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.