The first time I saw the swimmers at Aquatic Park, I was chaperoning a 5th grade overnight field trip to a 300 ft, square-rigged tall ship called the Balclutha. Built in 1886 for the grain trade, the Balclutha is now a national historic landmark vessel.
When those 30 fifth graders from Cragmont Elementary School stepped aboard the ship, they were transported to 1906 San Francisco, just after the earthquake. They learned to rig a Bosun’s chair, row a longboat, cook on a wood-burning stove and raise the sails by costumed crew members.
As a chaperone, it was my job to do nothing unless there was a safety issue, which made it kind of the perfect field trip to chaperone. I got to be a quiet observer to the earnest 5th graders learning history in action against the backdrop of the San Francisco bay.
The only downside was the night watch. The kids took turns keeping two-hour watches throughout the night and wee hours of the morning. As chaperones, we had to wake up with our group of kids and watch them keep watch. My group had the pre-dawn shift. Shivering on deck in the misty dark morning hours, I first saw them: lights bobbing in the distance, heading toward the water. As dawn wormed its slivery edge over Mount Diablo, I could see them more clearly: Dozens of people swimming in the bay below me. I couldn’t believe it! Were they even wearing wetsuits? Weren’t there sharks in that water? Snuggling deep into my coat on the cold deck of the ship I did not feel awe or wonder watching those swimmers. I felt relief that it was them and not me. Relief and perhaps some perplexed amusement: People do the craziest things!
Who would have guessed six years later I would happily be joining their ranks?
The swimmers at Aquatic Park are perhaps the most famous of the local outdoor swimmers. Two world-class rowing and open-water swimming clubs are located here—the Dolphin Club (founded in 1877) and the South End Rowing Club (founded in 1873). They are the envy of all the bay area open water swimmers (mostly because they are rumored to have saunas). Last month at least five different friends sent me a news story that featured the intrepid swimmers of Aquatic Park.
So I knew swimming here had to be on my list of swims in my year of swimming. Today turned out to be that day. I met Arwen (who was working in the city) and Angie (who was having a much-deserved day off in the city) for a lunchtime swim. Despite my anxiety that traffic would be terrible and parking impossible, I arrived unscathed and found a place for my car. The golden sandy beach was gorgeous; the flat water of the protected aquatic park was dappled in swimmers.
I couldn’t believe how beautiful and inviting the whole scene was. No wonder people flock to swim here! On one side is the famous Ghiradelli Square sign, which lights up at night and must be quite the sight for those swimmers who brave the dark.
Directly across from the sign is Alcatraz, which looks incredibly close from here.
Facing Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge peeks out from the left.
And to the right is Hyde Street Pier with its tall ships (including the Balclutha).
You couldn’t manufacture a more quintessentially San Francisco scene.
We had a glorious swim back and forth along the shoreline, taking in the incredible scenery. The sun was blazing down on us and with so many other swimmers in the water, it felt like being on a summer holiday. I can’t wait to come back.