Monday, April 12, 2010

Alcatraz Swim

A short three months ago, RiderTurbo was one of the lucky few to win a coveted lottery entry place into the 30th Anniversary Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, to be held in San Francisco on May 2nd, 2010. Given historical lore of failed prison breaks from the famed Alcatraz Island and the intimidation factor of the associated swim leg of the triathlon-- billed with freezing cold, shark-infested waters and a strong current -- Turbo along with Ridermama and Riderzoe flew up to San Francisco last weekend for a practice swim crossing with Gary Emich, Alcatraz Swim Master with 684 crossings recorded.

We all have stretch goals, and for the land-loving cyclists of Ranch West Coast, the Alcatraz swim certainly qualifies. The pre-swim briefing had coach Gary giving a primer on the tidal flows in the San Francisco Bay and seabed topography around Alcatraz. The tide in the Bay reverses between “ebb and flood” every six hours and swimming across it is complicated by eddies and “venturi” bottlenecks in certain places around rip-rap and shore edges. Gary also provided guidance on navigational issues. Its hard to know where to “sight” when swimming in open water because eyes are at water level and there are no lane markers or lane lines like in a pool, and particularly so for the Alcatraz Swim. So Gary provided recommendations of landmarks on which to sight off of while swimming. If it is clear visibility, it is pretty simple to sight off the Sutro tower in San Francisco when swimming across from Alcatraz. But if its poor visibility, you must sight off a sequence of landmarks including the Fontana apartments, Four Mason Trees and Piers, Wave Organ, Palace of Fine Arts and red roof of the St Francis Yacht Club, as described in this exciting instructional video.

The challenge is compounded by the fact that when swimming in a southerly direction one is actually moving rapidly in a southwesterly direction due to the current. If you sight incorrectly, the current can sweep you out toward sea via the Golden Gate bridge (see photo) and you could end up, say, a mile west of target exit point. That’s a long way to swim back, particularly if you must fight against the current, which is almost impossible to do when you swim slower than the current is moving! The coach also contracted with a coast-guard approved safety boat to accompany the swim, from which RiderMama and RiderZoe shot photos and video.

All went smoothly and Turbo swam across the Bay in 43 minutes feeling surprisingly strong. After a lovely brunch recuperating with friends in the area, Turbo was glad to have extinguished the psychological demons associated with this infamous swim. All trained and ready to up for Ranch West Coast, the Navy Seal olympic distance triathlon in San Diego and then the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in May!

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riderchiche said...

Well done riderturbo! Great job with a very difficult task!
We look forward to the posts of the upcoming triathlons...

riderpitts said...

the race will be a mighty post

RiderNOSHOW said...

nice swim. where's the vid?