For six years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area – and not once did it occur to me that anyone would swim in the Bay. Literally and figuratively, I swam in a concrete box. So when I returned this past weekend for the first time in several years, a top priority was a visit to Aquatic Park.
Part of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Aquatic Park is the hub of open water swimming in the city, and among most historically significant swim spots in the world. The cove – bounded by horseshoe-shaped Municipal Pier, Hyde Street Pier, and the Maritime Museum beach – is closed to boats and offers a safe, protected venue for cold-water swimming.
Two outfits, the South End Rowing Club (SERC) and the Dolphin Club, organize most out-of-cove swim events in the Bay (Swim-Art should also be mentioned). The clubs are next-door neighbors in Aquatic Park and both buildings are open to the public.
The weekend of my visit happened to coincide with one of the longer SERC events – a 10km swim from Point Bonita (the southwestern-most edge of Marin County, 2.8 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge) to Aquatic Park.
SERC events are open only to SERC members (same for Dolphin Club events), so the original plan was for me to paddle for Cathy – a South Ender and friend from Jamie’s swim camp. However, late last week it became apparent that she would be unable to swim due to an ankle injury.
This gave rise to the semi-ridiculous idea for me to join the South End and, in my first full day as a member, do one of their longest “Nutcracker” swims. I would simply take Cathy’s place in the water, and she would take my place on the water.
I hadn’t really been doing much cold-water ocean swimming lately – an occasional 45-minute lunchtime swim at Goleta Beach – but… whatever! Santa Barbara has been 58-60F (14.5-15.5C), and this would be two hours at 54-55F (12.5C), but… whatever! I’ve found it’s not helpful to dwell on such things.
After submitting my membership application mid-day Saturday, Cathy and I hopped in the cove for a quick dip. She won’t admit this, but I suspect she wasn’t sure I knew what I was getting into; here was a face-saving opportunity to reconsider.
Wading into the “refreshingly” brisk cove waters, we ran into Suzie – another friend from Jamie’s swim camp and a very fun lady. From the South End dock, we swam out to the gap between the curved pier and the breakwater; then turned right and swam along (and outside) the breakwater to the end; then retraced our strokes back to the gap; then swam around the rest of the cove and back to the dock. We were in the water about an hour, with a few chat breaks. I was cold at the end, but not unbearably so. A few minutes later, I discovered why hot showers are inadvisable in treating hypothermia – all the cold blood from your extremities rushes to your core and all of a sudden you’re freezing.
Beyond a door at the far end of the showers is the famous South End sauna. This, I found, was a far preferable thawing location. Alone in the wood-paneled room, I sat on the top step next to the rocks, and considered what, indeed, I had gotten myself into.
To be continued…