Piloting Stephanie into Raccoon Strait

It was quite a challenge piloting Stephanie into Raccoon Strait from Red Rock in that 4.6 knot ebb: http://jay2.ligda.net/tide_graph.asp?tsid=91420.  We have to cross two miles of channel before the current carries us two mile down the channel passed to opening to Raccoon Strait.

The instructions were to swim at a 45 degree angle to get across the channel, but it was clear to me almost immediately after the Red Rock beach start that we would not make the opening of Raccoon Strait if we traveled at an angle.  I instructed Stephanie to aim straight across.  Shortly later Scotty, the captain of our big boat, the Dauntless, came over the radio confirming that decision, “The current it too strong we are almost to Cow City already.  Head the swimmers straight across.”

Stephanie had a tendency to pull a little to the left.  As I keep the kayak in line towards the sighting goal she would veer off, getting further to the left of me.  I thought this was OK.  I was being ultra conservative with the line, trying to get across the channel first and then swimming with the current along Tiburon into Raccoon Strait, so her veering a little would probably still get us there.  I’m never 100% sure about these things.

As we were making progress across the channel I would update Stephanie on a sighting target from time to time as the current carried us passed the last one.  At one point Stephanie made the comment, “I wish I were a faster swimmer so I could swim with the current.  I hate always having to swim across it.”  The faster swimmers were able to make take more of an angle with the current as they would spend less time getting across, and therefor be less affected by it.  I told Stephanie I understood, as I am a slower swimmer as well.   She swam on.

There were three other swimmers near us.  Melissa was with her brother, Teo, in the kayak.  There were further north that us, making a more conservative line.  Joseph and Denys were with kayaker, Rhonda.  They were south of us, taking a more direct line.  We were all about even as far as distance across the channel.  Up ahead I could see more swimmers in the distance, far to the south and closer to the strait.  It is hard to tell how they were doing from such a distance.

I could hear the lead swimmers pilot on the radio commenting about how far from the point on the north side of the strait they should stay to avoid the back eddy there.  I chuckled t myself.  That is something we will not have to worry about … if we make it into the strait at all it will not be on the north end.

As we drew nearer I was never really sure if we were on target or not.  About half the time I thought we were, the other half I thought we were going to miss.    Eventually we were close enough to have a good view of Point Campbell on Angel Island.  This is where the current will split around the island.  We wanted to be past Point Campbell in the current that will sweep into Raccoon Strait.  Otherwise we would be swept around the east side of the island.  We still had a ways to go to be passed that point.

I kept an eye on the swimmers that were way ahead to see how they were being pushed.  They appeared to be in the correct line of current and were being carried to the south side of the strait.  I looked over at Rhonda and her swimmers.  The distance between us was becoming greater.  If I had a question about whether we would make it, I did not think they would make it at all.  I envied Teo and Melissa to the north.  They had a much better line, which was soon to be confirmed as we made the final approach.

Finally the current has pushed us passed the north side of the strait.  I could see the houses along that shore, however we were still not passed Point Campbell, therefor still in the current that was sweeping us along the east side.  Not good!  Teo & Melissa were suddenly ahead of us.  Taking the better route, they were in the correct current stream, which just carried them on into the strait ahead of us.  I began to worry for us.  The opening is about 3/4 of a mile, but that distance can go quick with a strong current.  I knew we had to get across that current line as quick as possible.  But I also knew we were close.

I got Stephanie’s attention and instructed her to power as hard as she could for about 5 minutes towards those houses on the north shore.  I could tell she was a little frustrated.  She wanted to be swimming with the current rather than fighting it.  Once we crossed that line, however, she would be.

It was a little taste of heaven once we cleared it.  “You’re OK now,” I told her.  We stopped and she fed.  The current was now carrying us towards Ayala Cove, inside the strait.  Teo & Melissa were still ahead of us, but no longer pulling away.  Rhonda and her swimmers … well it looked like they were getting pushed passed the opening.  Later I heard Scotty on the radio to her, “Get your swimmers in close to shore.”  They were on the island side, passed the opening fighting the current trying to get back in.   Within a few minutes they decided to swim into the beach, call it quits for the day, take photos, and get back in the boat, both happy with their accomplishment that day.

The current inside Raccoon Strait is a giant “S” when ebbing.  It comes into the strait from the north and pushes across to Ayala Cove.  It then bounces off the island and shoots across to the north to Belvedere Cove in Tiburon, where Sam’s Restaurant is (it’s a pretty good bet that those two coves were carved out by the currents over time).  Then it bounces off Tiburon out passed Angel Island, into the middle of the bay and eventually out the Gate.

Stephanie and I swam with the current to Ayala Cove.  The water started getting choppy as it was reflecting off the island.  Stephanie said she wanted to swim out into the channel a little more to get out of the chop.  I almost told her not to, to just let the current take her ther, but I let her go.  I’m never 100% sure, myself, so I let her do what she thought was best.

After a little while swimming with the current I commented to Stephanie, “See how far in the middle we are now?”  The current was carrying us to Sam’s.  We were still pretty far from it, but were getting close to it faster.  With that, were were starting to get back into another “danger” zone of being swept passed the island.  We wanted to turn right at the end of the island to make it to the west side, Red Buoy #2.  However, were so far north of the island now that by the time we would catch the current bouncing off Sam’s that the current would also have carried us too far west passed the island.  This is indeed what happened.  We watch the island getting further away with no way to really fight the current to get back to it.  “We are going to the Golden Gate Bridge,”  I joked with her.

At this point the Dauntless was nearby picking up Melissa, who was still ahead of us, but on a better line for the island.  Stephanie told me she was done for the day.  I let the Dauntless know.  It was 1/4 of a mile away opposite the current.  Stephanie had to swim against the current to get there.  The Dauntless, however, was drifting with the current towards her.  She was tired and would have rather not made that last effort, but what can a swimmer do, when the boat is way over there!

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