Saturday, July 09, 2011

Swim Around The Rock:  Survivor Report.

You can see my bare back as the "skin" standing to the left most.  Number 27.

We got to the San Francisco Aquatic Park at about 6AM.  There was a big cancer march event that day also so the free parking was all blocked off.  We parked in Ghiradelli Square instead which cost $27.  The stands of the Aquatic Park were filled with a brisk, cold, humid, foggy breeze that was probably around 50 degrees.  The hope for a dead calm was thus dashed.  A few minutes later the grease pen markings were going on.  Then the start, but why did they forget to sing the National Anthem?  Someone noted that the swimmers were self segregating at the start between the skins and the wetsuits.  I was one of the skins.  No wetsuit.  Just a swim suit.  Otherwise it was bare skin in direct contact with the San Francisco Bay's salty water.

The event started at 7 as we all rushed into the water.  It was a bit cold at first, but this gave way to the usual burning sensation after a few minutes.  A bit further and the water was feeling warm, even though it was about 60 degrees.  The entire group quickly cleared the Aquatic Park's lagoon and we were out in the channel between San Francisco and Alcatraz.  Here we were treated to rolling waves a few feet tall.  This had us all bobbing up and down like so many little corks.  Crossing the channel to the island was no problem, but it seemed a bit of a struggle to get around the first point.  Eventually that was accomplished and we covered the north side of the island quickly.  The water was calm and we had a tail current.

Going around the other end of the island things got rough again with the rollers coming into our face from the Golden Gate.  A little bit more, however, and we turned things around so that the rollers were coming up behind us and  we were on the south side of the island.  Then a problem developed.  I was swimming and swimming, but my location relative to the island didn't seem to be changing.  We had been advised to stay close to the island, but the kayakers directed me into the channel saying it was better there.  Gradually I made some headway.  Emphasis on gradually.  About 20 to 30 minutes were consumed swimming along this section without a whole lot of progress.  I normally swim more directly towards the shore, but was instructed to swim towards - then to the left - of the famous Transamerica Building from the Carmen Sandiego video game.  This had me primarily swimming upstream since the currents had shifted.  I should note that if I had turned 90 degrees and swam straight for shore there would have been no trouble to end up at Crissy Field.

Finally my guardian kayaker raised his paddle.  We were being repositioned. I say "we" because there was a second swimmer with me who told me that he had been following me.  Apparently not everyone is comfortable looking for landmarks which aren't visible from the troughs of the rollers.  A ski boat came over quickly and took us on board. We were then sent over to the Dauntless which was fetching some other swimmers who did take the course closer to shore but weren't successful in the battle against the accelerating ebb tide either.  We jumped off the ski boat, swam over to the Dauntless and then climbed up the ladder.

Aboard the Dauntless we saw about 8 other swimmers.  One of them was in a wetsuit and shivering uncontrollably.  Pre-hypothermia.  Another was laying on the deck still in his wetsuit, but with a towel.  The pilot checked on him periodically and warned him not to go to sleep.  A towel was offered to the two of us who were last arrived.  We both declined.  We were being repositioning and a towel would be an admission of defeat.  Never mind that we were already defeated.

The Dauntless then set out upstream (relative to the ebb tide) and across the channel.  We were then invited to jump back in with about a half mile further to the finish.  This we did, but the ebb was running even faster now.  The other swimmers were quickly warned to change course and swim way to the left so that they wouldn't be swept past the entrance of the aquatic park.  I had already adjusted for this and was sighting on Coit Tower, then the masts of the sailing ship at the maritime museum.  The entrance to the aquatic park arrived.  I adjusted course for the finish point which had just become visible.  The last quarter mile was covered quickly as I still felt I had plenty of energy.  Accounting for the boat ride, I spent nearly two hours in the water.

Being over 50 and not a super swimmer, I should feel good about all this.  Swimming into the current is futile if you aren't too fast, but a little more speed can make a big difference.  My feet didn't have any feeling in them from about 30 minutes into the swim and continuing for several hours.  The overall experience was well worth it.  Many thanks go to Pedro, the kayakers and all the rest of the support crew.  Next time I should choose an event slightly easier like the Alcatraz Touch and Go which is a bit shorter.  Hmmm.  August 6th.


Jo Lynn said...

I can't believe you went in topless.

Looney said...

The worst part of going topless is that it exposes my overweight stomach. A wet suit would have hid it better!

Delirious said...

Congratulations on a great swim, and on surviving! I am not a good swimmer, so I'm impressed that you can even do it. One time we went to Baker beach and my daughter got in the water (I know, it's not the safest place...we learned later). SHe was swimming around when she saw a harbor seal come right up to her. That scared her so she skidaddled back to the beach. lol

Rummuser said...

What a fantastic achievement. My envious congratulations Looney. I look forward to you doing the Alcatraz swim.

Inklings said...

You were a winner the minute you entered the race.

Marf said...

From my perspective you are a super swimmer! My "swimming" is keeping my head above the water and drifting in the general direction I want to go.

Not to mention I'd get hypothermia within the first 10 minutes. I do not do well in cold water, I don't have the insulation.

I think I'll stick to warm weather bicycle rides.

Dee Ice Hole said...

I am glad you did this and finished well. I am impressed.