Alcatraz Touch and Go
by Water World Swimmer Daniel Marlay
When I first started open water swimming in 2009, my singular goal was to train for an Alcatraz swim. I had heard about the swim, and it sounded like a challenge I would have to work to attain, but was doable. After a few months with Water World Swim, doing the regular Thursday and Sunday “Swims With Pedro,” I did my first Alcatraz swim. My friends thought I was crazy, but the swim turned out to be easier than I had expected. As much as I thought it was an accomplishment, I was a bit surprised to meet so many people who had done it numerous times. In fact, the thought that I was doing it for the first time made me realize I was a novice at it, compared to the others who were doing it for the 25th time, 33rd time, or whatever. Even crazier, Pedro and two other swimmers have done it well over 600 times. After the first Alcatraz swim, I caught the bug, and my own Alcatraz number has climbed over the past three swim seasons (I now stand at 14).
Of course, Alcatraz is not the only event in the bay. For 2010, I set my sights at the Golden Gate Bridge swim (from the South Tower, past the North Tower and to a rock beyond the bridge) and completed that last year. So for 2011, I knew I had to set my sights even higher, so I decided to tackle the Alcatraz Touch and Go. Touch and Go is a roundtrip Alcatraz swim. Where the Alcatraz swims usually involve going out to Alcatraz, jumping out of a boat and swimming back to San Francisco, this one starts at Aquatic Park in San Francisco, has you swim out to Alcatraz, touch a buoy just off the island, and swim back.
Was I ready for this? When I did Alcatraz crossings in May and June, the current was a beast both times, and it took a lot of effort effort to swim against it. When I got done that crossing, I was fine, but wondering if I could really just turn around and do a roundtrip. Well, there is only one way to find out…
So on August 6th, a group of 23 of us met at Aquatic Park to give it a try. Unlike most of the Alcatraz crossings, this was actually a timed race, though I had no delusions of winning. My goals were just to finish, and to not come in last. My only chances of placing were if there were only three men dumb enough to do this without a wetsuit. Still, my determination not to come in last kept me motivated. We started the race about 6:30am (ugh… why are these things so early?), and I ended up being the last one out of the opening to Aquatic Park, which was not a good start. Nonetheless, I managed to get ahead of one swimmer, and stay that way until the halfway point.
As I neared Alcatraz Island, I started looking for the halfway point, which was a yellow buoy in the water. The main support boat was off to my left, though I was told to aim towards the lighthouse. As I was swimming, I was thinking, “Where the hell is the buoy?? Where the hell is the kayaker who can tell me where the buoy is?” Not to mention, I was cursing every extra pound on my frame, as well as thanking myself for every practice swim I had done. Finally, a kayaker pointed out the buoy to my right (glad I did not swim towards the support boat), and I swam to touch it. There were two other swimmers headed towards it, so I sprinted towards it, determined not to hit the halfway point last. I am sometimes too competitive for my own good…
Upon touching the halfway point, I called out my number, and Coach Edna told me that I had gotten there in 47 minutes. A respectable time, but now it was time to turn around and swim back. Keeping in mind that I did not want to come in last, I kept ahead of the other two swimmers, though one of them was right at my heels. I did my best to stay ahead of him, and that kept me swimming my fastest most of the way back to Aquatic Park. Nonetheless, he managed to overtake me as we neared the municipal pier, and I never could catch up to him again. Additionally, the ebb had kicked in, and we were swept to the west, so I was a bit west of the opening, and had to swim a bit against the current. The current was not too bad, though, and had been almost non-existent on the way out. So I swam the rest of the way in, knowing full well that I was in the home stretch.
When I finally touched the sand, I stood up, breathed a sigh of relief, and walked across the finish line at 1 hour and 38 minutes. Then I turned around, and saw that I was not only not last, nor second to last, but there were several other people still behind me; I finished in the middle of the pack, not the end. That was a nice surprise. Still, I did not come anywhere near placing. I hit the halfway point at 47 minutes. The guy who won the race finished the whole thing in 49 minutes!
I did it, though! I set my sights at doing the Touch and Go, and I accomplished that. It was a fun swim, so if anyone is looking to step up from doing Alcatraz crossings, I had a great time and I recommend it. Apparently, I am a sucker for these sorts of things… This weekend, I will be doing the Bridge to Bridge Swim (from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge). What have I gotten myself into now?