by Gary Emich*
Fall 2004 — A Quarterly Publication of the South End Rowing Club
It is NOT my fault!
It’s one of those dreary drizzly December nights & I’m lying in bed reading before “lights out” when I come across the following excerpt from Outside Magazine:
“The goal had been an enchainment – the scaling of several mountains or walls in succession within 24 to 48 hours (e.g. tearing up the northwest face of Half Dome and The Nose on El Capitan)…Enchainments are the ultra marathons of mountaineering. They are a traditional expression of an excess of mountain exuberance that half-bacchanalian, half masochistic joy that can be found in moving with speed along difficult and perilous terrain…As one climber quipped:
“Yeah, it was great fun! The bivy was one of the coldest, most miserable nights of my life!”
The next instant “dreary and drizzly” is replaced by the explosive realization that I can transfer this concept to an aquatic environment and do a four-way Alcatraz enchainment: to the east, to the north, to the west and to the mighty South End Rowing Club where it all began and where it all will end.
Over the next several days I study the tide books looking for a day when it might actually be possible. There it is: June 13, 2004. Permits in hand, the next step is to find someone courageously stupid enough to accompany me. Being the ultimate wuss that I am with an accompanying lack of fortitude, I need someone capable of castigating, berating, intimidating, cursing and ultimately forcing me to complete all four swims despite my anticipated and pathetic, unmanly whimpering and whining.
Only one person at the South End has those kinds of attributes. With a propensity for language that makes the saltiest sailors blush, for being a compatriot in crime when pilots “lost” us in an aborted Alcatraz swim several years ago, for being with me on my 53rd birthday when the National Park Service cited Captain Darryl for “illegally landing people on Alcatraz,” and for being the 2001 English Channel Swimmer of the Year, I know that only one swimmer, Kristine “Bucko” Buckley, can fill the bill.
With Mother Paddy Peyton piloting his “Paddy Wagon” and my wife Pegie along as photographer, I know I have the support base necessary – the rest is up to me. I calculate approximately 60 minutes for the swim to Treasure Island, 50 minutes for the swim to Angel Island, 60 minutes to Horseshoe Cove and 40 minutes to Aquatic Park – about 3.5 hours total.
Facing the day, my plan simply is to just do one at a time; either I will make the swim or I won’t. Trying to wrap my mind around the whole enchilada is too much to ponder.
What I Know:
If we don’t swim far enough north of Alcatraz the currents will drag us down the west side of Treasure Island and we’ll never make it to land.
Swim due north from the east end of Alcatraz, catch the incoming flood, ride it to the north end of Treasure Island.
What Actually Happens:
A beautiful flat sunny morning when we hit the water at 6:15 a.m., 2 hours & 45 minutes before a max 3.0 incoming flood. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of it to push us along. The 60 minute swim turns out to be 94 minutes and 13 seconds! This in itself is the longest Bay swim I have ever done and I still have 3 more to go. Lethal, self-defeating thoughts are fueling my brain on the ride back to the South End although Paddy’s heaving & hurling over the side provides a nice distraction from my mental demons.
Bucko’s cheerful attitude makes me want to reach across the Zodiac and smack her! Arriving back at the club shortly after 8:00 a.m., there’s precious little time to recuperate and make the next scheduled jump at 9:00 a.m.
What I Know:
If we don’t swim across the incoming flood and aim to the west side of Angel Island, the current will carry us right past Point Blunt on the eastern side, our intended destination. It’s like swimming across a river.
Start from the Green Buoy west of Alcatraz, aim for the west end of Angel Island and land on the beach below Point Blunt.
What Actually Happens:
Our plans are thwarted on two levels: we don’t jump till 9:20 a.m., 20 minutes late, and we can’t high five the Green Buoy because it’s occupied by two sea lions. We jump and soon encounter a slightly turbulent water line that is 5 degrees cooler to the west than it is to the east. We try to stay to the right of the line where it’s like bath water. After 61 minutes and 38 seconds, we make landfall on the beach. I take my mind off the cold as I’m once again entertained by Paddy doing his chameleon imitation, turning myriad shades of green. Bucko is also feeling suitably miserable enough to make me happy and burrows beneath the blanket only to resurface when we reach the dock. It’s now 11:00 a.m. and we’ve got a 90 minute rest before the swim to Horseshoe Cove.
What I Know:
We can ride the ebb current out but we need to allow for the outgoing current coming down Raccoon Straits from north to south to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Aim for the twin mountain peaks in the Marin Headlands and we can ease right into the north part of Horseshoe Cove.
What Actually Happens: Paddy’s chameleon changing color exercises have debilitated him so Bob Roper and Jon Meyer step up to the plate as the afternoon pilots. Fast Eddy shows up, smells an adventure in the making and decides he needs to offload some of his remarkable store of energy: he paddles out in a kayak. We jump 18 minutes late from the Green Buoy to the west of Alcatraz (sea lions now gone).
With a wind blowing in from the west, each stroke takes us into wickeder water. A half-mile from the finish and we are riding bucking broncos waves. All I hear is Eddy whooping and hollering: “YeeHaw!” I’m several hundred feet ahead of Bucko & put my head down for the final sprint to the relatively calmer waters of the Cove. Fifty yards from the rip rap, the current catches me and spins me down and around on my way to the Golden Gate Bridge. I climb in the zodiac after 74 minutes and 47 seconds then we watch Bucko spend the next 25 minutes struggling to make it to Lime Rock. Once she’s swept under the Golden Gate Bridge, she realizes it’s futile and climbs in beside me. As we head back to the South-End, the only thing we hear is the wild screaming, maniacal laughing and high-pitched hooting of Fast Eddy as he kayaks back to the Club across the Bridge and against the ebb (he’s in his element).
Alcatraz to South-End:
What I Know:
I’ve made the swim from Alcatraz to the Club approximately 150 times. I can do this in my sleep.
Jump from Sunriser Beach under the cliffs at Alcatraz, put myself on automatic mode, go to sleep, lose consciousness and ignore the deep-seated fatigue and aching shoulders.
What Actually Happens:
Bucko is delirious. Once on Sunriser Beach, she is adamant about having a souvenir from this daylong enchainment and begins scouring the beach. Does she settle for a piece of silverware? A piece of hardware? A piece of pipe? Not on your life, she picks up an 8-pound brick and shoves it down the front of her swim suit and plunges into the water shrieking and cackling. I jump in, put myself on automatic pilot, go to sleep, lose consciousness and ignore the deep-seated fatigue and aching shoulders and the 3 to 4 foot chop that has developed.
All of a sudden, the incoming flood kicks in and there I am ¼ mile from the opening shooting past the breakwall on my way to Oakland. I swim like hell and manage to make it in to the Jeremiah O’Brien where Bobby and Jon pick me up. But where’s Bucko, I ask? Nonchalantly, they wave in the easterly direction of Pier 39 and say “over there somewhere.” We find Bucko and haul her and her brick into the zodiac. Bucko shows us the raw flesh where the brick has rubbed away most of the skin on her stomach. Instantly, the nickname “Bucko” has morphed into “Bricko.”
But we have done it! Four ways in one day! All together about 4 hours and 45 minutes of swimming an estimated 9 to10 miles! –Gary Emich
*Gary and Joe Oakes have known each other for over 25 years and were partners in putting on the Alcatraz Challenge Aquathlon and Swim for 12 years.