Monday, July 27, 2015

Back to The Rock and Under the Bridge

Bergs ready to jump and escape from Alcatraz

Bondi Icebergs winter swimming club and South End Rowing Club are sister clubs on either side of the Pacific - hence Pacific Partners and each year we take turns visiting each other!

San Fran Lesson Learned
Firstly, there are literally no cold water kudos when San Fran turns on 17 degree water. It was 19 degrees in Aquatic Park. Total bollocks. All that cold water training proved to be for nothing.

Secondly, the Golden Gate swim is the best swim I have ever done.

Thirdly, South End Rowing Club (SERC) is hands down, the BEST FREAKING CLUB (on that side of the Pacific - or I will get in serious trouble). The degree to which they welcome these Bondi visitors fills me with warmth. The degree to which they welcome me had a number of people assuming I was a SERCER and not an Iceberg :) Thanks so much to everyone who put in so much effort putting the tour together. It was brilliant.

The warm up / training regime
Landed at SF, straight to lunch at Google with my lovely host and swim buddy, Alice Boxhall. Strewth, the google kitchen is something to behold. Straight from there along the beautiful waterfront, passed the beloved Ferry building and to SERC. In the water within 3 hours of landing. Beauty. Circumnavigation of the Beautiful Aquatic Park.

Water is devastatingly warm. There will be no bragging rights from this trip.

 Love is such an inadequate description. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE is getting closer.

Dawn the next morning saw me back in the water with Simon, my fav dual Iceberg and SERCer. And not just because he's the only one. David Cannington (Cano), yet another Aussie. Watch out. We're taking over.

Today's adventure is a Chazz lap. Named for the Birthday Boy himself, about a 2mile loop from Gashouse to Creakers and back, and involving an outside (the breakwater) / inside (the breakwater). The Bay is choppy as. Just as well we like it rough.

Kim, me and the curious seals. Photo credit: Vito
The second we hit the beach we run into the utterly delightful Kimberley Chambers, one of my favourite kiwis who is doubling down after her earlier masters pool session. Complete and utter nutter. Love her style. We head off for a circuit of the park and are rewarded with super curious seals!! Which set the tone for all future swims, which involved seal sightings.
Seal Hanging just off Alcatraz
Pod, Bob, Harem, Herd, Rookery of Seals

The next day, Kim convinces me to triple down. (Yeah, I totally begged her to take me along. Keen to experience first hand what her training regime feels like.) Adding to the nutter factor considerably.
First step is a 4:15 am start. Meet Kim at her apartment and head across the Golden Gate to Redwood High School where will we swim across a perfectly good 50m pool because they don't believe in sharing lanes with more than 2 people. More nuts. Once I have gotten used to swimming in the reverse direction, in yards and across the pool (Nuts!) I really enjoy the super set the wonderful coach has put together. Thanks for having me Marin Masters!

Session 1: Marin Masters. 
Doubling Down: In the bay
Triple threat: Sequel moored off Angel Island
Then back across the bridge for the second training session of the day: the Bay. We cut under the SERC pier and hang with some seals before heading for the Spa (which is ironically one of the colder spots but gets some serious jets of water where the bay meets aquatic park). Then it is serious nap time. Before baking commences for the Night Train swim. I met Kim at work and we head back over the Golden Gate bridge (for someone who had only cycled over it this was still seriously novel) to San Fran yacht club. Which is not actually in San Fran but in rather Belvedere. Kim had invited me onto the Night Train Swimmers support boat Sequel, owned by the wonderful Vito. Vito is a serious, serious athlete and an entrepreneur. He is also a founder of Night Train swimmers. Kim might not have mentioned the training swim with the Night Train Swimmers part. These are some of the best swimmers in the world. Also some of the fittest people in the world. Whilst I died trying to keep up swimming around part of Angel Island, they were pulling on their running shoes to run up the steepest incline they could find. Luckily, there is a "someone is lagging behind, please pause" signal. It was put to very good use.

The Bergs hit the Bay
Thursday involved a very well deserved sleep in and a solid scoping of my goal. Walking across the Golden Gate (only took 3 trips to SF) I saw the swirling eddies and epic winds that characterise the Golden Gate Bridge. I saw kitesurfers get air of the crests of the whipped up waves. I saw huge container ships cut our course in twain. And I freaked out. Then heading back to SERC to freak out less. The Icebergs headed out to the opening and then another outside / inside for those who were keen. The chop outside Aquatic Park had a few taking gulps of water. Me amongst them.

Friday morning saw me hit the SERC beach 15 minutes late. Which meant I did something I swore I wouldn't do only the night before. I did my own Chazz Lap. Fort Mason against the tide and another outside / inside. Followed by coffee served in bowls. The Yanks do not understand coffee as a luxury item. I was to come to appreciate this later.

Kim and Simon being interviewed for NBC. Full interview here:
In the afternoon Simon and Kim were interviewed ahead of their upcoming solo Farallon swim attempts, both world firsts. Simon was training to be the first to swim from the Golden Gate to the Farrallon Islands and Kim was training to become the first woman to swim in either direction. I knew some of their stories but not all and I loved hearing it elicited by a professional interviewer.  [Postscript, Kim would make her swim with Simon on board cheering her on. Not two weeks after his own swim was aborted when a shark started circling 4km from the finish line whilst blood oozed from a chafed neck. Bravo sir, bravo!]

Chop but no flood (tide)(

Then the Icebergs assembled for the briefing. In the meantime I popped out to buy a waterproof camera as it turns out I can't live without one. We swam to the opening and were told the tide was turning so most people opted out. Fair enough. Tides in San Fran are a SERIOUS business. They can run up to 6 knots. San Fran Harbour is a tidal estuary, with 4 rivers feeding into the Bay which runs out the oceans with the force of a tempest. I have seen ferries struggle against the tide. Listing as their engines run full force against this raging current.

Simmo and Robin swimming aft of the Eppleton.
Turns out the advice was wrong, but John, Robin and I had an absolute cracker of a swim - outside / inside and then back alongside the inside of the Baracutha, between a barnacled boat and the only aquatic national park in the US - the Pier that includes a number of historic boats. Simmo was our fearless guide and despite the fact it was a tight fit at times - it was awesome!

Then Robin and I headed out for another lap around Aquatic Park via the opening. So much fun swimming with that lovely lady.  Happy Hour and pizza followed. Such fun.

Thanks Robin for this photo of me laughing in the face of Alactraz.
Golden Gate
Hands down the best swim I have ever done. The record holder gave us all blue bands to mark the occasion. Paid for from his own pocket! I have never felt so privileged to be swimming in such a place. I felt like I shouldn't be there so I savoured every moment. Including an epic amount of backstroke for an ocean swim event. I can't do it justice in words. Luckily Ashley and Bruno have captured it beautifully in video:
And I have a fair few photos.
The evolution of a smile -

After. Photo credit: Fran Hegleer

Having done this swim once already I wasn't completely terrified. I knew what to sight, I knew what to expect when jumping off the boat (literally the worst part of swimming in SF. Especially last time when it was a boatload colder).

But I doubt it would matter how many times you swam from Alcatraz, it would never ever get old. There is something about literally escaping from Alcatraz. It's immortalised through tales of escapes, Hollywood and there is something about being tougher than a character played by Sean Connery. (In The Rock he wusses out of swimming from the Rock a second time. In turn saving the Bay area from chemical warfare but whatever. I'm more hard core than James Bond. Right?) Also,  except for the slackest of slack tides involve paying a lot of attention. The water safety crew were on top of their game directed any errant swimmers back on course. Thanks so much for all your help!

Then, SERC took me out to the Ball Game. And I do not care what anyone says, Baseball is nothing like Cricket. But gosh darn it do I want to watch a game from the water and catch a fly ball.

Out to my fave Taqueria with the lovely Alice and Ben. Hosts with the most.
A perfect SF day.

Swim Day, slightly more forbidding

Alcatraz on a sunny day
Now you see it ...
Now you don't. Container ship has right of way.

 One last swim

 And so, dawn the next morning saw me back at SERC for one last swim. Through the pylons under the MUNI pier to fight against the flood. Down to Fort Mason. At which point my arms figuratively fell off and we went for breakfast. Have I mentioned how freaking awesome the Huveros Ranchos are at the Blue Mermaid across from SERC? Worth flying to SF for those alone. One final lunch at Google with Alice and then onto the long trip home.

With an ace up my sleeve: entry into my longest swim yet. The Island Charity swim from Mudjumba to Mooloolaba. So within 12 hours of landing I was back into training. Transpacific flight counted as my rest day :)

Back at it just the same day as landing back from the USA.