of barges and tugboats in the strait.

After not too long Sarah also decided to get out. We were both pretty frustrated—can’t totally speak for Sarah, but as for myself, I just knew that this swim should by no means be beyond us. So we resolved to try it again.

Our second attempt was in October, in what randomly ended up being a very busy week or so of swimming for me. While the ride to the start was again on a dark starry morning, we made a few changes this time. These included (this one based on input from David) adding a crew person to the boat; basing our tide data on input from a station in Richmond, not near the Golden Gate; and timing the swim based on the tide table, not on when slack current was. Surely most importantly, this time I also resolved to get horizontal in the water at the start as soon as possible, so as to increase my surface area potentially touching the mud and thus minimize the alarming sinking. (While I did do this, because we started earlier in the tide cycle the second time, the water level was a little higher and thus the mud a little less threatening.)

I think Sarah and I were both figuratively holding our breath a little on the first leg of this swim, waiting to see whether we made more progress than we did the first time, when we barely got into the strait—we were both worried about a repeat of the first time. But indeed, the islands soon—quite soon—got bigger and bigger. It was a great feeling. By the time we reached East Brother, there was still periwinkle early morning light in the sky, and the light on the lighthouse was still flashing. We had to do a bit of crabbing to get around the western island (the one without a lighthouse on it—I think David described it as being the “uncool” Brother or something) as we still had a bit of ebb left, but we had a general idea of the tide cycle so we knew low tide was coming soon and that this was going to be a relatively short-lived struggle. Indeed, it turned around before too long, and, on the way back, with some small amount of glee,

I noticed that at times David wasn’t even paddling the kayak—which meant that he was simply getting a ride on the current, and thus Sarah and I were too. Neil confirmed later that we seemed to fly by the several anchorages (?) that dot the stretch of water off of the rock quarry part of the coastline.

It was a fabulous swim and I’m happy to have come up with another “round trip” swim in the bay, a type of route that one can safely assume I’m a big fan of.

P.S. A statement on the two “names” of our swim: The “vanity URL” of the first tracker was “hoesbeforebros” (or hoes_before_bros, I can’t remember). This was a triple entendre: 1) the meaning of the phrase that everyone knows; 2) before we reached the Brothers islands (i.e., bros) we would pass two smaller “islands” (just big rocks really) called the Sisters (i.e., hoes); and 3) lastly, using “before” in the sense of “in front of,” as at the turnaround point we, i.e., the hoes, would be in front of the Brothers islands. Vanity name of the second tracker was 2hoes2bros (also meant as a vague reference to 2 Fast 2 Furious).

by Sarah Roberts

One of my favorite aspects of swimming in the San Francisco Bay is learning and understanding how the water moves throughout the Bay. The Bay is approximately 550 square miles and is constantly moving with regular tides. Factor in shoreline and underwater terrain, and there is hardly a rule book for knowing exactly how the water will be moving at precise moments. However, tide and current books give us a reasonable estimate to make plans for a swim like this one.

In the spring of 2020, Kim Hedges approached me about doing a tandem swim involving The Brothers. We both have a love affair with lighthouses and we had conversations about visiting The Brothers and the adorable bed and breakfast at the lighthouse on the larger of the two islands. Due to Covid closures, the bed and breakfast would be closed for over a year, so we thought a swim around it would be fun. We started looking at the current charts for that area of the Bay and tried consulting with our open water swimming community. Unfortunately, this area of the Bay is not well frequented and no one had specific advice about how to schedule a start time against the currents. There are two types of current data: currents (velocity of water movement) and tides (water highs and lows). Our first attempt took place in August 2020 and we used current data to plan the swim. Using current data is very helpful in the more western parts of the Bay (the channels near Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the Golden Gate Bridge). Knowing how strong the water will be moving and when the movement is lightest helps determine when swimming across the current would be most advantageous. We figured the same would be true for the more northern San Pablo Bay area, but we were very wrong. Within the first hour of our first attempt, we could already feel the flood tide pushing against us rather than the end of an ebb tide helping us. After a couple of hours, we called it quits and decided to do more research and try again. Our second attempt was October 4th, this time we opted for tide chart data instead of currents. We agreed that starting 2 hours before the lowest tide would give us enough time to reach the Brothers with the ebb current. This plan was successful! While experiencing failure does not always feel great, it can be taken as a learning experience. Using what we learned in the first attempt meant we had a stronger chance of success with our next attempt.

Before our first and second attempts I had never visited China Camp Beach. Kim warned me about the potential low tide mud problems, but I didn’t grasp the magnitude of how shallow that area of the Bay is. Our captain, Brent, navigated us as close as possible to the shore into a few feet of water. After the last bit of prep, we slid in and found our feet touching icky squishy mud. We tried not to get our legs stuck in the knee- deep mud, so the “swim” to shore was more like an Army crawl along the top. After catching our breath and having a quick laugh, we started our second attempt of round- trip Brothers. It was already feeling more successful as we couldn’t feel the resistance in the water as we made our way to the San Pablo Channel as we did during our first attempt. With just a little light in the sky we passed The Sisters, a pair of rocks on the northern side of the San Pablo Channel that mirror The Brothers on the southern side. Our spirits were high as we realized our plan was falling into place. Kim and I swam side by side; I breathe to the right, Kim to the left. David positioned his kayak to the right of us so I would have something to sight off, and Brent positioned Tango (the escort boat) to our left for Kim to sight off. As we left The Sisters our crew managed any boat traffic in our way. Brent is well known around the Bay and effortlessly consults with ships and negotiates them around us.

The sun rose as we approached The Brothers. As we crossed the channel we could see more of the adorable lighthouse. We came alongside the island and swam clockwise around, enjoying the view of the quiet island and lighthouse. The smaller of the two Brothers (west island) has no infrastructure, so it’s a convenient resting place for birds and seals. A few seals were sunning themselves on the lower rocks as we passed. One of them hopped in the water and swam with us trying to figure out what we were. It was a friendly encounter, and once it decided we weren’t that interesting, it returned to sun itself with the other seals.

The return to China Camp Beach from The Brothers had only a few moments of drama. After rounding The Brothers, we were not in the clear yet. Several large ships were traversing the channel and needed us to stay out of the way. That worked in our favor as the current had not changed yet from an ebb to a flood. Brent and David kept us in an advantageous position till the channel was clear to cross. Luckily we didn’t have to swim against the current for very long. The tides changed, the ships passed, and we were headed home. Landing back at China Camp Beach was a much more pleasant experience than the start. The tide came in several feet during our swam so we did not have to Army crawl through the mud as we swam to the beach. We exited the water together, delighted that we accomplished our swim.


Click to enlarge.