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.

Climbing the Tallest Mountain in Colorado

Neal and I took a break last weekend from all the current economic chaos to relax and refocus. 

What better way to recapture this perspective than to climb to the top of the second highest peak in the Continental United States?  Mt. Elbert (14,440 ft.) is 65 feet shorter than the tallest peak in the continental US, California’s Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft.).

It was an amazing weekend mountain climb.  We arrived at the trailhead at around 10 AM on Saturday morning.  Neal had planned the route on his Garmin and in our Suunto watches, so we were set to go.  The sky was total bluebird and it was unseasonably warm (45F).  We started out in base layers and packed 2 extra layers in our 30-pound packs.

We hit the tree line around noon and ran into a solo climber who had summited and was making his way back down.  He gave a very positive report of the terrain and weather as well as what turned out to be an overly optimistic estimate on our time to summit.  He guessed we were about 2 hours from the summit.  It turned out to be 4!

As someone who has climbed the 7 Summits and made a living as a climber, Neal was very patient with the skinny kid from Ohio who was making his first summit.  We reached the summit shoulder to shoulder.  It was amazing to stand at the top and absorb the 360 degrees of panoramic beauty.  That being said, there wasn’t much time to absorb it.  Wind speeds were 20-40 mph on the summit, and wind chill temps were in the single digits.

Special thanks to Suunto, Gu Nutrition, Eider Apparel, Deuter Backpacks and dear mother nature!

Here are the details:

  • Mount Elbert
  • Elevation 14,440, tallest mountain in Colorado, 2nd tallest in continental US
  • Hiking Distance From Trail head: 9.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 4,700 feet
  • Latitude/Longitude: 39.11780 N / 106.4447 W

…Wouldn’t you like to get away?  Some times you wanna go…