Joseph Locke In His Own Words Across The Farallones

Joseph Locke In His Own Words Across The Farallones

Courtesy of Joseph Locke in a first-person account of his 13 hour 58 minute crossing from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge that broke Ted Erikson‘s record first set in 1967.

When we started conditions could not have been better. The channel was like a lake – absolutely smooth and no one was even remotely ill on the ride out. We had a full moon with cloud cover so it was bright but not too bright.

At the islands the wildlife was in full party mode. Birds were screaming, seals and sea lions were howling – it was Farallon mardi gras and they were all getting it on. The water temperature at the start was a balmy 53ºF (11.6ºC). We found the buoy with over an hour to spare so everyone took a nap. I jumped in after midnight and had amazing bioluminescence – it was like swimming in a disco. But it was also jellyfish soup. Some would light up when I touched them. This was cool until they stung.

There were all kinds: nettles, strings (one got stuck in my stomach hair – probably need to manscape next time), little tiny ones (one got in my mouth – really hurt) and big blobs. After a feeding or two in, I got bumped by something a few times – saw a large object move fast right below me. I stopped and my crew told me it was a friendly harbor seal. Luckily of the non-biting variety.

I kept trying to not focus on how good overall conditions were because I didn’t want to jinx it. I also had an issue of conditioning. I have not done any long swims for months as I have been taking my daughter to track meets on weekends and been assisting my mother who has ailing health. The cold was bothering me more than normally and about two hours in my shoulders hurt simply because I had not been properly conditioning. The water warmed up in the channel, but as morning came the marine layer kept the air cold and I didn’t get that nice sun-baked layer on the top to the water that I was hoping for. The water was still cold at 55-56ºF, but not miserable as in some of my other low- or sub-50ºF attempts.

About four hours in, my lower back started to cramp up as did my right calf. I was worried they would progressively get worse through the swim and shut down my mobility. This happened in other colder swims. Luckily they didn’t. The fact that conditions remained very smooth until almost the end helped a great deal. If I were swimming in chop, I am sure the pain would have been much worse and significantly impacted my ability to swim. Still, from 5 hours in, this was one of the most uncomfortable swims I have had and remained so though the end. Luckily the pain intensity did not pick up and it was manageable.

At roughly the 5-hour mark, we started to get pushed back by the ebb. I don’t have the official report, but I am pretty sure my progress was slow until slack tide at 8:20. However, to avoid boat traffic, we were on the north side of the channel in shallower water. As the flood came on, we didn’t get much impact because of the back-eddies at our position. After a few hours, a couple of my crew members figured this out and we re-positioned and started catching some of the flood, making good progress again. With a short distance to go, we were radioed that a tanker was coming down the north side of the channel right at our position. Thankfully my crew thought fast and we were able to cut a hard right and re-position in time. The flood pushing behind me helped me move quickly across the channel.

As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, the tide had already started to change and was ebbing. The last 100 yards was a very hard push to make it under the Bridge. I had hoped to swim into Aquatic Park, but that is difficult against an ebb when a swimmer is fresh. After nearly 14 hours in the water and in quite a bit of physical pain, I called the swim after we cleared the Golden Gate Bridge. If we had been half an hour later, the ebb would have picked up driving us backwards and the swim would not have been completed.

I cannot say enough about my crew: Evan Morrison, Karen Rogers, Kimberley Rutherford, Earle Conklin, David McGuire, and Gretchen Koffman. They were more focused, competent and supportive than I would have thought possible from anyone.

I am looking forward to having more time for other things that really matter in my life. This sport takes away from many responsibilities and other enjoyments, especially from my daughter, which is my biggest priority as a single father and my mother needs care as well. It is also time I give back to others who are swimming since I have had such great support on my swims. I love open water swimming and have no intention of quitting but it is a tremendous consumer of time and money. It is time for some better balance.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones