“An Honest Swim”

The beauty of an OW swim

The beauty of an OW swim

At no point did I want to do this. I was cold and let’s face it, I never want to do an OW swim. In contrast to most OW swimmers nothing inside me craves throwing myself off a boat and swimming in the open seas.

Unlike Gibraltar, I was totally unprepared. I knew nothing about the Alcatraz swim except that many people have done it.  I never once checked Windfinder. I had no idea which direction the wind was blowing and which direction I wanted it to blow.  Ditto for the currents and the water temperature.

We expected the swim to be 40-45 minutes. That was nothing, no feeding stops, no time to get tired, no time to get cold. It wasn’t going to be hard so why was I dreading it?

When we arrived at Pier 39 to meet Gary Emich, we realized that we had no idea where to actually find him (we need Mau for organization) so Susan went back to the car to get her phone. I was meandering around when a homeless-looking man approached me. Opps, not a homeless man, it was Gary and his “homeless” look came from an epic swim parka that has taken him on over 1000 Alcatraz swims. That is like me swimming Alcatraz every day for the next 3 years.  Gary is a living legend in the Bay area.

OW Rule number 1: Always have a more experienced person in your boat.  For this swim, it was Gary.

The Alcatraz Guru

The Alcatraz Guru

We were told to change in the public bathroom where it took all sorts of yoga style balancing to not touch the floor or walls with our bare feet or skin while mangling ourselves into our wetsuits. For a few minutes the wetsuit was stuck on my hips and I had a moment of relief when I thought “I can get out of this swim because I don’t have a wetsuit”.  But then Susan came over and tugged the skin-tight material up my legs.  My Sailfish G range is on holiday in Barcelona and boy did I miss how it slips right on. The one we rented for this swim felt like a 1980s prom dress.

Gary debriefed us similarly to how Rafa debriefed us in Gibraltar. The currents, time of swim, need to swim in an opposite direction as we get pushed by the current down the shore. I was hearing him but not listening until Susan started asking about sharks. There is a Great White Shark nesting area just outside of the San Francisco Bay so it was a fair question. Gary did a stellar job at explaining that the sediment from the Bay gets stuck in the Great Whites gills and this keeps them “at bay” from the Bay.  Which also explains why the Great Whites aren’t feasting on the seals just around the corner at Seal Rock on Ocean Beach.  I made a mental check on not going to have a wildlife problem with this swim.

OW Rule number 2. Stop asking questions.

Susan then asked about sea lions and other animals to look out for. Gary went on and on to talk about the variety of marine life in the bay.  Sea lions often swim behind the swimmers to check them out.  Curious sea lions, really? There are other sharks too but they are too small to attack us. I had to put my hand up and tell  them that we needed to end the marine life conversation.  In some cases less information is actually better, right?

The boat traffic shouldn’t be a problem as the coast guard communicated our whereabouts to the Ferries and the America’s Cup boaters wouldn’t be out until the afternoon.  The only real concern was the drunk fisherman who leisurely head out early in the morning. Fortunately no drunken sailors seems to be out, but near the end of or swim, a Ferry came a little close for comfort.

The Ferry came a little close

The Ferry came a little close

We arrive to Alcatraz and I was struck by how choppy and wavy the water was.  From the boat the current looked like the monster current that one has to get through at the end of the Gibraltar swim.  I was dreading this and wondering why Susan was so excited? How could we be on such different pages?

OW Rule number 3. Swim with your best friend.

When I am in the water, I just swim until I get out. I have no interest in stopping or enjoying the swim. I just want it to be over, like a dental exam. About halfway through our swim, Susan tugged on me and told me to stop and look around. Getting a video in our minds is the only memory we will have. And it was beautiful. Unfortunately my video was way too short.  The rest of my video is of murky water and major disorientation.  The disorientation that one has while swimming is totally underestimated. When we look up to breathe, we are being pushed up or down or both by waves and it is almost impossible to make out what you see. Every time I looked back to Alcatraz, I flinched because I thought it was a giant animal coming upon me.  Susan and the boat we were the only things I could see clearly until I stopped, did a 360, and took in the Golden Gate, Fisherman’s Warf, The Bay Bridge and Alcatraz.  Fifteen minutes later we were out of the water and sipping hot tea on the pier with the early morning tourists.  Gary commended us on how we swam strongly and quickly through rough waters, an “honest swim” as he said. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Swimming by the Golden Gate

Swimming by the Golden Gate



Categories: Uncategorized

4 replies

  1. Emily, Susan, congratulations for your new challenge. I enjoyed a lot reading it. I wish to be there with you but I have to take care of Mauricio, here in Sitges. Big hugs. Alberto

  2. whats the next surprise?

  3. Wow! You ladies are truly amazing!!! You’re logging really amazing swims! Congrats!

  4. Glups!… I thought you were just an extreme competent manager and now I find that you are also a great athlete … All my respect!. Congratulations!.

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