Farallon Islands Swimming Federation

From Openwaterpedia
Kimberley Chambers, protagonist of KIM SWIMS, a film by Kate Webber
Farallon Islands Course
JAWS escort boat
SEQUEL escort boat
Myra Elizabeth Thompson, first person to attempt a crossing from the Farallon Islands. Photo courtesy of the Farallon Islands Swimming Association

The Farallon Islands Swimming Federation is an open water swimming governing body created by Vito Bialla and Phil Cutti of the Night Train Swimmers to organize and sanction all solo and relay swims of the channel between the Farallon Islands and the Golden Gate Bridge.

This 30-mile course is renowned to be one of the two most difficult, coldest, most perilous marathon swims in the world. Water temperatures can range from 50°F (10°C) to 55.4°F (13°C), but temperatures have been recorded lower on several occasions. The water conditions are usually extremely rough with cresting ocean swells up to 20 feet. Currents and tides often exceed the speed of the fastest swimmers. It is a swim not lightly attempted.

Course & Rules

A sanctioned swim covers the distance between the Northeast buoy at the Farallon Islands and the Golden Gate Bridge, either direction is acceptable. Land is never to be touched at the Islands, since they are a National Wildlife Refuge.

English Channel rules apply with one exception - neoprene caps are allowed. The reason for this is the first swimmer to accomplish a never before accomplished feat sets the rules - both swimmers who completed the swim in 1967 wore neoprene caps.

1. Swimmers shall only be allowed to wear goggles, and swim suits without any kind of flotation. Wetsuits strictly forbidden.

2. Swimmers shall keep their same order throughout and swim an hour each, with a total of five minutes allowed for transition.

History of Swims

There have been multiple attempts to swim from the Farallon Islands, but to date only four solo swimmers have accomplished this incredible feat.

1. Lt Colonel Stewart Evans The first successful swim was by Lt Colonel Stuart Evans in August of 1967. He landed by Bolinas after swimming 13:44:52 seconds, covering 18 nautical miles. He wore a neoprene cap from looking at his picture and greased himself up fairly well. He also landed on shore and walked on the beach under his own power in accordance with English Channel rules. Evans is now deceased.

2. Ted Erikson The second attempt completed was by Ted Erikson. On his first attempt in 1966 he went completely hypothermic and was reported "dead". He was revived, started life anew and failed again on his second attempt. He said he waited a year this time, brought the man upstairs along, and success.

Erikson completed his swim on 17 September 1967 in 14:38 by swimming under the Golden Gate Bridge, covering 26.4 nautical miles. This is now the official start and finish line according to the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation.

Erikson is very much alive living in Chicago and his website is here. He is a little hard of hearing so emails are much preferred and he is most open and cordial in sharing so much wonderful information. Ted's latest interview is here.

For more information on the Farallones and other swims check out The Daily News Open Water Swimming.

3. Dolphin Club The members of the Dolphin Club and the South End Rowing Club challenged each other to a race from the Farallones to the Club house each living side by side at Aquatic Park. They did the race in Sept or Oct of 1969. The records are being pieced together as we speak and this may be updated from time to time.

The Dolphin Club relay swam to the shores of Aquatic Park in 14 hours and defeated the South End Rowing Club, who got swept south then made it under the Golden Gate Bridge in 16 hours, but was forced to quit after encountering the beginning of the ebb.

The names of all the teams are being verified but two noteworthy people are Bob Roper, who swam for the South End Rowing Club - still swimming daily at age 70.

Also a 50m sprinter, triathlete, motorcycle racer and now world famous winery owner Bill Harlan, who swam for the Dolphin Club. Bill is 70 and has built one of the most famous wineries in the world Harlan Estates, scoring routine 100 ratings from Robert Parker.

All the people I spoke with confirmed proper relay rules, no sharks, but everyone was scared - they were all honest. Water temperature ranged from 55 to 62 degrees F depending on who you talk to and they started the race at 11pm.”

4. Night Train Swimmers Completed swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands on 20 May 2011, covering 26.4 nautical miles. Time finished: 14:45:08. The team members were Phil Cutti, Darin Connolly, Dave Holscher, Vito Bialla, John Mathews and Kim Chambers.

5. Night Train Swimmers Completed swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands on 4 June 2011, covering 26.4 nautical miles. Time finished: 16:29:08. The team members were Kim Chambers, Laura Vartain Horn, Cathy Delneo, Melissa King, Patti Bauernfeind and Lynn Kubasek.

6. Craig Lenning completed a 25.7 statute miles (41.3 km) Farallon Islands crossing on 8 April 2014 in 15 hours 47 minutes from the Farallon Islands to Muir Beach on the California mainland in water between 12.2-13.8°C (54-57°F).

7. Joseph Locke completed a crossing in 13 hours 58 minutes from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge on 12 July 2014.

Escort Boats

SEQUEL, a Grand Banks East Bay 43 that belongs to Vito & Linda Bialla, is available for escorting solo and relay swimmers.

JAWS, a Grand Banks 32 that belongs to John Matthews & Lisa Matthews, is available for escorting solo and relay swimmers.


The Farallon Islands Swimming Federation course falls entirely within the Red Triangle, an area off the coast of northern California, extending from Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, out slightly beyond the Farallon Islands, and down to the Big Sur region, south of Monterey. This area has a very large population of marine mammals, such as elephant seals, harbor seals, sea otters, and sea lions, which are favored meals of Great White Sharks. Around 38% of recorded Great White Shark attacks on humans in the United States have occurred within the Red Triangle — 11% of the worldwide total.

Photos & Videos

Additional photos and videos are provided by The Farallons Islands Swimming Federation.

Night Train Swimmers at the Farallon Islands

Craig Lenning from the Farallon Islands

News & Real-time GPS Tracking

News and real-time GPS tracking of solo and relay swimmers are provided by the Farallon Islands Swimming Federation.


Contact information for officers Farallon Islands Swimming Federation administrators Phil Cutti and Vito Bialla can be found here.

External links