Group attempts risky swim from Farallon Islands 

It’s a frigid and turbulent 30-mile swim from the lonely seaward Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge, in waters that are seasonally infested with great white sharks.

Oh, and wetsuits are for weaklings.

That’s the feat six endurance swimmers are attempting Thursday, in an effort to raise money for charity and in pursuit of general studliness. South End Rowing Club members Vito Bialla, Darrin Connolly, Phil Cutti, David Holscher, Joe Locke and John Mathews, all Marin County residents, left in a boat Wednesday to spend the night docked at the Farallons.

At 6 a.m., they will embark on the bold 13-hour affair that, if successful, will have them arriving at the bridge by 7 tonight. Escorted by the 43-foot boat, the swimmers will take turns for an hour each as they make their way through the feared Red Triangle.

Are they nervous?

"No, scared s---less," Bialla said, jokingly. At 62, he’s the oldest in the group — and maybe even the oldest ever to attempt the swim, relay or solo.

The last known successful relay swim was in 1969 by the South End Club’s rival Dolphin Club; the two organizations’ history dates to the late 1800s. The last two successful solo swims were done in 1967 by Ted Erickson and Col. Tom Evans.

This group of six attempted the same feat in June 2010, but one of the swimmers came down with hypothermia about 40 minutes into his turn. They attempted again March 15, but didn’t even touch water because of high seas.

The standard of not wearing wetsuits goes back to endurance-swimming culture most famously defined in the English Channel. If they were to wait until the current 50-degree water warmed up, the sharks would have migrated back north into the area.

"It’s the big challenge factor," said Richard Cooper, a longtime member of the Dolphin Club. "If you’re in a big survival suit, it’s not the same thing."

Bialla concurs with his rival club member.

"It’s all mental," Bialla said. "At some point, you have to get in, shut up and swim."

To follow the swimmers via GPS, visit There also is a link on the site to donate to the swimmers’ charitable causes: The Wounded Warrior Project, The Semper Fi Fund and The Navy Seal Foundation. Spectators can also catch a glimpse of the swimmers’ homestretch from the Marin Headlands this evening.

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Dan Schreiber

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