[The photos above were taken by, Scott Belland, his work has appeared in Sports Illustrated. © 2010 Scott Belland Photography]
Around the Rock Swim: On Saturday morning I woke up early to go watch Rob Dumouchel do an Alcatraz race called, Around the Rock, whereas swimmers actually swim from Aquatic Park to the Alcatraz prison, then swim around the island itself, and finally back to Aquatic park. The race was almost called off due to fog but the race director allowed the race to go off 25-minutes after the initial start time once it became apparent that the fog would burn off.
On face value, a 25-minute delay does not appear to be a gamble, but what was working against this decision is that the tidal prediction for that day was off by 15-minutes. Consequently the swimmers left aquatic park during the start of the low tide.
As soon as the swimmers left the mouth of the bay, the tide carried them slowly in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Again, the swimmers were to swim around the rock counter-clockwise but by the time the swimmers reached the island, many were at the wrong end of the rock and were forced to swim against the current to fulfill the mission.
The swim was eventful for those that made it around the rock. There was a total of five Coast Guard and police events to protect swimmers from errant boats as the tide took control of the race.
The final event that ended the race was when a yacht began to sail towards the leading swimmers and the police boat had to aggressively intervene with sirens blazing and a direct, head on course with the yacht. Only with 8 feet to spare did the ‘captain” make a hard turn to the right or “starboard;” (Arr matie!) and avoid the head on collision. It was then that the race was deemed over and the swimmers were pulled from the race. I believe five or less made it without assistance.
The Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim: The race I was slated to do was canceled due to dense fog. The fog was so dense that when the kayak support staff left Aquatic Park to paddle to Alcatraz, the only sense of direction they had to locate the island was the bellow of a fog horn stationed at the island. The horn would bellow for 20-seconds so they were literally paddling blind. They had to get within 300-yards of the Island to finally see it. Once there they waited patiently for the swimmers arrive.
When the two ferries carrying the 800+ swimmers made it to the island, the doors were opened for us to leap into the “drink” and line for the race but the Coast Guard would have none of that. The race was ordered stopped and we were sent back to the mainland.
Fortunately Envirosports had an immediate “Plan B” race for us which a slight majority chose to do. The swim was a little over a mile whereas we would swim out of Aquatic Park by swimming around a breakwater and then back into the bay to the finish line where the Alcatraz finish was set up.
Since we all had chips on our ankle it did not matter when you started. This completely removed the stress of a mass start and the slower swimmers, and even the faster swimmers, could choose to go when they felt "warm and fuzzy" so to speak.
Of course I was with the first "pod" into the water for I wanted fast people to pace me to some degree. It was a workable strategy but I believe it was the Cal Poly Water Polo team that took turns running me over one by one. I had a respectable finish though placing 112th overall out of almost 500-swimmers, 11th in my age group even and I will do it again next year.