The Mr. T

Monday 05/03/10

Ralph Wenzel and I roll into the Dolphin Club at our usual time on Monday. Because of business travel, we haven’t seen one another for a week and we both look forward to swimming together again. I retire to the weight room to lift for a few minutes and warm up my core. I will need a warm core. With the spring snow-melt and runoff, the water temperature has dipped again and it’s hovering around 53 degrees on the ebbs. This morning is an ebb tide and it’s definitely cold.

The last quarter moon is only two days away, so I expect a relatively smaller neap tide swing. Perhaps I should have checked the tide book. It predicted an ebb current at the Golden Gate Bridge of 3.9 knots at 8:08a. 3.9 knots is about 4.5 miles per hour. With the extra water streaming out from the Delta, this was probably a conservative estimate.

It’s 6:45a when we wade into the water. Between the beach and the plunge, we have a quick route consultation and decide on an “inside-outside.” This will take us to the Bad Becky and then on to the east end of the breakwater. The South Enders call this endpoint “the creakers” because it used to be marked with large creosote posts that waved in the current and made a creaking noise. The posts are gone, but the name remains. From the creakers, we planned to swim north of the breakwater and back to the opening.

Just past the Bad Becky, we meet a few South End members swimming west. They are coming back from a Pier 39 Sunriser swim. After a brief exchange of “hellos,” Ralph and I continue our slow trudge east. Near the end of the breakwater, the shelter from the ebb begins to dissipate and our progress slows further. The swirling current brings even colder water swilling up from the bottom. Oddly, I find this invigorating rather than intimidating. We are both having a great time!

Rounding the creakers, we meet another group from the South End. The flat water and clear sky have us all in a good mood. Sausalito sparkles distinctly across the Bay. The San Francisco city front gleams in the brilliant, golden sunrise. Once again, we savor the wilderness experience in an urban setting.

The whirling current whizzes us west in fits and starts. The churning but flat water alternates between cold and colder. When we reach the Aquatic Park opening, I suggest that we keep going to Fort Mason and Ralph replies, “That’s just what I was thinking!”

The ebb doesn’t seem to be providing much of an assist. We stroke past Muni Pier like two horses in harness with a slight tailwind. Reaching the easternmost pier of Fort Mason, we discover that the truck tire which serves as a fender is too high out of the water to receive its ritual slap. During the brief pause, we can see that the ebb is slight. Going back against the current should be no step for two steppers like us. Grinning at one another, we start stroking again.

We make our way steadily east past the greywacke sandstone of Black Point. As we approach the curve of Muni Pier, our progress slows to a crawl. A man with a hat leans on crossed arms against the side of the pier and watches us struggle against the current. He watches for a long time only moving his head. At the northernmost edge of the curve of the pier, the ebb increases. It is buffeting us cruelly.

Seemingly telepathically, we both start sprinting. I begin thinking of the moment in the English Channel when my pilot might ask that I pick up the pace to achieve a certain milestone. I’m swimming almost as fast as I possibly can. I’m also concentrating on maintaining the smooth glide that Coach Val has taught me. Even so, we measure our progress in inches per minute. Our progress is not exactly glacial. It only seems so.

After about fifteen minutes of sprinting, we reach the corner of the Roundhouse. Here, we are able to reduce our speed somewhat, but still have to be careful not to get swept into the jagged posts at the periphery of the pier. A couple of dozen more strokes and we are safely inside Aquatic Park and heading for home.

In observance of the Dolphin Club rules regarding out-of-cove swims, we warm up in the South End sauna. The Pier 39 Sunrisers have long since cleared out and we have the place to ourselves. After discussion, we decide that this swim route needs a name. We christen it, “Mr. T.”

Wednesday is the South End’s annual “Cinco de Mayo--Five Coves of Death” swim. This swim will probably take me about two and a half hours to complete. Given that I’m going to have a fairly strenuous workout in the pool on Tuesday, digging so deep today was probably not such a good training stratagem. On the other hand, I derived a great deal of mental comfort discovering that I could indeed make an extra effort when required. Hopefully, all these experiences will contribute to a successful Channel crossing.

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