A famous quote from Alcatraz Warden James Johnson;
“Alcatraz was built to keep all the rotten eggs in one basket,
and I was specially chosen to make sure that the stink from the
basket does not escape. Since I’ve been warden, a few people have
tried to escape. Most of them have been recaptured; those that
haven’t have been killed or drowned in the bay. No one has ever
escaped from Alcatraz. And no one ever will!”
Well guess what Warden Johnson, we made it!
We woke at 5.30am, the city was asleep and we were nervous. The air was crisp, it was going to be a beautiful day. Aquatic Park was alive with nervous excitement as we arrived and checked in. Numbers 719 and 720, we listened nervously to the final briefing.
“Just make sure you keep the Fontana towers on your right shoulder and the current will ease you gently into Aquatic Park and the finishing point” said Pedro, who has swam from Alcatraz nearly 1000 times. “If you’re tired or need help, stick your hand in the air” he added. We donned our swimming caps, cleaned our goggles and started warming up.
At 7.20am the park fell silent for the American National Anthem. People cried, well not quite but it was emotional for the yanks.
It was time. We walked half a mile to the ferry that would take us to the Island. Hoots and hollers went up as we boarded. There was no turning back now. The thought definitely crossed our minds as we saw how far the Island was from shore. It was squeeky bum time.
The Island approached and the boat slowed, Alcatraz was looking daunting but beautiful. The sun was warming us through the ferry windows when the doors opened.
The boat grew loud, the nerves disappeared as we entered the door way, we leapt together, the cold water took our breaths away. We started swimming.
We were one of the last to jump and during the wait the boat had drifted over 100 metres further from the city and around the east side of the island, the currents were stronger there and we had to swim hard to get back on track.
Ross recalls the swim; “I remember looking back after about 15 minutes of swimming and the Island had hardly moved out of sight, the thought crossed my mind to stick my hand in the air and call it a day. I started counting my strokes instead, 100 strokes, take a 3 second breather and look around I told myself. Head down, 1, 2, 3, 4,… 100, I was a third of the way but I was in the middle of the bay on my own, there was a small group 50 metres ahead and a bigger group 50 metres behind. The boats created wakes that during my breathing looked liked fins and sea lions, my heart raced and I started kicking a little harder.
Catch the group in front I told myself, keep the Fontana towers on my right, they still looked a long way away but they were on my right shoulder. I was in a good spot. I started pulling harder and the group got closer. I approached half way and reached the group. I settled into a rythmn, I was singing “why do birds, suddenly appear, every time you are near” in my head over and over, must have helped with the rythmn!?
I felt strong and the opening to Aquatic Park approached and the current started easing me into the opening. I kicked harder for the final 400 metres and the noise from the crowd on the beach grew louder and louder.
46 minutes after jumping from the ferry my hands hit the sand and I stumbled to my feet, a little dizzy and disorientated a girl handed me my medal. The cold really kicked in as the adrenaline dropped. I wrapped up warm and shivered on the beach as I waited for Alice and Jeff. I recognized Alice’s stroke as she came into Aquatic park, she approached the beach zig zagging, she was tired, had white feet and a cracking case of claw hand and she’d made it in 55 minutes, what a girl. Oh and she did it in her swimsuit #hero.”
It was an incredible experience and another wonderful memory and story for the grandkids. Thank you Alcatraz, you were amazing!