Tag Archives: Swimming

Mile Rock to AT&T, March 2013

Photos of our swim from close to Mile Rock to AT&T Park. Only photos of Stephanie as I was piloting her. My battery ran out so not too many photos. Other swimmers, Les, Tina, Jeff, Ann & Dan. Kayaker, Earle, Michael & Rhonda. Stephanie & Ann swam as far as Aquatic Park. I don’t know when Tina got out. Just all of a sudden she was there on the boat. Dan, Jeff & Les made it all the way to AT&T. And Kirk! He did another of his unique tricks that makes him the King of the Bay, turning the swim into a Round Trip Alcatraz, going around the back and then off to AT&T. He only got as far as Pier 38 … close! Continue reading

Kirk’s Touch and Go Butterfly

Kirk did the butterfly out to Alcatraz and back.  3 1/2 hours.  The original plan was to go out, around Alcatraz and back, but the ebb current was too strong to allow Kirk to swim around the back of the island.  He reached the island at the southwest end.  He swam around the the southeast side attempting to make the turn around the back, however the current at the corner was too strong for his swim speed doing the butterfly.  He settled for a touch and go and headed back to the city front.

Piloting Stephanie into Raccoon Strait

It was quite a challenge piloting Stephanie into Raccoon Strait from Red Rock in that 4.6 knot ebb: http://jay2.ligda.net/tide_graph.asp?tsid=91420.  We have to cross two miles of channel before the current carries us two mile down the channel passed to opening to Raccoon Strait.

The instructions were to swim at a 45 degree angle to get across the channel, but it was clear to me almost immediately after the Red Rock beach start that we would not make the opening of Raccoon Strait if we traveled at an angle.  I instructed Stephanie to aim straight across.  Shortly later Scotty, the captain of our big boat, the Dauntless, came over the radio confirming that decision, “The current it too strong we are almost to Cow City already.  Head the swimmers straight across.”

Stephanie had a tendency to pull a little to the left.  As I keep the kayak in line towards the sighting goal she would veer off, getting further to the left of me.  I thought this was OK.  I was being ultra conservative with the line, trying to get across the channel first and then swimming with the current along Tiburon into Raccoon Strait, so her veering a little would probably still get us there.  I’m never 100% sure about these things.

As we were making progress across the channel I would update Stephanie on a sighting target from time to time as the current carried us passed the last one.  At one point Stephanie made the comment, “I wish I were a faster swimmer so I could swim with the current.  I hate always having to swim across it.”  The faster swimmers were able to make take more of an angle with the current as they would spend less time getting across, and therefor be less affected by it.  I told Stephanie I understood, as I am a slower swimmer as well.   She swam on.

There were three other swimmers near us.  Melissa was with her brother, Teo, in the kayak.  There were further north that us, making a more conservative line.  Joseph and Denys were with kayaker, Rhonda.  They were south of us, taking a more direct line.  We were all about even as far as distance across the channel.  Up ahead I could see more swimmers in the distance, far to the south and closer to the strait.  It is hard to tell how they were doing from such a distance.

I could hear the lead swimmers pilot on the radio commenting about how far from the point on the north side of the strait they should stay to avoid the back eddy there.  I chuckled t myself.  That is something we will not have to worry about … if we make it into the strait at all it will not be on the north end.

As we drew nearer I was never really sure if we were on target or not.  About half the time I thought we were, the other half I thought we were going to miss.    Eventually we were close enough to have a good view of Point Campbell on Angel Island.  This is where the current will split around the island.  We wanted to be past Point Campbell in the current that will sweep into Raccoon Strait.  Otherwise we would be swept around the east side of the island.  We still had a ways to go to be passed that point.

I kept an eye on the swimmers that were way ahead to see how they were being pushed.  They appeared to be in the correct line of current and were being carried to the south side of the strait.  I looked over at Rhonda and her swimmers.  The distance between us was becoming greater.  If I had a question about whether we would make it, I did not think they would make it at all.  I envied Teo and Melissa to the north.  They had a much better line, which was soon to be confirmed as we made the final approach.

Finally the current has pushed us passed the north side of the strait.  I could see the houses along that shore, however we were still not passed Point Campbell, therefor still in the current that was sweeping us along the east side.  Not good!  Teo & Melissa were suddenly ahead of us.  Taking the better route, they were in the correct current stream, which just carried them on into the strait ahead of us.  I began to worry for us.  The opening is about 3/4 of a mile, but that distance can go quick with a strong current.  I knew we had to get across that current line as quick as possible.  But I also knew we were close.

I got Stephanie’s attention and instructed her to power as hard as she could for about 5 minutes towards those houses on the north shore.  I could tell she was a little frustrated.  She wanted to be swimming with the current rather than fighting it.  Once we crossed that line, however, she would be.

It was a little taste of heaven once we cleared it.  “You’re OK now,” I told her.  We stopped and she fed.  The current was now carrying us towards Ayala Cove, inside the strait.  Teo & Melissa were still ahead of us, but no longer pulling away.  Rhonda and her swimmers … well it looked like they were getting pushed passed the opening.  Later I heard Scotty on the radio to her, “Get your swimmers in close to shore.”  They were on the island side, passed the opening fighting the current trying to get back in.   Within a few minutes they decided to swim into the beach, call it quits for the day, take photos, and get back in the boat, both happy with their accomplishment that day.

The current inside Raccoon Strait is a giant “S” when ebbing.  It comes into the strait from the north and pushes across to Ayala Cove.  It then bounces off the island and shoots across to the north to Belvedere Cove in Tiburon, where Sam’s Restaurant is (it’s a pretty good bet that those two coves were carved out by the currents over time).  Then it bounces off Tiburon out passed Angel Island, into the middle of the bay and eventually out the Gate.

Stephanie and I swam with the current to Ayala Cove.  The water started getting choppy as it was reflecting off the island.  Stephanie said she wanted to swim out into the channel a little more to get out of the chop.  I almost told her not to, to just let the current take her ther, but I let her go.  I’m never 100% sure, myself, so I let her do what she thought was best.

After a little while swimming with the current I commented to Stephanie, “See how far in the middle we are now?”  The current was carrying us to Sam’s.  We were still pretty far from it, but were getting close to it faster.  With that, were were starting to get back into another “danger” zone of being swept passed the island.  We wanted to turn right at the end of the island to make it to the west side, Red Buoy #2.  However, were so far north of the island now that by the time we would catch the current bouncing off Sam’s that the current would also have carried us too far west passed the island.  This is indeed what happened.  We watch the island getting further away with no way to really fight the current to get back to it.  “We are going to the Golden Gate Bridge,”  I joked with her.

At this point the Dauntless was nearby picking up Melissa, who was still ahead of us, but on a better line for the island.  Stephanie told me she was done for the day.  I let the Dauntless know.  It was 1/4 of a mile away opposite the current.  Stephanie had to swim against the current to get there.  The Dauntless, however, was drifting with the current towards her.  She was tired and would have rather not made that last effort, but what can a swimmer do, when the boat is way over there!

Lost in the Bay

copyright ©, 2011

I have this big celebration planned for my 99th and 100th Alcatraz crossing next Saturday, a swim from Angel Island to Alcatraz and then to the City.  I have a slew of people organized for the swim and celebration.  The issue is that I was only at 96 crossings.  My plan was to do a bump-and-run (out to Alcatraz and back).  The goal is two fold, to get to #98 and to get a long swim in before attempting the long swim this Saturday.  I need to make sure my swim endurance is up.  It was a few months ago that I did a 3 hour swim, however have not been working out regularly.

The bump-and-run was planned for Monday.  I looked at the current chart and saw a 2.2 flood dying at about 7 AM going into a 4.0 ebb.  I scheduled the swim for a 5 AM jump to avoid the strong ebb.

I lined up a friend to pilot me and emailed a few swimmers that have a similar pace as mine to join me and to help share the cost.  There were a total of four swimmers including myself.  My pilot’s brother asked if he could join his sister in the boat (rigid-inflatable boat or “RIB”).  Of course this is great.  He has kayaked for many swims and it is good to have a second pair of eyes.

The day before the swim, three things happened.  First one of the swimmers backed out.  I attempted to find another 4th, but could not.  3 would be easier on the pilot anyway so I did not mind.  This also prompted me not to ask the pilot’s brother to kayak instead of co-pilot the RIB.  I thought 3 people would be easy enough for the RIB to keep an eye on.  This turned out to be a mistake.  With a kayak the coverage would have been better even for three swimmers.

Also I realized I read the currents wrong.  7 AM was the peek of the 4.0 ebb and not the end of the 2.2 flood.  A bump and run with a 4.0 ebb is a much harder swim.  I remembered just a couple weeks ago 1,800 swimmers did the same as the second stretch of our swim for the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon with the same ebb.  I thought if they could do it, so could we.  Game on!  While a harder swim, it can also be fast.  If fast I might not get in the long swim that I wanted.

The 3rd thing was that I learned another group from the club was planning the same swim, but a one hour later jump.  I contemplated moving ours to jump at the same time.  It is better with two boats and two groups even if the groups are separate.  I elected not to do this because one of our swimmers needed to be back early to get to work in Sacramento.  As it turns out she swam a little longer than expected and wound up late anyway, but I’m get ahead of myself in this story.

The swim was set.  I picked up my pilot and her brother at her apartment at 4:15 and we headed to the club.  We all got ready fast, did a quick briefing and headed out.  Jump at Pier 35, bump Alcatraz and swim into Yacht Harbor.  That was the plan anyway.

The fastest way to swim an Alcatraz crossing is to start at Pier 35 (ish) and swim out during an ebb.  The current does most of the work.  We sight off Point Blunt of Angel Island and swim, almost past Alcatraz until the yellow sign lines up with the chimney.  Then turn into the island being careful not to swim past the yellow sign or the current will carry us around the back.

So that was the idea for the first leg.  I admit I’m a terrible podder.  I have a hard time keeping with other swimmers.  I saw the other two swimmers to my left, but they were getting further away.  I was already in danger of missing the sign on Alcatraz so rather that swim towards them I just kept on course.

I did not make the sign.  I got pretty darn close!  Pilot and brother were cheering me on but the current was too strong pushing me back.  I gave up and reached the island at the rocks and stood there on them.  “Were are the others?” I asked.  “They are on the other side,” she said.  I started to swim in that direction to catch up with them but then she said it was OK I could start swimming back.  This was the last mistake … on both of our parts.  I should have been repositioned to where they were.  It would not have been a loss.  I was already at the island and would not have been repositioned too far away that I couldn’t count the return trip for #98.

So I started swimming back while the RIB zipped off to check on the other two swimmers.  A little while later she returned and instructed me to sight more towards the east.  The current was strong pushing us west rather fast.  I obeyed and she zipped off again.  That was the last I saw of her during the swim.  The two groups of swimmers were getting too far apart.  When she came back to find me again, she could not.  I was on my own.

It took me a while to realize that.  After ten or fifteen minutes without seeing her I started to worry.  I could tell I was getting swept west faster than what could be safe.  The Golden Gate Bridge was getting bigger too quick.  I kept going, but would stop every once in a while to look for her.  Each time I stopped I would lose ground getting across before reaching the bridge.  After a few time and another ten minute I had my little panic attack.

I stopped and yelled for the RIB, a sound that spread out in a circle around me only to die out before it reached any ears, how quiet our voices are at full volume when surrounded by nothing.  I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my body.  The shore was still far away and that damned bridge was approaching quick with the current.  The bay seems mighty big when I’m alone in the middle of it, and I was heading right for the center span of the bridge.  I thought if I got swept out there that that would be the end of me.  I would get washed out to sea and eventually drowned.  I contemplated what options I had as I was convinced I was about to be washed out to sea.  Should I risk wasting my energy swimming or should I just sit there treading water until someone found me?  The Marin headlands looked closer than the San Francisco shore, perhaps I could reach there.  I was resigning to the fact that I was going out to sea and even began contemplating my death.  Would this be the end?  Would I be the one South End swimmer that loses his life in the bay?

“Swim … I must swim!” I told myself.  This is all on me now.  I cannot count on anyone rescuing me.  If I’m to survive I have to do it myself.  I cannot afford to panic.  Panic is the real demon here.  It can take a strong swimmer and turn him into a drowning baby in the bay.  I must let it go.  I could also not afford to get fatigued.  All I could afford to do is swim.  I put my head in the water and swam.  I did not look up again for a boat to rescue me.  I did not look at the bridge.  I kept my breathing to the left.  It’s a “Do no look down” sort of scenario.  I did not want to see how close to the bridge I was getting or it might induce more panic.  Knowing how close it was would not help me any.  I was going to cross under the bridge wherever I was whether I knew where it was or not.

My goal was to get to the south tower and hang onto or climb up on it until someone found me.  I learned later this is not a good idea because the currents can pull people under, so it is a good thing I missed it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Once I got over the panic attack I was strong.  I have swum for three hours before.  I knew I could do it again.  I didn’t have water or nutrition, but have also done long swims without them in the past.  I knew I could do it again.  I also wasn’t worried about the cold.  The water temperature had warmed up enough that I could stay in it for a long time.  Being hit by a boat didn’t worry me.  Heck if there was a boat in sight I would be grateful … perhaps for a rescue.

Even if I missed the south tower (which you already know I did), there was Baker Beach.  While it is a ways away south from the bridge, there is a back eddy there.  Once I reached the back eddy I would no longer be washing out to sea with the current.   I had just kayaked some swimmers to Baker Beach just two days prior so I was familiar with these currents.

I began to relax and even enjoy myself.  It is not often I get to just swim without the concern of other swimmers or pilots giving me instructions, sometimes in contradiction to what I wanted to do.  Yes, there was a certain freedom in my experience.

As I swam, I kept my sighting perpendicular to the shore.  I wanted to go in as short a line as possible.  I thought this was better than trying to swim towards the east and fight the current to gain a little time against the ebb, even if that little bit of time gained might help me make my goal of the south tower.  It would be Ok if I missed the tower.

Miss it I did.  I don’t know how long I was swimming.  Even breathing to my left I could see the south tower getting closer and realized I was getting too close to the bridge to reach it.  Under the bridge I went with the current.  That’s OK.  Plan B = Baker Beach.  I was still feeling strong.  The only setback was that the water can get quite rough on the other side of the bridge, making swimming a little more challenging.

Luckily, I was blessed with calm water.  There was only one fright when under the water I sighted the red blob of a nettle jellyfish.  These are the stinging kind!  Just as I sighted it my hand hit it on the top of the head, not where the stinging tentacles are.  A few seconds later I felt my foot kick it … again on the head.  I panicked a bit not knowing how many of its friends were with him.  “That’s panic,” I reminded myself and let it go.

I was still only breathing only on the left side.  Once on the other side of the bridge I could see how much southern progress I was making as I kept eye on the features of the bridge and watched them pass.  This was comforting.  Soon I was passed the south tower, and while later I could feel the water getting choppy.  That was a sign that I was crossing the current line into the back eddy.  Then it calmed down.  I stopped and looked up.  It seemed so still.  No more current rushing me out the gate to a death at sea.  I was happy.

I could see the familiar landmarks of Baker Beach.  Just two days before I kayaked a few swimmers into Baker Beach so I was familiar with the water and landmarks.  “How fun it would be to swim into Baker Beach,” I thought after kayaking those swimmers that other day.  Now it looked like I was going to get my chance.  What I was going to do once I got there I don’t know.  Me standing on the beach with nothing but a swim suit, cap and goggles … earplugs too.  I figured I would hike up to the road and flag down a vehicle.

This plan would not be needed however as I saw a small fishing boat about 200 yards to the left near the shore.  I contemplated “fishing boat or beach?”  I knew there were people on the boat so headed in that direction.  I waved my arms at them and swam up.  “I’m lost” I told them, “Can I come on board.”  They were Asian men.  I wondered for a second that they might not speak English, but the reply came in English, “Yes.”  “Do you have a radio?” I asked as they were helping me on board.  “Cell phone” he said.  I situated myself on a seat in the front of the boat.  He handed me his cell phone and his warm coat.

I immediately called the Coast Guard … 411 first to get the number.  I couldn’t get vessel traffic, who I knew was on the radio and could reach the RIB, so I called the general San Francisco Coast Guard number.  “I’m a swimmer that got lost, I don’t know if I’ve been reported lost.”  They did not have a lost swimmer report.  This made me a little mad.  I explained to them the situation and asked them to call the RIB and the South End Rowing club.  They said they’d do their best.  I learned later from the pilot’s brother that they did report us lost after about forty minutes that they last saw us.  There seemed to be a communication breakdown between the Coast Guard, vessel traffic and the RIB.

After a little while I got a call back from Robin from the club.  I explained to her the situation.  She said she see what she could do.  Not knowing what had happened, I had pictured that the RIB would have picked up the other two swimmers by now and may have given up on me and called the Coast Guard.  I wanted people to call her or the other swimmers to let them know I was alright.  I was not sure how I’d get home though.

The time on the cell phone said 7:30.  We jumped at 5:10.  So I was swimming for 2 hours 20 minutes.  That’s a pretty good haul.  I made it to the shore … or close enough, so I would count this as #98.  Also I got in a long swim too!  My swim endurance seems good enough for the swim next weekend.

So then I just sat there for a while … cell phone in hand.  I was shivering.  Are you OK? The fisherman asked.  “Yes,” I replied.  I knew the shivering would stop soon.  The water was not that cold as the season was warming and I was not too uncomfortable with the post-swim shivering.  “Do you want some water and a sandwich?” he asked.  I took him up on that without hesitation.

It’s funny how I do not know anyone’s phone number.  With cell phones, we do not use numbers anymore, just click on their name and the call is made.  I was sitting there with that cell phone and did not know anyone’s number that I could call.  Tina!  I knew Tina’s number only because when I got mad at her last year I took her out of my contacts.  Every communication we had after that came up with her number instead of her name and I memorized it that way.  I got her answering service.  I left a message about what happened and asked her to call the pilot and the other swimmers and let them know I was OK.

Then I remember 411 again.  I tried to find a listing for the other swimmers, but could not.  I tried our RIB pilot and got her mom.  I explained the situation to her mom and asked for her cell phone number.  She dug it up and read it to me.  I did not have anything to write with (something I do not think to carry when I swim).  I tried to memorize it but did not do a good job and did not connect.  That was the last call I attempted to make … except Tina a few more times.

“How long do you guys stay out here?” I asked the fishermen?  “Until we catch our limit,” He replied.  He told me they were from Oakland.  I didn’t know how I was going to get back.  I could hang out there all day if I needed to.  I might end up sunburned though.  They had an extra fishing pole.  Perhaps I could fish with them?  Oh, but I don’t have a fishing license.  All I could do is sit there.

A lot of time went by before the phone rang.  It was the Coast Guard.  They told me they were in touch with the RIB and let them know I was safe.  A few minutes later I spotted a small craft coming under the bridge.  “That could be them,” I thought.  I heard someone call my name.  “That’s strange,” I thought, “They are too far to be calling my name.  I looked around and did not see any boats near by.  “Jay,” the voice said again.  Then I spotted the two yellow caps in the water.  They were still swimming!  My God, I was out of the water for and hour already and they are still in it!  No RIB in sight.  The fishermen zipped over to pick them up.  They were no longer concerned with fishing anymore and reel their lines up into the boat.  After picking them up they started bringing us in under the Golden Gate Bridge.  I was plenty warm so took off the coat for one of the swimmers.  The wind chill was a little unpleasant on my bare skin, but I could live with it.

The phone rang again.  It was our pilot’s brother in the RIB.  We had contact!  He said they were looking for us near Crissy Field.  I told the fishermen and they steered us in that direction.

There were lots of boats out there.  I learned later the Coast Guard issued a mayday for three lost swimmers.  Boats came out from all over to look for us.

We reunited with our RIB.  There was also the second RIB from the other group that had already successfully completed the very same swim we were attempting.  The RIB came back out to help look.  We divided up between the two RIB \s and departed back to the club.  I was still feeling mad at our pilot so got in the other RIB.

When we were back on the dock I caught our pilot’s eyes and could see the sorrow and regret.  We fell into a tearful embrace.  My anger dissipated.  I learned later that the two groups of swimmers were getting too far apart.  She was moving back and forth between us.  Then one time when she came to find me, she could not.  She went back to find the other two and then could not find them either.  We were all lost!  The current was moving us much faster that she estimated and wound up looking for use too far east while we were getting swept west.  The problem was us being spilt up and/or not having a kayak.  So many lessons to learn!

She told me that while she was worried sick she knew we were all strong swimmers and that we could make it.  She was looking for us by Crissy field.  It never dawned on her that we would go beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.  If you look at the map below it seems unlikely that we would.  The bridge is almost in a straight line directly west.  It looks as though in order to get there that we were making no progress south at all.

I also learned in later conversations that because I called her mother that they were able to get a hold of me.  Her mom called the brother.  The brother said, “I can’t talk now Mom we have a situation here.”  The mom said, “I know you have a situation.”  The brother instructed her how to retrieve the phone number for the fisherman’s cell phone from the records.  That was when I received the call from them.

Back at the club everyone seemed aware of the situation.  I was a little embarrassed and ashamed.  Glad we were all safe though.  Things happen to teach us a lesson.  As long as no one ends up hurt or institutionalized I’m happy to learn the lesson.  I look back at the decisions I could have made differently.  I think next time I’ll error to the conservative side.  Better to be safe to swim another day.


(currents that day: http://jay.ligda.net/tide_graph.asp?tsid=421703)

April Mile Rock to Bay Bridge

The swim started at Mile Rock in San Francisco. Six swimmers with three kayaks. The water proved to be too rough out there so swimmers and kayakers were gather up by our support boat (the Dauntless) and repositioned to the Golden Gate Bridge. The destination Candlestick Point. The currents were not strong enough to support us reaching Candlestick Point. One swimmer made it passed the Bay Bridge. The rest almost made it to the bridge.

2011 April Point Bonita to San Quentin

The route was from Point Bonita to San Quentin … 12 miles. Seven swimmers with support from four kayaks and one big boat. Six swimmers start at Point Bonita, one at Kirby Cove. Five make it through the end of Raccoon Strait. Two swim for four hours and almost reach the destination.


2011 March Swim Until Arms Fall Off

‎9 swimmers with support of The Dauntless and 4 kayakers set out to swim from Candlestick Point to Mile Rock (15 miles) or until their arms fell off. After the Bay Bridge 5 swimmers remained. The water was cold due to snow runoff. Our non wetsuited swimmers could not stay in as long. The rest of the 5 made it as far as Alcatraz before the current switched directions stopping them dead in their tracks.