The Arrogance of Hillary Clinton

“And I’m trying to be as transparent as I possibly can.”

-Hillary Clinton as quoted in the New York Times on 9/8/15

Does anyone actually believe that statement?  Of course not.  It’s a lie on its face.  And we need truthful politicians, not those who lie.

I was astonished and seriously irritated the moment I heard that Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State, chose to set up her own email system for her government work.  As a former Naval Officer with an appreciation of classified information and the extensive systems and training around it, it was (and is) incomprehensible to me that a senior government official, a Cabinet head, was doing all government email business on a server in her home.

It’s now 6+ months since this matter came to light widely in a New York Times article dated March 2nd.  During this period the public has endured professionally orchestrated PR efforts to minimize the matter and move it out of the limelight, but her decision looks as calculated and bad (for the public) as ever.  And her shifting positions and terminology, her grudging explanations, and her double-talk about transparency should, for any objective voter, cause doubts about her fitness for our country’s highest position.

Let’s work through this.

First, she chose to install her own infrastructure for important government work.  How was that decision made?  On the advice of privately engaged lawyers and consultants of course, who no doubt collaborated with her to decide “let’s just do it and worry about it later.” (If they did it without thinking about it much, that’s even worse.)  Was her decision cleared in advance by any responsible government staffers?  Well, we haven’t heard anything on that, so we must conclude the answer is “No.”  From the get-go, this decision was not only arrogant, but intentionally flaunted then existing government (including State Department) policy and (at least the spirit of) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as reported by numerous media outlets including Politico, the New York Times, and Slate.

Second, the PR output from Clinton’s camp about “nothing was classified at the time” is a complete red herring – it doesn’t matter!  ALL government communications – especially with the Secretary of State for goodness sake –  should be private, confined to those with a need to know.   Try as I might, I cannot get my mind around how a Secretary of State can do the job without sending or receiving info that must be for government eyes only, and therefore on government systems only, regardless of its classification or non classification.

Sidebar:  Can anyone imagine Goldman Sachs or General Electric tolerating individual employees creating and then doing all corporate business on their own independent email systems?  Of course not.  By definition, company business is assumed to be important and is discussed on company resources, not systems jury-rigged by employees operating willy-nilly.

Third, and overarching Clinton’s renegade behavior, there is the major subject of the Freedom of Information Act.  The US Government obviously can’t respond to FOIA inquiries responsibly after the documentation – paper or email – has been destroyed, as over 30,000 emails formerly on her server have been.  And who decided on what to delete? – Hilary’s staff did, blowing us a “Trust Us” kiss afterwards.  Arrogant.

To summarize, Clinton intentionally flaunted government policy by using her own system exclusively and then, audaciously, arrogantly, and without any oversight (yes, secretly),  deleted over 30,000 emails intermingled with government business, said to be personal but evidently the public will never know.  Just awful behavior.

She initially explained  “…I thought it would be easier to carry just one device…”  Which is both lame and laughable.  And arrogant.  What isn’t laughable is that she has not been forthcoming and has, in fact and solely for selfish political ambitions, made many statements found to be inaccurate by independent experts.  (For an accounting, see, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.)

We don’t need public servants who choose to disregard this county’s laws and policy with impunity and then blatantly and repeatedly make misleading statements or lie.  If the Democratic Party’s logic is that she’s not perfect but she’s the best we have, I really worry for this country.


Posted in Best Practices, People of note | 1 Comment

The pals known as The Sharks

In the last post I mentioned the “Sharks,” three energetic senior citizens who reside in California and share a love of the outdoors.   Over five decades they’ve done a lot of mountain climbing together in the U.S. West, Alaska, and overseas.  It’s an impressive collection of accomplished guys who have maintained their friendships and I’d like to give them a little more “press.”

By way of background, in the 1970’s I met one of the Sharks, Hank Skade, through a childhood friend who also left our college town of Berea, Ohio for Princeton & San Francisco.  Then, through Hank, sometime ago I met the other Sharks…I am so fortunate to have connected with them, known them for more than a decade, and hiked with them on several Sierra Nevada mountains in addition to Mt. Morrison (Mt. Sill, Mt. Lyell, Mt. Conness) including a summit of Mt. Dana.

The Sharks met at the University of Oregon roughly 50 years ago and have been climbing together ever since.  They initially took the name “Eat Sharks and climb mountains,” a phrase they found in a summit log book way back when.  Over the years that handle was shortened to simply the “Sharks,” and that’s how they refer to themselves now, proudly.

For most of its history, the Sharks were a quartet and defined a “Shark summit”  as one in which at least 3 Sharks participated.  Using this definition, the Sharks  have summited 6 of the Seven Summits; only Everest is undone but there is some sense the window for them to get on top of it is closing.  Everyone is getting older, plus the commercialization of Everest base camp and summit attempts has served to lessen the Sharks’ interest.

The Sharks are: Les Dewitt, Hank Skade, and Bob Wyler.  (As mentioned in the prior entry, the 4th Shark, Ron Silviera, was taken by cancer last year.)

1985 - Mount Ritter, California. L-R: Bob, Les, Hank, Ron.

1985 – Mount Ritter, California. 13,150′.  L-R: Bob, Les, Hank, Ron.

Les Dewitt has been deeply involved with non-profit ventures for the past 25 years, especially those focused on education programs for underserved middle school students.  He has also become a committed advocate for policies that mitigate the proliferation of nuclear weapons, concentrating on connecting the corporate sector to that issue, and founding the Fund for Peace Initiatives.  Les is a  native of Kalamazoo, MI and a 51 year resident of Atherton, CA.  He has a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA and had a 30 year

1997 - Aconcagua. Hank, Bob, Les.

1997 – Aconcagua, Argentina.  22,841′. Hank, Bob, Les.

career in sales and investments prior to turning to non-profit work full time.  Les is an avid open water swimmer and a former member of the Dolphin Club and the Explorers Club.  He has served on many  local non-profit Boards and has spent over 15 years in youth athletic coaching.  He an his wife Lezlie have parented three young adults.   By the way, Les has scaled 5 of the Seven Summits and 13 of California’s 14 14,000′ summits.

Hank Skade is an entrepreneur in real estate, founder and owner of Tiburon Ventures, and co-founder and former CEO of Haiku Vineyards.  He has more than 30 years experience in real estate investment and development. Hank has entitled and developed land in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, the wine country of Northern California, and in the “Silicon Forest” corridor of Portland, Oregon.

In addition, Hank has a long history of involvement with environmental organizations

1990 - Hank, Ron & Bob on Kilimanjaro

1990 – Kilamanjaro, Tanzania.  19,341′.  Hank, Ron & Bob.

including San Francisco Bay Keeper (Board of Directors), the Denali Education Center in Alaska (Board of Trustees), the Headlands Institute in Golden Gate National Park, the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, the American Alpine Club, and the Explorers Club.

Hank received his B.S. from the University of Oregon, where he also did graduate work in Environmental Studies.  He received his J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School and served on its Board of Visitors for two decades.  (The Law School’s alumni magazine published another tribute to the Sharks with many interesting details here.)  In addition to mountain climbing, Hank’s interests include cycling, wines, photography, and helping his daughter, a high school senior, navigate the college selection process.

Bob Wyler, a resident of Southern California before and after his student days at Oregon is an authentic waterman and raconteur.  He’s surfed his entire life and continues that from his home just steps from the Pacific’s shore in  Manhattan Beach and over the winter in Baja California.  He open water swims of course and was a world champion paddle board racer.  Early in his career Bob was a ski “bum,” assiduously following his father’s advice to continue that profession as long as possible.  Since retiring from his roles as high school social studies teacher and career counsellor, he’s mostly given up hang gliding in favor of golfing, which takes at least 3 mornings a week.  Bob participates in or volunteers for several historic athletic contests in his hometown;  his commitment to equal opportunity has had a large impact on the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race, a 32 mile race from Catalina Island to Manhattan Beach that is said to be the premier and most historical paddleboard race in the world.  Readers shouldn’t be surprised that a local paper reported that Bob is “an all-around fun connoisseur” who’d “rather have the time than the money.”  He’s also grandfather of 2!

1995 - Dinner at 17,200 feet on Denali. Les, Hank, Bob.

1995 – Denali, Alaska.  Dinner at 17,200 feet.  Les, Hank, Bob.

As mentioned I feel very fortunate to have crossed paths with the 4 Sharks, each a unique personality with his own interesting life path.  What is incrementally impressive is how, in planning or while on the mountain, they’re able to blend their different egos and problem solving approaches while holding the team’s welfare and mission paramount.  This is of course important while off-trail route-finding and, especially, when dangling on the side of a mountain.  Most impressively, despite the challenges of their activities and goals, they all appreciate, enjoy, and celebrate the journey.

2005 - Mount Dana. Ron, Bob, Krist, Les, Hank.

2005 – Mount Dana, Yosemite.  13,061′.   Ron, Bob, Krist, Les, Hank.  Mono Lake in background.



Posted in Outdoors, People of note, Sierra Nevada, Terrestrial | 5 Comments

Mount Morrison

You may have heard of the passing last month of Dick Bass, who, in 1985, became the first person to summit the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.  That achievement is described in the well received book he co-authored, Seven Summits, published in 1988.

Dick Bass’s pioneering effort is said to be the inspiration for many others to strive for some or all of the seven summits*.  (Of course, most people don’t strive to or summit any of those mountains, and I’d guess that only a few summit more than one or two.)

Three good friends, who have named themselves the “Sharks,” have climbed many mountains together over 5 decades and were influenced by Dick Bass, at least a little – they’ve done 6 of the seven summits.  Last week I was fortunate to join up with that very unique and accomplished social network on a hike whose goal was the summit of Mount Morrison.

On the world stage, or even just California’s, at 12,241 feet, Mount Morrison isn’t a particularly high mountain – many of its neighbors in the Sierra Nevada are higher, including 10 over 14,000 feet.  In fact, at first glance, one might think Mt. Morrison’s top, classified a Class 2 summit and therefore achievable without the need for technical climbing, should be a snap.

The mountain is just south of the resort town of Mammoth Lakes and is accessed from Convict Lake, which itself is accessed by a 2 mile spur west from scenic US 395.  167 acre Convict Lake, which unsurprisingly has a colorful history, is the location of of the impressive Convict Lake Resort and the U.S. Forest Service campground at which we car-camped.

This was the 3rd visit to Mount Morrison by the Sharks, who had been rebuffed twice earlier by unsafe weather.  The morning of the current effort was cloudless and we left camp reasonably early, well before 8.  Our plan was to take some unmarked, unimproved roads by vehicle to gain about 500 feet, which we did.  Starting our hike at 8:25, for an hour or so we made good progress by simply  following a dry creek bed up.  After a break we continued up, leaving the creek bed for easy but up cross-country.  After another hour or so we stopped to consult our maps to try to figure out where the summit was and the easiest and preferred route to it.  We spotted a faint trail in what we thought was the right direction so we followed it as it got steeper.  Our pace slowed and it was courteous of the stronger hikers to accommodate the slowest one (me).  Around noon, at around 11,000 feet, we conveniently met two hikers coming down off the mountain.

Having left the creek bed, cross country up. Mt. Morrison is to the right but not in view, except a lower flank.

Having left the creek bed, cross country up. Mt. Morrison is to the right but not in view, except a lower flank.  Photo courtesy of Bob Wyler.

In a wide ranging conversation, they confirmed we were on the right path to the top, and helpfully pointed out the specifics of advancing all the way, another 1200 feet or so up even steeper terrain.  As I have some discomfort with heights and could easily envision the onset of that condition soon from a visual of both our route and the surrounding terrain, I informed the others that I’d gone far enough and would wait for them near the trail when I could find a relatively flat spot.  This was fine with everyone.

About 100 feet down I did find a flat spot the size of a twin bed near a saddle whose overlook provided a sufficient taste of  acrophobia .  Although I expected a 2 hour interlude, I’d hardly gotten comfortable when I was joined by another of our hiking group.  This hiker, the strongest that day, explained that everyone was turning back because of various minor afflictions such as shortness of breath and an occasional problem with balance.

Bob catches a breath near what may be our high point of 11,000 or so feet. Photo courtesy of Hank Skade.

Bob catches a breath near what may be our high point of 11,000 or so feet. Photo courtesy of Hank Skade.

We soon had a mini-reunion, a bonding moment, and walked down pretty much the way we’d come up.  (Except that it’s big country, it’s different going down, etc.)

Even though none of the group summited, it was a great time, nonetheless.   We had excellent weather and great scenery, companionship, and hiking.  I’d put the root causes of our turning back to the fact that none of us, all seniors, are getting any younger and for anyone of us who may have once been super attracted to bag another summit, that disposition is lessening with age.  I feel good about leaving sea level on Sunday and on Tuesday hiking from an elevation of 8000 feet up another 3000 feet.

By the time we got down to the 4Runner it was 3:30 or so, a nice time for a visit to Wild Willie’s Hot Spring just a few miles away!  The modestly improved hot spring, popular with other tourists too, was beautifully situated in the middle of a very large meadow with expansive views.  Most unusual, in fact surreal, was the herd of very black cows that was closely surrounding the spring’s gathering point.

Dick Bass’s seven summits:

  • Everest (29,035 feet) – Asia
  • Aconcagua (22,834 feet) – South America
  • McKinley (20,320 feet) – North America
  • Kilimanjaro (19,339 feet) – Africa
  • Elbrus (18,510 feet) – Europe
  • Vinson (16,067 feet) – Antarctica
  • Kosciuszko (7,310 feet)

Note:  There isn’t total consensus on the “seven summits.”  The Wikipedia entry provides details.

The morning after...Les, Hank, & Bob chewing the fat.

The morning after…the Sharks, Les, Hank, & Bob, chewing the fat.

Posted in Outdoors, People of note, Sierra Nevada, Terrestrial | 2 Comments

Serving others

For those readers who may be interested in keeping up with a wonderful dog family member, the blog at has a recent entry on serving others.

It begins:

“One of my guardians recently visited Ohio for a high school reunion, to see family, and to participate in a tour of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, an auction item on which he was the winning bidder at a fundraiser  for one of his causes, The Education Foundation.

(The tour was given by paleoanthropologist Bruce Latimer, the museum’s former Executive Director, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, and an authority on the evolution of human locomotion.)

Bruce Latimer, renowned paleoanthropologist, and a portion of the world-class collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Bruce Latimer, renowned paleoanthropologist, and a portion of the world-class collection at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

For more on Wally & serving others, please see

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A Highly Recommended Hike

Last week, to celebrate my wife’s birthday, she, one of her best childhood friends, and I took a hike in Mount Tamalpais State Park, which is just a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Not only do I recommend the trails we took, others do too.*

Mount Tamalpais State Park, as the name suggests, is on Mount Tamalpais (summit at 2571 feet), and encompasses 6300 acres.  The Park surrounds the more famous Muir Woods National Monument and its redwoods, and is bounded on the south by Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).  On the north the Park is also bounded by GGNRA as well as the Marin Municipal Water District, many more thousands of acres of open space.

We’re indeed fortunate to have world-class parks such as these so easily accessible to urbanized San Francisco!

We three chose to do a loop trip from Pantoll, a crossroads of sort, which has a ranger station, campground, and parking lot.  After a picnic lunch at Pantoll, our hike started nearby on the Matt Davis Trail**, which winds through wooded areas, occasionally interrupted by open fields which, on a

On the Matt Davis Trail, with the fog in background hiding the Pacific.

On the Matt Davis Trail, with the fog in background hiding the Pacific.

clear day, offer spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and coast.  However, our day was cloudy & foggy, as the nearby photo attests.




This section of the Matt Davis is flat to downhill, so we more or less coasted down the 1499’ elevation loss to the beachfront town of Stinson Beach.


Further down the Matt Davis we have an easy stroll through a scenic forest.




After refreshments at Stinson’s Sand Dollar Restaurant, we picked up the Dipsea Trail (namesake of the world famous Dipsea Race***) for a mile or so until it intersects with the spectacular Steep Ravine Trail at a bridge over Webb Creek. For Steep Ravine, stay left.

On the Dipsea Trail's The Moors section, looking back towards Stinson Beach.

On the Dipsea Trail’s The Moors section, looking back towards Stinson Beach.

According to Dipsea historian Barry Spitz, the Dipsea Trail was first documented on a county map in 1854 and was probably in use as a native American footpath many years earlier. The trail goes from the picturesque town of Mill Valley up and over Mt. Tam’s flanks to Stinson Beach, 7 miles.  From the Dipsea Race’s beginning in Mill Valley, the trail is up, down, up, and down to Steep Ravine; then  it goes up 100’ or so  steeply (“Insult Hill”) before its final, scenic descent through “The Moors” to Stinson Beach.

The Steep Ravine trail is all uphill but not particularly steep – the trail is just a fairly steady up through redwoods, firs, and ferns, all the while with Webb Creek a few feet away offering wonderful sights and sounds.  I do believe the “steep” refers to the ravine’s sides which in many places are very steep.  They’re also beautiful with the trees and foliage, all enhanced by the occasional and ever changing beams of sunlight that often come through.

Looking up in Steep Ravine.

Looking up in Steep Ravine.

The round trip hike is 7.3 miles – about 2 hours down and 2 hours up, plus any time to goof off in Stinson Beach (a fine swim beach is available, however surf and/or sharks may be present).

It was an affirming, most pleasant afternoon, one we’ll all easily remember fondly.

If you’d like to learn more about Mt. Tam, nearby parks, and related natural science and culture, there’s a good listing of aligned organizations at the Tamalpais Conservation Club’s website.



*Other reputable sites which recommend this hike include:

1. has an excellent description of the hike we took and others.

2.   3 of 5 stars, tied with several other trails in the SF Bay Area for the highest grade given to 35 trails rated in the Bay area.  “Each park and trail has been rated from one to five stars based on how enjoyable it is overall, with an emphasis on redwoods.”   This site is an excellent source for hikes in old growth redwood forests.

3., a National Geographic property, gives this hike 4.5 stars of 5 possible.

**Who was Matt Davis?  Matt Davis lived in a small cabin on Mt. Tam and was paid to cut trails by the Tamalpais Conservation Club.  In the 1920’s he worked on what is now named the Matt Davis Trail.

***The Dipsea Race, which covers the length of the Dipsea Trail, was founded in 1905 and is the oldest organized trail race in America.  Some term it “grueling” and several sections of the race trail are named descriptively including “Suicide,” “Dynamite,” “The Rainforest,” “Cardiac Hill,” “Swoop,” and “Insult Hill.”  Click here for photos.

Posted in Outdoors, Terrestrial | Leave a comment

Mono Lake – fearing for the birds

With the California drought on many peoples’ minds including mine, I’m trying to be aware of the not so obvious ramifications of the state’s precipitation shortage.  This got me to thinking about Mono Lake and the birds that visit it every year.  My guess is that, later this year, the lake level will drop to historic lows and it will be no fun at all for its visiting bird populations.

Late in a beautiful day at Mono Lake

Late in a beautiful day at Mono Lake

Years ago I wrote an article that touches on Mono Lake birdlife and begins “If taking a swim in an unusual and dramatic place amid thousands of birds, millions of shrimp and millions of, well, flies captures your imagination, then take a trip to Mono Lake, just beyond the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite.”  The complete article, which was published in the Spring, 2003 issue of the Dolphin Log, is here.

I’ll put on my to-do list taking some time to look into how Mono Lake and its denizens are faring this year and then writing a post on the subject.  But if you can’t wait to learn more, simply visit the Mono Lake Committee’s website, where you’ll find tons of information including this recent, relevant post on how low it can go.

Visitors admiring some of the Mono Lake tufa in August, 2014

Visitors admiring some of the Mono Lake tufa in August, 2014

Posted in Outdoors, Saltwater, Sierra Nevada, Terrestrial | Leave a comment

San Francisco Green Film Festival #5 – this week!

With Opening Night just two days away on May 28th and then continuing 2015_SFGFF_Poster_-_WEB_smallthrough June 3rd, the 5th annual San Francisco Green Film Festival promises to be the best and best attended in its short history.  And, as its attractive, informative, and highly functional website suggests, this Festival also appears destined to be the most polished and influential yet.

The Festival is the brainchild of Rachel Caplan, who I am fortunate to have collaborated with on the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival.  As Festival Director in 2008 and 2009, Rachel was excellent as both an executor and strategic thinker, and a pleasure to work with as well.   As she’s conveyed, Rachel was often approached by independent filmmakers striving to get their environmentally themed documentaries screened.  She realized that, from agriculture to rainforests, from mining to monkeys, there was a diverse mix of environmental stories all seeking to reach audiences in San Francisco.

The entrepreneur she is, Rachel spotted an opportunity to use the power and immediacy of these films, coupled with the local environmental expertise and enthusiasm, to inspire concern and, she anticipates, social change.  She planned and then in 2011 launched the first San Francisco Green Film Festival with new films from around the world and an emphasis on audience discussion and participation.

Astute film programming coupled with an emphasis on audience participation is a formula patterned on the very successful and admirable Environmental Film Festival, an annual two-week long, multi-venue production in Washington D.C..  Its 24th festival will take place next March and will, once again, feature numerous programs, many free of charge.

Gaining more traction with each festival, the SF Green Film Festival has quickly risen to the forefront in the environment-centric segment of the film festival market.  The Festival’s 2014 Annual Report presents in a visually attractive way the myriad of dimensions to a film festival and conveys how far SF Green has come after just 4 festivals.  That report’s metrics are impressive and they suggest SF Green’s performance has already surpassed that of several older festivals in its peer group.

Details on this year’s festival are here and this year’s program can be downloaded from this link.

My hat is off to Rachel for conceiving the Festival, bootstrapping it, and assembling and organizing the team and resources to implement her vision.

Over the next week the SF Green Film Festival will screen 60 films from 26 countries in 25+ programs.  If you’ll be in or near San Francisco during the Festival, I recommend you consider making time for it.

Posted in Books & Films, Entrepreneurs & Entrepreneurism, Non-profits, Outdoors, San Francisco | Leave a comment

Polar Bear Challenge, continued

The Dolphin Club Swim Commissioners recently posted the results sheet for the 2014-2015 Polar Bear Challenge.  It’s at

Also, as promised in a previous entry, I’m providing a link to the most recent issue of the Dolphin Log here.  Beginning on page 16, it has a thoughtful article on the Polar Bear Challenge with attention to the mental effect of the mileage chart and its squares.  Following that article is one on this past February’s 24 hour relay, a fun and somewhat tortuous event.  Enjoy!

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Polar Bear Hall of Fame corrected with inclusion of Laura Merkl

This short entry is to note that the recent post on my personal Dolphin Club Polar Bear Hall of Fame has been revised – the major change in the corrected version is the inclusion  of Laura Merkl in the Hall of Fame.  My apologies to Laura for publishing the original entry while omitting her, which I attribute to insufficient research on my part.

My thanks go to Mary Cantini, a fellow Dolphin Club Life Member and Escape from Alcatraz Legend, for her tip on Laura’s accomplishments.  Thank you Mary!



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My Polar Bear Hall of Fame

(An earlier blog entry on the Dolphin Club‘s Polar Bear provides some background on the event and may be accessed here.  Also, this post is subject to revision as outlined in the P.S. near the end of the post.)

Asked of mountain climber George Mallory in 1923: “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?”
His answer: “Because it’s there.”

Over it’s 42 year history, the Dolphin Club’s Polar Bear (“PB”)has attracted a set of people with a range of swimming skills, ages, body types, etc.  Some, perhaps many, of the participants demonstrate a need to climb their own metaphorical mountain, evidently “Because it’s there.”  In a low-keyed way, in this blog, I’d like to give some visibility to PB participants whose exceptional performances are especially noteworthy by naming my personal Polar Bear Hall of Fame.

Bill Powning's locker, attesting to his robust participation in the swim program, is now assigned to his son.

Bill Powning’s locker, attesting to his robust participation in the swim program, is now assigned to his son.

Bill Powning –  In 1974, a founder of the Polar Bear.

A graduate of Yale, sharp dresser, and gentleman, Bill earned a Polar Bear in 23 straight winters, a record at the time, until he reached his late 70’s and “retired” from the challenges of the tradition he started.  His son, a Dolphin Club Life Member, is carrying the family flag and is a multi-year Polar Bear.




George Kebbe – A native of Syria, this now legendary PB arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and soon took up swimming in Aquatic Park.  At the age of 41, in the 1993-1994 PB season, Kebbe swam 255 PB miles, a record.  Nine years later his record was topped by Suzie Dods (See below).  So, the following season Kebbe took on the challenge and topped Suzie’s record by 100 miles to set the PB record at 356 miles, truly uncharted territory.   His unique asymmetrical windmill-style stroke is known as “The Kebbe” and, during that record breaking PB, was often visible along the buoy line in Aquatic Park.  (A down and back on the buoy line is the gold standard for mileage in Aquatic Park.)   Lou Marcelli, the Club’s longtime Commodore who was not known for hyperbole, called Kebbe’s completion of the 356 PB miles “one of the greatest feats of all time.”

George K. is one of the few Dolphin Club members to have an Aquatic Park marker named after him – formerly known as the can off the starboard quarter of the Balclutha, it’s now the Kebbe.

For more on Kebbe and his PB, go to

Ralph Wenzel – Born in East Germany, low-keyed and modest Wenzel owns and manages the renowned San Francisco bakery, Schubert’s.  In the 2006-2007 PB season, Ralph swam every day but one to achieve his goal of 356 miles, to tie but not exceed George Kebbe’s record!  According to famed San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte in a laudatory article, on the last day of PB, “With a chance to break the record and set a new mark, he stood up and walked out of the water. It was clear he could have gone back in the bay, taken another lap around the Aquatic Park lagoon and torn up the record book.

“I don’t feel like going back in again,” he said. Asked why he didn’t break the record, he shrugged and walked away to take a sauna.

In times when records are made to be broken and winners are hailed as superheroes, Wenzel seems to be a throwback to some other age. “

Pete Perez – By day he was a programmer at the Walt Disney Museum.  But in the 2012-2013 PB he could be found in Aquatic Park every day at 5:15 AM and again at 6:30 PM, striving toward his goal of tying the PB mileage record of 356 miles– tying, not breaking the record, out of respect for the cold-water pioneer, George Kebbe, and Ralph Wenzel, who also chose to tie.  During Perez’s quest, he figured that if he too were to tie the record Kebbe set, a tradition would  be forming and, according to, “if there is one thing the Dolphin Club honors, it is tradition.”  Perez developed an insider’s knowledge of Aquatic Park’s tides, currents, and micro-currents and used them to his advantage, fully within the PB’s guidelines.  Perez even coined a name for a 356 mile Polar Bear, “a George.”

Perez’s “George” came a year or two after he set the record for a new PB tradition begun a few years ago, the “First to Forty.” (Forty miles is the minimum for a standard PB, and Perez’s record of 48 or so hours stood for only a year or two.)

Suzie Dods –In the 2002-2003 Polar Bear, Suzie set the PB mileage record at 256 miles, topping PB Hall of Famer George Kebbe’s 1995 record by 1 mile.  That makes her the only woman to hold the Polar Bear single season mileage record.  Evidently her record put a challenge in front of and accepted by Kebbe – Dod’s record lasted just a year until the next season when Kebbe did what has become known as “a George,” 356 miles.  In addition to her PB exploits, Suzie has completed many challenging open water swims, operates a teaching/coaching business, and each November offers a free “Learn to swim in SF Bay” class at the Dolphin Club.

Joe Illick – Professor of History Emeritus at San Francisco State University and all-around renaissance man, Joe Illick joined the Dolphin Club in 1995 when he was 60.  Soon thereafter he was dominating the Polar Bear, achieving the most mileage of any participant for 5 or 6 seasons (to be researched further!).

Joe Illick, near one of his haunts, the PB mileage charts.

Joe Illick, near one of his haunts, the PB mileage charts.

A strong advocate of double-dipping (swim-sauna-swim), Joe’s swim speed may be slower than his undergraduate days on the swim team at Princeton, but he makes up for it with commitment and time in the water.  An author of several books, an artist, poet, and Club leader, Joe also invented the Joe Illick Award – it goes to the PB participant who has the highest “Illick score.” Illick score = (Age of participant – 40) x (PB miles of participant -40).  Besides Joe, only Pete Perez (in his record setting year) has won the Illick Award.

Wall near Joe Illick's locker has become a gallery of Joe's art creations.

Wall near Joe Illick’s locker has become a gallery of Joe’s art creations.

Laura Merkl –Laura is true Hall of Famer.  She is believed to be the first woman to win Polar Bear, which she did in 1993-1994 with 174 miles.  She won a second time in 1999-2000 when she tied for first with Scott Haskins at 150 miles.  Other metrics easily convey Laura’s affinity with the PB: first, she’s completed 29 PB’s, putting her high, possibly 2nd only to Vince Huang, on the list of PB’s done; second, she’s probably swum more Polar Bear miles than anyone, with 2865.75 career miles to date (according to her records, which the author certainly doesn’t question, Laura being a career corporate financial executive!)*. Averaging almost 100/miles/season over 29 seasons, and future PBs in front of her, Laura’s career mileage mark will be very hard to top.

*official Club records are lacking, but Laura conveyed she welcomes an audit! 🙂

Vince Huang – Vince, a well informed student of water temperatures in SF Bay, has earned Hall of Fame status because of his multi-year participation and Club record of 37 straight PB’s.   Plus, he’s still going strong and will certainly lengthen his streak of consecutive PBs.  Whenever it ends, it will be a monument of consistency and persistence, a string of consecutive PB’s that will be very hard to surpass.

In summary, as the reader may perceive, the Polar Bear is quite a tradition, a 3-month event and challenge that can capture the mindshare of participants like none other.  In a future post I’ll report on the 2014-2015 PB.

Finally, the most recent issue of the Dolphin Log contains two articles on the Polar Bear, more evidence of its importance!  When the Log is posted online, I’ll provide links.

P.S. Dear Reader, while I’ve strived for accuracy of course, this post may contain factual errors and/or omissions.  If/when such information comes to light, I’ll make appropriate corrections and/or additions in this post and, if they’re major changes, I’ll note them in a future post.  So, if you see what appears to be an error or omission, please bring it to my attention, thank you.

Revised: May 14, 2015

Club's entry with a member diligently recording her PB miles.  Note the large wood carving of a dolphin.

Club’s entry with a member diligently recording her PB miles. Note the large wood carving of a dolphin.

Posted in Dolphin Club, Outdoors, People of note, Saltwater | 1 Comment