Posted on Thursday 20th June, 2024

Nic’s Escape From Alcatraz


Thank you to Nic Carmichael, MSQ Treasurer, for sharing highlights of his recent swimming adventures in the USA! Nic hopes his inspiring stories and experiences will encourage others to embark on similar journeys.

“Uh, why are you swimming on the wrong side of the pool?” enquired one of (my fellow) San Francisco Tsunamis LGBTIQ+ Swim Squad swimmers from pool deck…

I had just swim 100 (yards) warm up having been the first person to dive in the pool while they were fidgeting on pool deck putting off the inevitable moment when dry becomes wet.

It turns out (which I already knew) Americans drive and swim on the right side. I blamed by jet lagged brain for autopilot and made sure not to lead off for the rest of the session.

Now it feels like it will be strange to swim clockwise again when I get back to Australia!

I came over to California to take part in the Escape from Alcatraz 1.5 mile Open Water Swim on 16th of June but padded the trip out to 3 weeks to take in some other American swimming adventures, so joined a local club to train with.

After 6 sessions swimming Short Course Yards 25yds, I have instructed our coach to get the handsaws out and reduce Chermside Aquatic Centre to 23m!

Some stuff was the same and some stuff was new, such as wearing waterproof headsets under my cap and the coach transmitting all instructions, feedback and jokes by radio… as was the supplied woollen socks to do a set of drills.. The thinking being it would make us concentrate more on kicking since it was more difficult.. Kick with socks is different, 12×25 1 easy 1 fast ~ fast = IM order was different…. A set written on the board as base + 5, base, easy, all out as PICK A CARD, the number = how many laps per rep.. I gave them some Aussie luck and pulled out a 4, so it was 4×100.

The final main set was a bit of a killer and a nice way to sign off being:

4×125 IM on 2:10
(1 – 50 fly drill, 25 back, 25 breast, 25 free

2 – 25 fly, 50 back drill, 25 breast, 25 free

3 – 25 fly, 25 back, 50 breast drill, 25 free

4 – 25 fly, 25 back, 25 breast, 50 free drill)

4×50 – 25 kick, 25 sprint ~ IM Order – Rest 20s

200 IM

First weekend took part in the US Masters Swimming Mid Distance Open Water Championships in Lake Berryessa about 2 hours drive out of San Francisco. Off in an Uber to my 2016 Honda Fit car-share car at 5am, and a terrifying drive on the wrong side of the car and road on reasonably unlit freeways until the sun came up, got to a picturesque lake. Got taken under the wing of a younger female swimmer from University of San Francisco Masters. It was a pretty ordinary swim (besides being counterclockwise!) and enjoyable – no wetsuits – the water was around 20 degrees. Had a reasonable age group result amongst a pretty competitive field.

A few days later took a tour to Muir Woods National Monument through quite a lot of fog. San Francisco gets horizontal fog, very thick. From vantage points for the Golden Gate Bridge, you couldn’t see the bay let alone the Bridge. *buzz buzz* We may need to postpone your Bridge to Bridge swim (6 miles between Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge) a week as this fog usually settles in for a few days… Spent most of the day watching fog maps to see if it would clear. At 7pm got the go ahead we would be swimming the next morning.

I’d signed up with Pacific Swim Co to run the swim for me as pilot – they run small group Open Water ‘events’ 6 swimmers max. Well as it turns out as there was a para-swimmer also doing the swim and our paces were very different. I got my own boat and pilot, and he did as well. Puttered out to float under the Golden Gate Bridge. Got the all clear and jumped into the Bay. Picture perfect conditions, “aim for the right of Alcatraz”, off I went. Split 7.5 minutes for the first 500m, already with the current. Beautiful swim all the way to Alcatraz Island with seals popping up alongside the boat to say hello.

Once we got to Alcatraz we started to curve around to the right towards the Bay Bridge. My pilot is on the radio to nearby ferries and coast guard to minimise the chance of me being run over. The splits just get faster since it’s a tide assisted swim. I think the fastest 500m split that popped up was 3 minutes 41 seconds. After the last few strokes to settle under the Bay Bridge they sound an Airhorn just under the 90 minute mark, I made it! Swim over to the boat and climb aboard and we motored back to where the para swimmer was still going and supported them for the next half hour all the way to the bridge.

Just a magical swim and can’t recommend it enough to anyone thinking of doing it!

A few more days left in San Francisco, a sunset boat cruise and night swim with Pacific Swim Co tomorrow night (if the wind dies off a bit!), A splash in the bay in Aquatic Park on Saturday and capping off my trip with Escape from Alcatraz OW on Sunday.

On Sunday 16th we had the Escape from Alcatraz event – the whole reason I came over.

300+ Swimmers (mostly in Wetsuits me included) were packed onto a ferry and motored out and around Alcatraz to the starting line. When it was time, we were ushered into the water 3 people at a time and instructed to make our way over to a line of kayaks which had formed at the starting position.

At 8:45am the horn blasted for us to start. Quick start, then relax into a strong but maintainable pace. According to my Garmin was swimming threshold for most of the race, and max HR for the last minute or so.

We swam for Aquatic Park directly opposite Alcatraz – or so it would seem – there is a strong cross current, so the swim was in an arc similar to the English Channel but far shorter! We got to a small opening in the swimming area fenced in with a pier and then cut across, quite sharply for me to try to avoid being pushed into the barrier.

An amazing swim, I was very grateful to be in my wetsuit at 14 degree water temperature! For my efforts stopping the clock in 34 mins 8 seconds, I scored 3rd place in my age group from 17 swimmers, 46th from 269 overall. A surprising result as I suspected to be on the back foot against the local knowledge.

That’s one bucket list swim done, what next!?