The Mermaids Visit the Farallon Islands, Part 2

Our day was upon us. We had received so many messages of support, but perhaps my favorite message was from Ted Erikson, the first and only person to swim solo from the Farallon Islands…

“As an ex-U.S. Navy Submariner, a female admirer, and holding the Farallon to Golden Gate Bridge record since 1967, I welcome a female contingent of navy seals to show us how it is done.  I wish you success and safety in your endeavor, God willing.”

Saturday 4th June arrives. It’s pouring with rain. The wind is howling. Weather-wise it just doesn’t look good. I know that there’s absolutely no way we can attempt this swim in anything over 15 knots. Damn it. In the back of my mind I can’t help but think that all my prayers to Mother Nature were in vain. I thought that just maybe she would show us, the Farallon Mermaids, a little love, but it is clear that she’s not going to make this easy. Fine. I only prayed for the chance - an opportunity, a moment  - to prove that women are just as tough as the men. It might not be easy, but we WILL swim to the Farallones today, without wetsuits, without shark cages, and without shark shields. We don’t need any special treatment, thank you very much Mother Nature.

Game on.

Its 4:30am, and we’re all so incredibly excited. We organize our gear, food, etc., … Vito starts the engine… bow line up, stern line up… we leave the dock at the San Francisco Yacht club. A friend of mine on Belvedere Island flashes the lights from his house to show support. “Just saw your boat go by.  I wish you and your team a great swim.  Go women go!”

We make our way to the starting line, the Golden Gate Bridge. Its dark, raining hard and the wind has picked up. We decide to attempt the swim. Patti jumps in as our first swimmer. The ebb is ripping and all we see of Patti is the blue light on the back of goggles zipping though the dark. It’s an amazing sight.

Each swimmer powers through some unbelievably rough conditions. No one gives up. Along the way, there are some surreal experiences: a whale breaches 50 yards from Laura, porpoises swim near Cathy, kelp appears out of nowhere for Lynn and a massive sea lion comes to say hello while Melissa swims.  I can't help but think Mother Nature is dropping hints. Some really big beautiful hints. Even a rainbow appears! I joke that all we are missing is a unicorn sighting.

I don’t see anything when I swim. I run through a mental list of possible wildlife encounters in the Red Triangle, and, according to my list that leaves us with only one missing encounter: guys in grey suits with sharp teeth. OMG. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Its 8:30pm and the sun is setting behind the Farallon Islands. Melissa’s hour was almost over. With less than a mile to go, it was my turn to jump in again. I was the one who would swim the final leg, in the dark at the Farallon Islands. “Moment of truth!” I declared. And it was. For almost 16 hours all these amazing women had plowed through 18-20ft waves, in freezing water, overcoming seasickness and now, here we were, so close to the finish.

A blue light is fixed to the back of my goggles and turned on. This is the only way the boat would be able to see me in the water. It was so dark.

Vito signals me to jump… OMG. Adrenalin is pumping furiously through my body. Holy shit.  This is it. Careful what you wish for, I guess. Of course I was the one who had to swim in the dark at the Farallon Islands. And I had no choice but to follow through. Every single woman on the team has proven themselves admirably – completing everything (and more) that was asked of them. Now it was my turn.

I jump in and put my head down and swim. Waves are crashing over me… I swim as close to the boat as possible. I hear the ladies yell “Goooooo Kim!!!!!!”  and see the lights on the boat as I breathe to my left. I lift my head a few times to spot the islands, lit only by the moonlight. OMG. My heart is beating out of my chest. OMG. OMG. I have to finish this swim. I am NOT getting out. I am finishing this.

I swim faster. All I can think is “I’m going to get eaten… I’m going to get eaten… this it how it ends… its either my legs or my arms…I’m going to get eaten”… OMG this is taking forever… I can’t see the islands now, it’s so dark… how the hell am I going to see the buoy?!! “Where’s the f-ing buoy?!” I yell. They shine a light on the buoy and birds flock to the light. OMG. What if something else “flocks” to the buoy?! 

I swim into the cove… I spot the buoy and my last few strokes seem to take forever. The waves are crashing against me, and I see the white foam from the waves lit by the moon.

I swim up to the buoy and it all happens so fast. I kiss it. I kiss the buoy. Here I was, representing 6 amazing women and in this brief adrenalin-fueled moment I somehow find a way to show my respect. On the co-ed relay, David Holscher slapped the buoy. This time was different. The buoy, the islands, deserved more. They deserved a woman’s touch.

Everyone yells for joy on the boat…and all I want to do is jump on the boat and get out of the water. This all seems a little too good to be true. We did it and no one got eaten, but I need to get out of the this water immediately. The boat starts to move away from me. (I later learn that the rocks in the cove were a safety concern) What the hell is going on? I’m no prima donna but I just finished the swim and you’re going to make me SWIM to the boat?! OMG!!!! I feel like I’m on a ticking time bomb and any moment now it’s going to go off. I’m going to get eaten.

I race to the boat and jump on as fast as I can. All my limbs are safely on the boat. Relief!!!

We hug each other and scream and yell. WE DID IT!!!

Mission accomplished. 16 hours, 29 minutes and 8 seconds. Patti Bauernfeind, Laura Vartain Horn, Lynn Kubasek, Cathy Delneo, Melissa King, and I become the first all-women relay team in the world to swim to the Farallon Islands.

We are the Farallon Mermaids.

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