By the numbers...
Distance: 24-26 statute miles (depending on route)
Start/End, Santa Cruz: 36°57'44.07"N; 122° 0'2.31"W
Start/End, Monterey: 36°36'34.54"N; 121°53'42.40"W
Water Temp (May-Sept): 51-62F
Successful Category A (non-wetsuit) SOLO Swims: 4
Santa Cruz Start/End
Swimming the Bay
A "bay swim" must have clearly defined boundaries for starting and ending a swim. Swimming from Santa Cruz to Marina, for example, would NOT qualify as a Monterey Bay crossing. For the purposes of sanctioning and documenting swims across the Monterey Bay, the preferred route is harbor to harbor:
At the end of the 2017 swim season, the fastest recorded SOLO crossing is 13 hours. The longest SOLO crossing is just over 22 hours. Both swims followed the 25 preferred route.
As with all cold water long distance swims, hypothermia is a serious consideration. Anyone planning an attempt should be well acclimated and trained for swims in the 10 to 20 hour range in water between 56 to 60f, give or take a few degrees.
Prevailing winds are out of the North West, so a route from Santa Cruz to Monterey is generally preferred, but previous attempts have ended due to strong afternoon winds out of the South, making it virtually impossible to reach land.
Weather on the Bay changes quickly. You should hope for Force 1 or 2 winds but be prepared for Force 4 or 5.
Monterey Bay (from the air) looks something like a sideways jellyfish. This is fitting considering the numerous variety of these colorful gelatinous creatures who inhabit the bay during swim season. Although lovely to look at, they've proven downright nasty during most swim attempts. In addition to being painful, repeated stings can accelerate the effects of hypothermia which is an unavoidable challenge in the Monterey Bay.
Below the Monterey Bay lies the Monterey Submarine Canyon. The canyon starts one mile from shore at Moss Landing, and is approximately 292 miles long, 7.5 miles wide, and is more than 2 miles deep at its deepest point. Because the canyon is in such close proximity to shore, the Monterey Bay has deep, cold, nutrient-rich water year round. This feature brings in many diverse marine mammals and sea birds that feed within the canyon and along its edge. This includes several varieties of dolphins, whales, pinnipeds, turtles, jellyfish, and sharks.