I first learned about Brooks Island during the pandemic when Kevin and I kayaked out there and met Matt Allen, the park ranger who lives alone with his dog in the only house on the island and serves as its caretaker; keeping people away during the time of year when the birds are nesting there, rescuing beached boaters and kite surfers, and greeting folks like us to share the island’s history. He told us that the island had been a major fishing settlement for the Ohlone people, had been used for sheep grazing at one point (it’s sometimes called Sheep Island), was quarried for its graywacke sandstone, some of which was used for the Bay Bridge Toll plaza, and was the site of a gun club frequented by Bing Crosby. We were totally fascinated by Matt and the history of Brook’s Island and I’ve been wanting to go back ever since.
So, when Colleen and Kira organized a swim to Brook’s Island, I jumped on it. They’ve been scheming about it for a while. Colleen paddle-boarded from the Albany Bulb to Brooks and back to see how long it would be and she mapped other possible routes.
Because the water is getting colder, they opted for a two-mile route (the unmarked one in the brighter yellow above). We got in at Shimada Friendship Park in Marina Bay and swam to the tip of Brook’s Island and back.
We were eight swimmers with three paddlers. After Kira gave us a safety briefing, we carefully edged into the water down a slippery set of steps and over a pile of mossy rocks. It was chilly, but felt warmer than the bulb; maybe it was just my excitement.
The sky was gray (as always these days), but other than that, conditions were great: the wind and water were calm, the currents gentle. I took up my usual position at the back of the pack and did my best to keep up, which meant putting my head down and front crawling without pause.
I felt good; solid and strong, not too cold. Nevertheless, it felt like it took a long time and I had some moments of doubt (about whether or not I could complete the two miles; about whether or not I even liked to swim). But mostly, it was great. By the time I was swimming back to the slippery staircase, I was buzzing with excitement and well-being.
We celebrated with lots of hugs and some delicious treats. The feeling of accomplishment that settled over us was summed up by Colleen: “We earned our Brooks Island Badge!”