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After a very long bout of whining, I finally did it. But I forgot to open my mouth. I came out of the water, turned to Holly and just shook my head. Holly told me to get back in the pool and do more laps. Again, the laps were easy. Then it was time to hop out of the pool and jump in again. Holly told me to have fun. I tried my best and did a star jump into the water — and I did it! I have plenty of video evidence, because the lovely Holly filmed just about all my attempts.

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W ith a graceless leap I plunged from the safety of the boat into San Francisco Bay, cursing myself for the foolhardiness of willingly reconstructing the most infamous and desperate prison escape in history. Alcatraz loomed large above as I bobbed up and down in the cold swell, and the city seemed impossibly hard to reach under my own steam.

How I Survived Swimming the Alcatraz

What is with our enduring fascination with Alcatraz? That challenge — attempted by thousands every year — is to try and swim the one and a half miles of frigid water from the island back into San Francisco. It told the true story of three men, Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin, who made it out of the prison in June and were never seen again.

Nobody knows for sure whether they made good their escape or drowned in the attempt. True stories like that, and other, embellished, tales of man-eating sharks and killer currents spread by prison guards as a deterrent, contributed to the mythology of unassailable Alcatraz and the impossible swim.

More than half a century later much of the mythology survives, but anyone can try to educate their guesses on the mystery by having a go at the swim. Pedro Ordenes is the head coach and founder of Water World Swim, which organises escorted monthly crossings. He has swum it himself a remarkable times. I met Pedro and his team at 6. We approached the island in the boat as the morning sun cloaked the prison in a welcoming orange glow. Well, why then would I join this, you ask?

I heard about Sharkfest Alcatraz on the Internet and signed up because I thought the name was funny. The following months however were spent questioning the wisdom of what I did.

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I am no athlete. I only started swimming at the age of I had no wetsuit and no cold water experience. I was on the wrong side of the world.


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Our Ringgit was sliding against the Dollar. It would have been easy to bail out. In the end though, curiosity got the better of me. This was the crossing that Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers made when they escaped from Alcatraz in Thousands of people had done this swim. I simply must try it. Bobbing yellow caps waiting for the swim to start.

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Assuming you can tread water, the worst that can happen is failing to finish within the minute cut-off time and getting scooped out of the water by a boat. Because really, safety kayaks will be everywhere. If you get into difficulty, calmly signal for help.

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They will come after you. You can hold on to these kayaks to catch your breath. You can stop in the middle of the sea and chat with other swimmers. Basically, you will not drown.