Swimming to the Farallones, Islands of Adventure



Lurking some 30 miles off the coast of the San Francisco Bay are a mysterious group of small islands, rocky outcrops and submerged pinnacles known as the Farallon Islands.

Few people living in San Francisco even know the islands exist. Called the Devil’s Teeth by ancient mariners, they are assiduously avoided by sailors fearing the fate of ships suddenly sunk upon rocks shrouded by thick fog. The Miwok Indians called them the islands of the dead, the place where the ghosts rest. Normally these barren rocks lie unseen in the fog, wreathed in foam and inhabitant by seals and seabirds and patrolled by a large aggregation of great white sharks.

Yet on a clear day, the 357-foot granite pinnacle of Southeast Farallon Island stands in clear view from the Golden Gate, appearing within grasp to we mortals. A small group of elite adventurers called the Night Train even swim there.

Why do we travel to the moon? Why do we explore the deepest depths of the ocean? As Mallory described his fateful quest to reach Everest: “Because it’s there.”

Driven by this same spirit of adventure, a few intrepid spirits from the Night Train Swimmers endeavored to swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands on April 25, 2015.  Dave Holscher, Patti Bauerenfeind, Kim Chambers, Simon Dominguez, Emily Kreger and Ashley Horn made up the team crossing the notorious Gulf of the Farallones.

The swim started in a spitting mist with Bauerenfeind leaping into a 2.5 knot ebb beneath the Golden Gate and spitting past the headlands like a watermelon seed. Stroking beneath a rainbow formed from the Marin Headlands to Land’s End, Patti’s first hour put nearly 5 miles behind the team.

The next 12 hours resembled a body surfing contest as the swimmers paddled and slid through a building 8-10 foot swell and West winds gusting up to 30 knots from the west. At times the swimmers disappeared beneath collapsing crests but the pink and white Night Train caps kept reappearing closer to the goal. Alone at the helm, Vito Bialla maintained steady contact, easing Sequel through the swells, as the support crew grabbed the incoming swimmers like gaffed tuna washed onto the stern step. By mid-channel the water temperature dropped to around 52 degrees and the exiting swimmers quickly climbed into the Sequel “sauna” (the boat’s head with a heater) to warm up. Approaching the island near dusk, the building wind gusted to 35 knots and the converging currents made the final hours a challenge. The team persevered, approaching the island with Stand-in Kate Webber accompanying Chambers, swimming together into the darkness accompanied by glowing plankton. Like an advertisement by an all night diner, Dominguez swam the anchor leg, pulling a strong and vigorous butterfly to the fishermen’s buoy among the bioluminescence and the calls of the cormorants.

Touching the buoy, Simon ended the swim at 9:10 PM in a record breaking swim of 14:10 hours. Why? Because it is there.


World Record Relay Swim Attempt – 300 Miles in San Francisco Bay


On September 6th 2015, Night Train Swimmers will attempt to break the world record of the longest relay open water swim in history. The goal is to raise $100,000 to help Arthur Renowitzky walk again after being paralyzed by a gun shot wound to his spine.

English Channel rules apply which means they wear only a swimsuit, cap and goggles.  Team members will swim continuously in one-hour individual rotations and expect to complete the swim in a little over 5 days. The co-ed team of six aim to reclaim the world record title from The Sea Hawks, who broke Night Train’s existing record in 2014. The Sea Hawks, from India, swam for 269 miles over 6 and a half days off The Konkan Coast off the western coastline of India.

“We are anticipating an event that’s unprecedented in the annals of distance swimming,” stated team captain Vito Bialla. “Our team of swimmers are some of the fastest and mentally toughest in the world and we pride ourselves in channeling this energy to give back to the community—this time to help give the gift of mobility to Arthur Renowitzky who was paralyzed after being shot during a robbery in 2007.”

The six swimmer team consists of: Grace van der Byl, Dave Holscher, Kim Chambers, Adam Eilath, Vito Bialla and Ashley Horne.  Each team member brings unique experience in long-distance swimming– from swimming to the Farallon Islands from the Golden Gate Bridge, to holding the fastest female individual record for Catalina Island, to completing the legendary Ocean’s Seven.

Donations can be made through Night Train Swimmers here.


Farallon Round Trip Attempt Sets a New One Way Record

Night Train

On April 25th  2015, Kim Chambers, Patti Bauernfeind, Simon Dominguez, Ashley Horne, Emily Kreger, and David Holscher swam in the worst conditions to the Farallon Islands yet. Escort swimmers were Kate Webber and Vito Bialla. Water Temp was 51.5 , wind 20 plus and waves to 8 feet. Total time from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands was 14:10:13, which set a new speed record. The attempt to do a round trip relay was aborted due to weather and safety. Swimmers are not able to board a boat at night in conditions like these.

Alexander Popov quote

"The water is your friend.....you don't have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move." Alexander Popov

SF to SB 2012 Relay Video

On September 23, 2012, six swimmers began swimming under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, aiming to swim some 339 miles down the Pacific Coast to finish at Santa Barbara, California. The event was a co-fundraiser for Night Train Swimmers and Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

NightTrain228 Video – SB to SD 2013

On August 22, 2013, our team of six swimmers broke the world record for longest continuous relay by swimming from Point Conception to San Diego. The 228 mile ultra distance swim in 100 hours, 29 minutes eclipsed the existing world record by more than 20 miles.