First let me say, "It was a blast!!!" I swam from The San Rafael Bridge to Point Bonita. I finally landed on Point Bonita, got my rock (no t-shirt) and swam 12.52 miles in 3:50 hours in 55 degree water.
So here's the story. Tuesday at work I get an email from my husband:
Tonight...NW winds 20 - 30 knots, wind waves 4 - 7 ft., NW swell 7 - 9 ft.,
Wed. NW winds 25 - 35 knots, combined seas 11 - 17 ft., scattered showers.
Small Craft advisory from 11 pm tonight to 5 pm tomorrow.
Gale Warning in effect from 11 pm tonight until 5 pm Wednesday.
Gale Warning in effect from 11 pm tonight until 5 pm Wednesday.
His suggestion, "Cancel the bloody swim and do it on a day with better weather." I assured him that I would show this information to my pilot and that we could always change the swim to one inside the bay...not to worry, I wouldn't do anything reckless. It was cold, windy and raining in Orinda, and frankly, I was a bit worried myself. But Bobby (I'll tell you when you can get back in the boat) Roper dismissed my fears and said, "Let's wait and see what the morning brings."
So I drove to the city to pick up him and Naji, who had offered to be my "feeder", and we drove to Sausalito to meet the boat, stow our gear and have dinner. Bobby's friend Mike met us at the boat. They regaled Naji and me with stories of their high school antics and we all agree that the 50's had been a different time... then back to the boat by 8:00 and in bed soon after.
The plan was that Mike and the boat's owner Pete would wake us up at 3:30 am, motor out of the harbor, and up to the Richmond San Rafael Bridge so I could "jump" by 5:30. I did not get up. I did not want to have the conversation about the weather, I wanted to swim. I guess Bobby and crew were not worried, and after a bit of futzing around, I heard the engine start and the boat slowly backed out of it's slip. The Boat named, "My Way" belonged to Pete (I was never formally introduced) and he was friends of Mike who used to be a merchant marine and life long friend of Bob's. Bob cultivates friends with boats because he likes to pilot swimmers on adventure swims and help people achieve their dreams. The boat was not small, so the advisory didn't apply to us. It was about 40 ft long and weighed 20 tons is my guess. There was a roomy main cabin with a stove and microwave so that Naji could heat up my drinks. After we had been under way for about an hour, I stuck my head out of the sleeping cabin. I was assured that the swim was a go, and we made small talk about how great it was that the water would be rough because Gibraltar is famous for rough water and how better for me to train... Bobby made one concession to the weather, he decided that I would wait until it was light to begin. He figured the dark was just one too many variables to worry about with one lone swimmer and an unwieldy large boat, so we hovered around the Bridge on the Marin side until the sky began to lighten. But as you can see from the next two pictures, there is light (on the boat about to dive in) and there is light. I sure felt like I was swimming in a dark abyss.
I touched the Bridge, and took off. The ebb was in full swing, and I was past the bridge in no time. I swam from near the middle of the bridge towards San Quentin and then Tiburon for what seemed like hours. The sky lightened, but the sun did not show. I kept aiming for the point I wanted to swim around, and Bobby kept yelling at me to swim straight into shore. Of course I was about a 1/2 mile off shore so it's all relative, he knew that the current would bring me to the point and unless I swam towards shore I would be forced around the wrong side of Angel Island and who knows what all. I got very close to the tip of Tiburon and rounded it into the famous Raccoon Straits and pretty much came to a dead stop. Not really, but after the fast ebb pushed me there, it seemed to abandon me once I turned the corner. Now the wind was in my face with white caps breaking on all sides, there was no rhythm and much chaos. I had heard that this would be the hardest part of the swim, confusing water, waves breaking on all sides, and a back eddy I could get stuck in. It turned out that Bobby had learned from Karen Rogers, the first person to do this swim, and I avoided most of the troubles that befell her in the straits.
I swam towards Angel Island and out of the eddy. I saw the Tiburon harbor and Sam's restaurant, but when I came around the next Point on the west side of Tiburon I was hit full on with the most spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge imaginable. The sun came out, if only for a few minutes, and I knew right then that I would be successful. The leg from Tiburon to the bridge seemed much faster than the slog from the first bridge, and the golden gate was calling me. Before I knew it, I was backstroking a few strokes under the bridge and on my way into the open ocean. Now things got weird. On the ocean side of the bridge I fell into a huge whirlpool, or so it felt. The water became strangely calm, but the swells were much bigger. I could feel the power of the ocean and it was scary. I had been swimming for three hours, but this was very different water. It's hard to explain, but it was like a low amplitude roller coaster, with gravity pulling on you continuously. I wanted to get out of this place. It turns out that there is a big change in dept right there from about 600 ft deep to only about 60 ft and this causes all sorts of weird water. I started to swim away from the bridge and away from shore and was soon rewarded with the little stone building on Point Bonita. I rolled over on my back and smiled to the guys on the boat and they yelled at me to keep swimming. It was just over three hours of swimming so I figured Bobby was holding me to my wish of swimming for four plus hours, but I was a bit confused why they weren't more excited that I had done it. Anyway, I rolled over and continued to swim thinking all the while that I was a great guy and would be going further than anyone yet. Silly me, I had just passed Point Diablo (never heard of it) and Point Bonita was a good 45 minutes away. I did not know this, but I decided for myself that I would go to the next point and land on the beach to call it done. It was just beautiful. I was watching the beautiful Marin Headlands slide by and now started to swim into shore so that I could hit a beach. There is something much more fun about a "point to point" swim rather than just getting back into the boat and I wanted a souvenir (rock). When I was about 200 yards off shore they blew the horn. The horn during a swim is not to be taken lightly. In the water you can't see what's going on around you, it could signal the end of the swim or a shark, but you hear the horn you make for the boat. I get within 50 yards of the boat and Bobby yells that I should go ashore and finish the damn swim. I asked about the horn, but couldn't hear his answer, so I turned around thinking maybe these guys were a bit daft, and swam ashore, picked up a rock and made it back to the boat, very happy, not too cold, and not too tired.
This swim made me feel like my training is working. I felt strong and never lost my sense of humor. It was hard work and I was up to the task. There were times when my arm couldn't clear the water on it's recovery because I was underneath a wave. My stomach was unhappy because I had drunk so much sea water, but nothing hurt, and I had made it.
I want to thank Bobby, Naji, Mike and Captain Pete for their unwavering support and their willingness to endure lack of sleep, and much boredom to let me have this fabulous experience. I feel much better prepared now for Gibraltar, and I look forward to the next challenge.