The 2010 NYD Alcatraz swim was a humdinger. The huge tide made this a race that people will recall for several years. In a thirteen hour period, the water rose from 2.8 feet to 7.1 feet and then dropped off the chart to a -1.6 foot finish. Tides don’t come much bigger in San Francisco Bay, making it quite tricky for the organizers to pick a start time.
One hundred and twenty swimmers participated and their speeds varied from nearly world class to nearly dog paddle. The worst mistake possible would be to jump too late. This happened a few years ago and only five people finished at the club beach. All but one of the remainder were scooped up as they were being swept to the Golden Gate Bridge and points beyond. The exception wound up getting out at the beach at St. Francis Yacht Club and walking a mile back to the club barefoot in his Speedo.
In order to avoid a repetition of this scenario, the organizers scheduled a jump while there was still a strong flood. As a result, some of the slower swimmers were pushed as far east as Pier 39. Even the fastest swimmers didn't catch the ebb until they were well east of the breakwater. The stage was set for one of the most exciting aspects of open water swimming—a choice of routes. (Click here for a map)
Based on the swimmer’s local knowledge, level of craftiness, and sheer audacity, three basic choices offered themselves. The first and most natural option (marked “A” on the map) was to swim outside the breakwater and enter Aquatic Park Cove through “the opening.” This is the traditional finish for Alcatraz races and would appear to be the default option. It was also the slowest.
Swimmers with a better understanding of San Francisco aquatic geography chose the route marked “B” on the map. This option took the racer inside the breakwater and past the Bad Becky, shaving off a couple of hundred yards and providing protection from the end of the flood. Pretty smart.
The craftiest and bravest swimmers went one better than this. They took the most direct route, “C”, cutting under Hyde Street Pier. Packed with barnacle-encrusted pilings on a rip-roaring ebb tide, this path required a bit of pluck.
The water was reasonably smooth given the extraordinary tide race mid-channel. The air was moderately warm for mid-winter. The water temperature was a relatively benign 51 degrees. Visibility was good. Pilot coverage was plentiful. The best part was that everyone finished the swim and had a great time comparing notes. This was an outstanding NYD Alcatraz.
10 months ago