Escape from Alcatraz, September 7th 1996.

The people who organized the Escape from Alcatraz swim that I helped with last month are doing two more this month. I showed up again at 7:30 AM to volunteer as an escort kayak. The swimmers got these REALLY COOL T-shirts that had a (touched up) photograph of a swimmer in hood and goggles, with a shark porpoising next to him. Around the picture it says SWIM, OR DIE. The kayakers got a T-shirt with a boring color cartoon on it.

Despite the early start, it took forever to get organized, and we didn't get to Alcatraz until shortly after 9:00 AM. I decided to try and circumnavigate the island before the race started at 9:20. I took a bunch of pictures of all the buildings on the east side, but the west side was backlit by the early morning sun, and I didn't get a complete record. Part way around, I found a cave that I could have paddled into. Shades of the "tunnels riddling the island" that Hollywood made up in the movie "The Rock". I didn't try out the cave because I wanted to hurry and make it around the island. I shouldn't have worried. The ferry arrived late with the swimmers then took them on a ride twice around the island.

When they were ready to start, they had the kayaks form up as the starting line and told the swimmers to jump in and wait behind us until they could all get in the water. They jumped the gun and we kayakers had to hustle to get out of the way. This didn't work well, with the swimmers getting disoriented and heading into several different directions. Several of the kayaks could not get out of the way and swimmers banged into us. But after the chaos of the starting line, things settled down.

Several of the swimmers seemed quite at home in the water, pausing to talk to each other when resting, one guy even flirting with a kayaker. I saw several women swimmers in just one-piece swimsuits, but those still could have been neoprene. Watching them swim, it occurred to me that people are always gushing about the beauty and grace of seals and cetaceans in the water. How much more appropriate to appreciate the graceful form of a member of your own species in the water.

After all the swimmers made it to the finish line, I was inspired to try out the water myself in Aquatic Park. My wetsuit kept most of me warm, and my arms felt like they could get used to the cold. Just the farmer john of my 7 mm suit, however, had enough buoyancy to pull my butt up out of the water when I tried to swim under. That buoyancy caused me to tilt at a funny angle when I tried to side stroke, and the thickness of the suit made something go wrong with my scissors kick. I could practically sit up in the water without working, just a little hand sculling to hold my torso up. I'll have to try it again next time with my 3 mm suit and see if that feels more natural in the water.

This page was automatically converted from an older format. If some of the links do not work, click here to see the original.

All text and images Copyright © 1996 by Mike Higgins / contact