Bay 2 Breakers – The Swim

“If this was easy, someone else would be doing it” is exactly what I said to Cathy Harrington just west of the Golden Gate Bridge and about 90 minutes into my first Bay 2 Breakers swim.

Why run when you can swim from the Bay Bridge to Ocean Beach? It takes some lovable insanity to swim Bay 2 Breakers. South End Rowing Club are my people though where we do swims that your average (sane) person would perhaps recommend that we get full psychiatric evaluations.

I didn’t know that I had started my B2B journey over a year ago. I had just joined SERC and wanted to do this “Five Coves of Death” swim held every May 5th. I had plans last May 5th that ended up falling through yet by the time I realized I’d been stood up, it was too late to run over to the club to do the swim. The “Five Coves of Death” are 5 tight Aquatic Park laps. Given my nature of loving swim distance challenges, this was high on my list. I was severely disappointed that I didn’t get to do it last year as the club makes it into a big party. Five Coves is also a qualifier for our Bay 2 Breakers swim which wasn’t even on my radar at the time.


Five Coves Of Death

I spent the next 12 months looking forward to joining the festivities on May 5, 2015. I had it on my calendar all year. On the night of May 4th, my friend Dev asked if I wanted to teach a spinning class the very next night. WTF? *sigh* Knowing that I was able to do my 5 Coves another time, wanting to help Dev out, and getting the chance to finally teach my first spinning class, I cancelled my party / swimming plans that I’d been looking forward to for the last 364 days to help out my beloved spinning studio. Luckily my ever-reliable kayaker Cathy said she’d kayak for me (and be the witness) for a make-up Five Coves the following day as part of my training swim for the week. Okay, on May 5, 2016 I better be at the club that night to swim the Five Coves with everyone else!!

This time I was also doing the swim to do the club’s Bay 2 Breakers swim a few weeks later. Bay 2 Breakers was going to be my training swim for that week since I like to use my Nadadores Locos and club’s nutcracker swims as my training swims since I get *so* bored swimming around the cove and immediate surrounding area.

My 5 Coves 2015 proved to be a challenge. I was tacking on a couple of hours to make it a longer training swim. The first 2 laps were perfect and I made great time of 30 minutes flat for both. The wind picked up and the water temperature started dropping over the next 3 laps although my times only slowed down about 2 minutes per lap. Cathy got some great video of me swimming (first ones that don’t make me cringe) and said that when I went behind the Balclutha, 5 people were walking off of it and stopped to stare down at me as I swam under them. One fisherman along Muni Pier asked her how many times was I going around in circles (typically people only do one or two cove laps).n There was very cold patch by Muni Pier that was moving closer to shore on each lap. After my 5 Coves were done, I was cutting shallower trips along Muni Pier trying to stay in the sun more as I was getting cold. Instead of a planned 5 hours, I only swam a little over 4 hours. Cathy told me later that she checked the temperature at the flag buoy on each lap and over those 4 hours, the water temperature dropped from 58 F to 53 F! Yeah that explains a lot! My threshold is 55 F. Above 55 F is tolerable and below 55 F is “get me the F*** out of here!” Cathy won’t ever tell me what the temperature is while I’m swimming even though I know when it’s below 55 F as I can feel my entire legs the entire time as it feels like they’re stuck with pins and needles. I’m actually a bit nervous when it’s that cold since my friend Joe Locke hurt his shoulder swimming in water that cold on one of his Farrallones -> SF attempts.

My B2B swim was almost in jeopardy when my right wrist started hurting on Monday afternoon. I yelped from the breakthrough pain. I iced it and took Tuesday off. Two ibuprofens did nothing. I immediately made an appointment with my sports physician, Dr. Stephen Van Pelt, at St. Francis Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sports Medicine (where I’ve gone for all of my orthhopedic and podiatric needs since high school). I wasn’t sure if I could swim with it on Wednesday and told my friend and swim buddy Len that I’d test it out with him. The pain slowly subsided over the first several stroke until the chilly Bay water completely numbed it. I was able to complete a Chas Lap (Club -> Gas House -> Creakers -> Club) with him on a perfect weather morning. I can’t believe that I almost missed it! Just wish I had my camera with me to capture the stunning imagery around and under Fort Mason that morning. Later that day Dr. Van Pelt (who jokingly asked if this wasn’t another bike accident he was seeing me for) diagnosed me with tendonitis in my wrist. He said the cause of it was pointless to figure out since you use your wrist so much so either way, it’s just from overuse. He gave me the choice of wearing a brace or taking anti-inflammatories and hoping the pain just goes away. Give me the pills. Under his direction, I started taking 3 ibuprofens 3 times a day (with food) through Sunday. Call him on Monday with an update. Knowing that the Bay water numbed the pain and my official diagnosis, I went back to the club to pay my B2B fee as it was also the very last day to pay it! Yipee!

Saturday rolled around. I’d done most of a reverse B2B with the Locos from Mile Rock to the Bay Bridge a few months before. I’d never swam west of Mile Rock before though and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never swam on Ocean Beach before. I’d done hundreds of beach swims down in Laguna Beach and La Jolla Cove. This should be interesting.


Another o’dark thirty swim’s view of my favorite city.

I sprung out of bed at 3 AM to throw myself into the car to head to the club. Meet time is 4 AM and I know parking will be at a premium so bring my breakfast with me. Cathy was already there and I jokingly called her “Sherpa” as I gave her my feeds cooler. I give my friend (and the B2B’s race director) Joe Butler my homemade cranbeery pepitas toasted coconut flakes oatmeal cookies that I promised him for the swim and he shares with the other pilots. Joe tells us in the safety briefing that the swimmers will follow the zodiacs from the Bay Bridge to outside the cove where we’ll meet up with our kayakers. Our kayakers will stay with us to the point where we swim into Ocean Beach. There are multiple backup plans based on what conditions outside The Gate look like.

24 swimmers take the Hyperfish to the Bay Bridge. That boat is starting to feel a lot like another home given how much time I’ve spent on it this year heading to/from swims! My pod (Pod 1) jump right on time at about 5:20 AM next to the Bay Bridge. I hate boat jumps in general but something like the Hyperfish I can manage since the deck is right in the water instead of several feet higher. I start swimming after the lead zodiac which is almost like swimming after a cat dancer as when I get close to it, it pulls ahead again! I start feeling a bit cold which knowing it’s a 3.5 ebb tells me that I must have been swimming for about half an hour and close to the club. Sure enough a few minutes later, Reptile comes zipping around in his zodiac asking me my number so he can radio in for Cathy to paddle out and meet me. Cathy doesn’t have her usual A’s beanie on and wearing a flourescent yellow one that makes it super easy to spot her. I ask for a feed before we head off towards the gate.

Cathy and I have worked out a method of me sighting off of her instead of straight ahead of me which helps me stay a certain distance from her along with saving my neck literally. The waves pick up to what I call “1-foot high bitch slaps to the face” and I know we’re getting close to the bridge. Cathy looks like she’s riding on a horse which gives me some amusement. It’s really incredible for me when I see the bridge up close from the water. I think you realize just how big it really is when your head is at water level right up next to it. I slice perfectly underneath it doing backstroke between the south tower and midspan. I get a lot of water up my nose but who cares.


Getting ready for the jump.

On my third feed, I ask for my shake that my friend Joe Locke supplies for me. It’s gone off though and I spit it back out immediately. Mental note: test feed freshness before packing it. I spent the rest of the swim with a nasty feeling around my sinuses which I don’t know is from the spoiled feed or inhaled salt water.

The waves pick up to rolling swells and Cathy looks like she’s riding a bucking bronco. I tell her that I really need her by my side as I can’t sight off anything in front of me since I can’t see anything but waves when I sight. She obliges as best she can as we’re getting batted around like toy mice with 3 foot swells.

Despite having swam about 100 yards off the south tower, a slight current has pushed Cathy and me into the midspan’s line afterwards. One of the zodiacs comes around to reposition me as there is a tanker heading straigiht for Cathy and me. The only time I ever don’t mind being respositioned is when the alternative is being squashed like a bug by a huge ass boat. Randy, the pilot, wants to drop me off although I can’t see where Cathy is and don’t want to be left there alone in these conditions. He takes me to where Cathy is and I start swimming again. I’m fighting to get a further south line out and see another tanker off in the distance coming from the south. I keep knocking into Cathy.


Bay Bridge @ about 5:15 a.m.

Reptile zips up sometime and yells at me to get in the boat NOW. The tanker that I had seen is now coming up fast. He goes and gets Bill Bradley also to get us out of the tanker’s way (whose captain was apparently EXTREMLEY pissed off at us swimmers..my personal feelings are dude, share the water as you don’t own it). I hear on the radio that a bunch of swimmers not at the gate yet are getting picked up and repositioned out of the tanker’s way also.

I’m shivering in the boat even with a blanket. The water was bumpy to begin with (now up to 4-foot waves) and now we have lovely tanker wake to contend with. Yeeha. Reptile at least makes me laugh with jokes about why can’t these tankers take the weekend off. He decides to just escort Bill and me to Ocean Beach and asks for our kayakers to get picked up. He drops us off around Mile Rock as we’re safely past the tanker and tells us to pod together. I tell him that Cathy has my feeds and I think I can make it to the beach without it.

I jump back into the water and start swimming again. Like the beginning of the swim, I’m just following Reptile’s zodiac. I’m faster than Bill though so Reptile stops me as he doesn’t want me getting too far ahead of Bill. I start doing a pattern of swimming for awhile and then waiting for Bill to catch up and then start swimming again. As I get closer to Ocean Beach, I follow Reptile’s navigational directions. Reptile had gone to get my feeds from Cathy sometime as right before I start to cut into the beach, he asks if I want any of them. I get one of my energy gels which helps for the final push.

This is the only part of the swim that I’m very nervous about. Despite all my beach landings, I’m still afraid of 6+ foot waves. I heard that Ocean Beach can have some high ones although the prediction is about 4 – 6 foot that morning. I can handle 4-foot waves. I start swimming in and a kayaker tells me to head straight into the beach. I think no f’ing way in hell as I’m going to wait and see what’s coming up behind me first. I see some big waves coming and decide to let them go first (aren’t I courteous?). I start swimming in and hallucinate that I see cresting waves to my right. I get to water that I can stand in and see some 4-footers coming in. I recollect what my friend Owen had taught me of diving down to get as low as you can onto the sand. I successfully do that for this set even though I’m terrified each time as the water gets darker during those moments. I look and I’m about 50 yards off shore again. Sheesh. I see Marie coming over to help me which is just cool even though I don’t need it as I like her a lot. I meet up with her and we put our arms around each other and walk out the water. Bill is to my right and we do a celebratory hug. It’s good to see some color back in his face that isn’t bright pink. A couple of people offer us hot water to drink and shower us with. We put some clothes on and Kim drives us back to the club to shower.


Cut sustained while diving under a wave on my way into Ocean Beach.

I’m surprised that no one else from the swim is back yet. People ask if I did the “big swim” that morning and I say yes and they congratulate me and ask how it went. I’m wondering what happened to Cathy. I’ve showered and changed and there’s still no sign of her. I’m usually not hungry after swims that I eat during yet today I’m hungry. Breakfast isn’t set up yet. As the kayaks finally start coming back, I help out with getting them into the club. Someone asks shouldn’t I be resting somewhere. The kayakers usually try and shoo me away when I’m helping load an d clean the kayaks after the swims although what else am I going to do after I’ve showered and changed? I like helping out and still have the energy to do it.

Cathy finally materializes and jokes that she thought she’d never see me again. Turns out they didn’t get picked up so they had to kayak their way all the way back to the club! Holy smokes! She feels like she did a bad job kayaking for me and understands if I never want her to kayak for me again. Is she nuts??? Those were gnarly conditions out there and having to deal with 2 tankers trying to cream us. It’s a tough ride once you get outside the gate! I don’t fault her for anything during it and I certainly couldn’t have done a better job. I tell her that she’s my kayaker for life (whether she likes it or not!).


Not liking to poison my body with coffee, I opt for an Irish Coffee without the coffee part.

Definitely a wild ride that you got a little of everything during, especially unpredictable conditions. Now I totally understand why Joe B said to be prepared for anything during it! It’s a great training swim and now on my list of one of my favorites. I’ll be back for it next year, with Cathy on kayak again of course. 🙂


My swim path for Bay 2 Breakers 2015.

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4 Responses to Bay 2 Breakers – The Swim

  1. kim says:

    i liked the bit about cathy riding a horse. and yeah, i think you and bill were among the first four out of the water. i had tried to get 3 in my car, as that was the max i could take, but one swimmer went in another car at the last minute, but you and bill looked so cold i felt like i should get you back to the club ASAP! (in retrospect, i guess you two could have just sat in my car while i waited for a 3rd swimmer to come in.)
    so what is/are the nadadores locos?

    • kprebil says:

      Thanks Kim! I wasn’t that cold actually. Bill was bright pink when we were swimming so it was good to see him have some non-pink color back in his face and body! Always beter once you dry off a bit and put some clothes on. It was way colder a few months ago but my cold tolerance was still low at the time as I’ve ramped it back up again. I can stay in for hours provided that the water doesn’t drop down below 55 F.

      The Nadadores Locos is a group of swimmers that wanted to do longer swims. Headed mainly by Les and Kirk. We do swims like Mile Rock to AT&T or Pacifica to Point Bonita (that was supposed to be Saturday but Kirk is postponing it) or San Quentin to Tiburon…stuff like that. We rent out the Hyperfish and Brent charges the swimmers a flat price no matter how many people are swimming it. You can swim as long as you want. One that Les did years ago that I want him to have for us is some crazy thing like the ballpark to Angel Island to the Golden Gate to the club or something to that affect. I think it was like a 10 hour day. I’ve only heard the legend. Makes all the nutcrackers look like short swims!!

  2. Bill Harris says:

    “1-foot high bitch slaps to the face” totally made me lol. Excellent write up and pictures.

  3. timpmooney says:

    Great commentary Kelley. It’s almost like being there.

    A bit like you on your first time, I was a little late in the game to target the 5 coves of death. I had about 3 weeks to prepare, so I started with 3 coves the 1st week, which went fine, then 4 coves I only made 3, and then May 5th came, I went for 5 and came up with 3 again.

    Disappointing. Very disappointing. It meant no B2B, which I figured I’m not ready for if 5 coves kicked my butt. Anyway, there’s next year. I’ve got to build up my cold time and distance.

    Good luck on your Catalina Channel! I’m excited for you!

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