MSF Documented Swim
Dave Van Mouwerik
Round-Trip Angel Island
10 miles (16.1 km)
2017 October 29
9 hours, 47 minutes, 47 seconds
Observed & Documented by Evan Morrison
- Support Personnel
- Swim Parameters
- Swim Data & GPS
- Observer Log
- Observer Narrative
- Swimmer Narrative
- NOAA Data
- Name: Dave Van Mouwerik
- Age on swim date: 60
- Nationality: United States
- Resides: San Luis Obispo, California, USA
- Pilots: Bryan Temmermand and Sylvia Lacock (Pacific Open Water Swim Company)
- Crew Chief: Davis Best
- Observer/Documenter: Evan Morrison
Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
Start @ SERC/Dolphin beach in Aquatic Park, exit through Aquatic Park opening, to west Angel Island, clockwise around Angel Island, return to SERC/Dolphin beach via Aquatic Park opening.
- Route Distance: 10.0 statute miles (16.1 km)
- Route Type: island loop
Ten previous unassisted swims since 1984 - see historical list.
- Start: October 29, 2017, 04:09:30 (Pacific Daylight Time).
- Finish: October 29, 2017, 13:57:17.
- Elapsed: 9 hours, 47 minutes, 47 seconds
Summary of Conditions
GPS track (10-minute frequency) with route waypoints. Download raw track data (CSV).
by Evan Morrison
- 04:09:30 DVM enters water from dry sand at SERC/DC beach in Aquatic Park
- 0417 At Aquatic Park Opening. 58W, 62A, F2 (wind force). Navigating to Peninsula Pt buoy.
- 0420 already getting pushed east, now navigating to Sausalito.
- 0430 68 SPM. Monitoring inbound freighter.
- 0442 Changing line to Alcatraz to get out of channel, avoid inbound container ship Ever Sigma (size: 300m × 43m per MarineTraffic). Location 1/2 mile south of island. Advise Vessel Traffic (VT).
- 0458 first feed. DVM says when he’s in front of boat, white light on stern blinds him, and when he’s behind he gets fumes. 300m south of mid-island.
- 0515 now heading NW again. Swimming 150m off the middle of Alcatraz . Abeam the water tower. 59W, 58A, F2.
- 0523 passed 15 feet south of Flashing Green Bell Buoy near Alcatraz. Mol Experience (294.12m × 32.2m) passing through deep water channel.
- 0540 2nd feed. 800m NNW of Alcatraz north point. 3.2km SE Pt Stuart, 2.6km SE of Pt Knox. Big wake from Mol Experience a few min ago. 58.4W
- 0557 1.3km east of Harding Rock. Now heading due west to stay out of deepwater channel to avoid incoming cargo ship Blue Ridge Highway (180m × 30m).
- 0600 VT advises us that Blue Ridge Highway (now approaching GGB) is diverting to south channel - woohoo!
- 0624 3rd feed. 59A, 57W, F2, 64 SPM, 1.8mph flood in neutral. 1.4k SE of Pt Knox. DVM asks how far from Angel Isl. Advise VT we are exiting deep water channel.
- 0654 4th feed. 59A, 57W, F1. 770m SE of Pt Knox. 64 SPM. A little graying in the sky. Patchy fog. We spy sea otters near shore.
- 0724 DVM wants 45 min feeds for next 2. Swirling eddies as we pass Pt Stuart. Fast, then slow, then fast again. 61A, 57W, F1. Fog dropping a bit.
- 0739 5th feed, 3 hr 30 min elapsed. Approaching Pt Lone. DVM: “Boy, that was a hard fought first half!”
- 0754 past Ayala Cove. Flood dying a bit, we’re going about 3.2kph total. Beautiful glassy water in Raccoon Strait. 64 SPM, F0, 61A, 58W.
- 0805 Pt Campbell. Curious harbor seal stalking DVM.
- 0824 Pt Simpton. 60A, 59W, F0. More harbor seal stalking. Slack current. 64 SPM.
- 0854 700m N of Pt Blunt. 59W, 61A, F0. Advise VT that we will hug south shore of Angel Isl after passing Pt Blunt, to avoid inbound oil tanker Pegasus Voyager (275.6m × 48m). Some ebb evident here, we’re getting a little push from the north.
- 0924 Swimming around in circles just west of Pt Blunt, biding time before Pegasus Voyager passes. 57W, 60A, F1.
- 0940 Went back around the corner of Pt Blunt - DVM thinks the water is warmer there.
- 0954 feed. Pegasus just came into view. Sitting just NE of Pt Blunt in slack water.
- 1001 We’re back in business - Pegasus passing to the south. Navigating to ferry terminal / cruise ship. Tiburon ferry charges us - Bryan whirls around to get his attention. Helicopter flies overhead. Lots of drama.
- 1011 Just hit the tide line signaling the ebb. 60A, 57W, 64 SPM, F1.
- 1024 feed. 1900m from east end Alcatraz. Some ebb noticeable. F2 SW.
- 1054 feed. 1500m from E Alcatraz.
- 1124 feed. Changed course to west end Alcatraz (950m) to get into lee of current. Getting pushed west. 62A, 58W, F2.
- 1154 feed. 450m NW of W Alcatraz. DVM a bit disoriented about the course & landmarks. F3 SW, 60 SPM, 61A, 57W. Scattered whitecaps.
- 1224 feed. Stuck off west end Alcatraz. DVM says he’s “about to tap out,” getting cold and senses lack of progress. Says he will swim another half hour.
- 1254 feed. Approaching SE end of Alcatraz - making visible progress now we’re in the lee of the current. We will make a hard right turn (toward the city) at the point/rocks. Lots of chop from intersecting currents here. 60 SPM, F4 SW, 58W, 60A. 1500m from Opening.
- 1300 Navigating on the Opening.
- 1310 Regatta (120 boats!) visible off east Alcatraz. 15 kt winds out of SW against ebb current creating decent sized chop.
- 1324 feed. 850m from Opening. 57W, 60A. Good progress - almost halfway across the channel with little lateral movement.
- 1332 wind calming a bit, F2.5. 650m from Opening. Ebb seems to have died.
- 1335 Bryan chases off a sailboat bearing down.
- 1350 inside the Opening. Boat stays near buoy but maintains visual contact with swimmer through to finish. 57W, 65A, F2.
- 13:57:17 DVM clears water @ SERC/DC beach.
by Evan Morrison
The Round Trip Angel Island is a beautiful and technical beast of a swim. A “mere” 10 miles by minimum route, the RTAI makes certain demands of the swimmer - speed, cold tolerance, mental adaptability to unforeseen circumstances; and also of the support team - detailed planning, attentive piloting, needle-threading timing; and always, a bit of luck.
Some might view these challenges as “features”!
I have some experience with the swim. In August 2013, I crewed for Cathy Delneo when she became the first woman to complete the swim; and in July 2015, I swam it myself. So I was excited when Dave expressed interest this still-under-promoted gem of San Francisco Bay swimming, and leaped at the opportunity to observe and document his effort.
I had identified the weekend of October 28-29 as a promising series of tides for a RTAI attempt - which is to say, (relatively) minimal tidal movement and (relatively) mellow currents.
Here’s the line, via https://wolfweb.unr.edu/homepage/edc/tides/2017/sfbe_fr17.html:
28 Sa 0316 0547 1.7F 0906 1200 1.8E 1541 1719 0.7F 1850 2330 2.2E 29 Su 0400 0636 1.9F 0949 1251 2.1E 1637 1824 0.9F 2018
These are both reasonable RTAI days, not ideal but good enough (ideal would be low 1’s or especially sub-1.0 knot max flows). And perhaps more pertinently, this would be the best opportunity before the water temperature dropped into the mid-50s or below.
Angel M. was scheduled to attempt the swim early on Saturday the 28th (a slightly better day). I was hoping to scope out the tides to inform and refine the timing of Dave’s swim. Unfortunately, Angel’s swim was scuttled before she even entered the water, due to dense fog blanketing the region overnight. So we went into Dave’s swim blind to the “reality on the ground,” so to speak - which is always a bit different than the predictions.
I arrived at SERC around quarter to four AM. Dave, Davis, Bryan, Sylvia boated over from Sausalito, and I joined them at the SERC dock around 4. Dave entered the water from the beach between the SERC and Dolphin Club docks at 4:09:30 - 5 minutes ahead of schedule.
Soon after Dave crossed through the Aquatic Park opening, into the south channel, it became apparent that we were already late on the tide timing - the flood was visibly pushing us east. This wasn’t a deal-breaker, and in theory should benefit Dave on the back half of the swim. But it would be a slog to Pt Stuart, the entrance to the Raccoon Straits - and it was! (3 hours, 15 minutes)
Upon reaching the Straits, the push was more sluggish than expected, indicating we were well past max flood. Dave reached the top of the island (Pt Campbell) at 08:05 (3 hr 56 elapsed), and turned the corner toward the back (leeward) side of Angel Island. We were now an hour, perhaps 90 minutes behind schedule, and there was no longer any margin for error: Dave needed to get past Pt Blunt and through the north shipping channel before the ebb kicked in, which would sweep us west, away from our target.
Unfortunately, the gods of the Bay had other ideas: Vessel Traffic notified us that a large oil tanker would be passing through the deepwater (north) channel from the west, and we would need to stay out of the channel until it passed. This resulted in nearly an hour delay - Dave swam around in circles near shore (just west of Pt Blunt) until we got the all-clear.
Under most circumstances this was probably a swim-ender: We’re now totally off schedule, and Dave would get nailed by the ebb as soon as he entered the channel. What should have been a 6-7 hour swim turns into … 8.5? 9 hours? How long is Dave willing to stay in the 57 degree water?
When max ebb (2.1 knots) hit, Dave was exactly where you don’t want to be during max ebb: the middle of the deepwater channel. We were navigating 60 degrees east of our target to counteract the flow, and still getting pushed west.
Yet Dave persisted!
Having planned to pass the east end of Alcatraz (near the ferry landing), we got pushed so far that we missed the west end of Alcatraz by a couple hundred yards. At this juncture we pointed Dave directly east (90 degrees off-target), hoping to get him into the lee of the current along the south shore of Alcatraz.
After much crabbing (and some waning of the ebb), Dave finally found the slack water and swam toward “The Sign” where SERC regulars typically begin their swims from the Rock. He was now 9 hours into the swim… tired, and likely frustrated; but remarkably, still game.
We made a hard right turn and navigated straight on the Aquatic Park Opening. The ebb was dying and Dave encountered little resistance on the home stretch. At 9:38 elapsed (1:47 pm), Dave swam through the Opening. We stopped the boat here and watched Dave swim into the beach at SERC/DC. He cleared the water at 1:57:17 pm.
A few minutes later, having swum back out to the boat, Dave remarked: “Holy shit, man. I didn’t know what I was gettin’ in to. If I did I wouldn’t have done it!”
by Dave Van Mouwerik
The RTAI (Round Trip Angel Island) starts in Aquatic Park, on the sand in front of SERC and the Dolphin Club; this is near Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, just west of Fisherman’s Wharf.
From the sand to the exit of Aquatic Park is a 0.2-mile swim. Then the route heads a little west of north up to Point Stuart on the west side of Angel Island. It continues around Angel Island in a clockwise direction, and then returns to the Aquatic Park entrance. From that point on, the escort boat is not allowed to go into Aquatic Park, so the swimmer finishes that last 0.2-miles to get to the sand where he started. The observer has visual contact on the swimmer, and watches as the swimmer walks onto the sand, and the swim concludes.
Then the swimmer gets back into the water, and re-swims that same .2-mile distance to get to the exit of Aquatic Park, to rejoin the escort.
Thus the RTAI swim is more or less bookended by traversing this short stretch of water in Aquatic Park. Much transpired between these bookends…
PLANNING (or Eyes Wide Shut)
I put a fair amount of thought into how this swim would be achieved, relying heavily on Evan Morrison’s experience (he has swum it himself, and he has aided in the planning and supporting of 3-4 other RTAI swims). I identified my swim route with 11 waypoints identifying 10 idealized line segments that defined this 10.0 (statute) mile swim. I reviewed the predicted times of the maximum ebb and flood flows; I deconstructed the swim into ten minor legs and five major legs; I estimated my anticipated pace during these legs. I relied on my boat captains (Bryan Temmermand and Sylvia Lacock of Pacific Open Water Swim Company) to provide best estimates for shipping traffic during my swim.
I expected to have a rich empirical data set of what might actually go on, because 15-year-old Angel More was set to jump at 3:30 am on the day before my intended swim; I would learn a lot from her experience.
I was a jolly planner, ciphering and measuring, projecting my pace in different theoretical conditions. I came up with a matrix that estimated my time down to the minute, as I would hit the five milestones that I’d gotten to know on a first-name basis (Point Stuart, Point Campbell, Point Blunt Rock, East of Alcatraz, Aquatic Park). My math told me I’d do this swim in 5 hours and 58 minutes. I added 32 minutes to this for contingencies, and told myself “okay this is a 6.5-hour swim, or possibly up to a 7-hour swim”.
MY EYES OPEN
All was well with this elegantly choreographed plan until Saturday morning, when I did not see Angel’s swim being tracked. Did the SPOT device fail? Did she get sick? Was she late in starting? I had this text exchange with Evan.
“Fog”–Evan’s one word text threw me off balance. I had not entertained the thought of fog inserting itself into my planned swim. And yet there had been so much thick fog encountered before Angel was to start her swim, that the swim was called off. I recall a brief sensation, an inkling, that my well-laid swim plans could possibly be at odds with the less-than-perfect laboratory called The San Francisco Bay.
I ended up going to sleep in a hotel near Sausalito, not knowing whether my swim would happen or not (would the fog descend in the wee hours again?). Davis (my crew chief) and I met Sylvia and Bryan at their boat (a 32’ Cobalt, Dynamic Duo) at the Sausalito Marina very early on Sunday morning, and set off, still not knowing if the swim would take place. Once we cleared Richardson Bay and entered the main body of the San Francisco Bay, we saw that the fog was minimal: the swim would take place.
I recall hearing co-captain Bryan, having watched a stationary buoy that we motored past, musing to himself “Hmmm…, it seems like the flood tide is a little early….”.
This remark, added to Evan’s “fog” text, now had my brain roiling. It was happening….again….
I was going to be called upon, as I have been in every swim I’ve performed, to relearn a basic fact of marathon swimming—namely that you must surrender to what comes, else you are opening the door (extra-wide) for the unwanted interlopers: misery, exasperation, self-doubt, irritability, resistance, second guessing….
THE NATURE OF WATER (The Uneasy Truce)
I make a deal with the water every time I perform a marathon swim. Our deal is something along these lines: I will bring my best intentions to water’s edge; I will be trained, accompanied by a solid boat and captain, and supported by a loyal and steadfast crew chief. My stomach will be ironclad; I must have confidence in my feeding plan, and in my body’s ability to perform, and in my mind’s compartmentalizing talent.
The Water has its own conditions. The Water is a generous host, and freely provides the gift of Buoyancy to me, without which the-sport-that-chose-me could not exist. So, thanks for that, Water. However, having extended this gift freely, there is treachery in the Water.
Water as Antibiotic. I don’t mean the word from the 1950’s referring to various chemical substances produced by micro-organisms used to treat infectious diseases. No, I mean an earlier definition. “Anti” as in “against” or “opposite of”. And “biotikos” as “pertaining to life” or “fit for life”. So, “antibiotic” as “doubting the possibility of life in a particular environment”. We humans are warm-blooded mammals; we are air-breathing and terrestrial. Water is perilous; it can quickly suffocate us, and given time, cold water will extract the life from a human being.
This is the nefarious side of Water: it extends its gift of Buoyancy, pulling you into it, and then it surrounds you with a Coldness that will eventually prevail over you. Even that gift of Buoyancy is suspect. Slight disturbances (fatigue, chop, wake, a saltless water body, a briefly mis-behaved epiglottis, too much salt water in your lungs, a bump on the head) could tip the Bouyancy equation against you, and could take you from the surface. And then, quickly and thoughtlessly, the water will suffocate you.
In RTAI, there were many variables at play, unlike any swim I have undertaken. There were ample opportunities for this body of water to obstruct and (possibly) defeat me.
Did the folks on the boat see my struggles? Did they realize that I nearly “cracked” on three different occasions during this swim? Three times on this swim I directly confronted immediate failure. I kept it to myself as best I could, but this swim slowly unhinged me, far more than any other swim I’ve undertaken. I starkly saw my limitations and the likelihood of not completing the swim. Those three I-might-fail-this-time events are captured in “#4 The Little Fishies”, “#6 Incident at Point Blunt Rock” and “#9 I’m gonna tap out….”.
1. “Hey, this water is f***in’ cold!”
Before the swim, I was very concerned about the cold water, but as it turned out, I generally handled this okay. But a nearly naked body inhabiting water that is 57-58 degrees F for nearly ten hours certainly does get whittled down by the temperature. And that compromised condition allows for situtations where lesser adversities may be amplified.
2. “Angel, are you out there?”
I was counting on a wealth of current information being gathered by Bryan, Sylvia, and Evan during Angel More’s RTAI swim the day before my swim. That was going to inform my swim and, I felt, give us an edge to help tip the scales for my swim’s success. Alas, Angel never swam. I’d hoped to be in full knowledge of a recent and successful swim on the same route I’d be undertaking. This anticipated information never materialized, due to a dense fog preventing Angel from even starting her swim.
3. “It’s dark, and a little eerie out here”
I’ve swum at night many times; it’s always a little weirder to do this in the ocean than in a lake. Normally I have a paddleboarder with me, and this gives me some immediate company. But in the complex conditions of the San Francisco Bay, a paddleboarder would just add another moving part, which might further complicate matters. So I was on my own, feeling kind of isolated, but at the same time there was surely a beauty to it…
Due to tides and anticipated ships coming through the shipping channels, I jumped at 4:09 am, so the first three hours occurred in darkness. By 5:00 am, Alcatraz Island was off of my right side; it is pretty lit up at night.
Here’s a picture of us slipping past Alcatraz Island.
4. The Little Fishies
It was still dark when we were closing in on Angel Island. There was a period of about fifteen minutes in which I felt like I was getting “tapped” or “pinged” by small (2-3 inch) fish. This might have happened 6-8 times, and it was unnerving; it drew my attention to that which was beneath me.
I swam off the starboard side of the boat; sometimes I was ahead of the boat, and sometimes I was behind it. There was a time when I believe I was as much as 30 yards behind the boat, and I took a couple of those “pings” from the small fish. And when I felt them, and I was quite far behind the boat, and it was dark, my attention brimmed with thoughts of creatures that might be underneath me. My mind was suddenly electrified, and for a long minute I felt panic flashing and jumping through my body. I felt extremely isolated and vulnerable; I felt that there was only myself to get though this situation— the boat was too far away. I’m not sure, but somehow I “kept my shit together”, and gradually I pulled up closer to the starboard side of the boat. The moment passed with no one realizing that I’d taken a frightening mental detour for 3-4 minutes; I felt composed again – the panic was just a fleeting experience.
5. “I don’t wanna crab”
We selected a neap tide for the swim—this is when the moon is in the vicinity of a first quarter or last quarter phase, and so the moon is less influential on the movement of tides. Thus, the volume of water movement during neap tides is minimized, so ebb and flood tides are not extreme, and a swim route is less affected by tidal currents.
Nonetheless, I had to swim through two tidal cycles (a flood—e.g. water coming into the bay; and an ebb— e.g. water moving out of the bay). In planning for this swim, there is no perfect meshing of the timing of the swim with the timing of the tides; the best you can do is hedge your bets and try to minimize, through timing, the tidal flow’s effect on your swim. A quick look at the actual track of my swim, pictured to the right, should deeply disturb a marathon swimmer.
It is obvious that on my way north to Angel Island, I was being pushed inland by the growing flood tide. So I had to crab—meaning that often I was swimming in a northwesterly direction, towards Sausalito, or even further to the west, simply to curtail the flood tide’s influence on my goal of the west side of Angel Island. Much energy was spent crabbing. Ideally the swimmer spends his not-unlimited energy supply moving towards his goal, rather than diverting a portion of his energy on simply counteracting the movement of the water. The same problem occurred on my return from Angel Island. The route above shows that when I was about halfway to Alcatraz Island, I encountered the ebb tide, and it was pushing me west towards Golden Gate Bridge. This meant I had to swim in a nearly eastward direction, when my intended goal was to the south.
6. Incident at Point Blunt Rock
I completed the swim up to Angel Island, and navigated the west, north, and east sides of the island, and was at Point Blunt Rock. I had covered 7 miles in five hours; this was very slow for me—I had been battling currents for much of my swim. (I had long ago abandoned my projected swim duration of 5:58.)
Photo by Davis Best
But now I had 3 miles left, and the swim would be complete. I was feeling pretty confident, happily unaware of how I would be spending the next 4 hours and 47 minutes.
Shortly before I was to leave Point Blunt Rock, Vessel Traffic hailed my captains, and let them know that a large cargo vessel was at the Golden Gate Bridge, and would soon be coming though the Deep-Water Shipping Lane—I would have to wait for it to pass. What was originally described as a 15-minute delay ultimately became a 55-minute delay. During this time, I had no choice but to swim in circles around the boat, trying to keep warm, biding my time. After a half hour of circles, swimming with no real purpose, sometimes breast-stroking, my body began to cool off. I lost my drive; I felt the cold infiltrate me—it got into my torso, and “into my head”. I started shivering while I continued to swim my meaningless circles; eventually my teeth were chattering. I feared that I would not recover from this cooling off; I felt a relief that the swim would soon end.
But...then we got a call from Vessel Traffic, and we saw the cargo ship plowing east through the water, about a mile from us, approaching Alcatraz Island. The swim resumed; I was swimming with a purpose again, and my body recovered so that I was no longer shivering, and the cold receded to my extremities.
But this was a near brush with failure—I had gotten close to a deficit of cold from which I would not have been able to recover. This picture shows the ship that nearly ended my swim. The ship is much closer than Alcatraz Island, so its 700 foot length makes it seem to be about the same size as Alcatraz Island, to the left and in the background.
7. “Please make it stop”
When the ebb slammed me midway back to Alcatraz Island, it felt as though for nearly two hours I was more or less swimming in place. My intended route was to head south, back to San Francisco, with the island off of my right shoulder. After an hour or so, with the ebb still steaming along, it was decided that we should relent regarding this, and set a new goal—namely trying to take cover from the ebb by getting behind (to the west side) Alcatraz, and thus on the lee side of the island.
Later my crew chief, Davis, told me that Evan first articulated this route-altering suggestion, and I believe this decision salvaged my swim. I’m in a debt of gratitude to Evan for the route revision at this precarious time.
The horror, though, is shown to the left. There were some times when all my energies were spent counteracting the ebbing tide. See those two points; they are separated by 10.1 minutes in time, but only by 52 meters in distance, and I was swimming hard the whole time. Other pairs of points were 89 or 93 meters apart.
8. “This is taking too long”
One disservice I did to myself—and I should know better—especially in a swim with so many variables– was to set a (mental) target swim duration of 6.5 to 7.0 hours. As that target duration was abandoned, I lost some heart and my exasperation grew. The first 7 miles of the swim took 5 hours, and the last 3 miles of the swim took 4 hours and 47 minutes.
9. “I am gonna tap out at the next feeding”
The crossing from Point Blunt Rock to Alcatraz Island started out well, but once the ebb hit us, it was very tough on me. After a lot of swimming in place, and eventually creeping over to the west side of Alcatraz, I was mentally, and nearly physically, spent. There was a buoy that I remember swimming next to, and it seemed like I just swam alongside it for some harshly long period of time. I was becoming increasingly exasperated and disoriented. I devised my exit strategy. I would give the boat a fair warning of my intent to end the swim, and then would show them that I was tough enough to announce the end of my swim, but still swim for thirty more minutes before calling it quits. As we approached Alcatraz, at a feeding, I told Davis, “I’m gonna tap out at the next feeding”. This all made sense to me at the time; I just wanted it all to end. I was ready to accept defeat.
At the next feeding, there was no mention of my quitting anymore; Davis said nothing as he got my feed to me; I said nothing about it; evidently, the swim was still on. In fact, it was only an hour and a half later that I successfully completed the swim. But there was a time there when I was ready to embrace the DNF (Did Not Finish), and just touch the boat and get the hell out of the water.
We ducked behind the lee of Alcatraz on the west side, and hugged the island, enjoying a reprieve from the ebb tide. We scooted south past Alcatraz Island, and then began the final push across the channel between Alcatraz Island and Aquatic Park. By that time the ebb was abating (and I believe, too, that the ebb is generally less prominent in that part of the bay), and we were able to cross that final mile with far less of a crabbing effort than we put out on the north side of Alcatraz.
By the time I was halfway across, I could tell that I was going to complete the swim. I swam the final .2 mile into Aquatic Park by myself, since boats are not allowed in entry. From the entrance to Aquatic Park the observer on the boat was able to see me walk out of the water to dry sand, and so officially record the swim. Then I re-entered the water, and swam back out through Aquatic Park to the boat.
This was a singular experience, one that I will hold closely. There was plenty of adversity, and the swim almost “cracked” me more than once. But I was able to prevail, and ultimately to experience a potent sense of accomplishment.
I remember hauling myself on the platform on the back of the boat; Davis sprayed warm water on me from a hose, while I just hunkered there; relieved, joyful, and spent.
I had endured much in the ten hours between my first and second swim from the sand to the exit from Aquatic Park. There was a discarding of the naivete that accompanied me at the start of this swim.
There was a stripping away of my preconceived expectations of what this swim would be. There were multiple encounters with myself. Ultimately there was a distilled and urgent need to confront and prevail over this swim.
Knowledge of my life disappeared, and my mind and body were focused only on this one task. For many hours, I was reduced–there was nothing else. I was no longer a 60 year old man, nor a husband, father, son, or brother. Not a worker, not a taxpayer, not an American citizen. I was fully adrift, like once, long ago, when I ate psilocybin mushrooms on a rafting trip on the San Juan River in Arizona in the late 1980’s. And was wandering naked in the desert, in a thunderstorm, unmoored from any context or plot line connecting me with familiar landmarks.
Yet in this reduction, there was an accompanying expansion. Although the Past and the Future receded, the Present took on real shape, and I fully inhabited it. This deep habitation of the Present, as amplified by swimming, is a holy grail for swimmers. It is what (many of us) yearn for.
My aquatic life affords me these poignant moments, something that often eludes me on dry land. How can I take the deep nourishment of my aquatic life, and migrate it into attitudes and behaviors and states of consciousness in my terrestrial life? This is mostly a mystery.
Gratitude to Davis Best, my crew chief. Davis has been my go-to, rock solid crew chief on most of my marathon swims. He understands the mission. He knows what keeps me calm and what pisses me off; at feedings he knows what information to provide, and what information to withhold. I have implicit faith and trust in Davis; his participation in my swims have contributed greatly to my successes. He is the gatekeeper, and my connection to the above-water world.
Gratitude to Evan Morrison, my observer. Evan helped me appreciate the many technical aspects of this swim. He made this complex swim route scrutable for me, and then when the bay misbehaved, he provided some adaptive and creative thinking that allowed me to be successful. Evan observed my 2015 Estero Bay Swim, and when he participates in my swims as an observer, I am aware of his deep attentiveness to the unfolding events; his skill at perceiving, parsing, and recording the most salient features of the swim; his calming influence onboard the boat; and his unabashed love for this sport.
I was marginally acquainted with Bryan Temmermand and Sylvia Lacock (Pacific Open Water Swim Company) before this swim. They co-piloted my swim, and their participation as escort pilots greatly enhanced the likelihood of my successfully completing RTAI. Bryan and Sylvia are very comfortable on boats in The Bay; they are passionate about swimming, about escorting, and about their duty station to provide comprehensive and professional escorting services to marathon swimmers. Their “hands-on” efforts were much in evidence—take for example the worksheet below, which identified the expected inbound/outbound ship traffic that we would likely encounter during my swim. They were alert, competent, energetic, attentive, and confident; I was aware of their muted eagerness for my swim to be successful, and they celebrated in what eventually turned out to be a successful swim.
Now, granted, I was the one that ultimately performed the heavy lifting to get this swim accomplished. But each of these four people were critical lynchpins in this project, and without each of them performing their duties, I’d never have achieved success in this horrific, and wonderful, swim – the Round-Trip Angel Island.
(…basking in the victory at sea…)
Photo by Evan Morrison
by Evan Morrison
Station FTPC1 - Fort Point, San Francisco, CA