Try the link to the right It should take you to map of today's swim.
I set out a 4:30 am to reach the club by 5:15 in order to undertake the infamous Point Bonita Swim. And once again fate interceded to foil my plan. The day began at the club to sign in and get numbered. Sixteen hearty souls hoped to make the 10K swim from the Marin side, north and west of the Golden Gate Bridge, back to the club. Each swimmer was to have their own pilot in a kayak or a wooden sliding seat row boat (very cool). So the wooden's and the Zodiac safety boats took off in the dark while the Swim Commissioner gave the swim briefing. She explained that we needed to get out there soon because the flood had already begun and there was increased vessel traffic after eight o'clock. We loaded about a dozen Kayaks onto the Silver Fox and took off. The sun came up as we headed out towards the bridge. It was stunningly beautiful and bright. Everyone was in high spirits. I was nervous because this would be the longest swim for me this winter and the bay is still 55 degrees. Well we reached the beautiful cove just inside Point Bonita, which has a lighthouse on it and a stunning cut out of the cliff where the waves have created a cave of sorts. The swimmers were all discussing whether we should do a beach start of just start from the boat. Tradition demanded a beach start, and as we worked to get the kayaks off the boat and ready to escort us home, vessel traffic contacted our head pilot and suggested that we NOT cross the mouth of the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge and perhaps we would be much safer starting from Mile Rock (a shipping buoy a mile west of the bridge on the south side). A suggestion from Vessel Traffic is not to be taken lightly. First they are responsible for every one's safety on the bay, second they control the behemoth super tankers that cannot actually stop even in case of an emergency, and lastly they are the people who grant us permits to swim and we don't want to piss them off, ever!
So now time is going by and we ask our kayakers and rowers to book it across the mouth of the bay so that we can jump from the south side and still catch the tide. The water outside the gate is rough and the kayakers were working hard to get to Mile Rock. Some capsized and had to be picked up by the zodiacs. The swimmers and boats were finally together west of the bridge and on the south side at Mile Rock. We hit the water at 8 am a good half an hour late. There are lots of things about open water swimming that make it challenging. Besides the cold water, and the waves and white caps, there are weird eddies, dead spots,and back eddies that you can get trapped in. Then there are places where a huge amount of water converges from different directions and creates what we affectionately call the "Potato Patch". It is an area near the Golden Gate Bridge towers and it looks more like a witch's cauldron at a roiling boil than the ocean. It is really cool, but hard to swim through. You can get a rhythm swimming in waves (sometimes when you're lucky) but in the potato patch you are hit from all sides and I swallowed water with almost every breath. But somehow it's just about as much fun as I can imagine out there. After being directed, and redirected, and redirected again I swam a zigzagy course to about the middle of the bridge deep into the patch. I always roll over on my back to go under the Golden Gate Bridge. It's just such a special experience I don't want to miss it. Jimmy, my pilot gave me something to drink and told me that I swam "slower than his Grandmother" and told me to get moving (this turned out to be what his college coaches used to say to him to get him moving, but I thought it was funny. The zodiac pilots kept coming over to tell us to get out of the shipping lane (where the fastest current is) and get closer to shore. Understand, we are about a mile off shore, but it seems much closer and swimmers are always looking for the "ride" that the current is supposed to provide. Jimmy told me to aim for the Palace of Fine Arts, but I couldn't see it from the water, so I aimed directly into the sun. Every time I had eye contact with him he was telling me to swim in closer to shore. I stopped to eat some GU, this nasty space age nutrition gel that comes in little foil packages that are easy to eat on the fly, and Jimmy told me that there was bad news; the tide had pretty much reached slack and was going to turn while we were still far from home. Or as he said, "You still have a lot of Bay to cover, GET GOING!" Some swimmers got stuck in the back eddy near Crissy Field and got pulled out entirely, but I didn't know this. I was happy just to keep swimming. Besides I couldn't ask for better training conditions for Gibraltar. They say that swimming the English Channel is a 20 mile warm-up for a 1 mile sprint because the in the last mile the tides get weird and you have to have something left in your tank to get through to shore. Gibraltar has something similar, and the last bit takes extra effort. So to lose the tide and have to swim harder to make any headway was terrific. My left shoulder is sore tonight, but swimming in waves is a lot more work that swimming smoothly in the pool and it will get better. After the swim and some well deserved time in the sauna, we had a communal breakfast and a lot of good conversation. Everyone was impressed with our spirit, flexibility and good fortune that we could pull this off with such aplomb.
As I was leaving, my friend Joe, who I swam across Lake Tahoe with last summer, asked me about my training. He is piloting Paul Saab (who also helped me cross Tahoe) in his bid to swim the English Channel this August. Well between the two of them, they were quick to decide that I am not doing enough to strengthen my core, my lats, or the little muscles that protect my shoulders. Joe took me up to the club's gym and showed my three "must do" exercises, all of which I can do at home. I learned a lot about fuel too. I definitely need more practice. I only ate/drank a few ounces once in the two and a half hours I was out there. I need to focus on these details and not worry so much about getting the swim done. I was worried that I would get too cold and not make it, but I should have worried more about not taking advantage of this perfect opportunity to train for what's ahead. It often seems like one step forward and two steps back. But this is why swimming never gets boring :-)