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Tag: rules


This weekend, I’m going to complete an unassisted marathon swim. By unassisted, I mean I will use nothing to improve my speed, buoyancy, heat-retention, or navigation.

Well, unassisted except I’ll be swimming with the currents, so hopefully I’ll be assisted by them. But that’s it. And, of course there will be some assistance from the decades of observation and research that went into predicting those currents, not to mention the invention of the internet which made acquiring this knowledge possible, or at least made possible to acquire the books containing this knowledge, books which now sit tucked away in second-hand nautical book stores formerly unknown to me.

And I guess my speed will be assisted by the two decades of training I’ve done, and all the generational knowledge passed down to me by coaches and other swimmers on how to train a modern athlete. I’ll be swimming freestyle almost the entire time, which has only been around in the present form since 1902, giving me a speed advantage over those who lived before the twentieth century, so a bit of assistance there. And I can only do so much freestyle with the assistance of weekly physical therapy visits to keep my shoulders intact.

But otherwise, unassisted. Although I’ll be a bit more buoyant from the salt water, but surely that geologic processes don’t count as assistance, right? Oh, and there will be a little more buoyancy from the hundreds of donuts I’ve eaten this year which have increased my BMI a bit. So I guess I’ll be assisted by salt and donuts, too.

Actually, come to think of it, donuts will be assisting me in fighting off the cold. That extra bit of fat will certainly help me retain heat better than I would have otherwise. Also, I will be consuming food during my swim, which will allow me to generate body heat, so I’ll be assisted by the farmers and chemists behind maltodextrin, as well as the understanding of nutrition science as we have it in the present day, and the online retailer who sold and shipped all that powder.

And I should add, I’ll be assisted by my crew who will be throwing me food every half hour or so. They’ll also be guiding me, so I’ll be assisted by their eyes and voices, as well as their radar, GPS, and petroleum-powered engines. My crew will be on some combination of fiberglass, inflatable rubber, or plastic watercraft, so I’ll also be assisted by the advances in materials science we as a planet have made in the past few centuries. Thank you for your assistance, Industrial Revolution, thank you for making all these resulting synthetic materials possible. I’ll also be assisted by goggles to help my visual navigation. They, too, will be made of synthetic materials.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be assisted by the wind, warmed by the sun, sped by the tides, and buoyed by my friends who will be by my side the whole way.

But other than that, I’m going to do this swim “without artificial assistance to performance, other than the standard equipment of the sport” and without any “nonstandard performance-enhancing equipment, supportive contact with the swimmer, or other violation of the spirit of unassisted marathon swimming.” In other words, I’ll be unassisted.

Return of Bert, swim plan

In the immortal words of Dave Barra, anything worth doing is worth over doing. This is the 24-page swim plan for today’s swim.

The plan!

It covers the basics of communication protocol, course description, vessel traffic avoidance, emergency and evacuation procedures, and rules. Thanks again goes to VTS Sector Puget Sound (Seattle) for taking the time to entertain this, and additional thanks to WSDOT Ferrys for doing to same.

Return of Bert, technical details

ROUTE: The Return of Bert Thomas Swim is an 18.8 mile swim as measured by the shortest straight-line route between the starting and ending points. The start location is Old Town Dock on Ruston Way in Tacomca, WA. The anticipated finish location is between Lincoln Park, West Seattle near Colman Pool and the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal.

RULES: The swim will follow MSF Rules with no exceptions taken for non-standard equipment.

OBSERVER: The swim will be observed and documented by Dan Robinson, a Triple Crown marathon swimmer (EC 21 Jul 2014, CC 8 Sep 2008, MIMS 24 Jun 2006).


On Course Goggles

Emailed 28 August 2014 11:26 PDT

Long Distance Committee
c/o Anna Lea M—–k
Membership Coordinator
US Masters Swimming

Anna Lea,

We all thought that this was the product of the future. We knew it would come, that it was only a matter of time, but we didn’t think that time would be so soon.

Leaving aside the beauty, joy, and majesty of this sport, open water swimming is a test. It pits swimmer against swimmer, swimmer against nature, and swimmer against self. USMS has embraced this challenge.

It is evident in the 2014 U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book that challenge is inherent in open water swimming. The rules for Competitive and Solo Open Water Events (Art 303) break out wetsuits and rash guards into a separate category because they offer an advantage over those wearing a traditional swim suit. The rules prohibit any “device or substance to help…speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a swim,” (Sect 303.3.7) because it would give an individual with a “competitive advantage” (Sect 303.7.2C.2) over those without. Similarly, the disqualifications section (Sect 303.9) specifically frowns on many other forms of assistance that do not follow in the spirit of competitive open water swimming.

A new product, soon to be available to swimmers, goes against the intent of current USMS rules. On Course Goggles ( is about to release a new product that enables swimmers to have navigational assistance displayed right in their goggles. Sighting, their Facebook page claims, would only need to be done once for each straight leg of the swim. Such assistance is unquestionably a competitive advantage in open water swimming, allowing those with such a device to chose a straighter, shorter course than those without. That sounds like cheating to me.

As written, the Rule Book does not prohibit this type of assistance. It is in the best interest of your members to make necessary rule modifications and stem the flow of technological competitive advantages into open water swimming. I believe I speak for a large number of open water swimmers in making the following proposition:

Sections 303.7.2D and 303.7.3C

AS WRITTEN: Swimmers are not permitted to wear or use any device or substance to help their speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a swim.

PROPOSED ADDITION: Swimmers are not permitted to wear or use any device or substance to help their speed, pace, buoyancy, **navigation**, or endurance during a swim.

This is merely a suggestion. There are, of course, alternative modifications to the rules that could be made to cover this and future advances in swimmer advantages. I leave it to your best judgement to decide the final course of action, but I am glad to help in any way I can.

If you need any more information, or would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Andrew Malinak

Pend Oreille swim – observer log and data

On 31 July 2014, Elaine Howley walked ashore at the City Beach Park in Sandpoint, ID with a look or surprise behind the smile on her face. She’d just completed a 32.3 mile swim across Lake Pend Oreille, the first person to do so. There to greet her on the beach was the entire town of Sandpoint.

Elaine asked me to join her crew as the event’s official observer. Marathon swims are almost always done away from the eyes of spectators, so to ensure that rules are followed, that standards are upheld, and that claims are verifiable, marathon swims should have an independent observer along to provide credibility to incredible feats. I had no doubt that Elaine would make every effort to follow the rules she’d selected for herself. After all, we are co-authors of the Marathon Swimmers Federation rules she’d be following. On the boat before leaving dock, I sat the crew down to make sure they too understood the traditions and spirit of this sport, that Elaine would swim beach to beach without assistance from any of us other than navigation and provision of food.

They all said they understood. Done, I thought. This job was going to be a breeze.

Well, I managed to witness the whole swim. All 20 hours, 25 minutes, and 55 seconds of it. I’ll get into the details later, but keeping an eye on Elaine proved much harder than planned. For example, I swam with Elaine and the kayaker for an hour when the boat broke down and then piloted a RIB for two more hours while our captain was remounting solenoids to his engine compartment. In short, this was far more adventurous a swim than any I’ve been on, a distinction I give without even considering the fact that Elaine was in the water swimming 32.3 miles. The stories will come, but first let me finish doing my job.

Compiled in the below links are all the data I collected during Elaine’s swim. Observations every half hour (to the best of my ability given certain circumstances) that document the non-emotional side of things. They are presented here for posterity, and for your approval. If anyone feels that they are incorrect, they are encouraged to speak up to the community. But as they say in the business, Elaine is “squeaky clean.” Elaine *is* the spirit of marathon swimming.

PDF of the observer’s report, submitted 2 August 2014 to the marathon swimming community.

ZIP file of all available data, including .gpx, .kmz, .txt, .xlsx, and .jpg files. Just like that! You don’t even have to beg me or comb through my site to find them.

For any of you who look through the GPS files: the track followed my handheld GPS. The waypoints, marked down on the log were taken during my observations from a position very near Elaine’s. You’ll notice a three hour gap in observations and waypoints where the tracked speed drops to zero; this is when I was away from everything except my suit and goggles and Elaine and the night sky.