Monday, June 30, 2008

Escape from Alcatraz Swim


Alcatraz island.


From 1934-1963, the Federal Government operated a maximum security prison on this island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.




Most prisoners incarcerated in Alcatraz prison were those who were considered violent and dangerous, inmates considered escape risks, and who refused to follow the rules and regulations at other Federal institutions.


They were the worst of the worst.


And they were placed on Alcatraz because it was escape-proof. The emphasis was on punishment, routine and discipline -- rehabilitation was not an option.


Because of its location, the prisoners were forced to look over the Bay at San Francisco and see all that they were missing out on. They say that it was death by boredom.


I did note that there was one inmate who knew how to crochet (thanks to his grandmother) and he proceeded to teach about 21 other men how to crochet as well to pass the time...this blog is Plays with Needles afterall...


The morning of the swim was a little chilly with air temperatures around 57 degrees Fahrenheit and water temp at 53. Due to the many wildfires burning in California, the air was foggy and overcast which made it feel even colder. Many of the spectators had on winter coats, scarves and hats. We were wearing bathing suits and wet suits. Who was smarter?


The prior day we had taken a ferry out to the island for a tour. At the time, the water had 1-2 foot swells with white caps and looked pretty turbulent. I was a bit anxious about the swift current and being able to site the landmarks properly in the foggy morning. I hadn't considered the water temperature...

My friends, however, were scared to death of the cold. They told me that they had purchased "wetsuit hats" for their heads. I am not really wimpy about the cold and had done many practice swims in 58-60 degree water, so I blew them off...

My friend's doctor had told her the importance of protecting the ears since they were so close to your brain. OK folks, I had ignored her until that story.


So, I relented, and I finally bought a special hat for under my swim cap. It sure did make me look goofy!

picture courtesy of Cats' Paw on Flickr

Here is a view of the island and the park into which we would swim to finish. We needed to make sure we swam through that little opening and didn't let the current wash us past it.


Here is the view from the water. The morning of the swim I couldn't see the opening when I was swimming so I just aimed just left of the two towers.

We don't actually jump off the island. They ferry us out to the island and we jump from the boats. I met swimmers from all over the world (Ireland, Australia, Germany) who had come to San Francisco to swim this race. So, there are nuts like me all over the world!

The horn sounded and it was time to jump. I felt like I was jumping off an airplane. We had to disembark quickly and without hesitation. "GO, GO, GO" The three of us held hands and jumped! No turning back.

photo courtesy of allswede on Flickr

AHHHHH!!! When I hit the water, the breath was knocked out of me. I felt like I had just jumped into a tub of ice cubes. My first thought was..."I cannot do this. How do I get back into that boat?" It was absolutely freezing! I looked around and thought...ok, all of these other people are not climbing back into the boat...if they can handle it, so can I.

In a few minutes, my arms went completely numb and my body began to get used to the cold. Everyone in the water started to yell and I joined in too. It sounded like a battle cry and there were kayakers all around us to support us should we need it. They weren't yelling...but they were dressed in hats and coats...


At the start, I just put my head down and started to swim. In a few moments I was into my groove and just wanted to swim like heck until I could get warm again. A couple of times the waves were high and I swallowed the very-salty bay water. The choppiness plus swallowing the salty water made me feel a little queasy but that passed.

The current was stronger the closer I got toward the opening in the park wall and I had to push a little harder at that time. The fog did make it hard to see, but I used those two towers to sight by and that worked out great.

Nothing felt better than when I made it through the hole and headed toward shore. It took me about 42 minutes but it felt like an hour!

Wetsuit pictures are never pretty but I'm trying to be "real" here. I kind of look like a line backer but I am what I am...


And here I am the happy finisher...trying to stay warm under the wrap they give you. I swam from Alcatraz and it was definitely an adventure. Here are some pics of the brave women who were along with me on my journey...


Somehow Carin looks less goofy in HER hat...


And Natalie spent her time calling everyone telling her how nervous she was...

And our team cheerleaders, photographers and psychiatric support...



and here is a picture of the dolphin tattoos that our swim team gave us to make us extra strong...they worked! Then they sent us a bottle of champagne for celebration later that night....that made us strong too!


The rest of my San Francisco trip was wonderful so I'll have to tell you about that later...


I'm including a link to a YouTube video if you're interested. The conditions in this video are almost exactly the same as the day of the swim. It's a little long at 9 minutes but it's a good simulation of my swim.

Oh yeah, did I mention that there were two people taken to the hospital for hypothermia?

17 comments:

jessi said...

Wow! Good for you! I don't know if I would've been able to swim that far in that kind of weather. :)

Heather J. said...

Wow, this is SO COOL! I'm so proud of you for not getting back in the boat! The pics are great - thanks for sharing.

I'm assuming that you've read this already, but if not, you've GOT to read Swimming to Antarctica. Parts of that book kept going through my head as I read/viewed through your post...

Coach Mike said...

Very nice job Susan! Next time I want you to do another lap back to the island ;-) See you at practice tonight.

Michaeleen Blue said...

You are an amazing woman! you 3 are inspirational! I have been to Alcatraz, and stood in Al Capone's cell! I now believe it was possible to escape and survive! not easy...but possible.

Vicky aka stichr said...

You are soooooo brave!

sandra said...

This amazing. Well done.

Color Texture Stitch said...

Thanks for sharing your amazing swim! I live in S.F. and can confirm we had truly miserable weather for doing much of anything....much less a swim.

Glad you enjoyed the thread/fiber shops....just knew you would love Britex!

Congratulations,
Terry

Pigtown-Design said...

Incredible!!! Way to go!

Elmsley Rose said...

Wow - I'm speechless!

I'm a nailpolish and lipstick sort of lady, (check photo in Stitchin Fingers)in spite of some time in military officer school.

They chucked us out of boats into the sea, and got us back via winch and helicopter - the closest I've come to your experience.

I'll never forget riding those big waves!!! I think that was a LOT easer than what you did!

Sea Dream Studio said...

WOW! Amazing!!! What an adventure!!
I appreciate your kind comments on my blog. I purchase my digi elements from lots of online shops. Just google digital scrapbook shop and you will find plenty!
The sparkles are just something you can add with Photoshop.
Have fun!
~dale

Anonymous said...

So brave! Thanks for a wonderful post and a great blog! I will be bookmarking.

Jane said...

Oh my, that water looks cold!! Well done you on completing the swim, I am very impressed, and very pleased that you made it safely.
jane

omalley6 said...

Awesome job Susan! It was fun reading about your adventure in the cold, salty water. Sounds like you, Natalie, and Carin had a lot of fun.

Allison Ann Aller said...

You are an Awesome Fabulous International Power Babe! This is just fantastic...good for you!!!!!

...oh and p.s. the pictures of Alcatraz are stunning.

Elisabeth Braun said...

Yeah, you're nuts, but at least fun with it!!! Well done, what an endurance test! I'm a total wimp and couldn't survive the first minute, but I admire grit like that!=)

coral-seas said...

Awesome, I am so impressed. Thank goodness for those 'line backer' shoulders, they kept you on course and through the tiny gap in the wall. I admire the strength, emotional as well as physical that makes you even what to do this.

CA

Debra said...

Congratulations! You Rock!

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