Virgin Sunriser (Almost)

Wednesday 12/09/09

Ralph Wenzel and I are getting into a flow of Monday and Wednesday morning swims in the Bay. It’s just delightful to have a steady swim companion. Besides the camaraderie, there’s the spur to extra effort. Now that the water temperature is around 52 degrees and dropping, it’s reassuring to have the company of a fellow frigid soul. There’s also the added creativity regarding course selection.

Ralph taught me the “Maylander” course on Monday. We did a clockwise Cove, looping around the Flag and Goal Posts, hugging Muni Pier, under the Roundhouse and out to the Bad Becky. Then we reversed course and unwound the previous route in the counter-clockwise direction until we reached the Oprah. Then we swam under the Hyde Street Pier, up the fairway on the other side, around the Bad Becky and over to the Kebbe to check the thermometer there. From the Kebbe, it’s a short sprint back to the beach and hot showers and sauna. I’m not sure who Maylander is, but the swim was exhilarating. I’ll have to remember to ask Ralph about the course architect next Monday.

Ralph and I planned to swim with the Sunrisers this morning. They have been advertising a Pier 7 swim on the SERC chat group and that’s right up my alley for training purposes. It’s about a two mile swim, but should only take about forty-five minutes with the strong anticipated ebb at seven a.m. That’s a little shorter than what I’ve been doing lately, but it’s not as sheltered as Aquatic Park and has more than a modicum of “open ocean” ambience.

South End customs and common courtesy require the swimmers to help put the pilot boats away after the swim. I’m more nervous about that than I am about the swim itself. These Sunrisers are decidedly much tougher than I. The water’s cold. The air is colder. When a swim is completed, I’m ready to hightail it to the sauna. Nevertheless, I had brought my swim coat and was determined to do my part.

Ralph and I showed up at six a.m. We were there in plenty of time to help prepare and launch the “Zods,” the inflatable, motorized craft the Sunrisers use for piloting and transportation to the start. In the process, I overheard someone say that they were calling “an Alcatraz audible.” Pricking up my ears, I heard one swimmer ask if perhaps the building ebb might be a deterrent to making it to the Aquatic Park opening from Alcatraz. The reply was, “Oh, we’ll probably end up at Coughlan Beach or Fort Mason.” Well, that put a new twist on things.

I was worried before about postponing a hot shower and sauna to help pull boats. Now, I was facing scrambling into a Zodiac in the forty degree air after the swim, possibly waiting for slower swimmers, and then whizzing through the chilling breeze for another ten or fifteen minutes to get to the dock where I could help pull the boats. These Sunrisers are WAY tougher than I!

Ralph asked someone what happened to the Pier 7 plan. The answer involved a second Sunriser group (who knew there was more than one?) that swims from Alcatraz every Wednesday. The decision was to combine the two swims and increase the merriment.

I was really looking forward to getting to know these people a little better. I’d been following some of them on the SERC and Channel chat groups and knew they were on the wild and crazy side. That held more than a little appeal. This turn of events, however, shorted my circuits. Suddenly a nice, boring, two mile swim in the Cove wasn’t looking so bad. Ralph and I consulted briefly. He was still willing to go for it, but he said, “I’ve done this before. Getting into the Zodiac after a really cold swim is just miserable!” Getting to know the members of the other club was just going to have to wait.

I scratched our names off the sign-up list and we made our adieus. A few minutes later, we were on the club beach in our standard swim costumes and sporting our blinking lights. The Sunrisers were piling into the Zodiacs at the end of the dark dock and heading out for their jump at Alcatraz.

Ralph suggested we swim the Kebbe course today. I was still muddled from the hectic scene next door, so I needed to ask what that was. “Oprah, Flag, Oprah, Flag, Oprah, Flag, Oprah, Flag, Oprah.” Of course. Mr. Kebbe is still famous for his undeviating route to a 356 mile Polar Bear. We wound up doing a Modified Kebbe with a Maylander Flourish. That’s a mile and a half of back and forth followed by a trip under Hyde Street Pier, around the end, and back. We had a blast.

Standing under a hot shower afterwards, we agreed that we’d made the right choice. It’s still a long time until September and I’ll have plenty of chances to become more familiar with the folks next door. Today was a fascinating introduction, though.

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