Escape Alcatraz Swim

Escape Alcatraz Swim

An opportunity came along for an unplanned, last minute trip to California and to travel up the West Coast with a stop off in San Francisco. When opportunities like this come along I tend to dive into them headfirst and try and work out the logistics later.

I knew this would be a great opportunity to put the AquaTrek®36 through its paces in terms of travel and getting some water time in. What I didn’t expect would be to take part in a swim from Alcatraz Island back to the shores of San Francisco. Que flashbacks of Sean Connery and Nicolaus Cage in the 1996 classic ‘The Rock’ where an escape from Alcatraz certainly didn’t look all that easy.

Sylvia at Pacific Open Water Swim Co. has a top class boat and can organise legendary swims such as the escape from Alcatraz. After a few rushed emails whilst in Big Sur (no internet signal and finding the local library to borrow some wifi) I managed to jump on a swim in less than 48 hours notice and to coincide with passing through San Francisco.

After a few hours sleep and an early start I was in the car for a 45min drive to get to Horseshoe Bay for 7am. San Francisco has more varied temperatures than Cornwall can have seasons in a day. After a warm evening the night before, a wintery cold early morning with some low lying fog was waiting for me in the bay. Bleary eyes and the usual mixture of nerves and excitement began to kick in when you’re not really too sure on what your about to embark on. 

Alcatraz has a bit of a reputation. Sitting on a lonely island ‘the rock’ in the middle of San Francisco Bay. During the war on crime in 1934 Alcatraz refortified its position as the worlds most secure prison. Places like this have a certain energy about them. It’s hard not to knowing the experiences the prisoners had here, what crimes they had committed and the failed attempts at breaking out that happened here. Stories of strong deadly currents rushing through the SF bay, cold dark waters and of course, sharks, can’t help but bring an unnerving edge to a swim.

A quick Google the night before from a good friend of ‘does San Francisco Bay have sharks’ and getting an answer of “The Bay Area is home to around 11 different species of sharks” definitely sews a seed of fear in the mind.

Waiting at the gate in Horse Shoe Bay I only had 1 other swimmer joining me, Rainie Pearce. Rainie who was with us completely by chance I already knew of. She’s our number one SF customer supplying her swimming buddies with our tow floats and a bit of a swimming legend. She has too many accomplishments to mention here but being named one of “2016 World's 50 Most Adventurous Open Water Women” I think definitely sums it up.

Despite an intimidating swimming CV to make a mere mortal such as myself want to take up land sports, Rainie was amazing. A super charged beam of positive energy and fun times wherever she goes. This quickly put me at ease and set the tone for the rest of the morning.

Sylvia, Rainie and myself headed out from the dock towards the infamous Alcatraz. Nerves starting to settle with the company I was in the excitement started to take over. Seeing Alcatraz in the flesh for the first time and from the water is an amazing experience on its own.

As we got closer to ‘the rock’ Sylvia gave us a full safety briefing, she knows the tides here well and plans the swims so you don’t get washed out to sea. As the currents pulls so strong there are 3 different marks you have to sight and aim for throughout the swim to make sure you come in on the right beaches. This knowledge would have seen many more successful escapes from Alcatraz I’m sure!

I swam in a wetsuit and Rainie was in skins, thinking the water was going to be icey cold it wasn’t at all and I would have been fine in skins. Sylvia followed us in the boat pointing out if we were off track or not to make it back to the mainland. Throughout the whole duration of the swim rainie kept stopping and screaming “isn’t this awesome – yahhooooooo!” – like a I said,  a beam of positive fun energy! Great to see so much infectious joy, especially since she’s probably done the swim easily over 50 times! 

A few mental battles with murky water and knowing sharks could be 3ft away and I’d have no idea, but the fun soon over took this. 

It took us about an hour to swim back to the SF bay before we swam back out to the boat so Sylvia could give us a lift home.

Overall an amazing experience, if only the prisoners had the AquaTrek®36 black edition im sure there would have been many more successful escapes.