Date: February 1st
Time in water: 57:10
Water Temp: 54°F
Air Temp: 55°F
Where: Alcatraz Island!!!
I signed up for this swim quite a while ago; I recall thinking that if I’m flying all the way down to San Francisco for the 24 hour relay, I should try to get in as much swimming as possible. My nervousness grew throughout the week–about the water temperatures (low 50’s), my fitness, and the weather (high winds and rain predicted), and I seriously questioned my decision to do the Alcatraz swim the day before the relay.
I knew from my swim log that I could swim an hour at mid 50s temps, plus I’ve heard that salt water feels warmer then fresh. I hoped this swim would give me confidence for my 30 minute shifts at the relay, so I tried to ignore all the doubts in my head (and honestly I just tried not to think about the swim at all!). We flew in after work on Thursday, went out to dinner, and turned in fairly early, my last check of the weather looking promising for the morning.
I showed up to the dock ready to swim, my new fancy DryRobe over my swim suit and a bag of clothes to change into. We had 4 swimmers plus Sylvia from Pacific Swim in a Zodiac. The water was a little choppy, but not bad, and the storm wasn’t supposed to hit until the afternoon. So we clambered into the boat and sped off to Alcatraz.
We had a wait a little bit for a large boat to pass, so I had time to think about what was about to happen, as I burrowed deeper into my robe. I had never jumped from a boat into cold water before, no slow entrance here. I was also surrounded by swimmers faster then me, and we were supposed to stick together. If it had been a bit nicer, and I didn’t feel pressure to keep up, I would much rather have dilly dallied and taken photos and floated on my back, admiring the view. But I knew that would not be my day.
I slid slowly off the side of the boat once we had our clearance, the cold not terribly shocking, given that it was about 13 degrees warmer then the Columbia. I pretty much put my head down and went. I had a hard time parsing what was going on, with my earplugs in and my goggles slightly foggy; sometimes the others would stop and I would stop too, wondering what was going on. I think maybe they were just looking at the view and waiting for me, but probably I should have just kept going. I did get a few glances in, but not as many as I would have liked.
I could never quite tell what I was supposed to be sighting on; we were supposed to be shifting our sights as the current pulled us toward our landing spot, but I couldn’t hear what was happening. It seemed like we weren’t on track, but I just kept my head down and tried to follow the others. I ended up with a few mouthfuls of sea water as the swells picked up, but nothing too bad. Mostly it seemed as though we weren’t getting any closer to shore, but I always think that when I’m swimming.
At some point it became apparent that we should go faster, so I just swam as hard as I could, worried I was making the others cold. Then I noticed Sylvia telling everyone to stop sticking together and just swim as hard as possible. That can’t be good, I thought. Maybe a ship wanted through the shipping lane?
Then I noticed that I was nearly under the Golden Gate Bridge. I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the bridge, Sylvia pulled up in the boat and started motioning at me. I finally heard enough to realize my day was done. I got into the boat, and she asked if I wanted to stay out or just be shepherded up to the others. My shoulders were shot from basically sprinting for almost an hour, so I said I was done.
Apparently the ebb had showed up, hitting us strong and forcing us way off course. We picked up another swimmer, and then pulled along side the final two, who were all out sprinting next to a pier, so close to the beach. It looked like they weren’t moving at all, the current was so strong. But finally they broke through and made their way to the beach.
My recovery wasn’t bad, especially considering I didn’t even take my suit off for a quite a while, and my bare legs and feet were wet, so I felt much more confident about the relay, despite the piss poor weather outlook.
Someone later asked if I were upset I didn’t get to “finish” the swim; I signed up for this as something fun to do, not as some bucket list item, so I honestly didn’t care at all about getting pulled out! It was just for fun, and I’m happy I did it. Mostly I wish I could have been in the moment a bit more, and actually taken some photos.