"Is that it...???"
"Jeez, looks shorter than our normal swim around Sandycove island in Kinsale..."
"Dunno what the fuss was about..."
"I want my money back!"
But behind all this bravado we knew that what looked like a meagre hop and jump was once a treacherous crossing and inhibitor to the inmates of that island, the obstacle that blocked some of the deadliest of prisoners from freedom. It demanded respect.
The next day we had an early start and a chilly one at that! The air temperature was similar to a bracing frosty morning in October at home. No kidding! So much for California beach weather! A large group of us marched off to the aquatic park to put our fears to rest; how bad could the water be after all, we'd been through worse, surely?? It was freezing in the water. If it was as high as 14 degrees celsius I'd be surprised. We swam out to to the entrance to the aquatic park as part of our plan to circumnavigate the inside park area.
Once a number of us reached the mouth we had to stop to set our eyes on our Matterhorn - the island … seemingly so close. There seemed no menace in it at all, so much so that one of my swimming mates decided she would go out and take a look at the outside of the breakwater. It seemed harmless enough so off she went, I wasn't wearing my wetsuit and was beginning to feel chilly so decided not to go with her. A few of the lads had stopped to chat and comment on our surrounds. We all watched as our friend was suddenly being swept at great speed towards the right and towards the shipping channel. One of the lads took off after her - the rest of us watched and observed how we ourselves had also been swept up against the breakwater wall. The couple managed to get back in but not without effort and a lesson to us all. This water was not to be taken for granted. Now we knew what the game was, the ever deceptive short trip was riddled with strong currents.
Saturday morning 5:00 am, our time of reckoning had arrived. Auto pilot got me to the bay for about 5:30 am. Whilst munching on a banana I think I woke up somewhere mid queue for registration. The water was suspiciously calm. Inviting us to come and play as if to dare. As the sun came up, the fog was creeping over the water. One could almost imagine the ghosts of those who had attempted this escape from years past outlined in the mist, come to observe us, to laugh at us, to warn us?
A few hollers could be heard amongst the small Irish army that had landed in San Francisco to face up to Alcatraz. Of course this won many comments from non Irish in the queue who could not believe the contingent from our small isle totaled 96 swimmers. "Jeez, I thought I came a long way" said one lady from Connecticut. We were made very welcome and were somewhat of a novelty and pleasant distraction for many!
That's before I mention the boat trip out to the island and the sing song to the Fields of Athenry that went with it! One had to wonder if any Irish had been locked up in Alcatraz, what did they sing on their trip out?? Once we were pinned, marked and labeled it was time for the mighty march down the pier road to the boat. Cars were stopping in awe, not realising what was going on. It was 7:00 am, and they were met with a force of 600 or so swimmers clad in swimsuits and wetsuits, all donning numbered yellow rubber hats. I have to confess to having been one of those in a wetsuit. That decision was made after my first swim in San Fran Bay, I nearly turned blue. I was very grateful for my cosy wetsuit this morning. The boat stopped and it was time to queue for our jump into the water to start our Alcatraz swim.