The Alcatraz Swimming Society

The Alcatraz Swimming Society

Recently I had the pleasure of joining the Alcatraz Swimming Society (ASS) for one of their weekly swims. The ASSes are a few South Enders who really, really like to swim to (and from) Alcatraz. The day I swam, it was co-founder Gary Emich‘s 985th Alcatraz crossing (!). Gary and Stevie Ray Hurwitz (also in the water) are in a heated but friendly race to 1,000 crossings.

We jumped at 6:45am from Pier 33 into slack-ish 51.1-degree water. Air temp was around 50-flat, putting the combined “open water chill factor” right at the feared 100 barrier. Heightening the thermal challenge were 10-knot winds (gusting to 15) out of the SW.

Sync-swimming with Stevie Ray.
Sync-swimming with Stevie Ray.

I entered the water last, sprinted for a couple minutes to catch up to the others (and also to warm up), and then started filming. Swim, pause, film — rinse & repeat. At one point I was even doing single-armed backstroke while holding the wrist-mounted camera steady on the other arm.

The video’s a little bumpy (but so was the ocean):

Swimming to Alcatraz in March from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.…

--READ MORE--

Same Water, Different Worlds: A tale of two swims in San Francisco Bay

Same Water, Different Worlds: A tale of two swims in San Francisco Bay

Last weekend I had the pleasure of escorting Cathy on a big, cold swim in San Francisco Bay to celebrate her birthday. We’re calling it the “Three Bridges” swim: She swam from the Third Street Bridge in McCovey Cove (the original location of the South End Rowing Club in 1873), under the Bay Bridge, and under the Golden Gate Bridge, before finishing at Kirby Cove on the Marin Headlands.

3bridges_gps

8.7 miles in 2 hours, 10 minutes (with a push from the ebb tide) in 51-degree water, without a wetsuit. It was a damn impressive, inspiring swim, and I’ve never seen Cathy swim so well. She seems totally at home in cold, rough water – and indeed she seems to thrive, the worse conditions become.

With El Sharko‘s steady hand at the tiller, I managed the feedings and aimed my GoPro:

Cathy’s “Three Bridges” SF Bay Swim: 3rd St, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate from Evan Morrison on Vimeo.


Some interesting and sad context to Cathy’s swim: It was (coincidentally) the same morning as the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, during which one of the athletes died in the swim leg.…

--READ MORE--

Maui Channel Relay: The Video

Maui Channel Relay: The Video

Last September I joined some San Francisco friends in Maui for a memorable few days of swimming and leisure (but mostly leisure). You may have seen the short video I posted a while back of my solo Maui Channel swim. Two days before the solo, I did the same swim with my friends in the annual Maui Channel Swim Relays.

So, this video has been a long time in the making. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing? Nothing beats the February doldrums like Hawaii (or at least, thinking about Hawaii).

The relay was loads of fun and mostly uneventful, with the unfortunate exception of our third swimmer getting tangled in a jellyfish (probably a box) only a few minutes into her 30-minute leg. She got on the boat and (as allowed by the rules) we turned off the engine and floated in place. At the next change-over, we put our next swimmer in the water and continued on our way.

We all got “zapped” a few times by jellies, but we made it to the finish at Kaanapali Beach without further incident.…

--READ MORE--

Avila Polar Plunge

Avila Polar Plunge

So, here’s what I did for New Years’:

Photo by Ed

Not pictured is the Avila Pier, from which I had just leaped.

See Rob there, already in the water, closest to me, holding a GoPro on his wrist? He’s about to take this picture:

Photo by Rob D, instagrammed by yours truly

The water was nice, about 53F. Typically I would at least wear a cap at this temperature, but I forgot it. Oops. Ice cream headache.

“Errrggmmhh.” Photo by Rob D, instagrammed by yours truly

Here’s Cathy, a somewhat more photogenic jumper:

Photo by Rob D

As it turns out, Cathy and I are experienced hands at this sort of thing. Back in September in Maui, this happened:

(NOTE: For those reading via RSS or email subscriptions, use the link at the bottom of this post to see the video.)

Anyway, the swim back to shore was about 400m. We sat on the beach for the next couple hours, re-warming and eating empanadas with our fellow outlaws.

A fine start to 2013.

Some other reports from the day:

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 5: The Test

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 5: The Test

In case you missed it…

Sometime between 2 and 3 in the morning, I had decided to spare everyone another (potentially) 10 hours of needless unpleasantness, and end my swim. I was just waiting for the right time; a convenient excuse. If Mark or Cathy or Rob or Dave had said at some point that night, “Evan, it’s pretty rough out here. Maybe you want to get on the boat and go home?”, I can’t say I’d have insisted on continuing.

It’s a testament to the loyalty and intestinal fortitude of my crew and observer that I never got that chance. Three hours later, I was still swimming.

Video still courtesy of Element 8 Productions

At 5:30am, we were halfway across the channel – 8.3 nautical (9.6 statute) miles to go. At 5:45, the first hint of grey appeared on the horizon: nautical twilight. And it changed everything.

As any Catalina swimmer knows: The dark thoughts, the “witches,” are inseparable from the literal darkness of the night.…

--READ MORE--

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 4: The Data

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 4: The Data

In case you missed it:

The shortest-line distance from Santa Cruz Island to the mainland is 16.4 nautical miles (18.9 statute) – starting at San Pedro Point, finishing at the southern end of Hollywood Beach, north of the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor. Capt. Forrest actually plugged in a slightly more distant waypoint – the resort at Mandalay Beach – which made it a 16.6-nautical mile swim. I don’t know why, but that’s what he did.

To break Ned’s record, I had to average 1.59 knots (2:02 per 100m, 2945m per hour) across the channel. To break 10 hours, I had to average 1.66 knots (1:57 per 100m, 3074m per hour). My neutral-condition (i.e., pool) pace for a swim of this distance, at my current fitness level, would be approximately 2.3 knots initially, fading gradually to ~2.05 knots.

My progress for the first five hours (corresponding to the nighttime portion of the swim) was as follows:

  • Hour 1 — 1.4 nautical miles
  • Hour 2 — 1.8 nmi
  • Hour 3 — 2.0 nmi
  • Hour 4 — 1.8 nmi
  • Hour 5 — 1.5 nmi

Given my average progress over hours 1-5 (1.69 knots), the conditions may have been as much as a 20-25% “tax” on my swim speed.…

--READ MORE--

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 3: Demons of Doubt

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 3: Demons of Doubt

In case you missed it…

From the beginning, something just felt… off.

The chop disagreed with my stroke – pounding me randomly, from odd angles, making it impossible to develop any sort of rhythm.

The moonless night completely disoriented me. Shortly after the start we had a snafu with the glowsticks on Mark’s kayak, so it was insufficiently lit. He tried using a camping headlamp, but it was so blindingly bright that it seemed worse than the darkness.

It was a constant battle through the night – especially the first few feeds – to maintain a consistent distance from the boat and kayak. They were getting blown around by the wind; I was getting knocked around by the chop; and I had no depth perception to adjust to it.

I made 1.3 nautical miles of progress in the first hour - an incredibly slow pace for me. Possibly there was a head current near the island; but my constant zig-zagging didn’t help. I would bump into the kayak; Mark would yell at me; I’d try to adjust left but then get too close to the boat; Dave, Rob, and Cathy would yell at me; I’d try to adjust right; rinse & repeat.…

--READ MORE--

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 2: Drop Dead Conditions

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 2: Drop Dead Conditions

In case you missed it…

Ventura Harbor. 9pm, September 14th.

ME: “How does the weather look?”
CAPT. FORREST: “Dogshit.”

He wondered whether perhaps I wanted to postpone the swim to another day. “What are your ‘drop dead’ conditions?” he asked. “It’s blowing 10 knots right here [i.e., in the harbor]. It’ll be worse out there.”

Here lay the dilemma: My crew and observer were here now. Dave and Rob drove down from SLO; Mark from SB (where he has two kids under the age of 3); Cathy from SF. We could, theoretically, delay for 24 hours – Cathy didn’t go home ’til Monday. But it would suck. I had already dragged these people out here in the middle of the night. Now I was going to send them all home (or to a hotel) and say we’ll try again tomorrow? Ugh.

Not to mention, the film guys were already on their way over to the island on a sail boat from Santa Barbara (a 4.5-hour trip). Would I call them and tell them to turn around?…

--READ MORE--

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 1: Prologue

Santa Cruz Island Swim, Part 1: Prologue

Was it inevitable?

There the island sits, tauntingly, every time I wade into the ocean. It dominates the southern horizon - as prominent a feature of the Santa Barbara landscape as chaparral-covered mountains, tile roofs, and beach volleyball. On clear winter days it’s a textured, multi-hued shadow. On hazy summer days it’s just a faint, misty outline. In the depth of June Gloom it disappears from view entirely – but I know it’s there, somewhere.

The shadow is Santa Cruz Island – largest of the eight Channel Islands, 19 statute miles offshore from Oxnard, the closest part of mainland California.

Looking out at Santa Cruz Island from the mountains above Goleta. New Year’s Day 2012. Photo by Vanessa.

The Impetus

A few months ago two local filmmakers asked: Would I be interested in being filmed for a documentary about marathon swimming in the Channel Islands? Would I help shed some light on this odd global subculture of people who swim across 3,000-foot deep ocean channels in the dead of night wearing nothing but a speedo, cap, and goggles?…

--READ MORE--

Two days and two nights on a boat: Observing Catalina and Santa Barbara Channel swims

Two days and two nights on a boat: Observing Catalina and Santa Barbara Channel swims

In the past couple weeks I’ve had the honor and pleasure of observing four swims between the Channel Islands and the California mainland: two 12.4-mile crossings from Anacapa Island to Oxnard (sanctioned by the SBCSA), and two 20.1-mile crossings from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes (sanctioned by the CCSF).

Two Channels: Anacapa Island to Oxnard; Catalina Island to Palos Verdes.

Each swim was a remarkable achievement in its own way. From Anacapa, there was a 4:58 crossing (a new record and the first ever under 5 hours) and an 8:58 crossing under conditions which thwarted two 6-person relays on the same day. From Catalina, there was a 13.5-hour crossing and a sub-9 hour crossing (the first ever by a 50+ year old).

Eyes on the swimmer. Photo by Phil White

I’m quite serious about it being an honor to observe these swims. Having swum across each of these channels myself, I know they’re experiences one doesn’t forget – experiences that change a person. I know what it feels like to stand on a beach in the middle of the night, look out across that black expanse of water and wonder, “How will I possibly get to the other side?” I know what it feels like to give oneself up to the Channel – and hope it looks upon you favorably.…

--READ MORE--