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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Potato Patch Stands In The Way Of Farallons Swimmers

The famed Potato Patch is a shoal that forms a formidable shipping hazard outside the Golden Gate Bridge within the northerly course of swimmers who attempt solo swims and relays between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Farallon Islands.

On rough days, the wide expanse of relatively shallow reef looks like white frosting on a cake that has fallen on the floor - a venerable mess of aquatic hell.

The Potato Patch sits menacingly waiting for all those who challenge it with water depths ranging between 7-11 meters (23-36 feet). Its turbulence is renowned in the area.

Surfline describes the area as "creepy - a minefield of shifting, throwing peaks, extending from a couple of hundred yards offshore all the way to the horizon. During a giant swell in the Potato Patch, you will stare at nature in all its beautiful evil."

Santa Cruz adventurers Perry Miller and Doug Hansen had a tow-in surfing session in the Potato Patch using their Jet Ski. "It was the devil's playground out there."

The Potato Patch was named for the potato farms in the 19th century that shipped its products to markets in San Francisco. "Occasionally a potato boat would capsize on the sand bar, spilling its load," described Doris Sloan of Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region.

Open Water Source had the opportunity to observe a Farallon Islands Swimming Federation-sanctioned relay in 2011. We had never experienced as turbulent and difficult in Hawaii, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Indian Ocean or the South Pacific Ocean as what we faced in the angry, unforgiving Potato Patch. Only the expert mariner skills of sailing veteran Vito Bialla were the saving grace on that ferocious day beyond the banks of northern California.

Photo by JR Hussey.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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