By Tom FitzGerald | Originally posted on The San Francisco Gate
(05-24) 21:02 PDT -- It's about 30 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands, a span where swimmers fear to tread.
Water temperatures can dip below 50 degrees, the tide can be tough, and the winds can be tougher. It's the kind of trip that's best left to animals with dorsal fins.
Yet six fairly normal people have conquered the bridge-to-Farallones swim and lived to crow about it. As far as anybody knows, Friday's swim was the first time the feat has been accomplished.
The six are members of the Night Train Swimmers, a group formed three years ago. Their first exercise was a relay swim across the English Channel, in which they finished first among 11 teams. This swim apparently was tougher.
Here's their account of the journey.
Taking turns swimming an hour at a time - as required by organizations that sanction such events - the group completed the journey in 14 hours, 45 minutes, 8 seconds. They started from under the bridge at 5:30 a.m. On the way, they braved waves as high as 15 feet and gusts up to 40 knots. David Holscher, an architect from Tiburon, touched the buoy off the Farallones at 8:15 p.m.
Referring to three unsuccessful previous (and publicized) attempts to cover the same distance, Night Train co-founder Vito Bialla said the group decided to keep this attempt quiet. "We were tired of the fanfare," he said. "We thought we'd go nail it and then tell people about it."
Darrin Connolly, a swimming instructor from San Francisco, and Phil Cutti, who runs a physiology lab at Stanford, each did three hour-long swims. The other four - Kim Chambers, a computer programmer from New Zealand now living in San Francisco, and John Mathews, a money manager from Tiburon, along with Bialla and Holscher - did at least two hours each.
"These guys are unbelievably tough," Bialla said, and that obviously goes for the only woman in the group, Chambers, a former ballerina. The water temperature, by the way, was 53 degrees at the beginning, 50 at the finish.
One of the club's previous attempts at the feat was aborted last year when swimmer Matt Davie had to be pulled out with hypothermia in 49-degree waters.
As for the sharks, the great whites might have been vacationing south of Mexico, Bialla said, although Cutti said he saw 10 good-sized fish.
Bialla, a Vietnam veteran who works as a corporate headhunter and owns a Napa winery, said all eight of the organization's swim events have been fundraisers for charities. In this case, the beneficiaries were the Wounded Warrior Project, the Semper Fi Fund and the Navy SEAL Foundation, all of which serve wounded veterans.
Further information about the swim can be found at nighttrainswimmers.org