I think this will be my 4th Alcatraz swim coming up, Sept 18th. Each one is it's own adventure and I'll get into that in a bit. In the past, I've made the crossing with others. This is the first time I am trying to lead a couple swimmers, from Colorado. Pablo and his friend Bill. This post is for you guys, and anyone else planning to do the swim.
- avoid trying something new. use your regular suit, goggles, cap. Having said that, take a look at the below and try out what you may use before race day. You have enough time to order this stuff and try it, if you act soon.
- wear a thermal cap. What's that, you say? It's a swim cap made from wetsuit material (neoprene).
This one looks good. It actually looks better than mine. If you can try one on before purchase, ideal. If not, get something like this. The key is flexible. Mine is too tight. Warm, yes. Too tight takes it's toll on race day, and for days after, because of the chafing. Over top of your thermal cap, you will wear a regular rubber cap from your race packet.
- I have a new pair of goggles I used for my last open-water swim. They are from my favorite goggle manufacturer, Aqua Sphere. These are called Kayenne. They are nice for a couple reasons; they are super comfortable and seal well. They have a wide field of view, nice for open water. As far as lens color, clear would be ideal for Alcatraz, but not essential. I am sure even the smoke would be fine.
- That's pretty much it! They will give you ear wax to use race day, with your packet. I have always used mine. I asked around about why, and basically you want to not let your inner ear get too cold. Bad things happen if you do. (I don't remember what.) It might be disorienting for one. The other is, as you get cold, you start to get, well, dumb. It gets harder to concentrate on your stroke, and navigation and so on if you get too cold.
Specific race day stuff
This is where Alcatraz is really cool. Around 7am we all gather to walk from Aquatic Park area to the Red and White fleet, or whatever color it is. It's about a 6-8 block walk to the ferry, and essentially you're doing it in your speedo. Some people do it with a cheap pair of flip-flops. You could do it in an old pair of socks too. I'm too Irish for all that, and just walk it bare foot. We actually follow some bagpipers along the way. It's all very inspiring, walking through the famous SF waterfront with a bunch of other swimmers, the music and energy is really awesome. Oh, and some wear a throw-away tee shirt, and I've seen some wear a trash bag to stay warm. I think you can take a bag with a number on it too, and then try to find it at the finish. For us, we will have our cheerleaders carrying a towel and clothes for us.
So, anyways, we get on the ferry, and it's about 15-20 minutes over to the Island. Alcatraz. The ferry isn't allowed to get closer than 50 feet or something like that, for eco reasons. It's plenty close. Totally awesome to see it like this. At the same time you are looking back at San Francisco Bay, the city, the Bay bridge, and so on. It's pretty amazing, until you start thinking, you are getting back to the city in the water!! Yahoo!! We float around on the ferry until the organizers decide the current is as close to slack as possible. Usually, just a couple minutes, but seems really long.
The start is somewhat non-eventful. Of course people start snuggling closer and sort of pushing toward the boat gates. There are two, one on each side of the boat. The opening is wide enough for 3 to jump off at a time. Fasties get in first. Just wait. You will be in the water within 2-3 minutes even if you are in the middle of the pack. So, once you get to the gate, jump in. It's about 7-8 feet above the water. I hold on to my goggles, going in feet first, and then, as quick as possible without panicking, start swimming. Now, you may have to do a little breast stroke until you catch your breath, and sight your finish line. I sight on the two big apartment buildings behind Ghirardelli Square. you can't miss them. So, right now, do not swim too hard. In fact, you probably want to swim as slow as you can for the first 3 minutes or so, until you settle into a pace without losing your breath. Don't worry, you will have plenty of time to hit it harder later. It's going to take about 40 - 60 minutes to get across.
This hasn't always been a good thing for me, except last time. My strategy worked. Essentially, 20 strokes, then spot, 20 strokes, then spot. For my strokes, to go as straight as possible, I found when I get tired, my hands start to cross. To avoid this, I point my hands from entry to exit in sort of an A frame. The top of the A, me, and the bottom, my hands, so pointing them wide, which, in actuality, probably puts them right where they are supposed to be. Regardless, it worked. I swam straight as ever, and it made for something I could concentrate on.
More later, Guys. Let me know what questions and comments you have.
At 2:42 you can see my master's team, PCA. At 4:40 you can see the apartment buildings I mentioned for sighting and navigation.