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Alcatraz to Kirby Cove | February 16, 2020

By far, the fastest swim of my life.


Alcatraz to the Golden Gate

With a nagging case of plantar fasciitis (over two years!), I have been banished from wandering the land to wandering the waters. As a lifelong swimmer, this hasn't been terrible, but I have a hard time staying motivated. So, while I have some dream swims on my radar to help me stay disciplined, I decided to pop into a group swim with Pacific Open Water Swim to swim from Alcatraz Island to Kirby Cove, a 5.8k current- assisted swim.

Can I pull off an open water swim on minimal training?

You can see from my TrainingPeaks swim log that I really haven't been too disciplined with my swims, averaging just 7,338 yards per week since December 1, 2019. But, I know I can lean a lot on a lifetime of swimming and moderate fitness to plow through probably an hour and a half of swimming. Plus, open water is my jam so I wan't worried about the temperature or conditions. So, why not?



Let's do this!

The day of the swim was gorgeous. The weather was exceptional with clear skies, no wind, and a calm bay. Perfect! I met up with the group at around 6:00 am at the Satterlee Breakwater on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. There I found four other swimmers all bundled up watching the sunrise. Shortly thereafter, our pilots and boat captains, Brian and Sylvia, arrived. We all got acquainted, got an exceptional safety briefing, and waited patiently for a massive oil boat to cruise by.


At the last minute, my husband, Robert, decided to take the open spot on the boat and be a spectator. Fortunately, he was dressed warmly and brought a thermos of coffee. So, away we went! Getting to the island was a quick boat ride. Then it was go-time.

Donning a wetsuit, I was the second to take the leap into the water. I was surprised it wasn't colder. Word is that it was around 51F - 53F. My local waters at Avila Beach have been below 55F this winter, so I guess it just felt like home. I was actually never cold, but I do give all credit for comfort to my wetsuit.


Brian and Sylvia made an excellent video of our swim. That was an unexpected bonus! Stoked!


Full video credit goes to Pacific Open Water Swim. You should swim with them. They are great captains and pilots.

The video does a great job of capturing the swim. I really enjoyed breathing to the south and looking at the city skyscrapers. The water was fairly visible and I could see my hands and maybe 20 feet beyond. In all, the swim from the island to the bridge was smooth, fast, and easy.


Just before the bridge, Brian circled around and told me to get ready for the ride of my life and to swim like hell. Ok. Sure.


Well. He wasn't joking! Within 20 seconds I was bobbing along in 4 foot swells, with water cresting over me ever other stroke (of course, on the stroke I want to breathe on). I tried timing my breathing to be at the same time I crested each wave but that didn't work out. So, I rolled over on my back and did backstroke and let the waves crest over the back of my head. Boy was I glad I rolled over! I had the most amazing view of the underside of the Golden Gate Bridge! I did backstroke for about eight minutes and then the waters calmed. It was interesting the data my Garmin recorded during that ride.


Once the waters calmed, Brian pointed us northwest and past the beach. As we neared the shoreline, the eddy pulled us back to the east and we swam to shore. Four of us emerged and celebrated momentarily. The fifth swimmer beached just east of us in a small cove.


You can see that fatigue is visible as I swam into the beach. My stroke is horrific. My right arm barely comes out of the water. Sheesh.


Back on the boat, I was warm from the effort. I did a quick deck change and was bundled up and sipping some water. The guys that went without a wetsuit were shivering, but they seemed to warm up quickly.


All in all, this was an excellent swim. It did motivate me to get in better swim shape and step up my game. So, the event served its purpose: a fun adventure and a boost in motivation.


Here's the Garmin summary. It thinks I am an Olympic-paced swimmer now and calculated an amazing 1,575 calories burned. It was probably closer to 500 calories. It was not an all-out effort by any stretch.


I set my watch to auto-split every 500 yards. You can see a few glitches. But, overall 0:51 per 100 yard pace. My lifetime-best 100 SCY (pool) swim was a low 0:56. So, very clearly current-assisted.


Oh look! Water! Let's swim in it.

The water draws me in like a moth to light. What is the temperature? What is the visibility? How far is it to swim across? It is time to find out.

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San Luis Obispo, California

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