Shamu, Is That You?

It wasn’t enough for me to get up at 5:00 AM on Saturday. I needed to do it again on Sunday, this time to go swim with the sharks in the SF Bay again. My friend Melia was in on this one, too. I picked her up at 5:30 and we headed over the bridge to partake of the YMCA’s TI 2 Y swim (Treasure Island to the YMCA). Same set up as Sharkfest but a different area of the bay.

This event is extremely well organized. You start at the Y’s fantastic facilities on the Embarcadero. They have 3 or 4 floors, one of which is a huge gym and some really big locker rooms. The prospect of taking a hot shower and putting on regular clothes after the swim made it all the more exciting.

We got our packets and went to put our stuff in a locker. I made an attempt at putting my Garmin in a baggie and putting it under my cap but it wasn’t working out so I abandoned that idea and left it in the locker. We headed down for the pre-swim briefing where we were told where the ferry would stop and roughly how our swim route would go. The guy describing all of this mentioned that whereas last year the current was with the swimmers and created some really fast swims, that would not happen this year – the current would not necessarily be our friend. He wasn’t kidding.

Melia and I decided to try to stick together if we could. We jumped off the ferry and lined up together and when the gun went off we did manage to stay together for quite a while. We were sighting on a large building and it all seemed to be going really well in calm water. We lost each other for a while but then there she was! All was great until all of a sudden the water started undulating and rolling and was not so calm any more. I lost her and I just started focusing on swimming.

I soon found myself all alone but there were kayaks just to my left so I (wrongly) figured I was on course. In fact, I thought the kayaks were there to keep you from getting too close to the Bay Bridge so I sort of swung right, away from the Bay Bridge and toward the ferry building. Then, I saw what I thought was a kayak right in front of me. I started to go right around it and I heard a voice say ‘Get on – you’re about to end up getting swept out the Gate” It wasn’t a kayak at all – it was a jet ski with a SF Police officer on it. “Get On – come on – get up here”.

I really didn’t want to do that because I was sure I’d be DQ’d but he was a cop giving orders so I got on and held on and he took off passing a whole bunch of swimmers. All I could think of was “WAIT – I was right there – right with THOSE people… why are you doing this??? And I wondered as we buzzed past a lot of people if he was taking me in. I looked back and saw Melia and waved knowing she would have no idea who was on that jet-ski. In fact I wasn’t positive it was her but I thought it was and then I was triply bummed out because we had been so close together and now I was being given assistance. What happened?

Then he stopped and said, “slide off the back and finish your swim”.


But I was happy because I didn’t show up for a ride on a jet ski – I showed up to swim to shore and now I would get to. As I swam and swam and swam (because I was still way out there), I thought about what a surreal experience it was. There you are in dark, green, murky water doing something that is very unnatural. You put your face in the water to exhale and pull it out to inhale, all the while propelling yourself forward, mostly with your arms and hands. Bizarre. As strange as it is, it is very meditative and other worldly. You get that out of body, out of this universe experience without the drugs. Nice!

At one point I found myself swimming through a very warm current of water. I got a little frightened and started thinking “is this the hot breath of Shamu I’m swimming through? Am I about to be eaten by a sea monster? Is this some tropical, Portuguese man of war infested water?” I swam a little faster but soon realized that if Shamu were in the hood I couldn’t swim fast enough to escape so I might as well keep a comfortable pace.

I finally made it to the stairs to exit the water and I thought I felt a cramp coming on so I beached myself like a seal and told the handlers I was just going to sit for a minute – big mistake. When I was sure my leg wouldn’t cramp up I stood up, crossed the mats and told the guy taking down times I thought I should be DQ’d because I got a lift on a jet ski. He told me not to worry about it and sent me on my way.

I walked a few more steps and there was Melia. WHAT??

“How did you get in so fast? I had to be picked up by the jet-ski and I buzzed right past you and waved!!!”

“That was you??? I got picked up, too!”

Turns out a lot of people had to be rescued from the current. They were just stuck and not getting anywhere and there was no way for them to break free. I just got picked up before she did and, I would assume, dropped off sooner. Or not. I think my aim on the final approach was wrong and I managed to have to fight the flood tide in, too. I really wish I had persevered with the Garmin because I would love to see just how far off course I was but alas, I’ll never know.

I came in last in my age division. While I was sitting there getting back my land legs another woman in my division crossed the line – 5 seconds ahead of me. GGGGRRRRR…. But the important thing is that I showed up, I swam and I did not get washed out to sea. What a great weekend.

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14 Responses to Shamu, Is That You?

  1. fe-lady says:

    Wow great story! And cool that you got to ride on a jetski and continue the swim! Congrats…sucks that the current was so strong tho!

  2. Hilary says:

    You’re a brave woman — I don’t know that I’d dare that water! Saw a poster for it recently and wondered if you were doing it.

    But then, my swim sucks 🙂

    Keep on posting inspiring things for me during the next few months. PT starts Thursday.

  3. Great report!!!!!

    🙂 Glad that you were able to finish teh swim OK. That is a little scary….

  4. Anne says:

    Terrific story! High drama on the high seas!!

    This is one reason I am afraid of swimming in open water, but I guess in a race you’ve got people looking out for you. All in all, it sounds like everything went swimmingly.

  5. Bob says:

    You are brave, I look at that escape from Alcatraz swim and I am just amazed. Cool stuff.

  6. Jen says:

    Wow, what an adventure! You are so brave to do that swim, and to keep a cool head with the current and stuff. I would have freaked. Great job Pamela!! 🙂

  7. Mike says:

    You are MAD!!!

    That swim sounds scary. I had forgotten about that freaky feeling you get when the water temp just suddenly changes and all sorts of thoughts go through your mind. (Never used to think of Shamu but probably will now)

    It’s almost time for me to start open water swimming again and your post has not made it easier 🙂 haha!!!

  8. comm's says:

    Now why did you have to go and do this post. I was getting prepped for signing up for Escape from Alcatraz next summer.

  9. comm's says:

    Now why did you have to go and do this post. I was getting prepped for signing up for Escape from Alcatraz next summer.

  10. Cliff says:

    Last place better than no place at all…

    good job.

  11. jeanne says:

    you have the best stories. one week you’re bringing home the gold, the next being swept out to sea. that is actually one helluva scary story. never mind, i think you just cured my budding interest in triathlons!

    thank god that cop was there!

  12. you have more guts than i’ll ever have…i got that creepy feeling whilst snorkling in hawaii last month…one minute i’m following a couple turtles and then i got spooked!

  13. dude – you are a stud. That water scares the pee out of me, and you’re a pro at it. Teach me your ways…

  14. Julia says:

    You are so brave! I don’t know if I’ll ever get the guts to swim in the bay but it’s definately on my wish list.

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