Race Report: Point Bonita to Aquatic Park, San Francisco (Part 2)

When we left off in Part 1, I stood aboard the SERC boat Dauntless, trying to summon feelings of, well… dauntlessness. I wore one blue polyester Speedo Endurance square-leg, two caps (yellow latex on orange silicone), blue Malmsten Swedes, and earplugs. I’d never worn earplugs before, but I think they helped quite a lot in keeping the cold at bay.

At the start. Photo by Lee Bruno

The nearest ocean buoy read 54.6F; the buoy inside the Bay was about a degree warmer. After reciting DBAP a few times, I leaped off the side of the boat – about a 4-foot drop. The water felt… actually pretty nice! I swam up to Cathy and wished her a fun paddle. She should have been in water instead of me; but as Plan B’s go, this was alright.

Point Bonita swim course
Swim course: boring Google Maps view

The tide tables showed a slack current at 7:29am, max flood at 10:33am. We set off around 9:15, I think? So there was already a pretty good push – sucking us into the Bay. Swells were from the southwest, so the plan was – rather than take a straight line for the Bridge – head into the middle of the Strait until parallel to the south tower, then aim for the tower. This would minimize the chance of slower swimmers crossing under the Bridge too far north and getting swept toward Alcatraz, missing the entrance to Aquatic Park.

Cathy – my ninja paddler – complied with the first instruction. But then, once we turned east she took a slightly different line, further north. Having a bit more swim speed at my disposal than most, Cathy aimed to take advantage of the stronger currents in the middle of the Bay, knowing I could cross back quickly at the last minute.

Swim course: funner, 3-D Google Earth version

After the start, Joel – in a full-body wetsuit – immediately took off ahead. I chased after him, and we bumped into each other a couple times, frustrating our paddlers. But soon he left me again, and after about half an hour he maintained a steady ~30m lead. Hank (not in a wetsuit) followed me by a slightly larger distance. Behind Hank, everyone else.

For the first, I’d say… 45 minutes of the swim, I felt fine. A little numbness in the toes and fingertips, perhaps, but I felt warm on the inside and was swimming efficiently, at a relaxed, comfortable pace.

As I approached the Bridge, the cold began to creep. My core was still warm, but now my hands, arms, and shoulders were beginning to feel it. My stroke got a little sloppier, less precise – though Cathy insists my tempo remained steady. I felt like the water temp dropped slightly – a few upwellings and cold spots – but who knows.

Swim course: even funner, aerial photo version. Photo by Flickr user rstutton

We crossed under the Bridge about halfway between the south tower and mid-span – just as Cathy intended. I flipped on my back to watch the Bridge go by – a tradition I adopted last June at MIMS.

Something else I noticed: I couldn’t see Joel anymore. I assumed he had continued to pull away and was now out of sight. Later, I found out he had been caught in a back eddy, allowing me to shoot ahead. Possibly due to the different line she took toward the Bridge, Cathy avoided the eddy – and we now led the field toward Aquatic Park.

The last half of the swim was a grind. The cold continued to creep and my stroke continued to deteriorate. I was uncomfortable; but I focused on Cathy and tried to put everything else out of mind.

Swimming under the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Cathy

At one point Cathy made a hard right turn. My earplugs prevented any communication, but I intuited what was happening: We were making a break for the opening at Aquatic Park. Her hand signals indicated this was a matter of some urgency (remember, a 4-knot flood was pushing us toward the Bay Bridge). I turned on the 6-beat kick, ramped up my tempo, and followed after her.

We made the opening – and not by much. A few others weren’t so lucky, and had to go the long way around, through the boat harbor. Possibly the other paddlers were simply following our lead, not adjusting for their swimmers’ ability to cut across the current. Clever Cathy.

I used the final stretch through the cove to the SERC beach as cool-down (no pun intended). I was surprised when an onlooker mentioned I was the first to finish. 6.5 miles (straight-line distance) in 1:54. I was even more surprised to find, once I emerged from the water, that I wasn’t particularly cold. No shivering; I felt fine.

But I didn’t waste any time chatting, and marched upstairs to the shower & sauna. Joel followed a few minutes later; Hank a few minutes after that.

All the bacon you can eat.

Dried, dressed, and warmed, everyone gathered downstairs for breakfast. SERC is such a friendly, open group of folks; I felt immediately comfortable among them. Living 330 miles south, I won’t be using their facilities regularly – but it’s good to know I have a home in San Francisco.

Thanks to Tom the “Reptile” for a stellar race-directing job, and thanks to SERC for welcoming me on their swim on such short notice.

And Cathy… heal up soon, OK? I owe you a paddle.

7 thoughts on “Race Report: Point Bonita to Aquatic Park, San Francisco (Part 2)”

    1. Hey, thanks Donal! I like being able to hear/communicate w/ my paddler, so I think I’ll continue to eschew them above about 62F. At 54-55, though, they were a godsend!

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