Piloting Open Water Swimmers

pilot_boat_swimmingIn mountain climbing the unsung heroes are the sherpas/porters. In open water swimming the unsung heroes are the pilot boats.

Typically I’m a swimmer, and pilot boats protect me. Today I had the opportunity to switch roles. I piloted a swim with 25 swimmers. There were 5 other pilot boats including me.

Role of the pilot boat during an open water swim:

  • Protect swimmer from boaters and wildlife
  • Guide the swim path
  • Feed and motivate the swimmer during swims lasting more than 1 hour

What I learned. First of all I learned what a pilot boat does (see above). I also learned what a powerful affect the tidal current has on a swimmer. From the vantage point of our pilot boat Reuben and I saw several swimmers get swept by a swift tidal current. The current was faster than they were and caused them to literally swim in place. A good pilot can help a swimmers navigate currents and win the race!

Pilots from the Dolphin Club use plastic kayaks, motorized zodiacs, fiberglass paddle boards, and wooden Whitehall rowboats. The Whitehall rowboats at the Dolphin Club are pretty awesome, and most of over 100 years old. During the swim walkie-talkies are used to coordinate maneuvers. Two or more pilot boats lead the front swimmer and sweep the rear swimmer. Other pilot boats serve as course markers and guide points for the swimmers along the course.

Some stats about today’s swim.

  • 52F … water temp
  • 1:3 … ratio of swimmers to pilot boats
  • 1.5 miles … course distance
  • 1897 … year that my wooden rowboat was built
  • 3 … donuts/bagels consumed pre & post (yummy!)

And of course, photography from today.

Swimming in the Ocean at Night

Last night I swam in black glass. We jumped into the San Francisco Bay ocean water after dark. It was so darn peaceful as the light of the Ghirardelli Chocholate Factory shone across the black glassy water. These are the nights that can make any workday worth living. It was a wonderful cold water training swim. My buddy Dave joined us for the apres-swim sauna then we all went back to a French place and talked about adventures past and adventures future. These are the days worth remembering.

Adam has been training these days too in Denver, where the temperatures have dropped down at night to the 40s, so I suspect most of his training has been on the Wilier cycles (shameless plug, sorry, but we love these guys).

Hope everyone’s training is going awesome. Take care.

California Dreamin’

park-swim.jpgIt’s coming down to D-day. Less than two weeks! This past weekend, in final preps for our journey, I left the loving comfort of my family and my new Denver home and headed west to the land of fruit and nuts. The San Francisco Bay is a phenomenal training ground for the Channel. The water temps are just a bit colder than the Channel (55 degrees F), so they are a great acclimatization tool. The water conditions in the Aquatic Park did a good job of simulating the prevalent conditions in the Channel as far as chop and currents. Outside of the breakwaters proved quite rough, depending on the time of day. Another benefit of these training grounds is the Dolphin Club. Neal found this open-water-swimming jewel last year, but this was my first time experiencing it. They boast over 1000 members, and the camaraderie and enthusiasm amongst this eclectic group of swimmers is fantastic. They are also a wealth of information for those of us aspiring to swim the English Channel. They have several members who have made the crossing, and a few more that are currently training for it. Special thanks to Amber Rhett and Reuben Hechanova for all of their advice.

I was there for less than 48 hours, and Neal and I spent a good deal of that time training. We got in two decent swims on Saturday, and then we both participated in an open-water “race” put on by the Dolphin Club. We had to check in for the race by 6:00, which meant that the alarm clock went off at about 4:30! We took a boat from the club to the San Francisco Bay bridge, and once dropped off, it was an all-bridge-swim.jpgout sprint back to the club. The front group was ultra-competitive, with the winning swimmer completing the 2 ½ mile course in under 40 minutes (current assisted). Neal wasn’t too far behind at around 45 minutes, and I straggled in about 3-4 minutes after that. Many thanks to all of the volunteers who rowed beside us making this event as safe and as fun as possible.

We took a few minutes to bring our core temperatures back up to human levels, and then bee-lined for the airport. It was a fast and furious weekend, but all-in-all a great time!

Two upcoming open water swims

house.jpgSorry for the radio/blog silence. I was driving cross-country in my Jeep & Trailer. What a gorgeous drive!

I moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco. I’m new here, and one of the big parts of moving for me is finding a new place to workout. I know about the Dolphin Swim Club in San Francisco, so I went there to check on their latest activities. While I was at the Dolphin Club I heard about two upcoming open water swims.

Both swims are open water swims. Both are relatively short (1-2 miles). And I’ll be doing both with my friend Paul who works at Facebook. I’m super stoked about both! It will be a fun way for us to mix-up workouts, and a good way for me to get in the race mindset prior to the English Channel, which is coming up SOON!


Sunday, June 1 2008
Tri Valley Masters
Lake Del Valle

Livermore, CA
.75 mile (8:00AM)
1.5 mile (9:00AM)

Saturday, June 7 2008
Davis Aquatic Masters
Lake Berryessa
Napa, CA
2 mile (9:30AM)
1 mile (11:25AM)

Local oil spill in my training grounds = Big impact

As many of you know, I trained this past summer at the Dolphin Swim Club in the San Francisco Bay. Swimming there each morning was an amazing treat, especially since I lived just blocks away. On November 7, 2007 there was a 58,000 gallon spill. The spill came from a tanker that broad-sided the Bay Bridge. This spill will affect everyone on the Pacific coast. Within hours this local spill was killing birds and closing swim beaches hundreds of miles away.

Video 1: This video model from NOAA is based on over-flight observations. With each tide the oil from the spill is being pulled out to sea, and then pulled back into the bay.

Video 2: This second video is a photo montage of the damage done to the San Francisco Bay (aka. my former training grounds).

What is the moral of this sad story? If you can, and I realize this isn’t practical for most, but if you can, sell your car and buy a bike.