The Farallon Islands…A Most Dangerous Adventure

The Farallon Islands…A Most Dangerous Adventure

Reporters and the public talk about adventures with high degree of risks: hot-air ballooning across continents, crossing tundra without motorized vehicles, climbing mountains, ultra-marathon runs or mega-triathlons under extremely warm conditions. Open water swimmers talk about the most difficult swims in their sport: North Channel between Scotland and Ireland, Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.

But difficulty is a slightly different parameter than danger. Is there anything in the marathon swimming world as potentially risky as swimming from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallons Islands? For swimmers who enjoy risk-taking and relish battles against the harshest possible aquatic environment in the world, the Farallons presents a challenge with significant risk.

Few places in the world, outside of South Africa, have the abundance of Great White Sharks as does the area around the Farallon Islands. With the plethora of food (seals and sea lions) residing on the Farallon Islands, the entire area is a well-documented hotbed of shark activity. Based on what swimmers have said, it is not a matter if a shark will be seen, but rather how many and when. There are also orcas (killer whales), blue whales, gray whales and humpback whales.

Cold water, check. It is rare that the water increases to 16°C (61°F) and the water is usually closer to 10°C (50°F). Rough water and winds, double check. How turbulent? Rough enough that kayaking alongside a swimmer is not done and the distance between the swimmer and the escort boat must be a healthy distance. Rough enough that the turbulence has its own specific name (Potato Patch).

Currents include a massive amount of water flooding and ebbing in and out of San Francisco Bay that can push even the world’s strongest swimmers dozens of miles off-course.

Distance? 30 miles (48.2K) is a fair distance to say the least.

Combine the sharks, orcas and cold water with rough water, currents and distance, and about the only thing the Farallons is missing are box jellyfish (too cold for that).

But Vito Bialla and Phil Cutti established the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation to govern and oversee solo and relay swims between the Golden Gate Bridge and the treacherous Farallons. With the full support of the United States Coast Guard and experienced skippers and nautical experts in the area, they have established themselves in the highest echelon of adventure athletics. While they cannot eliminate the inherent danger in their venue, they work hard to minimize the risks for those who yearn to achieve what can be described as one of the world’s most risk-inherent athletic adventures.

But for those who enjoy facing such risks, there is an undeniable allure to overcome this monument of challenges. “This is unfinished business for swimmers who have not completed their attempts. Even if you have to go after it multiple failures. Not succeeding will haunt you.”

But last year, there were two successful relays who made it under the command of Vito, a former world-class sailor turned marathon swimmer. “The swimmers pushed their pace hard and then did it again on their subsequent legs.”

Pushing the envelope in the ultimate high-risk marathon swim. The 2012 season will soon be underway. Joe Locke will be first up with a solo attempt on March 23rd with Joe Locke giving it a go from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallons. Next up is Jason Malick attempting a solo on May 3rd . “We have a double, an out and back relay, on May 20th with a flip turn at the Farallons buoy,” says Vito who is planning for a dual season, the early spring swimmers followed by those who will attempt in the fall around the September time frame.

Danger draws. Risk rewards. Swimmers succeed…ultimately.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones