Non-Swim Report: Tomales Bay White Shark Swimming Association Fall “Chomp”

2013-10-05 fall and spring, the channel swimmer / bubble-cap aficionado / legendary South Ender known as El Sharko (occasionally “Sir Sharko,” sometimes shortened to “Sharko,” and just “Chris” to his wife) organizes a swim & BBQ at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park, north of San Francisco.

In homage to the white sharks who breed near the mouth of Tomales Bay, this event is known as the “Tomales Bay White Shark Swimming Association (TBWSSA) Chomp” (alternatively, “Tomales Bay Dangerous ‘Swim with the White Sharks’ Chomp,” often shortened to simply “The Chomp”). Sharko’s sanguine approach to the oft-repressed fact of VW-sized predators in our local waters is encapsulated by his calling card: “I never met a shark I didn’t like.”

Photo by Jeff Brown
Special “Chomp” course buoy, handmade by El Sharko. Photo by Jeff Brown

The “Fall Chomp” of 2013 fell on what must surely go down as one of the most glorious days of the year: 80 degrees, windless clear skies all the way to the Farallons. Heart’s Desire Beach, about two-thirds of the way inland (8.5 miles) from the Bay mouth, lived up to its name.

Heart's Desire Beach, Tomales Bay State Park
Heart’s Desire Beach, Tomales Bay State Park

I’m coming off a head cold, so I opted for a patch of shade and a book instead of the admittedly inviting Bay waters. Shallow Tomales Bay usually runs a few degrees warmer than San Francisco Bay, and was mid-60s F according to reports.

The swim portion of the Chomp was low-key and non-competitive. They swam north (into the flood) along the western shore for about a mile, and then back, escorted by a few kayaks.

Swimmers heading out into the flood at Heart's Desire Beach, Tomales Bay

Swimmers sighted on the famous shark fin as they headed out from the beach.


Post-swim, an alternative meaning of the “Chomp” became clear. Hungry swimmers feasted on clam chowder, BBQ’d Tomales Bay oysters, and sundry potluck items.

Sharko feeds.
Sharko feeds. Photo by Mrs. Sharko.

The Chomp concluded with… wait for it… a poetry reading. A comedic recitation of primarily swimming-, ocean-, or South End-related verse aptly called the “Wet Poets’ Society.”

Some read canonical poems (e.g., Whitman’s “World Below the Brine“), others read original creations (one favorite, an ode to the South End men’s sauna). Cathy sang her own Sharko Song, a cappella to the tune of “Rawhide.”

Sharko kicking off the Wet Poets' Society reading.
Sharko kicking off the Wet Poets’ Society reading. Photo by Mrs. Sharko.

We made it back to the city by early afternoon, and the day ended even more spectacularly than it began. The sun set directly over the Farallon Islands, clearly visible 30 miles offshore, casting the unusually glassy Pacific in a startling glow.

As seen from my living room window.
As seen from my living room window.

AP: Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim

The Associated Press published a well-reported article on the marathon swimming community’s skepticism of Diana Nyad’s swim from Cuba to Florida. I am re-posting it here, with my comments in blue.

Nyad’s team responds to skeptics doubting her swim

By Jennifer Kay – September 8, 2013. 1:13 PM EDT

MIAMI (AP) — Diana Nyad’s 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida has generated positive publicity and adoration for the 64-year-old endurance athlete — along with skepticism from some members of the small community of marathon swimmers who are questioning whether she accomplished the feat honestly.

>> Or rather, swimmers who just want more information, to understand how such an incredible swim was accomplished – a swim that even noted open-water swimming commentator Steven Munatones has said is impossible.

On social media and the online Marathon Swimmers Forum, long-distance swimmers have been debating whether Nyad got a boost from the boat that was accompanying her — either by getting in it or holding onto it — during a particularly speedy stretch of her swim. They also question whether she violated the traditions of her sport — many follow strict guidelines known as the English Channel rules — by using a specialized mask and wetsuit to protect herself from jellyfish.

>> I assume “wetsuit” is a misunderstanding by the reporter, rather than something Diana’s team actually admitted to. Diana has acknowledged wearing a non-neoprene (non-buoyant) bodysuit to protect against jellyfish stings.

“When you know how hard it is, you kind of want those details,” said Andrew Malinak, a Seattle long-distance swimmer who crunched the data available from the GPS positions tracked on Nyad’s website and concluded that he didn’t trust what he saw.

Nyad’s navigator and one of the swim’s official observers told The Associated Press this weekend that Nyad didn’t cheat and that she was aided during the rapid part of her swim by a swift current. And neither Nyad nor her team ever said she would follow English Channel rules, developed for swimming the waters between England and France. Those rules outlaw neoprene wetsuits and contact with a support boat. Nyad wore a full non-neoprene bodysuit, gloves, booties and a silicone mask at night, when jellyfish are a particular problem, and removed the suit once she got over the reef on her approach to Key West.

>> The marathon swimming community’s questions aren’t really about whether she followed English Channel rules – it was always obvious that she didn’t, and as AP says, she never claimed to follow them anyway. The more important issue is the degree of assistance she received – assistance such as touching or holding the boat or kayak, and being touched by her crew. This is important because, aside from the jellyfish suit and mask, she seems to be claiming an “unassisted” swim – which has a specific meaning to marathon swimmers.

According to Nyad’s team, she finished the swim Monday afternoon after roughly 53 hours in the water, becoming the first to do so without a shark cage. It was her fifth try, an endeavor apparently free from the boat troubles, bad weather, illnesses and jellyfish encounters that have bedeviled Nyad and other swimmers in recent years.

Nyad’s progress was tracked online via GPS by her team, and some critics say they think information is missing.

Many wonder about a roughly seven-hour stretch when Nyad apparently didn’t stop to eat or drink, recalling her 2012 attempt when she got onto the boat for hours during rough weather. Nyad eventually got back into the water to try finishing, but her team was criticized for delaying the release of that information to the public.

Malinak said the hours-long spike in Nyad’s speed after 27 hours of swimming is particularly questionable — she went from her normal pace of roughly 1.5 mph to more than 3 mph, then slowed down again as she approached Key West.

>> Moreover, as shown in this chart, Ms. Nyad briefly averaged 10 km per hour (6.2 mph) over a 40-minute period around Hour 30.

Nyad’s spokeswomen did not immediately return telephone calls this weekend, but her navigator and Janet Hinkle, one of the official observers for the swim, told the AP that Nyad didn’t cheat.

Navigator John Bartlett said the increased speed was due to the fast-moving Gulf Stream working in her favor, nothing more.

“At some points we were doing almost 4 miles an hour,” Bartlett said. “That’s just the way it works. If the current is in your favor at all, that explains it.”

The data collected by Bartlett and two observers will be submitted to three open-water swimming associations and the Guinness World Records for verification, Bartlett said.

>> Which open-water swimming associations? And what record(s) specifically will this swim be considered for in the Guinness Book?

An oceanographer not affiliated with Nyad’s team said the swimmer couldn’t have picked a more perfect current to get from Havana to Key West.

Mitch Roffer of Melbourne-based Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service Inc. said he got an email questioning whether Nyad’s swim was a hoax, so he decided to look at the charts for himself. What he saw convinced him that she could do it.

“Many times that current runs west-east and you’re constantly fighting the current if you’re swimming north. In this case, it was in the shape of an S, and the angle was almost exactly from Havana to Key West,” Roffer said.

>> This is good stuff. I’d love to hear more details about how oceanographers such as Mr. Roffer determine the direction & speed of the currents, and which charts he is using.

Janet Hinkle, a Key West boat captain and acquaintance of Nyad’s, was called to be an observer for the swim when Steve Munatones, a former U.S. national open-water coach, was unable to make it. “I can say unequivocally she swam every stroke without question,” Hinkle said.

>> By that statement, are we to assume Ms. Hinkle remained awake and watching Ms. Nyad for 53 hours continuously?

Critics have said Hinkle was too close to Nyad to be an independent observer of her swim. Hinkle has in the past helped Nyad by providing housing for her when the swimmer stayed in the Florida Keys, but she said she remained on the periphery of Nyad’s team. “I think anyone who knows me knows me as a person of high integrity. I believe that’s why Diana asked me, and I took my job very seriously,” Hinkle said. “She was giving her all and I would give her my best.”

>> It’s good to hear that Ms. Hinkle is a person of high integrity, but I think the marathon swimming community also wants to know: What (if anything) does she know about open water swimming? What is her previous experience observing swims?

Since none of the various open-water swimming associations dictate how someone should swim from Cuba to Florida — officially accomplished only by Nyad and Susie Maroney, who used a shark cage — Nyad just had to follow generally accepted rules about not getting out of the water or using equipment such as fins.

>> Not making intentional physical contact with other people (crew) or objects (boats, kayaks) is also a “generally accepted” rule of open water swimming – one of the oldest and most fundamental. Was Ms. Nyad following this rule? Photos showing her crew assisting her into her jellyfish suit would seem to indicate otherwise.

Australian Chloe McCardel followed English Channel rules in her attempt to swim the Florida Straits in June. She had to be pulled from the water after 11 hours after being stung jellyfish.

“Generally the rules are: You walk in, you swim across and you walk out, and you do it under your own power,” said Munatones, who consulted with Nyad for this swim and observed her attempts in 2011 and 2012.

The elaborate, full-body wet suit and protective mask Nyad wore to protect herself from venomous jellyfish actually weighed her down, Munatones said.

>> Again, I think the term “wetsuit” here is a misunderstanding by the reporter rather than something Munatones said.

“To put that on is like putting on a wedding gown in the ocean,” he said. “It’s different from the English Channel rules, but the water is different from the English Channel.”

To many, it seems Nyad hasn’t exactly endeared herself to those in the marathon swimming community. Some consider her primarily concerned with gaining the spotlight instead of helping others advance the sport.

At her post-swim news conference on Tuesday, Nyad admitted that she had not been rooting for McCardel and that she was miffed some members of her team would jump ship to work for a competitor.

McCardel said she was disappointed to hear Nyad call those crew members “traitors.”

>> Actually, this doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother others. It’s not classy or gracious, but it’s undeniably honest. To me, integrity and transparency are more paramount values in marathon swimming than being a likeable person. So kudos to Diana for her honesty in admitting this.

“One of the greatest things, I believe, about international marathon swimming is how people across the world support crew for and mentor each other. I wouldn’t change this aspect of our sport for the world!” McCardel posted on her Facebook page.

Diana Nyad Week

This past Monday, the most famous and charismatic open water swimmer of modern times, Diana Nyad, emerged from the sea at Key West and fulfilled her dream of swimming the Straits of Florida.

Ms. Nyad’s feat was headline news around the world – probably the biggest mainstream headlines for open water swimming of my lifetime. Millions were inspired by the dogged will of a 64-year old woman, taking on a challenge that had already defeated her four times, and had eluded swimmers half her age and twice her speed.

When she somehow had the presence of mind, still dripping wet, to urge the crowd gathered on the beach: “Never, ever give up… You are never too old to chase your dreams,” well… it was the stuff of movies. Incidentally, a documentary film about Ms. Nyad’s thirty-year quest – The Other Shore – will be released in three weeks.

By temperament, I’m not typically inspired by platitudes. But as a fellow marathon swimmer, I was inspired by the possibilities suggested by Diana’s swim. If it’s possible for a 64-year old to swim 110 miles in 53 hours, then anything is possible.

As a marathon swimmer, I’m also obsessed with details… data… information. Many of us are – I think it’s one reason the Marathon Swimmers Forum works so well. And in reading through Diana’s crew’s live-blog, trying to suss out how this incredible swim happened, I was struck by how little information there actually was. There was a lot of content, but most of it seemed aimed at the casual follower (or even pre-written), with little of the hard data that experienced marathon swimmers seek in piecing together a story of a swim.

Among other reasons, these details matter because Ms. Nyad is claiming – and the media reporting without fact-checking – a new world record for longest-distance nonstop, unassisted ocean swim, previously set by Penny Palfrey. Actually, forget the long-distance record: If Ms. Nyad’s swim was indeed nonstop and unassisted, as claimed, it might be the greatest marathon swim of all time, by any person, of any age.

And so it began. At first, just a discussion; but eventually, a full-fledged social media campaign among the global community of marathon swimmers – at and on Facebook – to encourage Ms. Nyad and her team to publicly release her swim data. And, in its own way, just as unprecedented as the swim itself.

As a freelance writer and open-water swimmer, Suzanne Sataline was in a perfect position to pick up on this emerging story. Thursday morning, her article went live at National Geographic Online:

The National Geographic piece was soon re-reported by other outlets:

EDIT: A few hours after this post went live, the Associated Press published a well-reported story including statements from Diana’s team:

The story was syndicated by the San Francisco ChronicleUSA Today, and The Guardian.

The result has been unprecedented traffic to, and even a DoS attack, which frankly I take as a compliment. It’s been an interesting week in the world of marathon swimming – and at my keyboard.

Stay tuned — the story continues to develop…

Swim Report: Kirby Cove to Aquatic Park

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.

Red line = my course. Blue line = straight tangent to Golden Gate Bridge mid-span

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.

Full GPS tracks
Full GPS tracks (click to expand)

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.

Improving the Swedish goggle? Testing the Nootca 5

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.

[Nootca on SwimOutlet]

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.

Nootca Unboxed (click to enlarge).

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.

Nootca stock photo
Nootca stock photo

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.

Nootca stock photo
Nootca stock photo

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:

  • I found that the included silicone nosepiece didn’t want to stay in place. When I place the goggles on my face and pull the strap behind my head, the nosepiece “slips” and becomes too wide. This may be specific to my facial structure, I don’t know for sure – but in any case, Steven mentioned there was an update to the nosepiece “in the works.”
  • After my trouble with the silicone nosepiece, I switched it out for the alternative Malmsten-style string-and-bridge. Here, I found that the bridge itself was just slightly too wide, such that it blocked me from tying the string narrow enough. Perhaps I have an unusually narrow nose bridge? In any case, my ever-so-handy girlfriend pointed out that I could fix the problem simply by snipping the end off the bridge to make it narrower.
  • And finally, I must admit, I think the thin layer of silicone in the gasket is an unfortunate concession. I actually like the hard plastic of traditional Swedes. Not just the aesthetics of it, but also because even the highest-quality silicone will eventually degrade. On the other hand, some may find the added comfort is worth the theoretical sacrifice in durability.

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.

Nootca stock photo
Nootca stock photo

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 as well as 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.

Marathon Swimming Nutrition – Index of Articles

I’ve written a variety of posts over the last few years on nutritional considerations in marathon swimming. Here they are in one place for your reference.

Series: The Art & Science of Marathon Swimming Nutrition

On Recovery Drinks – includes a DIY powdered recovery drink recipe

On Maltodextrin – Maxim vs. Carbo Pro

Series: On Nutritional Science in Marathon Swimming

On Peter Attia’s nutrition webinar

Marathon swimming and low-carbohydrate diets

My New, New Beach

[Read “My New Beach” from last year]

Not explicitly mentioned here yet, but implied between the lines, is that I’ve moved again. This time, to San Francisco.

My new beach, a six minute walk door to sand, isn’t quite as “secret” as the last one.

ocean beach
Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Panoramic photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons – click to enlarge.

The “Outside Lands” of San Francisco, with Ocean Beach along its western flank, are reputed to be foggy and windswept. In my two months here – typically the foggiest of the year – I’ve found that reputation to be vastly overstated.

The Pacific Ocean from my window. Farallon Islands at center.
The Pacific Ocean from my window. Farallon Islands at center.

And so another new adventure commences…

ocean beach
Looking north from my nearest dune.
ocean beach
Looking south from my nearest dune.

The Ocean is your Mother – let her love and caress you.

— Randy Brown