Pt Bonita to Aquatic Park on the Dreaded 9th of February

The 9th of February is, by Roperian legend more than meteorological reality, the coldest day of the year in San Francisco Bay. Accordingly, SERC holds a long swim every year on the 9th of February. The Dreaded Ninth.

The route varies each year, but is typically chosen from among the other annual “Nutcracker” swims. This year it was Pt Bonita to Aquatic Park - a gorgeous 6.5-mile (current assisted) swim from the furthest southwestern tip of the Marin Headlands, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, and finishing at our club beach in Aquatic Park.

pt bonita route

The Route: Pt Bonita to Aquatic Park

February 9, 2016 was pretty much the opposite of Dreaded: a classic “summer in winter” San Francisco day - bright and mild, water temp 55F (12.8C). A touch warmer, even, than my last Pt Bonita swim, in June 2012. The field of 20 included more than a few accomplished marathoners: Darrin, Steve Walker, Cameron B, Cathy, Lisa S, Bucko, Amy G, Robin R, Randy B.

I rode out to Pt Bonita in the sailing vessel Dewey, enjoying the conversation with Cathy, Dusty, Bobby, Steve, and Kim.

riding to pt bonita

Riding out to Pt Bonita: Cathy, me, Bobby, Steve. Photo credit: Dusty

We start from a rocky beach just inside Pt Bonita and protected from the sizeable swells breaking on the point. The slower swimmers jump first, followed 10 minutes later by the usual suspects. We had been instructed to head straight out into the shipping channel, sighting on Fort Point; later aiming for the gap between midspan and the South Tower.

There’s a bit of wind blowing, maybe 12-15 knots, making for some choppy conditions in the first hour. Jeff Brown joins me on his kayak shortly after the start, and is a steady paddling presence off my starboard. I lead from the start and don’t really see any other swimmers until I start passing Pod 1.

pt bonita chop

Choppy conditions outside the Gate. Photo credit: El Sharko

The wind dies suddenly on the final approach to the Bridge, which seems to amplify the eddies swirling off the South Tower. I flip on my back and watch US-101 pass by 220 feet above. Only a 2.6-knot flood according to the tide books, the speed of the water still astonishes.

A few minutes later I pass the Pod 1 leaders (Cathy and Amy) and their kayak. Jeff falls back and is replaced by Brent and the Hyperfish, who I know from Joe Locke’s Farallon swim two years ago. The calmer conditions allow me to breathe bilaterally without inhaling seawater. Before the jump I had left my Perpetuem bottle with one of the zodiac pilots. At this point it’s too much trouble to call it in over the radio. This swim is borderline for going without feeding, but I figure I’ll be OK if I can finish under 2 hours.

… and then I look up and I’m right off the Fort Mason piers. Possibly even a little too far off. I angle to the right, across the current. I really don’t want to miss the Opening! But I notice Brent doesn’t seem too concerned, and he has a better view.

Then I’m in the Opening, past the Jacuzzi, the Balclutha, and between the docks. There’s Jefferson with his stopwatch and clipboard.

1 hour, 49 minutes. Not so dreadful, really.