Tucked away at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf, amid a flood of tourists, stands a white wooden house with blue trim. It’s the home of the Dolphin Club, San Francisco’s historic swimming and boating club, whose members have been rowing and swimming in the notoriously icy water of the bay for over a century.
Inside the clubhouse are magnificent antique boats and walls lined with black-and-white photographs of monumental races and portraits of lifetime members. The Dolphin Club was founded in 1877, originally as an all-men’s club with a limit of 25 members. The club began to allow women in 1976, and now has more than 1,400 members.
Club members often swim early in the morning as the sun rises or late in the afternoon as the sky turns red. The middle of the day tends to draw a dedicated cohort of older lifetime members. The swimmers, who rarely wear wetsuits, often come eye to eye with birds and seals, and they adore entering the hot sauna after a frigid swim.
“It’s a way to feel fully alive in your body,” says Katie Harrington, who has been a member for three years. “When else do you get to feel your quads rippling in the sauna because you are cold to the core?”
Recently there has been a surge in new members, likely due to this winter’s exceptionally warm water temperatures. The temperature of the water in the bay generally averages 54 degrees Fahrenheit during the month of March, but this month it has been reaching 60 degrees. In cold water without a wetsuit, swimmers can feel the difference of every degree.