Pot meet Kettle. Kettle meet Pot.

48 hours ago I donated blood.  And last night I went to bed sick as a dog with the first cold/flu I’ve had in years. I hardly ever get sick. In fact it’s a bit of a joke around my non-cold-water-swimming friends and work friends, because in the winter, I’m the one who willingly swims in 50 degree water without a wetsuit, and never seems to catch a cold or flu.  But today I’m sick. And, admittedly, perhaps a little sick in the head, because today “The Plan” is to complete a round trip Alcatraz swim, piloted by my friend Neal Mueller.  I know I should probably rest and recuperate, but the lure of an open-water swim is so overpowering that I can’t resist; I simply can’t resist the adventure. It’s also a beautiful sunny spring morning in San Francisco, so today, I’m going swimming!

Arriving at the South End Rowing Club, I spot my four-legged co-pilot, Tenzing. “TEEEEEEEENZIIIIIIIIING!!!” I yell.  Wagging his tail to greet me, Tenzing looks gloriously happy. He knows its game time. He gives me a quick sniff and, careful not to miss out on the action, rushes back to the boat. Neal is setting up the Viking rowboat; I love being piloted in the Bay with a rowboat… no diesel fumes, no impact on the environment, and very unique. Especially with Tenzing, the four-legged co-pilot, at the stern. I love it.

Neal congratulates me on my Cook Strait swim, asks what’s next and then blurts out “Chambers, you crazy!” But you see, Neal is far more crazy than I. He’s climbed Mt. Everest, swum the English Channel, and in June this year, he and 3 friends will set out on the adventure of a lifetime rowing the Arctic Ocean. This has never been done before.

“By the way, I’ve been fasting for 3 days,” states Neal. “What? Why?” I reply. Long story short, lets just say I think I should probably add “I’ve been fasting for 3 days” to my list of THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR MY PILOT SAY. Couple that with my blood donation and cold/flu… and we’re definitely heading into some sort of adventure.

It’s currently slack tide, which means the water isn’t moving. There’s no ebb and there’s no flood, giving me the best possible chance to cross the shipping channel and make my way to Alcatraz.  I dive into the water and quickly spot Neal and Tenzing on my left. Poised oh-so-elegantly on his pile of blankets, and basking in the sun, Tenzing looks like the Queen of Sheba. He’s soooooo happy.

I can’t help but think that I should probably be home resting. Kimberley, I tell myself, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew – yet again. I think about Neal and his “fast.” Good Lord. We are crazy.

Finally, I’m in my groove, and loving it. About ½ mile from Alcatraz, Neal holds his arm upright into the air, signaling me to stop swimming and move towards the boat.  Pointing to a massive cargo ship moving stealthy behind Alcatraz, he yells excitedly “Kim, Vessel Traffic just diverted that big arse ship – for you!”  So so cool. I take a quick feeding of Gu, and continue swimming towards the East side of the island.


A boat full of tourists slows down as it heads towards us, bound for the island. I feel like a performing seal; as the tourists wave and take photos, I wave back and take a series of leisurely dives. I know what they’re thinking. Yes, I am crazy.

I keep swimming, watching Neal “talk” with Tenzing – both loving being outside on the Bay on this glorious day.  As we approach the West side of the island I can feel the flood tide kick in, pushing me backwards. It’s like swimming upstream.  I round the corner and the water temperature plummets. “OMG. It’s freezing” I yell to Neal.

“Keep swimming!” he yells back.

I keep swimming and head towards Aquatic Park. Tenzing is shivering on the boat. He’s wearing a fur coat and sitting on woolen blankets. But I’m the one swimming in 52 degree water!! Unbelievable. Today I’m actually concerned that we might have a hypothermic dog, and not a hypothermic swimmer on our hands…

Kim Kirby

London, UK