Amy Appelhans Gubser - Golden Gate Bridge to Farallon Islands

Golden Gate Bridge to SE Farallon Island

47.7 km (29.6 miles)

17 hours, 3 minutes on 11 May 2024

Observed and documented by Ken Mignosa

First to complete route in outbound direction (mainland to island)



  • Name: Amy Appelhans Gubser
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 55
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: Pacifica, California

Support Personnel


Ken Mignosa

Escort Vessel

Pacific Rival (Pillar Point Harbor)

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Textile swimsuit, cap, goggles.

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Gulf of the Farallones, Pacific Ocean
  • Route Type: one-way channel swim
  • Start Location: Golden Gate Bridge (37.821565, -122.478840)
  • Finish Location: Fisherman Bay buoy, SE Farallon Island (37.702353, -123.001942)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 47.7 km (29.6 miles) (map)


LongSwimsDB: Farallon Islands.

Previous MSF Documented Swim reports:

  • Craig Lenning - SE Farallon Island to Muir Beach (2014)
  • Joe Locke - SE Farallon Island to Golden Gate Bridge (2014)

Three known prior (unsuccessful) attempts to swim outbound (Golden Gate Bridge to Farallons), one in 2012 and two in 2015, all by men.

Swim Data

  • Start: 11 May 2024, 03:27:30 (Pacific Daylight, America/Los_Angeles, UTC-7).
  • Finish: 11 May 2024, 20:31:28
  • Elapsed: 17 hours, 3 minutes, 58 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 46 57
Air Temp (F) 50 59
Wind (knots) 0 8

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 20 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Carbo Pro, Nuun electrolytes, chicken broth, cut up peaches in peach juice, mashed potatoes (not all at the same time).

Observer Report

Download PDF

Observer Narrative

by Ken Mignosa

Some facts first.

  • Swim Route: Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Buoy at the Farallon Islands
  • Vessel: Pacific Rival
  • Captain: Chad Dahlberg
  • Crew Chief: Abigail Fairman
  • Crew: Kirk McKinney
  • Crew: John Sims
  • Kayaker: John Chapman
  • Crew and Backup Observer: Sarah Roberts Observer: Ken Mignosa
  • Vessel Departure from Hyde Street Marina in San Francisco Vessel Return to Pillar Point Marina in Half Moon Bay

Amy’s swim to the Farallon Islands could be said to have begun over 5 years ago. She has tried to set up this swim on multiple occasions during the last several years, and has been thwarted by shoulder issues, bad weather and a pandemic. Even this swim nearly didn’t happen, as the planned pilot vessel cancelled 3 days before the swim.

Thanks to Amy’s and her husband’s connections in the maritime community, another pilot vessel was located. The new pilot vessel was Pacific Rival with Chad Dahlberg as captain. Pacific Rival is a fishing boat, and not well suited to the task of guiding a swimmer. One of the downsides of the fishing boat were that the idle speed of the boat was much greater than that of a swimmer. This made the piloting task difficult for the captain. As is often the case on swims the boat is forced to go in and out of gear frequently. With currents being a bit irregular along our route the Farallones, every time the boat was in neutral it would drift slightly off course. The result was a fair bit of course correction for the boat. Chad Dahlberg did an excellent job of keeping the swim on course. Whenever he was in doubt about the needs of the swimmer, Chad consulted with the crew.

The other downside of the fishing boat was that there’s no way to get back on the boat from the water. This issue was dealt with masterfully by Captain Chad. He had arranged for two possible plans. One was a rope ladder, and the other was an extension ladder lashed to the boat. Ultimately, the extension ladder worked, but more about that later.

The upside of the fishing boat was huge amounts of deck space. The large rear deck area is intended to hold crab pots and/or ice chests. With all the crabbing gear having been cleared off for Amy’s swim, we could have easily erected a 6 person tent on the deck, and had plenty of room to spare.

A little before 1:00AM on Saturday, 11 May, the crew gathered at the Hyde Street Marina where we were to meet Pacific Rival. We began loading the boat with all the crew helping to get gear onto the boat and squared away. After the first trip to load gear on the boat Amy arrived, and the crew took care of getting her gear on the boat. Around 2:00AM we had a safety briefing from the captain, and a reading of the MSF rules by me.

Amy had planned to start the swim at the beginning of an ebb so that she’d get a push heading westward. The tide change was supposed to happen at about 2:30, and we headed out to the Golden Gate Bridge a bit before that. When we arrived, the tide may have changed, but the current was still flooding at about 1.5kts. Starting the swim with that kind of opposition from the current, wasn’t going to be success oriented. Essentially, Amy might have ended up getting tired out in the first part of the swim fighting the current.

Chad moved Pacific Rival out from underneath the Golden Gate Bridge toward Sausalito. This kept us out of the shipping lanes while we were waiting for the current to change. An added degree of difficulty for this swim was fog. As we motored toward the bridge, we could not see the bridge until we were nearly directly under it.

Just to make the start of the swim more interesting, there was a fair amount of vessel traffic going in and out of the Golden Gate on this morning. Once we moved away from the bridge to wait for the current to change, we had to wait a little longer for a container ship to pass. More ships were on an approach to San Francisco Bay, but we hoped we’d be clear of the shipping channel outside the Golden Gate before they arrived.

That hope was rewarded in all but one instance. Early on in the swim a container ship passed quite near to where Amy was swimming. We did not actually see the ship because of the fog, but we did hear its horn. Thankfully, Captain Chad had advised San Francisco Vessel Traffic about the swim. Vessel traffic had relayed the information to the vessel traffic coming and going from the bay.

Amy took her first feed about an hour into the swim, and thereafter she fed about every half hour. During that first hour, feeds were arranged, and chairs were set out on the deck so that Amy could be watched. As we headed away from San Francisco the atmosphere was eerie. The lights of the Golden Gate quickly disappeared from view. The only other light that we saw as we left San Francisco was from the lighthouse at Point Bonita – though we could not see the point itself.

Pacific Rival’s work lights had been left on so that it would be easy for Amy to follow the boat even in the fog. The lights also attracted moths, and as we continued westward, bats swarmed the boat to eat the moths. One of the bats landed on Abby! The moths and the bats in the heavy fog only added to the eerie feeling of the beginning of this swim. What either the moths or the bats were doing quite some distance from any land was a source of amazement among the crew.

Another source of amazement was Amy’s progress for the first few hours of the swim. Pushed along by about a 4kt ebb current, Amy covered 12 miles in about 3 Hours. About 4 miles per hour! While Amy was flying through the water, we all knew that the ebb current would come to an end, and after that the swim would require more work.

At some point, the Coast Guard, having been advised of the swim, called Pacific Rival, and asked for a description of Amy including the colors of the swimsuit she was wearing. Great white sharks, who use the Farallones as their breeding ground (in October), and are common in these waters, steer clear of Orcas. For this reason, Amy’s swimsuit was black and white. We later learned that Coast Guard was collecting information in case they were called upon for search and rescue.

As the ebb ended it became clear that Pacific Rival’s idle speed – high compared to a swimmer’s speed – was becoming a problem. If one looks at the tracking for the swim, there is a noticeable deviation from the straight line between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Farallones that occurred during this time. It took some time for the captain to come up with a plan that would keep the swim on track and keep Amy safe by having the boat nearby. Ultimately that plan was to go as slowly as possible. As Amy dropped behind the boat Chad would wait for her to catchup before moving slowly forward again. During the wait times the boat drifted, and as Amy was following the boat this led to a bit more zig zagging than was desirable.

The swim continued westward, and along the way we encountered several sea lions that were noted in the log. Sarah spotted a pilot whale, and this too was noted in the log. We saw a fair number of different kinds of sea birds - gulls, turns, murres, grebes, etc. As we continued, the bird life thinned, but did not completely disappear. the further we got from land. The sea life that we saw informed all on the crew that Great White Sharks probably weren’t nearby.

Sea lions make themselves scarce when predators are around. During this swim the sea lions that were encountered swam near Amy and/or her support swimmers. They also swam away and came back, and sometimes they lingered to watch either Amy or Pacific Rival. These were not animals hiding from a predator.

The swim continued westward in the fog. We got to see a small bit of blue sky for less than 20 minutes of this entire swim. The crew had hoped that the fog might clear in the afternoon. However, the fog did not clear in the afternoon. The fog did not clear in the evening. The fog did not clear at all.

Sarah was the first support swimmer to join Amy for an hour. Amy had been cheerful throughout most of this swim. Even so, Sarah’s company seemed to cheer Amy a bit. Sarah also helped Amy to minimize the zig zagging caused by the boat drifting while in neutral. The issue with Sarah’s support swim was going to figuring out how to get her back onto Pacific Rival. As mentioned earlier in the narrative. Captain Chad had arranged two options for getting a swimmer out of the water. The first was a rope ladder tied to the railing on the side of the boat.

The rope ladder was much too unstable for a swimmer to get out. Sarah tried using the rope ladder several times and fell off each time. When the rope ladder failed, we moved onto the backup plan. That plan was to strap an extension ladder to the side of the boat. It turned out to be a bit easier than expected to get the ladder secured to the boat, and Sarah had no trouble using the ladder to get onto Pacific Rival. We now knew how we were going to get Amy back on the boat!

Once Sarah was back on the boat, the ladder was stowed, and the swim resumed. However, a significant amount of time had elapsed with Pacific Rival in neutral while the crew were figuring out how to recover a swimmer. During that time, Pacific Rival drifted a little bit off course. Captain Chad did a great job of gradually getting the swim back on course.

When Sarah got out we were trying to gauge some time constraints. Toward the end of the swim John Chapman, our kayaker, was going to join Amy with a shark shield attached to the kayak. However, the shark shield battery life is only about 6 hours, and John felt that he was good for about 6 hours of kayaking. To be safe, we didn’t want to put the kayak in until we were about 5 hours from the Farallones. This way both John and the shark shield would last until the end of the swim. What followed was trying to work out Amy’s speed and the distance left to try and determine when to put the kayak and kayaker in.

All the time this was going on the water temperature was dropping, currents were swirling a bit, and Amy was getting cold as she slowed. We waited another hour before Kirk got in as the second support swimmer. Being joined by Kirk seemed to lighten Amy’ s mental load a little, and allow her to keep a straighter line. When Kirk was recovered onto Pacific Rival the crew thought that it was still too early to put a kayak and kayaker into the water.

After another hour, I got in as Amy’s third support swimmer. As with the other support swimmers, company seemed to benefit Amy both in her spirits and keeping her from zig zagging too much. I, as well as Sarah and Kirk, all noted significant cold patches during our time in the water. Sometimes these cold patches lasted a few strokes, and sometimes they lasted hundreds of meters. No doubt Amy had been experiencing this throughout her swim.

A little while after I was recovered onto Pacific Rival, it was time for the kayak and kayaker to get in. To conserve the shark shield battery a bit longer John would not enable the shield until we were closer to the islands. Though we could not see the Farallones due to the continuous fog they were visible on Chad’s chart plotter and radar. At this point Amy was a little more than 6 miles from the swim destination.

Amy was in pretty good spirits as we approached the Farallones. At several points along the way, Sarah and Abby read Amy words of encouragement that had been sent by people all over the world that were cheering her on. At one of her feeds, we knew that Amy was probably going to be okay because of something she said. After hearing encouragement from half a dozen people, she said that if they were so happy for her “they could come and finish the swim!”

To encourage Amy as we drew closer to the swim finish, and still could not see land, we gave her distance equivalents for the remaining swim. At one feed Sarah told Amy that what was left was the same as a swim from the Warming Hut to SERC against a current. Amy has done Warming Hut swims many times, and this seemed to register with her better than a mileage number.

We continued westward, and we must have made a funny sight in the final hours of the swim. Everyone kept looking forward to see the Farallones. We all knew they were there, but the fog was so thick we could not see them. Captain Chad thought that the fog was so thick we might not see the Farallones at all. We actually heard the Farallones about 2 miles before we saw anything. There’s a large colony of sea lions that call the islands home, and they were noisy.

About an hour before the end of the swim Amy said that she was cold. This was highly unusual for her. We let her know that she was nearly done, and told her to get swimming. Because it was so unusual for Amy to say anything about water temperature, immediately after Amy reported feeling cold the water temperature was taken. At that point the water temperature was 43F. It was another one of the cold spots mentioned earlier in this narrative. The temperature taken a couple of minutes later was back “up” to 48 – not that 48 could be considered warm.

We did not see land until we were less than 400 meters from the island. And even then, it was land seen through a heavy mist. Chad brought Pacific Rival as close as was safe to the buoy that Amy was to touch. Several of us did our best to get a picture of Amy touching the buoy through the fog from the port side of Pacific Rival.

Chad had agreed to turn the heat on in the sleeping berths on Pacific Rival so that Amy could warm up after the swim. The heat was going to be a little stifling to the crew, but great for Amy. When Amy was retrieved, she was in good spirits, but very cold. Her skin was quite pale and cold to the touch. Amy was hustled into the prepared warm space where she stayed for the return to Half Moon Bay.

Arriving at Pillar Point Marina at about 12:30AM on 12 May, Amy had warmed up. She was greeted by friends and family who were there to congratulate her on her historic swim. She is now the first and only person to have swum from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallones!

Crew Narratives

by Sarah Roberts

The Farallon Islands wield a sense of mystery - or you don’t even know they exist. They are hidden from San Francisco behind clouds, horizon, or powerful seas. But occasionally, on a clear day, they rise on the horizon like teeth: Devils Teeth, a name given to the islands by ancient mariners. Amy lives in Pacifica, and the islands have been calling to her for years. I met Amy in 2017 and the Farallones have come up in conversation nearly every year. But something always stood in the way: weather, water temps, a global pandemic, etc. This year felt different, and in January she started assembling her support team and training. I watched her determination and grit as she juggled commitments to swimming, work, family, and friends.

The Bay Area weather in spring can be a mixed bag of perfection to outrageous wind. All we needed was a small window of perfection. Is that too much to ask? We set a first jump date, but the weather did not cooperate. We all pivoted to the next opportunity and carefully watched the weather. Mornings would be calm, but ripping wind would come in the afternoons. As we approached the second jump date, everything seemed to fall into place. But three days before her next opportunity, the support boat had to pull out, leaving us a team with no boat. Amy reached out to everyone she knew who could help, and within one hour, she had a new support boat. It goes to show how beloved she is by her community and friends. Now everything was in place. She just needed to rest and mentally prepare for Saturday.

At 1:00 am on Saturday May 11th, Amy and crew arrived at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. Amy’s crew of six, John Chapman, Abby Fairman, Kirk McKinney, Ken Mignosa, John Sims, and myself, boarded the Pacific Rival. We discussed jump, finish, and route options with Captain Chad Dahlberg and called Vessel Traffic to alert them of our intentions. We had our work cut out for us: nine ships entering and exiting the Bay through the traffic lane that we needed to be in for a straight shot to the Farallones.

After some final planning, Ken read the marathon swimming rules to the crew, and we headed to the Golden Gate. We applied sunscreen and grease to Amy and waited for a passing ship before setting her at the start just inside the Bay at the bridge. At 3:27 am we said our goodbyes, best wishes, I love yous, and she jumped from the boat. The ebb tide was already ripping, and she was out the Gate and on her way.

The fog was sitting low and thick, making visibility very small. The lights of the Golden Gate glowed through the clouds as we got further and further away. We couldn’t see the passing shoreline except for the small flashing light of Point Bonita Lighthouse. With a 4kt ebb we were whisked away into the open ocean and away from any light. The lights on the boat started attracting large moths, and “birds” were swooping around the boat deck. We quickly realized that we weren’t seeing birds but bats! One even landed on Abby!

The hours ticked by and we were in a good routine. Amy fed every 30 minutes, and the crew took turns keeping an eye on her. She brought a variety of feeds to keep things interesting and to have options if a problem arose. Her base feed was CarboPro in chicken broth. She also loved canned peaches, Coke, and mashed potatoes. At each feed we’d ask her if she had a craving for something next. Sometimes she’d have something in mind, other times it was chef’s choice. Amy kept her wit and humor throughout the swim, cracking jokes during her feeds.

The water was glassy and smooth for most of the swim, and the conditions were perfect. We were socked in with fog but hoped to get some sun and clear skies eventually - that never came.

We were only able to monitor our progress with digital maps and GPS. We monitored Amy’s speed and tried to hold a straight course. The surface currents squirreled around, pushing us in all directions. Without a horizon or landmarks, it felt like we were in a twilight zone bubble. The view was nothing but gray.

At 10:00 am I got in to support swim with Amy, she was 6.5 hours into her swim. Jumping off the boat the icy cold water took my breath away. The surface temperatures were reading mid to low 50s at this time, but a foot below the temperatures were in the 40s. Every arm stroke was a mix of pleasant and frozen. I paced Amy for an hour, giving her something to sight off and companionship. We’ve swum so many hours together and all over the world. It was an incredible honor to share a small slice of this swim with her. After an hour, I got out, and she continued. Kirk and Ken also got to hop in with Amy for an hour each. Kirk provided some levity with his usual water entry, as well as Ken with his fitting “CURGLOFF!” proclamation (n. and v. 1. n. “The shock felt when one first plunges into cold water.”).

We saw an abundance of wildlife. A pod of sea lions passed by porpoising in an impressive show. They paused near Amy and peeked their heads above the water like meerkats. They were curious about her and watched for a few minutes before continuing. Other pairs and pods of sea lions passed by, always stopping to check on her. A small juvenile sea lion swam around the boat, curious about us and Amy. A pilot whale was spotted to the north, a great sign that something else wasn’t lurking nearby. A few sea nettle jellyfish floated by Amy and stung her. Smacks of velella velella jellies floated along the surface. Early in the swim, a pair of western grebes followed Amy for a few hours. Darting under the water to fish and coming back to trail behind us. With the heavy fog, the bird population was the only sign we were getting closer to the Farallones. The closer we got, the more birds we saw. Soon, vast flocks of pelicans and common murre flew by. But everyone got quiet and serious when a dead sea lion was spotted floating by.

At 3:00 pm, we launched John Chapman in the kayak. We hoped this was the last few hours and we could push through the weird currents and progress steadily. Amy was pacing slightly over 1 mile per hour from fatigue and crabbing along the shifting currents. The hours continued to tick by, the water and air were getting colder, and the wind picked up. With 1 mile left to go, Amy had a feed and, for the first time, said she felt cold. We told her to keep her stroke rate up and continue moving. She was doing great and would have one more feed before the finish. Ken took a water temp reading, 43f. We immediately worked on plans for what to give her at the next feed to help with the cold and keep her going. We told John in the kayak about the water temperature and to keep her moving and stroke rate up, no stopping.

We were closing in on the islands, but the fog was still too thick. We couldn’t see them. With a half mile left to go, Amy had her last feed and proclaimed, “Let’s get this done!”. At a quarter mile, we finally saw the faintest outline of the island with a white haze of crashing waves on the rocks. She was so close. At one-tenth of a mile, we could finally see the buoy! A swell of relief came over the boat. We had the finish in sight. Captain Chad maneuvered the boat as close as possible. We called out instructions to John in the kayak who would take her to the finish. All crew were on deck with bated breath as she swam in the last 200 yards. We watched as each stroke splashed the surface and got her closer. After 17 hours and 3 minutes, we saw her hand reach up and touch the buoy. John raised his kayak paddle to signal victory. She made it! The first person to swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to Farallon Islands.

by John Chapman

This swim was like a dreamworld of fog, charts, feeds, laughter, and a cast of merry ocean pros lulled by the rhythmic slap slap of a dauntless woman chasing her dream. While bats and strange moths circled the boat lights and the aurora blazed somewhere overhead beyond the fog, Amy swam on for hour after hour, offering us gratitude and humorous reflections every 30 minutes. During her last 50m sprint to the island buoy, Amy became a shark herself and claimed the prize she had envisioned for so long. Our world needs real heroes, and this woman is top of the heap. Truly amazing and humbling to witness!

by John Sims

I’m struggling to find more substance to describe the swim than a bunch of adjectives but maybe that’s the obvious way.

True Grit

A few memorable moments.

There were bats hunting moths under the deck lights.

Starting and finishing in the fog. The finish was ominous, the Island and buoy remained eerily hidden and reluctant to reveal themselves. To fight the channel for 17 hours and not fully see the physical goal in all its glory is masked in island lore.

Realizing mid afternoon that we were six hours away from the finish in the brutal elements.

You understand Amy never quits, being in a front row seat during the main event is truly humbling.

The surface currents coming and going.

The professional crew assembled and flawlessly executed with no drama.

by Kirk McKinney

The Farallon Channel could very well be the toughest swim in the world and was just accomplished by the toughest person I know. Amy Gubser pushed the limits of human endurance. 17+ hours in the fog with dark, murky and cold water that ranged from the mid 50s, and got progressively colder to 43; difficult currents that pushed us everywhere but forward; half eaten seals, seals eating salmon, dolphins, whales, jellyfish… and yes, even BATS!; But none of that mattered! Amy tackled it all with poise, patience and endless grit and determination. She never once complained… she simply “Beasted” it out… and has now been pointed out “This 55- year-old Grandmother is Batshit Crazy and has Bigger Balls than You!”


Click to enlarge.