Information about swimming from Alcatraz
Alcatraz is a very exciting goal and a beautiful swim. What makes it a challenging swim are three things:
1) choppy water
2) cold water (53 to 63 depending on the time of year)
3) swimming across the current
Our 8-week Alcatraz training plan will give you an idea of how to train for this swim if you are a beginner or intermediate swimmer.
COLD WATER ACCLIMITIZATION:
LOCALS. If you are local, it is best to swim at least once a week in the Bay for two months leading up to your Alcatraz swim. This will acclimate your body and mind to the cold water. What is not enjoyable is jumping off the boat at Alcatraz and being shocked by the water temperature!
OUT OF TOWNERS. If you are visiting from out of town, training in cold water might not be possible. It will help you to swim once or twice in the San Francisco Bay before your actual crossing. The spot for swimming in San Francisco is Aquatic Park, which is in front of Ghirardhelli Square in the Fisherman's Wharf area. Aquatic Park is a public beach, open all hours of the day. Most people leave their belongings out on the bleachers while they swim. Be sure not to take anything valuable with you. Many out of towners swear by the cold shower method of training for the colder conditions. Take cold showers in the month leading up to your big Alcatraz swim. This will help to acclimate your body to our cooler waters.
NAVIGATING: Most people make the mistake of aiming for the finish point. They think they are swimming from point A to point B, so they aim for point B. However, when they do that, they end up beyond point B. And then they get picked up by a boat and repositioned. Do not let this happen to you! Swim smart!
Most Alcatraz swims are done at the end of the incoming (Flood) current and into the outgoing (Ebb) current. For this set up, you should aim East (left) of the opening at Aquatic Park or Crissy Field. A typical sighting point for a swim into Aquatic Park on the Ebb is the Jeremiah O'Brien liberty ship docked near Pier 39. A typical sighting point for a swim ending at Crissy Field is Sutro Tower - follow Sutro Tower the whole way, and you'll end up right on the beach.
For Alcatraz swims run into the oncoming (Flood) current, the sighting point is the Pump House (a small white building just West of Aquatic Park) or Fort Mason (the three yellow warehouse buildings West of Aquatic Park).
WETSUITS: Most people wear wetsuits, but certainly not all. The choice depends on your comfort in cold environments and your ability to prepare for swimming in cold water.
Another excellent resource is Gary Emich's book.