James Savage - Round-Trip Angel Island

Counter-clockwise loop around Angel Island from Aquatic Park

16.1 km (10.0 miles)

6 hours, 0 minutes on 9 October 2020

Observed and documented by John Grunstad

Youngest to swim RT Angel Island



  • Name: James Savage
  • Gender: male
  • Age on swim date: 14
  • Nationality: United States
  • Resides: Los Banos, California

Support Personnel

  • Tom Linthicum - pilot
  • Jillian Savage - kayaker
  • John Grunstad - observer

Escort Vessel: Paddy Wagon (Emeryville Marina)

Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: Swimsuit, cap, goggles.

Route Definition

Start @ SERC/Dolphin beach in Aquatic Park, exit through Aquatic Park opening, counter-clockwise around Angel Island, return to SERC/Dolphin beach via Aquatic Park opening.

  • Body of Water: San Francisco Bay
  • Route Type: island loop
  • Start & Finish Location: Beach between SERC & Dolphin Club docks, Aquatic Park, San Francisco (37.808145, -122.421402)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 16.1 km (10.0 miles) (map)


LongSwimsDB: Round-Trip Angel Island.

Swim Data

  • Start: 9 October 2020, 06:22:00 (Pacific Daylight, America/Los_Angeles, UTC-7).
  • Finish: 9 October 2020, 12:22:58
  • Elapsed: 6 hours, 0 minutes, 58 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (F) 61 62
Air Temp (F) 56 61
Wind (mph) calm 5

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot

Nutrition: GU, fruit snacks, Gatorade, cheeze-its, water

Observer Log

Download PDF


by James Savage

I was 8 when I wanted to swim from Alcatraz. My parents laughed at me and eventually agreed to let me do it. The first thing I said after was, ‘When is the next one?’

It wasn’t long until I caught the bug, the open water swimming bug, that is. I had started swimming for a county rec summer league when I was 5 and for three summers, I was told I was a rockstar for summer rec but that I didn’t have what it took for USA Swimming. After my third summer I said I wanted to swim more than 3 months out of the year and transferred to a USA team.

My very first meet was less than two months later. I placed 1st in 7/8 events, and 2nd in my other event. I qualified for Junior Olympics and attended less than 4 months after starting my new team. Not even a month later, I decided to make my first open water swim, the Escape from the Rock. Thankfully Sharkfest allowed me to participate even though I was only 8.

I loved that first race. Looking back I realize how unprepared I was. My short wetsuit was too big, I had never swam in open water, I was freezing and miserable but I never wanted to quit. I came out of the water with a smile. Then they told me I had to run up the chute. I didn’t even know what a chute was but they pointed me in the right direction and I ran with the rest of the old people in wetsuits to wherever they were going. When the results came up, my parents were surprised that I came in 171st out of 500 adults. I was surprised that I won a bottle of wine. I was only 8. What was I going to do with this bottle of wine that my parents had to sign for? But it had a cool picture of a shark on it so that was neat.

From then I wanted more. I started swimming a couple days a week at a lake near my house. My mom has to learn to kayak so she could take me.

I started to realize that I really liked being in the open water. I could swim the exact same route every day and every day that route would be different. The water temperature, the currents, the wind, the fish…..there was always a surprise. I also realized I could swim pretty long distances for a kid. And I liked it!

We had trouble finding someone to work with me so I could do longer solo swims. When I decided I wanted to swim in Lake Tahoe, we found Reptile, Tom Linthicum. He sounded a little intense and he talked to my mom a lot and wanted to meet me. I was later told he wanted to make sure these were really ‘James’ Dumb Ideas’ (That’s what my mom calls them) and not ‘Mom’s Dumb Ideas.’

I started with smaller Lake Tahoe Swims. I did a ‘Mini Viking’, 6.5 miles from Camp Richardson into Emerald Bay. Then I completed the real Viking. This past summer I completed not only The Godfather, but a month later I came back to do the Fat Middle for fun. I scheduled my length for next year. But it was only September and there was so much time left in the season to do something else.

My training partner Meg had scheduled a RTAI. I wanted to do the swim last year and Reptile was going to help me but I fell off my bike and broke my hand. (People are always saying to my family, ‘Let him be a kid and do kid things….. stop forcing him to swim so much!’) That’s what happens when I try to be a kid. I break myself. Meg asked if I wanted to swim it as a tandem. Of course I said yes. Unfortunately my best training partner had an injury about a week before our scheduled swim. Another chance lost at swimming the infamous RTAI!

We talked to Reptile who encouraged us to still do it as a solo swim. He would be there, just like he always is for my big swims. He would see to it that I could do this. We got John Grunstad to observe and told my mom the bad news…. she would be kayaking a RTAI. My mom hates kayaking in the bay. Like really hates it. But she will do it for me. She always does.

I didn’t have time to be nervous. The swim was less than a week away. I was able to squeeze two training swims in before the big day. Where I usually swim, the water is too warm, so on the weekend we drove to get some colder water at Aquatic Park. Catherine Breed joined me 5 days before my swim and we did a great swim out to the Golden Gate and back for fun. She assured my stressed out mom that I was ready and would do just fine. I think my mom pretended to be reassured. I knew I was ready.

On October 8th, I should have gone to bed early. Instead I went to water polo practice. My coach told me to take the night off to rest but I couldn’t do that. I had too much excitement going on. I came home, played with my sister and finally was forced to go to bed. We had to get up at 1am.

My bags were packed and loaded and we left at 2am for the drive to SF. I slept most of the way and woke up when we stopped for breakfast. I couldn’t fall back asleep and got excited as we drove into SF, over the bay bridge, down the Embarcadero, and finally to our landing zone…. SERC. We found John and Reptile already there. The streets were wet as it had been drizzling. It was cold and dark. And there I was, getting ready to swim. I asked myself why I do dumb things like this.

While everyone was getting the Paddy Wagon ready, which Tom and John would use to escort me, I used my time to do the important things. I took another nap. About 15 minutes before it was jump time, I got up, changed, and walked across the street where everyone was. I had everything I needed. Suit. Goggles. Cap. Ready! I did a quick interview with Dave from Los Banos Today.

Everyone was rushing around. Swimmers were showing up for their morning swim. It was still drizzling on and off. I ate another banana. I put some Vaseline on because salt water seems to make me rub in places that don’t feel good. I met some great people who gave me last minute tips before heading to the water. Someone asked if I was going to warm up. ‘The first 30 minutes of my swim is my warm up.’ Reptile taught me that!

I broke the swim down in my head. AP to Alcatraz. Alcatraz to Angel Island. Around Angel Island. Angel Island to Alcatraz. Alcatraz to AP. Five smaller sections seems much easier to think about than one big swim. Landmarks give me something to look forward to. We started the one minute count down. It went down ny tens and finally to 5s. My hear is beating through my chest and then he said ONE! It’s not time to get in.

At 6:22am, I got in and started. It was dark. All I could see was the light on my mom in the kayak. Follow the light. My warm up would end at the opening of AP, even though it would come much quicker than my ‘first 30 minutes.’

In fact, my first 30 minutes landed me at about Alcatraz, my first mental check point. Never did I think I would use an Alcatraz swim as a warm up. I didn’t have my first feed planned until an hour into the swim. I was feeling great! The sun wasn’t quite up but it was lighter and I could see Reptile and John now, too. The current was pushing me so I took advantage of it.

My mom finally stopped me to feed. Had it been an hour already? I wasn’t tired or hungry but I did it anyway. I think I had pound cake and Gatorade. I could already see Angel Island by my first feed. This is awesome!

We got closer and closer and once we reached Angel Island, I had reached my 2nd mental check point. 2/5 done! This is a piece of cake. Speaking of cake, I had some more. And more Gatorade. And a Gu.

Sometimes when I swim, my mom and I play games with each other to pass the time. We make faces at each other. I make weird noises when I breath at her. Sometimes we race. It passes the time and breaks up the monotony of just swimming. It makes it fun.

A few minutes later we noticed another boat up ahead. They had a swimmer in the water. I made a new goal decision mid swim. I wanted to pass the other boat and swimmer. Head down and go! We quickly approached the other swimmer and boat when I realized that it was the same pilot who once turned me down and said I wasn’t qualified or good enough to swim a mile in the bay. I was now determined to show them that I WAS qualified and good enough to not only swim it, but swim it well.

Head down. Swim. Swim well. We decided to play NASCAR, with me taking the inside lane as we rounded the corner. We passed on the inside and continued to round Quarry Point. I wonder if she still thinks I am under qualified to swim a mile in the bay? As soon as we passed, I looked up and saw a full rainbow. We could see both ends and the complete arc. Unfortunately there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I got to swim right through the middle of it. It was like a movie. The water was calm and glassy. This really was the most amazing swim.

Swimming around the island was pretty uneventful. There were seals and sea lions that came to check me out apparently. I didn’t really see them but I could smell them. I continued with my feeds every 30 minutes, getting them done quickly and efficiently. My mouth was getting a little raw and decided to do a little trick that Catherine Breed taught me….chew some gum and stick it up in the corner of my mouth to help with the nasty taste of salt water. It worked out great. I may not be coordinated enough to walk and chew gum at the same time but I can swim and chew gum at the same time.

Eventually I finished my third check point, getting around Angel Island. 3/5 completed. It’s just getting back to the start from here. Upon leaving AI, I noticed I started to slow down. Now is where the current decided to work against me. It wasn’t horrible, but definitely noticeable. I was still telling everyone this was a great swim and I was having fun. Up until now I really didn’t have to work much.

Once we reached the west side of Alcatraz, I really slowed down. I started to get angry and really thought I wasn’t going anywhere. The landmarks I was looking at were not moving past me as fast as I wanted them to. I had it easy the entire trip, I guess it was time to fight a bit to get back. Head down and swim. 4/5 checkpoints complete, I wasn’t going to let this last Alcatraz swim get me.

I couldn’t figure out why they had me swimming towards the Bay Bridge against the current. I just wanted them to let me turn right and head to the opening of Aquatic Park. I know that they know what’s best but I wasn’t convinced they knew what they were doing. I was ready to be done. My lips were wrinkly and gross. My tongue felt fat. My eyes were sore from my goggles and I felt like I wasn’t moving. Just let me turn.

Finally they let me turn and I kicked it into gear. The opening got closer and closer. Right when we got to the opening, everyone kind of stopped. What were they doing? Why were they talking to someone on the pier? Once I realized that someone was trying to book a swim with my pilots while we were attempting to finish a swim, I just put my head down and did what I had to do to get in. Talk about an interruption! Can’t they see we are busy? We had a swim to finish!

I got to the opening of Aquatic Park and I start sprinting. I feel like I am going really fast but I wasn’t. I’m barely moving. I get to the sand and I stand up and almost fall. I get out of the water on to dry sand.

I had just completed a Round Trip Angel Island Swim, something very few people have done, something no one my age has ever done. Another one of my ‘dumb ideas’ was completed. Now more than ever, I know I am qualified and good enough to swim a mile in the bay.

I’m looking forward to doing it again someday.

I want to thank the people who helped me get here. Even though marathon swimming is a solo event, it really is a group event and many people have to come together to make my swim possible. I first want to thank Reptile for always believing in me and helping me chase my dreams. No matter what crazy thing I want to do, he is always there helping me and keeping me safe. Thank you to my observer John Grunstad, for always being there to observe for me. Thank you to my training partner, Meg Omainsky, who will swim countless miles with me and helps me always be ready to tackle a swim. Thank you to the entire open water community who have accepted me and allowed me to be one of them. To everyone who has allowed me to swim with them, thank you.


Click to enlarge.



Los Banos Today: James Savage swims 10 miles from Aquatic Park to Angel Island and back

Appendix A: NOAA Weather Data

From NOAA Station FTPC1 (Fort Point, San Francisco, Calif.)