The Candlestick “Nutcracker” is the longest SERC club swim - 10.5 miles - though some consider it not as challenging as outside-the-Gate swims such as Bay-to-Breakers and Point Bonita.
If anything, the most pressing challenge for Candlestick swims is support logistics - transporting all the kayaks down to Candlestick, setting the swimmers off on time, and modeling the ebb tide accurately in a relatively unfamiliar part of the Bay.
Instead of swimming, I opted to pay back a portion of my volunteer debt and sign up for kayak support. It was my first SERC support paddle, and only my second overall, after the Semana Nautica 6-mile a couple weeks ago.
Despite the main kayak transport vehicle failing to show, we managed to arrive at Candlestick a few minutes before 6am - just 15-20 minutes behind schedule. We hurriedly launched the kayaks, and soon the first pod of (slower) swimmers entered the water at 6:06am. Then pod 2 at 6:14, and pod 3 at 6:24.
Cathy jumped in pod 2, though in reality she’s more of a pod 2/3 ‘tweener. Nice swimming conditions: overcast, not much wind, air temp high 50s/low 60s, water temp low 60s.
After the jump, Cathy and Tina swam side-by-side for a few minutes, and then Cathy pulled ahead.
The ebb was just getting started, so it was pretty slow going from Candlestick “beach,” getting out around the southern end of Hunters Point. Cathy took about 26 minutes to reach the end of J Street Pier (1.06 miles, 2.45 mph).
Incidentally, this area is an EPA Superfund site.
Cathy’s plan was to feed on the half-hour, but I decided to delay her first feed a few minutes to get her further into the Bay, and hopefully into a faster current.
Once we reached the deeper water of the shipping channel and started pushing north, our progress sped up considerably. 41 minutes after passing J Street Pier, we were parallel to the Islais Creek inlet in the Potrero District (2.65 miles, 3.88 mph).
Cathy was now leading the field by a couple hundred meters - though she had a 10 minute head start on the Pod 3 swimmers. I tried to keep her out in the channel, in the faster current (but hopefully, not enough to get scolded by the race directors).
We passed by some big container ships around this time, and also a small fishing boat anchored near the course path. They mentioned to the race director that they were shark fishing (possibly were they trolling us?).
The ebb kept picking up, and we reached the Bay Bridge (just west of the ‘B’ tower) in 2 hours, 1 minute elapsed time (54 minutes for the 3.54-mile segment, 3.93 mph). Jim S. from Pod 3, the eventual race winner, finally caught us here.
The final third of the swim - from the Bay Bridge to Aquatic Park - is familiar territory for most SERC swimmers. Cathy reached the “Creakers” (east end of the breakwater in front of Aquatic Park) in another 46 minutes of swimming (2.75 miles, 3.59 mph). From there, it was a slack-ish 13 minutes of swimming to the Opening and into the beach (0.47 miles, 2.17 mph). Final time of 3 hours and a few seconds.
Darrin from Pod 3 passed Cathy at the Creakers, and another two swimmers from Pod 3 sneaked past her in the standings due to the staggered start. But she finished a solid fifth overall, and first female.
It was great fun, being out there on the little scrambler kayak, taking in the views, seeking out the best course & currents, protecting my swimmer from dangers real and imagined. Honestly, I wouldn’t have traded it for a swim.
Reports from other campers:
Along with Strokemaker paddles, the original Malmsten Swedish goggle is a design that has withstood the test of time. While I’m generally eager to embrace new technologies, I’ve worn the same model of swim goggles for over 20 years now.
Swedes are stereotyped as a pool swimming goggle, but I’ve seen no compelling reason to embrace gaskets in the open water. Why mess with a good thing? Take note of my goggle choice in my four longest swims (clockwise from top-left, the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Santa Barbara Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island Marathon Swim):
At the same time, I’ll concede some occasional frustration with the cheap materials in classic Swedes – the scratch-proneness of the lenses, and the ultra-short lifespan of the latex straps. So, my interest was piqued when Steven Keegan – founder of Nootca and formerly a product designer with Speedo and Nike Swim – answered my “Super Swede” challenge and offered to let me try his Swede-“inspired” Nootca 5 goggle.
The Nootca 5 had ambitious claims: not only upgrading the materials over the original Swede, but also improving the “water flow, durability, and vision.” I approached these claims with all due skepticism. And I was surprised by what I found.
The Nootcas make a good first impression. Held securely in a recyclable cardboard box, the goggles come pre-assembled with a silicone nose piece and detailed, well-written instructions for switching to the alternative string-and-bridge nosepiece.
Also included is a microfiber cloth pouch, for that extra layer of security against scratches.
As for the goggles themselves: I was immediately struck by the aesthetics (one of the big draws of original Swedes compared to say, Hind Compys or, god forbid, Aquaspheres).
The lenses are sleek and polished, and, so far as I can tell in several months of use, fairly scratch-resistant (especially with conscientious use of the carrying pouch). Along with the silicone head strap, the goggles live up to Nootca’s promise of higher quality materials over the original Swede.
What about Nootca’s claims of improved _design _over the original Swede? A high bar, indeed - but again, I’d say mostly fulfilled. The lenses seem slightly “longer” on the sides than original Swedes, which improves peripheral vision while still maintaining a low profile. Note how snugly the goggles fit in my eye sockets:
Now, a couple of minor quibbles:
All considered, and in spite of these quibbles, I really like the Nootca 5’s. They retain the minimalist beauty of original Swedes (with a couple thoughtful design enhancements) while upgrading the quality of the materials. The vision in particular is quite expansive, which I appreciate in open water settings.
From my email correspondence with Steven Keegan, I get the impression of a thoughtful designer/entrepreneur who takes pride in his creations. Nootca is pretty much a one-man show; a goggle-only boutique competing against giant corporations like Nike and Speedo. So, I’m happy to spread the word about this product.
For an interesting interview with Steven, see here.
While I received my Nootca 5’s as a complimentary review product, I also put my money where my mouth is and bought two additional pairs with my own funds - the green/smokes and the clears, to join my browns.
Nootca goggles are available at SwimOutlet.
If you prefer gasketed goggles, you might consider one of Nootca’s other models – the 207 or the Eleven. Steven kindly sent a pair of Elevens for my girlfriend to try. Read her review, comparing them favorably to her usual Speedo Vanquishers, on the Marathon Swimmers Forum.
Two days before Bay to Breakers in May (yes, it’s a belated report), an oversubscribed volunteer corps opened up a couple spots on another SERC club swim: Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park. Kirby Cove is the same beach on the Marin Headlands where Cathy finished her “Three Bridges” swim in March. Outside the Golden Gate, but not as far as Point Diablo or Point Bonita. At 4.2 miles (current-assisted), it’s one of the longer SERC club swims, so a bit odd to have on the same weekend as Bay to Breakers.
I wasn’t planning to swim that morning and showed up to help kayak or time. It turned out there were plenty of volunteers, so I figured what the hell… I paid my fee and changed, like a chubby Clark Kent, into my drag suit and parka. Game on.
We motored out to Kirby Cove on the Silver Fox, 24 swimmers and a gaggle of paddlers. The swim was scheduled to start just before slack tide at the Golden Gate (0832), building into a 4.7-knot flood (1134).
Exact water temp is unknown because the NOAA-Crissy Field buoy was out, but I’d guess it was about 57F (13.9C). Air temp was mid-50s at the start, becoming warmer and quite sunny as the morning progressed.
Once everyone had swum into shore from the boat, we set off in two “pods” - the six fastest swimmers at 8:15, preceded by everyone else at 8:11. Heading out I took too straight of a line into the channel, thinking it would get me into the current faster. This was stupid: I should have angled straight for mid-span of the Bridge (there wasn’t much current then anyway). That’s precisely what the leader did, and by the time I corrected my course, I was 25m behind.
We were not assigned paddlers on a one-to-one basis, but within a few minutes I noticed Hank and his son shadowing me in a tandem kayak. I was treating this as a self-navigated swim, but they were a comforting presence and definitely helped keep me on a straighter line with less sighting.
I reached the Golden Gate Bridge, a bit north of mid-span, in 17 minutes, 30 seconds (0.77 miles, 2.64mph). Around this time I lost track of the leader. Oh well, I thought: I’m not trying to race this anyway. Not a race!!
I saw a wooden rowboat off to my right (toward south tower), but no swimmer. Turned out he was there, but on the other side of the rowboat.
Onward I swam, angling across the shipping channel toward my destination. Meanwhile, it was turning into a glorious day! I felt the warmth of the sun on my back, and the Bay was as calm as it ever gets.
I watched the Palace of Fine Arts come and go, and soon the piers of Fort Mason came into view. Hank was motioning me to head further in, but I ignored him until around Gashouse, taking my chances on missing the Opening. I did have a bit of a scramble right at the Opening - the flood was really picking up now - but I made it safely at 1 hour, 12 minutes, 12 seconds elapsed time (54:42 for the Bridge-to-Opening segment, 3.2 miles, 3.51 mph).
Once inside the Cove, I saw no one behind me so I took a very relaxed pace toward the SERC beach. This, along with my failing to account for the effect of the flood inside the cove (pushing me too far east), caused a very close call at the finish.
As I approached the SERC pier, I finally noticed I was off course, and started crabbing back. At the same instant, I noticed Darrin suddenly almost even with me, sprinting straight in to the finish. He almost got me. I found a final burst of speed and cleared the water first.
It’s not a race, people. Not a race!
I’m sure the timekeepers were highly entertained. Final time 1:17:06.
And a fine warm-up for Bay to Breakers…
See Dan Boyle’s Flickr page for some excellent GoPro images and video of the event.