NOAA Buoy Cams: A (potentially) interesting resource

The National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), operated by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, maintains a global network of data-collecting buoys that provide useful information for, among others, open-water swimmers in their vicinity.

I utilized NDBC data in my observer report on Craig Lenning’s recent Farallon Islands swim.

Recently, I noticed a new feature on the NDBC website: A few buoy stations now have cameras!

Granted, there are currently only 11 BuoyCams worldwide, most in locations people have never swum (and probably will never swim), but still: Potentially an interesting resource for marathon swimmers, if this program expands.

Current "BuoyCam" locations
Current “BuoyCam” locations

Just imagine: How cool would it be to have a camera on Sandettie Lightship? (n.b., that’s a UK Met Office buoy, not NOAA)

And if I were planning a swim from San Miguel Island anytime soon, I’d probably be monitoring this guy daily.

A sampling of BuoyCam shots from today (click to enlarge):

Buoy 46054: 38 NM West of Santa Barbara, California
Buoy 46054: 38 NM West of Santa Barbara, California
Buoy 41009: 20NM East of Cape Canaveral, Florida
Buoy 41009: 20NM East of Cape Canaveral, Florida
Buoy 44007: 12NM Southeast of Portland, Maine
Buoy 44007: 12NM Southeast of Portland, Maine
Station 51021: mid-Pacific Ocean, west of Kiribati
Buoy 51021: mid-Pacific Ocean, west of Kiribati
Buoy 46061: Between Montague & Hinchinbrook Islands, Alaska
Buoy 46061: Between Montague & Hinchinbrook Islands, Alaska
Buoy 32322: S. Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador
Buoy 32322: S. Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador

SBCSA and CCSF Annual Banquets, 2013

This past weekend I attended the annual banquets of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation (CCSF) and Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association (SBCSA). For the past few years the two events have been scheduled for the same day, in the same city (San Pedro), with CCSF providing brunch at the Doubletree and the SBCSA providing dinner at a restaurant downtown. This arrangement seems to maximize cross-pollination between the two events – reminding everyone of the patch of ocean we share, and giving us just a little more time together.

This is my third year attending “Banquet Day” in San Pedro.

In 2011, I was a swimmer-honoree at the CCSF event, having just crossed the Catalina Channel (8:55 on August 25, and I didn’t even have to look it up). Later that day, I attended my first board meeting with the SBCSA. Rob D. and I then moved on to the Crowne Plaza bar and talked of big dreams into the wee hours.

In 2012, I returned to celebrate the new class of CCSF swimmers including my dear friend Gracie, the new record holder. Later that night at the SBCSA banquet I celebrated my own Santa Cruz Island swim and record. We watched a trailer for DRIVEN, and welcomed new board members Rob, Cherie, and Theo.

This year’s Banquet Day featured a screening of DRIVEN, now a stunning 72-minute finished product going into the 2014 film festival season. My record may have been broken, but the swim lives on. (A review is forthcoming.)

With the co-stars of DRIVEN, Cherie and Fiona. Photo by Paula Selby
Q&A with DRIVEN co-stars Cherie and Fiona. Photo by Paula Selby

Like academic conferences, these events’ value for returning attendees is mostly for the reunions and networking rather than the speeches. I was reminded that I catch up with certain people not nearly often enough (Gracie, Forrest, Mallory). I’ll remember meeting interesting new friends, Claudia R. and Kim C.

And most of all I’ll remember an unexpected and profoundly meaningful honor from my colleague Scott Zornig, whose loyalty and conviction I’ve valued these past couple months more than ever before.

Daytime goggles, Nighttime goggles

In summer 2011, I started using two pairs of Swedish goggles (Speedo Swedish 2-pack) – one with dark metallized lenses for daytime, one with clear lenses for mornings, evenings, & night. As per usual, I eschewed the included latex straps for after-market bungee straps.

swedish goggles

It’s a testament to Swedes’ durability that I’m still using these same goggles almost two years later.

Notice something else about the above photo, though: The color of the straps. Two years ago, these straps were the same color. Remember, the top pair I wear during the day, in bright sunlight. The bottom pair I wear in low light.

These are your goggles. These are your goggles on UV radiation.

Moments in Time

A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away. — Eudora Welty

My friend Rob D is a man of many talents; among them a knack for taking remarkable photographs with relatively low-end equipment (typically, smart-phone cameras). What follows may be a bit self-indulgent; but I thought it worthwhile to collect a sampling of his images (of, um… me) in one place.

One photo in particular, I might even call “iconic.” I can’t remember a picture (of, um… me) that has ever spoken to me so powerfully. From just a few minutes before jump-time for Santa Cruz Island swim last September: scruz_glow Now, going back to the beginning…

2010 – “Freshwater Swimmer” is born

On the shores of Lake Michigan, where it all began. Ohio Street Beach, home of the Big Shoulders 5K. big_shoulders Photo-bombing Chris LaBianco at the USMS 1-mile National Championship in Huntersville, NC:

Note: This picture was featured on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming at some point. Whenever Chris LaBianco wins a race, no matter how trivial, it inevitably appears on the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

2011 – Catalina Channel

Jumping in to pace swim for Cliff C.


A week later, my own Catalina swim…

Surveying the situation. 22nd Street Landing, San Pedro.
Surveying the situation. 22nd Street Landing, San Pedro.
Last minute nutrition.
Last minute nutrition.
The darkness.
The darkness.
With Catalina world-record holder Grace van der Byl as pace swimmer, and 10K Olympian Mark Warkentin in the kayak.
With current (but not then) Catalina world-record holder Grace van der Byl as pace swimmer, and 10K Olympian Mark Warkentin in the kayak.

2011 – Visiting Avila Beach


2012 – Santa Barbara Channel

Observing on a Santa Barbara Channel attempt
Observing on a Santa Barbara Channel attempt
Starting the Semana Nautica 6-mile swim
Starting the Semana Nautica 6-mile swim
Mark and I watch the sun rise over the Channel.
Cathy and I watch the sun rise over the Channel.
Mark and I approach Silver Strand Beach in Oxnard after 19 miles of swimming.


Jumping off the Avila Pier on January 1st.
Jumping off the Avila Pier on January 1st.
Cathy jumps
My kinda girl.

Thanks, Rob, for keeping these moments from running away.

Postscript: Rob posted the following to his Facebook page, regarding this post:

This folks is why you make sure to always take pictures of your friends when they’re doing cool stuff! One of the more valuable things you can do as a crew person on a big swim is to take all the pictures that your swimmer can’t. Not every picture is going to be any good, but if you take enough you may get lucky and snap that one pic that encapsulates the whole feeling of the swim and your friend is going to be able to hang on to that feeling forever through your work.

I couldn’t agree more.

Who is Ashby Harper?

Ashby Harper was the second person to cross the Santa Barbara Channel between Santa Cruz Island and the mainland – and the first to do so by the longer (23.5 mile) route, finishing in Santa Barbara. He did this in 1984, when he was 67 years old.

Princeton senior class picture. Found in the New York Times (6/19/1939) by Morty Berger.

Ashby Harper penned a “jaw-inspiring” article about the swim for Sports Illustrated.

Ashby Harper graduated from Princeton University in 1939, 63 years before I did. He was considered the best all-around athlete of the Class of ’39, earning nine varsity letters — in football, baseball, and (wait for it…) swimming. He trained in a pool that has been lost to history. Dillon Gym pool – considered the “old pool” when I was at Princeton, was not built until 1947. Ashby’s coach was Howie Stepp, whose 163 dual-meet win total was not surpassed until my coach, Rob Orr, came along.

Ashby Harper served as a Navy fighter pilot in World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals.

Ashby Harper was headmaster of the Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico for 20 years, and took up channel swimming upon his retirement in 1982.

Ashby Harper was the oldest person to swim the English Channel (E to F) from 1982 (when he broke Doc Counsilman’s record) until 2004, when George Brunstad swam the Channel at 70 years old.

Ashby Harper competed in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 1983, 1990, and 1991, at the ages of 66, 73, and 74. In his last MIMS, he was DFL – but still ahead of two DNFs!

Ashby Harper pursued the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming before the phrase even existed. He would have been the first to achieve it, but his Catalina Channel attempt in 1988 was called off halfway across.

Ashby Harper was described in an Associated Press article in 1988 as “at best… eccentric. At worst… crazy.” And also: “A better word to describe the stately gentleman with the barrel chest might be ‘remarkable.'”

Ashby Harper was inducted into the IMSHOF in 1984.

Ashby Harper was a decorated Masters swimmer, achieving 47 Top Tens in the pool and three All-American honors in the postal swims.

Ashby Harper died in 1992, of an apparent blood clot, just hours after finishing a one-mile Masters open-water race in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 75. His death merited an obituary in the New York Times.

Ashby Harper died doing what he loved. I wish I could take him out for a beer, or walk with him in the P-rade. He would be 95 now.

From the New York Times (11/15/1938). Found by Morty Berger.

Virgin Waters: Distances between and around the Channel Islands and the U.S. Mainland

The biggest season in the history of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association officially began yesterday, with a previously “undisclosed” relay crossing from San Clemente Island to the mainland – a distance of 54 miles.

Compared to the most famous Channel Island – Catalina – the remaining seven Channel Islands are still relatively virgin waters for marathon swimmers. Here are the number of successful solo swims, by island:

  • Anacapa to mainland (12.6 miles) – 25 swims by 23 individuals
  • Santa Cruz to mainland (various distances) – 8 swims
  • Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz (6 miles) – 2 swims
  • Santa Barbara to mainland (37.7 miles) – 1 swim
  • Santa Rosa to mainland (27.5 miles) – 1 swim
  • San Miguel to mainland (25.9 miles) – 1 swim
  • Anacapa to Santa Cruz (5.6 miles) – 1 swim

There are 80 possible swims between and around the eight Channel Islands (including Catalina) and the U.S. mainland. Only 11 of those have been conquered by solo swimmers. The following table shows the distances (in statute miles) for each of the 80 swims:


  • Abbreviations: ml = mainland; SM = San Miguel; SR = Santa Rosa; SCru = Santa Cruz; Ana = Anacapa; SN = San Nicolas; SB = Santa Barbara; Cat = Catalina; SCle = San Clemente
  • orange highlight = one or more successful swims
  • from [island] to [same island] = circumnavigation