I watched my teammates in orange caps call for distress. Each one getting picked up one by one as the white caps grew larger — anxiously treading water hoping someone would see you. I was swimming in place for more than 30 minutes, not making headway on the SS Jeremiah O’Brien (aka “that damn gray ship”). The pilot near me, my only guidance to navigate the course to the finish, left me to rescue a swimmer. I was alone in the middle of the Bay.
This seemingly easy 1 mile swim turned into a nightmare. We were instructed to swim further out into the Bay, closer towards Alcatraz, so that we could catch the current push us home. The opposite happened. As soon as I got into the middle, the flood tide, a powerful surge of water caused by the recent storms, pushed us backwards. I’m a strong swimmer, and I’ve fought through a lot of bad conditions before, but this was unlike anything I’d encountered. It was 53-degrees, considerably colder than any open water race, I was near heavy ferry traffic, and the storms brought a huge amount of debris — logs and algae to the surface.
I was one of the lucky to finish. Of the 51 swimmers, 30 got pulled from the water. I finished 8th overall, 1st female in 1 hour 12 minutes — the longest winter swim by 30 minutes. Just a few weeks ago, a similar swim took me 26 minutes. I couldn’t believe how conditions could change so drastically. I was really scared, but comforted that I had done the 24-hour relay and acclimated gradually to the cold water. I also know that I may meet similar conditions in the English Channel and that the more experience I have with it now, the more prepared I’ll be when the real test comes. At least then, I know my pilot and crew will never leave my side.