Evan Morrison - Round-Trip Angel Island

Counter-clockwise loop around Angel Island from Aquatic Park

16.1 km (10.0 miles)

8 hours, 51 minutes on 1 February 2020

Observed and documented by Lisa Amorao

Contents

Swimmer

  • Name: Evan Morrison
  • Gender: male
  • Age on swim date: 39
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: San Francisco, California

Support Personnel

  • Brent McLain (SF Boat Support) - pilot
  • Robin Rasmussen Rose - crew chief, feeder
  • Kirk McKinney - crew, deckhand
  • Scott Tapley - timer (@ Aquatic Park, not on boat)
  • Lisa Amorao - observer

Escort Vessel: Tango (San Francisco / Hyde St Marina)


Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Swimsuit, cap, goggles.

Route Definition

Start @ SERC/Dolphin beach in Aquatic Park, exit through Aquatic Park opening, counter-clockwise around Angel Island, return to SERC/Dolphin beach via Aquatic Park opening.

  • Body of Water: San Francisco Bay
  • Route Type: island loop
  • Start & Finish Location: Beach between SERC & Dolphin Club docks, Aquatic Park, San Francisco (37.808145, -122.421402)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 16.1 km (10.0 miles)

History

LongSwimsDB: Round-Trip Angel Island


Swim Data

  • Start: 1 February 2020, 05:04:31 (America/Los_Angeles, UTC-8).
  • Finish: 1 February 2020, 13:56:24
  • Elapsed: 8 hours, 51 minutes, 53 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 51 53
Air Temp (F) 51 60
Wind (Beaufort) calm F3

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Every 30 min: Maxim flavored with orange Gatorade. Chocolate UCAN as requested. Occasional ProBar.


Observer Report

by Lisa Amorao


Narrative

The Winter Round-Trip Angel Island
by Evan Morrison

Five Years

I first swam the Round-Trip Angel Island in July 2015. I was the seventh person to complete the swim, though at the time we thought I was the sixth, as Dave Kenyon’s 1984 swim hadn’t yet been uncovered in the archives of the Dolphin Club. In 2015, the first official list of RTAI swimmers had just been compiled, and every swimmer on the list was a South End Rowing Club member.

As I write this in August 2020, 24 people have completed 27 RTAI swims:

  • 13 men and 9 women;
  • 22 clockwise and 5 counter-clockwise;
  • with times ranging from Dave Kenyon’s astonishing 4:23 to Angel More’s 10:59;
  • from 15-year old Angel More to 61-year old Suzanne Heim-Bowen;
  • and 3 swimmers have done it twice (myself, Kim Hedges, and Sarah Roberts)

I’ve enthuasistically promoted the RTAI swim, and it’s been fun to see the broader marathon swimming catch on to its charms. I believe it is the canonical marathon swim of San Francisco Bay, with a combination of scenic beauty, interesting technical challenges, elegant route aesthetics, and diverse open water conditions. And I’m proud to have been personally invovled in 10 of the 27 swims - 2 as swimmer and 8 as observer.

Forty Years

One early December morning, sitting with Robin and Amy in Cafe de Casa after one of our swims, a plot was hatched. I was turning 40 in February. A new decade of life seemed to call for some aquatic acknowledgement - a near-mid-life rebirth through the watery trial of an unassisted marathon swim. Various options were discussed, including down in the Channel Islands region (my other home, my first home), but ultimately the choice was obvious as soon as it was articulated: a winter Round-Trip Angel Island!

The tide book was duly consulted, and February 1st identified as a “swimmable” counter-clockwise RTAI tide, if not a particularly good one:

  • 02:56 - 1.7 flood
  • 05:16 - slack
  • 09:01 - 2.4 ebb
  • 14:24 - slack

After confirming the availability of Greg Gubser and his boat, Robin (crew chief), and Lisa (observer), the plan was set.

Eleven Degrees

My RTAI swim in July 2015 took place in 61-63F (16-17C) water. A February 1st swim was likely to be 10F degrees colder - at best. I swim year-round in the Bay, but had never gone more than about 2 hours in February temps. RTAI would require - at best - six hours.

All considered, I figured I needed to prepare for 6 or 7 hours in 11C water (52-ish Fahrenheit).

So, I had some training to do. And, after the flu laid me out in the last week of December, I had about a month to do it. Thanks in large part to the “beast pod” (Amy, Robin, Ken, Kim H), I managed to put together a highly productive month of January. I split my time about 60/40 between open water (SERC) and the pool (USF Masters), culminating in a 4-hour Bay swim on January 15 and the MBSA 24 Hour / 24 Mile pool swim on January 25-26.

In the last few days before the swim, I immersed in the Bay every day for about an hour, split evenly between (1) mindful, technique-focused, “all-day-pace” swimming and (2) treading water between the docks, “marinating” in the cold ‘til I was good and numb.

Nine Hours

I set off from the SERC beach at 5:05am, observed by Scott Tapley, who relayed the start time to Lisa (on Greg’s boat idling at the Opening). Joining Greg, Robin, and Lisa was Kirk McKinney, a late addition to the crew and fellow salty soul.

It was cold, but not unexpectedly so. I settled into a nice groove these first few minutes. A pre-determined tactic, if it was already ebbing I would swim along the breakwater to Creakers before turning into the channel. It was, and I did.


Along Hyde Street breakwater

My groove soon disappeared into the Force 3 chop - but I felt controlled and strong through the outbound leg to Angel Island. In the deepwater channel between Alcatraz and Angel Island, we enjoyed a lovely display of color in the east, and the water smoothed out as we entered Angel Island’s lee.

A few hundred yards below Point Blunt the ebb hit me head-on, slowing my progress to a crawl. After a few minutes of endless-pool action, I moved in close to Blunt Rock (the usual head current tactic in the Bay). I was swimming hard but my progress was agonizing, inch by inch. After a hard-fought, 30-minute Ascent of Blunt Rock, I rested briefly and fed.

The swim up the east side of Angel Island to Point Campbell was a relentlessly challenging slog, point to point, with few respites from the ebb. At several spots I watched myself go backwards on left-breaths.

After clearing a patch of violently churning water on the approach to Point Campbell, I reached the top of the island - a climax of both latitude and emotional relief. Now the ebb helped me, flushing me through the glassy Raccoon Straits in just a few minutes.

I had reached halfway in four hours elapsed - already 2 hours behind my 2015 pace. I tried to set aside any thoughts on the implications - Could I do 8 hours in this water temp? I was cold but it was a steady cold. After the first hour or so, my body had seemed to reach a temporary détente with the environment (nearly 50 degrees F colder than my body temp). The cold had numbed my extremities - skin, fingers, toes, face, jaw - but for now, had not seeped further into my core, which continued to convert fuel into energy, propelling my arms and legs, moving me forward, one stroke per second, 5 feet per stroke (give or take).

Points Lone, Stuart, and Knox flew by on the wings of max ebb. Unsurprisingly, as soon as we cleared Pt Knox, into the deepwater channel, the ebb pushed us hard west (toward the Golden Gate Bridge – wrong direction). Greg aimed east to counter-act the push. This was the right call, or else we may very well have ended up close to the Bridge in even swifter currents as the gap between Marin and SF land narrows. This also meant our southward progress was brutally slow.

When we finally cleared the deepwater channel (7 hours elapsed) the ebb had pushed us as far laterally as the east beach of Crissy Field - fully 2 miles west of the route line off the west end of Alcatraz. I was now well beyond my anticipated duration, and also the limits of my current fitness. My strokes were slower and my shoulders throbbed, but the sun was warm on my back and I knew there was no good reason to stop. And if there’s no good reason to stop, this leaves only one option: Keep swimming.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m OK.”

Around 12:30pm, the ebb died and our track began curving around back toward Aquatic Park. I reached the cityfront near the Gashouse marina entrance. At the Fort Mason piers I switched to starboard to hug the pilings. Did I detect a slight push from the flood? Rule #1 in the Bay: The tide always turns… eventually.

I made the Opening at 1:45pm. Robin hopped in to join me on the cool-down lap to SERC beach. The smooth water inside the Cove felt glorious. Joy and relief and pride and homecoming washed over me simultaneously. I’ve done the 400m swim from the Opening to the beach literally hundreds of times, but this one I’ll remember forever.

I’m grateful to Greg, who piloted a true line under challenging circumstances, Robin, and Kirk, who accompanied me on this adventure and ensured my safety; to Lisa, who documented it; to Amy and Kim and Ken, who greeted me on the beach; to Scott for keeping track of time; to Reptile for assuring me “It’s gonna be great” at 5am, and for keeping me company while I defrosted in the sauna.


Photo by Daniela Klaz


Additional Photos

By Lisa Amorao and Robin Rose. Click to enlarge.


Video

Footage by Lisa Amorao and Robin Rose.

Evan Morrison - Round-Trip Angel Island from MSF on Vimeo.


Appendix A: NOAA Weather Data

by Evan Morrison

What was the water temp in San Francisco Bay on the morning of February 1st, 2020? Since the time of year and cold water were a significant part of the story of this swim, a brief discussion is warranted.

Data: Lisa’s thermometer produced readings between 51 and 53F (10.5 - 11.7C) - a normal range (based on previous RTAI swims) for the diverse waters between Aquatic Park and the top of Angel Island.

Data: The one relevant NOAA buoy (off west Crissy Field) produced readings between 12.2 and 13.0C (53.9 - 55.4F) during the timeframe of the swim.

Anecdote: Through December and January, there was widespread consensus among morning SERC swimmers that the NOAA buoy was reading 1-2 degrees too warm. Year-round Bay swimmers develop fairly fine-tuned “toe thermometers,” so this is not to be discounted - though the perception was supported by readings from several swimmers who wear water temp-measuring watches.

From NOAA Station FTPC1 (Fort Point, San Francisco, Calif.)

All considered, I can’t say with 100% confidence exactly how cold the water was on February 1st. But I think it’s reasonably safe to call it “low 50s” (F), 11 to 12-ish Celsius.