As you begin the course, there’s a consistently swift current you have to swim against as you pass by the Delta Queen, regardless of the dam’s water release. All of the water moving past that boat can be tough to get through if there’s any sort of current. It takes patience, and maybe a little bit of play to find a space in the water that is more workable. Most people swim right next to or “hugging” the boat to swim in the water that’s not moving quite as fast. Patience is key here because relief is coming: the current is always significantly less strong after you make it around the Delta Queen.
After I pass the Delta Queen and I am clear of the paddle wheel, I immediately cut left and start my swim upstream as close to the shore as possible (without dragging the bottom). It can get pretty shallow on the North Shore of the river, but the closer to the shore you are, the less current there is to swim against. The upstream portions of the race are some of the longer legs, so hugging the shoreline as much as you can, will conserve some energy in fighting the current.
Once you make it to the 2nd orange buoy near Veteran’s Bridge and turn back downstream, you will cut diagonally across the river towards the South Shore at Walnut Street Bridge. If there’s a good current, I aim towards a point that is further upstream (like under the Hunter Art Museum) instead of aiming and swimming directly towards the 3rd buoy, so that the current that’s working with me at this point doesn’t push me past my mark without me getting around it. Since it’s such a wide open stretch across the river, if the current is swift, it can give more of a push than I anticipate so I make sure that I proactive in aiming upstream so that I don’t have to backtrack.
As you turn downstream, you should position yourself about halfway between the first and second pylon of the Walnut Street Bridge (in reference to the South Shore) to make sure you are at least 50 yards away from the South Shore. Really, the farther away from shore you are here (while still being on the course), then the more current you will feel to your advantage as you are on this downstream leg.
As you pass under the Market Street Bridge to make a turn at the 4th buoy and start heading back to the North Shore, the current picks up a lot in that area. It’s always moving faster than I anticipate on the South Shore around the fountains in front of the Aquarium and Ross’s Landing, compared to the rest of the river. While you will be making a move to cross the river, the good news is that at least you are still heading downstream in a diagonal. Even if I’m technically swimming downstream here, I still aim or swim upstream of my mark a little because again, I might be fighting the push a little bit as I am crossing the entire width of the river. There’s a spot after you cross over the middle part of the river that you can usually feel the current slow slightly.
Once I get back to the North Shore at the 5th buoy, and I’m heading upstream again, I try and hug the bank as much as I can without having to dodge tree limbs and branches that are under the water here, because again, the current is slowest there and you can almost swim unaffected straight towards the finish. Be careful heading out of the water up the ramp, because it will start to gradually shallow after you pass under the second overlook pier. If I was to continue for a second lap, I would make sure to stay behind the Delta Queen in the eddy until I had to jump out into the current to pass it.