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San Francisco Bay's Chilly Currents Stoke The Flames Of Romance


We have a story of a romance. It's a love affair that heats up in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay. Here's Chloe Veltman of our member station KQED.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: On a cold, gray morning, Roberta Guise and John Rohosky greet each other on the dock outside their swim club.

ROBERTA GUISE: Hey, bruiser.

JOHN ROHOSKY: How you doing, doll?

VELTMAN: The couple, both in their 70s, swims in the bay several times a week. It's played a central role in their relationship for more than 30 years.

GUISE: (Singing) Oh, what a beautiful morning.

VELTMAN: He's sporting a black Speedo, a red swim cap and bright green fins. She's in a black one-piece and canary yellow cap. The conditions on this particular morning aren't exactly beautiful. There's debris all over the shore and shallows and a fast-moving current.

ROHOSKY: Have to go in backwards with fins.

VELTMAN: The water's around 50 degrees. So for safety, Roberta and John have developed this highly distinctive call-and-response system.

ROHOSKY: I'll do the rebel yell. Yahoo (ph).

VELTMAN: John tells me his call puts him in the fighting spirit. Roberta's call is also wild but in a different way.

GUISE: (Imitating seal). I didn't pick the seal sound. It picked me. That's just what came out, and it stuck.

VELTMAN: They're longtime members of the South End Rowing Club, a San Francisco institution dating back to the 1870s. They met at the club in the 1980s and started using their calls soon after they became involved in a clandestine romance.

GUISE: Well, originally we didn't want people to know that we had made it official. So that, I believe, is how we started those calls.

VELTMAN: You mean they were like a secret code?

GUISE: They were like a secret code, yes - originally.

VELTMAN: They'd use the calls to find out if the other one was around at the club.

GUISE: I would call to you to see if you were here. And if I heard something, then I knew you were here and vice versa. So...

VELTMAN: After Roberta and John went public about their relationship, they also put their calls to a different use.

ROHOSKY: When Roberta and I started swimming together more regularly, it was a good way to signal to each other. Yahoo.

GUISE: (Imitating seal). He'll know by how far away the call is where I am in the water, and he'll know to locate me in the water. And ditto with John.

VELTMAN: Roberta recently had a hip replacement, and John has dealt with heart arrhythmia. So their piercing vocalizations can be especially useful in rough conditions. About 15 minutes into their swim, they've been keeping up a steady stroke side by side. But in no time, he's pulled far ahead.

GUISE: John.

VELTMAN: Roberta can't reach John.

GUISE: Hey. Can't hear me, can you?

VELTMAN: Roberta's treading water, trying to figure out which of the several heads bobbing about in the distance belongs to her husband.

GUISE: I can't tell which is you.

VELTMAN: It's time to bring out the seal.

GUISE: (Imitating seal).

VELTMAN: At first, no luck. So she tries again.

GUISE: (Imitating seal).

VELTMAN: Then...


VELTMAN: John swims towards his wife. They embrace and belt out one last call.


GUISE: (Imitating seal).

VELTMAN: For NPR News, I'm Chloe Veltman in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF IHF'S "AWAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.