THAT HAPPENED ON August 30, 1952. Starting from the beach at Ayala Cove at 4 p.m., 27 swim- mers, all without wet suits, plunged into the water. They landed somewhere on the rocky shore below the present-day location of the
Caprice restaurant, a race of five-eighths of a mile. “Big Bill”
McIvor, a young Stanford medical student at the time, won that
contest in 13 minutes and 27 seconds. The Dolphin Club in San
Francisco, organizer of the race, kept it going every year until
1966, when increasing boat traffic made it too perilous.
Almost 50 years after McIvor’s swim, on a large deck of
a house up on the bluff above Lyford’s Tower not far from
where McIvor came ashore that day, former U. S. National
Swim Team member Robert Placak was celebrating his 40th
birthday in the spring of 1999 with a gathering of friends. At
one point during the evening his wife, Graciela, stood and
presented him with a gift — a hand-drawn poster she’d made
featuring a shark-with-halo logo (still used today) — proclaiming, in front of his friends and relatives, the first annual
Tiburon Inter-Island Swim (as it was initially called). Placak
accepted the challenge to create a world-class event that
would attract the best open-water swimmers in the world,
raise money for charity and be a great community event.
Placak, an insurance executive, teamed up with Robin
Schaeffer, the operations manager at his company, to
obtain the appropriate permits and approvals from town offi-
cials, the police department, the Coast Guard, Angel Island
State Park, the Corinthian Yacht Club and some of the nearby
homeowners. One by one Placak and Schaeffer managed to
secure the go-aheads and the race was on.
Lining up the competitive swimmers was the next challenge. Offering a $2,500 prize (raised to $10,000 the next year)
to the first male and female finishers — a unique perk for an
open-water race — clearly helped achieve this goal. Bringing
in Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett also helped. She
won the first four of five events and put the Tiburon Mile on
the radar of elite swimmers around the world. More came to
participate each following year.
Elite swimmers, as those who compete in global competitions are called, see this race as a sprint. The strategy is
simple: go out fast, swim as hard as you can and hope you
have picked the right line to the yacht club across the strait.
Some say it is a matter of luck on that last point, as the currents and wind chop are never entirely predictable. Some
choose the most direct line, while others choose to arc the
route a bit to ride the current, which was ebbing in last year’s
race, into the harbor first. But since racers can’t judge the
current while they are swimming in it, most go by what their
gut tells them. If you change your line out there and move to
the outside or the inside of the pack, it may help you win, or
it may cost you the win. Others feel their chances are best
staying in the pack a few strokes behind the leaders. Their
The strategy is simple: go out fast, swim as
hard as you can and hope you have picked the
right line to the yacht club across the strait.