|A Farallon Island|
|Denizen of a Rough Neighborhood|
Sharks are only one reason that swimming between the Farallon Islands and the continental Pacific Coast is the toughest swim in the world. The currents are a brutal deterrent to a successful crossing. In most famous open water swims such as the English Channel or the Hellespont, the current flows perpendicular to the swimmer. In these cases, for a well-planned and well-executed swim, the current moves the swimmer sideways, but doesn't necessarily impede forward progress. Not so for a Farallon Islands swim. The land pinches in between Fort Point and the Marin Headlands to a distance of about a mile and a half. The flow of water here is subject to the "Venturi Effect" where a fluid's velocity must increase as it passes through a constriction. As a result, the maximum current at the gate exceeds five miles an hour. Coincidentally, this is the maximum swimming speed ever recorded by a human over a very short distance. For someone who has swum 26 miles from the islands through frigid water, even a slight ebb can throttle a successful attempt. Timing an arrival to catch a flood tide is a dicey proposition given wind, waves, ocean current, and flagging swimmer speed.
|Rough Water in the Potato Patch|
Adding to the difficulty is the water temperature. 57 degrees Fahrenheit is considered cold in the English Channel. This is balmy for the Farallones swim. Some attempts encounter water as cold as 46 degrees.
video of his swim claims that he fulfilled the final dictum of Channel rules and went from "dry land to dry land." That claim is suspect. Jack Gordon writes of Col. Evan's start, "He crossed himself and I then fired the [starter] gun. He tumbled over backwards into the water at 10:17 P.M. Pacific Daylight Saving Time." Col. Evans is still the only solo swimmer to finish on dry land. Since the Farallon Islands became a wildlife refuge in 1969, trespass by the public is now prohibited and a "land to land" swim is highly unlikely to ever happen.
In his log, Girard writes, "9:45pm: He is still strong, but not strong enough to head for Aquatic Park. We will bring him aboard after we cross under the bridge at the green lights or dead center." Grumbling ensued among some of the Dolphin Club members at the time regarding the "water finish" in spite of Erikson having swum 9 and a half miles farther than Evans. Today, the recently formed Farallon Islands Swimming Federation has decreed the Golden Gate bridge as the "official" start and finish line.
|Stew Evans' account of the race|
Subsequent solo and relay attempts from west to east have failed, one team even resorting to the use of wetsuits. But, like the English Channel, swimming east to west is a less risky proposition. The start can leverage a predictable slingshot effect from a strong ebb tide to shoot through the Golden Gate and squirt past the Potato Patch. 2011 saw the success of two relay teams utilizing this strategy. On May 20, the co-ed team of Phil Cutti, Darin Connolly, Dave Holscher, Vito Bialla, John Mathews, and Kim Chambers made the crossing 43 years after the first one. A couple weeks later, on June 4, 2011, Kim Chambers, Laura Vartain Horn, Cathy Delneo, Melissa King, Patti Bauernfeind, and Lynn Kubasek created history becoming the first all-women team to complete the Farallon Island swim.
West to east, east to west, Golden Gate Bridge, Bolinas Bay, or Aquatic Park beach: This is still one tough swim. The cold, the current, the wind. And did I mention sharks?