The top 10 most CONTROVERSIAL threads at the Marathon Swimmers Forum

I know — shameless clickbait. So sue me (or hire “Henry James” to sue me).

Last week the Marathon Swimmers Forum turned three years old — and what a wild ride it has been! We’re entitled to a little fun now and then.

Without further ado, I present the ten most controversial discussion threads in the history of the Forum. You literally won’t believe your eyes!

10. Changes to NYC Swim qualifying event policies (read: CSA secretary Julie Bradshaw MBE’s allegedly unsanctioned MIMS record claims allegedly cause NYC Swim to allegedly withdraw recognition of alleged CSA English Channel swims)

9. Non-freestyle stroke ‘records’ in open water swimming (are complicated)

8. Lance Armstrong to compete in USMS meet? (or not)

7. Do you wear a wristwatch in marathon swims? (apparently, yes!)

6. Diana Nyad’s Directional ‘Streamer’ (is just the tip of the iceberg)

5. Not to start World War III, but… (in which the practice of “boat drafting” first came to widespread attention)

4. Who earns the title ‘Channel Swimmer’ (not, some would argue, those who use wetsuits)

3. Forum threatened with take-down by person claiming to represent Julie Bradshaw, Secretary of the CSA (my personal favorite)

2. USMS Open Water Sanctioning (is an epic cluster****)

And now, the #1 most controversial thread in the history of the Forum…. was there ever any doubt?

1. 110 miles, 53 hours: Questions for Diana Nyad

Dead Fish Swims

A “dead fish swim” is a swim that even a dead fish could finish. (Maybe not literally… but sometimes almost literally.)

This is a bit of local (SF) open-water swimming lingo that I wish would be more widely used (hence this post).


Dead fish swims require bodies of water affected by substantial currents — as fast or faster than “fast” swimmers swim. Let’s set the minimum current threshold for a dead fish swim (arbitrarily) at 2 knots.

Most of the organized swims put on by the Dolphin and South End Rowing Clubs in San Francisco Bay are dead fish swims. Coghlan Beach to Aquatic Park on a flood (the traditional route for the fall Inter-Club Triathlon) is a dead fish swim. Pier 7 to Aquatic Park (the most popular SERC “sunriser” route) on a big ebb is a dead fish swim.

Even the challenging Bay to Breakers swim is sort of a dead fish swim — until the last mile or so, when the current goes slack and you have to get around Seal Rocks and into the beach via actual swimming (and bodysurfing).

Non-dead fish swims include cross-current swims such as the traditional 1.25-mile Alcatraz-to-Aquatic Park swim; and perhaps the premier test of open-water swimming skill and navigational IQ in the Bay — the Round-Trip Alcatraz (Aquatic Park to Alcatraz, around Alcatraz, then back to Aquatic Park).

Dead fish swims are an enjoyable way to see a relatively long stretch of city skyline in a relatively short amount of time — without having to do much actual swimming. Logistically, they are an effective way to keep fast swimmers and slow swimmers closer together than they would be in slack water.

Dead fish swims may give inexperienced Bay swimmers a false sense of their skills. Ability to bob along in a ripping current does not imply ability to swim long distances.

Dead fish swims are fun. So is swimming against the current — but for different reasons.

Of course, with the Chas Lap, you get the best of both worlds.

Side note: I haven’t been blogging much lately; sorry about that. The time I’ve previously spent writing has lately been dedicated to developing MSF. Lots of interesting developments in that sphere; perhaps I’ll write about them sometime.

If you’re an email or RSS subscriber to Farther, Colder, Rougher, you might also consider subscribing to the MSF Newsletter I’ve been putting out since last August. Frequency varies from weekly to bi-weekly.


MSF panel ratifies five swims, endorses new world distance record

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—An international review panel ratified five marathon swims submitted to the Marathon Swimmers Federation (MSF) as part of the inaugural year of its Documented Swims program. The panel also endorsed Chloё McCardel as the World Record holder for Longest Unassisted Ocean Swim.

All ratified swims were independently observed, exhaustively documented, and conducted according to the highest standards of transparency and integrity.

This year’s review panel consisted of fifteen esteemed marathon swimmers from seven countries:

  • David Barra (United States) – Co-founder of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim and Triple Crown marathon swimmer.
  • Donal Buckley (Ireland) – Author of award-winning blog LoneSwimmer, MSF co-founder, English Channel and Manhattan Island soloist.
  • Anne Cleveland (United States) – Honour Swimmer, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
  • Sylvain Estadieu (France) – first male to swim the English Channel butterfly.
  • Elaine Howley (United States) – Co-founder of Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Association and Triple Crown marathon swimmer.
  • Andrew Hunt (Australia) – Triple Crown marathon swimmer and 11x Rottnest Channel soloist.
  • Andrew Malinak (United States) – MSF Rules co-author and one of only three ever to finish all seven stages of the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim in the same year.
  • Anthony McCarley (United States) – Triple Crown marathon swimmer.
  • Zoe Sadler (United Kingdom) – English Channel soloist and Lake Windemere two-way soloist.
  • Fergal Somerville (Ireland) – North Channel and English Channel soloist. Organiser of Eastern Bay Invitational International Ice Mile Swim.
  • Sarah Thomas (United States) – Triple Crown marathon swimmer. First to complete two-way length of Lake Tahoe; first two complete two-way length of Lake Memphremagog.
  • Nora Toledano (Mexico) – Honour Swimmer, International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. 6x English Channel soloist. Former FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit competitor
  • Grace van der Byl (United States) – Current record-holder for fastest swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland.
  • Milko van Gool (Netherlands) – English Channel, North Channel, Rottnest Channel, and IJsselmeer soloist.
  • Scott Zornig (United States) – President, Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association. Catalina Channel and Manhattan Island soloist.

The panel, chaired by MSF co-founder Evan Morrison, reviewed documentation for nine swims submitted to MSF in 2014. Any panelists who were personally involved in a swim abstained from discussing that swim. After a window for questions and clarifications from the panelists to the swimmers and observers, the panel formally ratified five swims on behalf of MSF:

  • Anthony McCarley: Unprecedented three-way crossing of Pillsbury Sound between St Thomas and St John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Elaine Howley: Unprecedented 32-mile lengthwise crossing of Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho, USA.
  • Patti Bauernfeind: 25-mile crossing of Monterey Bay, California (the first since 1980).
  • Kimberly Rutherford: 25-mile crossing of Monterey Bay, California (the second since 1980).
  • Chloё McCardel: Unprecedented 124.4-kilometer (77.3-mile) swim from Eleuthera Island to Nassau, Bahamas.

The panel also endorsed the documentation of two additional swims:

  • Craig Lenning: 25-mile swim from the Farallon Islands to Muir Beach, California (first Farallons solo since 1967).
  • Joe Locke: 30-mile swim from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge (first Farallons solo to finish at the Bridge since 1967).

These swims are still pending ratification by the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation, and are not within the ratification purview of MSF.

Two other swims were not approved for ratification: one which lacked an observer log, thus not meeting MSF standards for documentation; and another which was discovered upon inspection to be shorter than 10 kilometers, the minimum distance to be considered a marathon swim and ratified by MSF.


Separately from the swim documentation review, the panel considered Chloё McCardel’s claim of a World Record for Longest Unassisted Ocean Swim. It was proposed that until evidence is produced of a longer documented, unassisted swim, that Ms. McCardel should be acknowledged as the World Record holder.

It was further proposed that any future claims on this record, for which distance is the relevant metric, should demonstrate that the total swim distance was not significantly inflated by surface currents, just as Ms. McCardel’s swim did not benefit from currents. This is similar to how track world records may not benefit from a large tailwind.

Of the twelve panel members who chose to participate, 11 voted to endorse Ms. McCardel as the world record holder. A 12th panelist participated in the discussion but ultimately abstained from voting. With a 92% majority, the Marathon Swimmers Federation hereby recognizes Chloё McCardel’s 124.4-kilometer Bahamas swim as the world record for Longest Unassisted Ocean Swim.

MSF congratulates the Class of 2014 Documented Swims — the swimmers who swam, the observers who documented, and the crews who did everything else.


2014 MSF Swim Review Panel Bios



About the Marathon Swimmers Federation

The Marathon Swimmers Federation, founded by Evan Morrison and Donal Buckley in 2012, serves the global community of “Channel Rules“-style marathon swimmers and aspiring marathon swimmers. MSF provides:

About the MSF Documented Swims Program

MSF Documented Swims offers a process for authenticating swims in unregulated bodies of water. MSF aims to provide the same high standard of trust and integrity to independent swims, that English Channel, Catalina Channel, and Manhattan Island Marathon swimmers gain from being sanctioned by those swims’ respective governing bodies.

A marathon swimmer for each month of the year

A couple months ago, my Forum and Federation co-founder Donal (of had the brilliant idea to create a Wall Calendar of Marathon Swimming:

MSF 2015 Wall Calendar

– to recognize outstanding photographs of (and by) marathon swimmers around the world.
– to render a ‘snapshot’ of the year in our sport — a sport that few ever witness, outside the small contingent aboard an escort boat.
– to raise a small amount of funds to offset the operating expenses of our website,

Donal posted a Forum thread soliciting images, fielded the submissions (over 100), and winnowed them to a mere dozen — plus one of his own, ‘The Channel Swimmers,’ as a cover:

'The Channel Swimmers.' Image by Donal Buckley
‘The Channel Swimmers.’ Image by Donal Buckley


The resulting set of images is (in my clearly unbiased opinion) stunning, and eloquently captures the peculiar beauty of our sport. The calendar can be previewed and/or purchased here:

The MSF 2015 Photo Calendar features an already-iconic image of Anthony McCarley on the beach near Cap Gris Nez, having just swum across the English Channel. The story of this photo’s origin is just as remarkable.

Anthony McCarley, English Channel swimmer. Photo by Roger Taylor
Anthony McCarley, English Channel swimmer. Photo by Roger Taylor


The calendar also features one of my personal all-time favorite images, of 86-year old hall-of-fame marathon swimmer Ted Erikson preparing to swim at Promontory Point, Chicago (not coincidentally, my still-favorite-ever swim spot).

Ted Erikson at Promontory Point. Photo by Louise LeBourgeois
Ted Erikson at Promontory Point. Photo by Louise LeBourgeois


I know, right? A thousand words…

If you are a marathon swimmer, or have a marathon swimmer in your life, or have someone in your life who appreciates marathon swimmers, or have someone in your life who should appreciate marathon swimmers, please consider grabbing a calendar or two.

Cost includes shipping (to any country), tax, PayPal fees, premium stock paper, and all that good stuff.

Thanks for your support!

Mare Incognitum

My feet are weary
of these callused trails.

Time to step off shore —

far from the machines
to watch the bottom fall away
and get tossed by the swells
to contemplate the abyss and find
where the sea meets the fog.

To immerse myself
fully in the journey.

Down there, do you see me? (Do you care?)
Am I going the right way? (Does it matter?)

The destination is hidden
and the arrival uncertain.

But I am nothing
if not patient.

Swimming out of the Devil’s Teeth: Observing history at the Farallons

By fortuitous circumstance, I’ve been fortunate to observe two out of the four successful solo swims in recorded history between the Farallon Islands and the California mainland.

In April, Craig Lenning stunned the marathon swimming world with the first successful Farallons solo in nearly 50 years (read observer report). And then 12 days ago, Joe Locke claimed Ted Erikson’s record on the longer, trickier course to the Golden Gate Bridge.


I recently completed the observer report for Joe’s swim

Craig and Joe are two of the toughest swimmers I’ve ever seen, and I was honored to accompany them on their respective journeys.

The Farallons, a grim rocky outcropping at the edge of the continental shelf, are similar in land mass to Anacapa Island but more than twice as far out, across far angrier seas. They’re often visible on a clear day from San Francisco, especially from elevation, but I think most San Franciscans hardly notice them. Living in the Outer Sunset (which my girlfriend, a Farallon relay swimmer herself, jokingly calls the “Inner Farallons”), I can see them from my living room, and I watch them every chance I get. Because why not? It breaks up the horizon. Nothing else between here and Japan.

2013-10-06 18.48.09

Having been out there twice now, I’ll just say: It’s an otherworldly place — creepy, but also vibrantly alive, with some of the world’s densest colonies of seabirds, seals, rodents, and most notoriously, large white sharks in Autumn. And hardly any humans to be found, with the exception of a few research scientists occupying a spartan building on southwest-facing flats.

One would never expect the Farallons to be as loud as the loudest parts of human-occupied San Francisco, especially in the middle of the night, but it is. So loud it was nearly impossible to sleep amid the ruckus while we waited for Joe to begin his swim:

I’ll always remember Craig Lenning, following his successful swim to Muir Beach, remarking on the “magic” he sensed before jumping in the water at the Farallons… “but it’s a dark magic.”

Ted Erikson was one of my first friends in marathon swimming, a fellow Promontory Point swimmer, and I was glad to be there for the passing of that particular torch. Because speed records in marathon swimming are destined to be broken. I would think Joe has earned it, after seven (often gruesome) attempts.

Ted will always be the first (to the Golden Gate), and Stew will always be the first to the mainland. Hats off to the pioneers, and to the two men who carried this swim into the 21st century.

An appendix of sorts:

An interesting San Francisco public radio (KQED) report on the Farallons:


Susan Casey’s book: The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks


Lynn Kubasek’s video of the women’s Farallon relay:


Vito Bialla’s video of the same relay:



Information Wants to be Free: Sandettie Lightship and the English Channel

(tl; dr — 10 years of English Channel weather data, in a single CSV file. And some fun charts.)

Weather can turn on a dime in the English Channel, and the dreams (and finances) of English Channel swimmers often turn on the weather.

sandettie lightship
Location of Sandettie Lightship in the English Channel

The most important source of information about that weather is a 156-foot lightvessel called Sandettie, which serves as both a floating lighthouse and a weather station. Here’s a nice photo.

Sandettie collects a variety of important meteorological data – air and sea temperatures, wind speed and direction, wave height and period, humidity, and barometric pressure. These data are then fed back to the UK Met Office, who publish the most recent 24 hours’ of observations on their website.

Anything before the last 24 hours are what the Met Office call “chargeable data” — at the rate of £6800 per 10 years, per two elements (e.g., air temp & sea temp). According to the today’s exchange rate, that converts to no less than $11,575 USD.

LOL! (And yes, I actually requested a quote from the Met Office.)

Just sayin’: In the US, quality-controlled meteorological data are available from NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center — for free.


Data on historical air and sea temperatures (going back to 2004) are available from the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation, in the form of interactive charts. Thanks to CS&PF tech whiz Boris Mavra, these charts are automatically updated from the Met Office’s recent observations table.

The CS&PF charts are pretty slick, but personally I’d rather have the raw data to play around with. Not just air & sea temps, but also the wind and the waves. The raw data allow one compute (among other things) summary statistics – e.g., What’s the typical sea temp in the third week of August (averaged across many years)?

But clearly, my curiosity isn’t worth $20,000+ (extrapolating the Met Office’s rate for two elements). So what am I to do?

Other sources of weather data include commercial (non-government) weather services and websites – you can probably think of a few. I managed to find one such website with what appears to be more than 10 years of Sandettie data (going back to June 19, 2004 — same start date as the CS&PF data). All freely and publicly accessible.

Unfortunately, these data are formatted rather inconveniently – one day at a time, in HTML tables. Ugh! You could sit there all day, pointing, clicking, copying, and pasting into Excel, for each one of the 3655 days between June 19, 2004 and today. That would be a ridiculous way to spend a day, but it’s not inconceivable.

Or…you could program a computer to do it for you. So, harnessing the powerful data-munging capabilities of R, that’s what I did. Here’s the code, if you’re the sort of person who’s interested in such things (spirit of open-source, etc.):

The result, after a merge and a de-dup? A tidy, comma-delimited 81,901-row data-set with hourly observations on eight variables:

  1. air temperature (degrees Celsius)
  2. sea temperature (degrees Celsius)
  3. humidity (percent)
  4. wind direction (16-level factor: N, NNW, NW, WNW, W, etc.)
  5. wind speed (knots)
  6. wave period (seconds)
  7. wave height (meters)
  8. barometric pressure (hPa)

Here’s the compressed .CSV for your downloading pleasure:

I’ve inspected the data for any gross integrity issues, but have made no additional effort (thus far) to “clean” it of anomalies. As the CS&PF note regarding their own Sandettie data-set:

Data quality: it is easy to see that there are glitches in the way station sensors work or the way they report the measurements. We are planning to clean the records in the near future, but for now we rely on readers’ intelligence in interpreting the feeds. We all know North Sea does not freeze in one hour and 100 mph winds in the middle of the summer are very unlikely!

There are definitely some anomalies (see charts below), but they appear fairly normally distributed. So, any subsequent “cleaning” should be reasonably straightforward.

These charts aren’t meant to be taken too seriously (they each required just a single line of R code) — just as a first step in exploring and validating an interesting data-set.

Click any to enlarge:


Actually, relatively few anomalies, considering this represents nearly 82,000 observations!

atmp_sm wspd_sm

The next chart shows the same data as above, but I’ve zoomed-in the Y-axis to eliminate the most extreme anomalies.

wspdZ_sm wvht_sm

Again, the next chart shows the same data as above, just with a zoomed-in Y-axis.

wvhtZ_sm pres_sm


Many thanks to Hadley Wickham for his wonderful ggplot2 package for R, which I used to create these charts.

Important Note: Technically, because I did not obtain these data directly from the UK Met Office, I can make absolutely no guarantees about their integrity or authenticity. However, I will say that subjectively speaking, they “look right.”

Another Important Note: If these data are authentic, then they are considered to contain public sector information licensed under the UK Open Government License v1.0.

A Final Important Note: As far as I know, the extraction (“scraping”) of the data from the third-party weather service did not violate its Terms of Service, which explicitly permit using the data for personal, non-commercial purposes. And I define this blog post as a personal, non-commercial purpose.