The Alcatraz Swimming Society

by Evan Morrison. 12 March 2013.

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 MSF on Vimeo.

The crossing took a bit more than 35 minutes. According to Gary and Stevie Ray, it’s usually a ~25 minute swim, but we overestimated the ebb tide and started too far east.

Unidentified swimmer arm. Downtown SF skyline in the background.

Unidentified swimmer arm. Downtown SF skyline in the background.

Two years ago, the idea that I could swim year-round in San Francisco Bay would have been unfathomable to me. All it takes is a little practice. Seriously - anyone can do this! The toughest part of this swim was actually the ride back to SERC on the zodiac boat. The wind was brutal.

GPS track

GPS track from Gary's watch

Thanks to Gary, Stevie Ray, Dianna, and Suzanne for having me along for the ride!

Postscript: I was interviewed about this swim by Tiffany at

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Posted in: swim reports Tags: San Francisco , SERC