Tag Archives: alcatraz

Success at Alcatraz!

ryanalcatraz-smallA short while ago, Ryan Jeanes of 11visions.com decided to swim from the Island of Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay to the mainland, in preparation for his upcoming English Channel swim, in the summer of 2010.  Did he make it?  Read ahead to find out.

The Isla de los Alcatraces has been conquered.  Al Capone is dead (tax evasion, was it?), also Tataglia, Barzini, the heads of all the five families.  That Clint Eastwood movie is true – you can build a rubber raft out of raincoats, and there are no sharks in the Bay (though for 3 minutes during the swim I was major, MAJOR! flipping out – What if there are!  I mean what if they’re lying to me; I’m separated from the pack; a Great White could easily pick me off here and I’m only 300 meters from shore, shit!  shiiiiiiiiiiit… ok calm down, buddy…


What I’m trying to say here is… I MADE IT!

In a shade under an hour.

Not bad for my first “real” open water swim.

The swim went extraordinarily well, and I want to thank my family, the SERC, the Dolphin Club, Suzie Dods, my mom, my dads, my brothers, Barzini (okay we did that joke), and especially…

Barry, Barrryyyy! from the SERC, for helping me with my prep swims in the Aquatic Park.  Couldn’t have done it without you, mate.

And of course, Cy.  Also from the SERC, Cy is the only Chinese American I’ve ever met who eats grits.  Thank you, Cy, for letting me stay in your home and for being pretty much the most awesomest, coolest person ever invented.  You are a true light in the world.  By the way, my dear readers, if you ever need your home remodeled, Cy Lo is your man.

We did it.

Yes, I was out there alone, but the supporters along the way were instrumental.

Now I just need to swim in a straight line.

Future posts will break this all down, but for now, just know…


You can put your well-wishes and congratulations in the comment section below.

A la prochaine.


One Swim of Alcatraz Comin’ Up!

This ain't a race, but it'll look something like this.

It’s here, y’all.  Y’all read for dis, duh duh duh da duh duh, yeah! da da da duh duh duh, yeah! da duh duh duh duh, yeah! yeah! You know what song I’m talkin’ ’bout!

Yeah!  Yeah!

Answers to your questions:

Yes, I’m freaking out.  It’s here!

No, I am not pissing in my pants.  I’m gonna do that in the water.  BTW, I finally found out, in one of my Channel Swimmer interviews, what you do when you’re in the water and have to take a dump.  That’s go # 2 for all you sissies out there.  You pull down your Speedo and let ’em rip.  Dookieeeee!!! Cadyshack reference #1.

Here’s what I’d like you guys to do for me while I’m swimming.  Pray for me!  Hold positive thoughts.  Surround this swim, which will take place Sunday morning at 8:45 Pacific, with positive, positive energy.

I already got one girl on board for this.  She’s a former English Channel relay swimmer.  Check out Karen Drucker’s website for some positive inspiration.

So, recap:  I’ll be in the water around the island of Alcatraz at 8:45 am on Sunday.  Your job is to surround me with positive energy.

But, Ryan, how do I do that?  Any way you want!  Some people imagine a band of positive white light surrounding someone, me, in this case.  Some people think things like:  Ryan swims efficiently, elegantly and with great ease and enjoyment.  He finishes the “race” in under 45 minutes. Some people open up a bag of popcorn and munch the cosmic forces of the Universe into motion.  Some people will be asleep, so say your prayers for me before you hit the sack.

In the Meantime and for Your Enjoyment…

I’d like you to take a look at a snippet from a future post.  This is partial account of my experience with the South End Rowing Club, the oldest rowing/swimming club in San Francisco.  A lot of this is entertaining and it’ll give you an idea of the kind of people I’ve been hanging out with since I got here.  Enjoy.

It’s old, very old.  The coverings on the walls are photos of long-dead men with mustached faces spying at the camera.  They were the rowers of San Francisco’s South End Rowing Club (SERC).  They must have had to have sat there for four hours, Abraham-Lincoln style, as a washed-up man with a comb over and a 70s (1870s) camera shot them as they flexed their muscles gripping antique oars and trying to seem that much more sexually attractive before the flashbulb popped. I’ll never be in this shape again, Mr. Twirled Walrus Mustache says as I stare into the black and white photo, for he is now worm food.  But before I am worm food, I film him and the current members of San Francisco’s oldest swimming and rowing club.  (Video to be posted when I get back from San Fran.)

Not to channel Dead Poets Society, but as I looked at these old black and whites, I did hear a faint “gaaaaather ye rosebuds while ye maaayyyyy” permeating from their lips.  Spooky.  Will my photo be on the wall one day for a 2100er?  I moved on.

Today, the South End Rowing Club has more swimmers than rowers.  They have a handball court, two of them, and the atmosphere is decidedly male.  In the seventies (1970s), they and other clubs were forced to admit women, but the air of braggadocio remains.  I sniff it in and love it.

Dan McLaughlin, Head of the Boat House, turns to me:  “See that guy up there?”  It’s a picture of a bald-headed insaneasoid.  He looks like George “the Animal” Steele on crack.  “They called him the Masked Marauder.”  He is menacing.  He looks like he could rip my head off.  “He could rip your head off,” Dan says.

Former wrestlers, handball players with their shirts off posing for a 1950s camera, 80s mustached (maybe mustaches are an 80s thing in any century),

2080 - The Mustache of the Future
2080 - The Mustache of the Future

men in Speedos now with arms around welcomed women, more photos, and more history surround the boathouse.  I walk it as 2000s men and women hack and saw away at an old rowboat they called “The Barge.”  70ender

The Barge, also known as The South Ender, is fat.  Perfect craftsmanship wraps it in bolts and long shiny wood.  “We’re gonna get in this thing and kick the Dolphin Club’s ass” Dan says as he and five others work to make it seaworthy for their upcoming race against their rival rowing club – The Dolphin Club. The two rowing and swimming clubs sit side by side not far from San Fran’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  The Dolphin Club, bathed in Democrat blue paint, and the SERC in Republican red (don’t worry, everyone’s still a Democrat) don’t hate eachother; they just kinda… well, okay, they kinda hate eahother.  “It’s all for bragging rights,” Dan continues.  “There all so uptight over there,” another member chimes in.  “I’d like to go talk to them,” I say.  Dan’s face looks sour.  “We eat dinner promptly at 8,” which I took to mean I can’t believe you’re going to talk to those assholes.

It is dinnertime. Sarah, a young woman with a limp I am too afraid to ask about, prepares the meal.  “I want to swim the English Channel but I don’t think I have it in me,” she says.  “Yes you do,” I say.  A plaque on the wall lists all the members of the SERC who have swum the channel with their times.  Like I said, bragging rights.  “If you want to, you can.” I tell her.  “Meatloaf!  Who wants some!” she yells, and five men and one woman leave their work lights and buzz saws on top of the Barge and head into the mess hall.

Right on the bay.
Right on the bay.

“I’ve got vegetarian and turkey,” Sarah shouts.  The meatloaf is good, the vegetableloaf is good too.  I am filled with warmness.  It felt good to eat after my first real swim in the bay in preparation for my Alcatraz Swim on Sunday.  (Please feel free to comment on this post to cheer me on.  I’d enjoy tremendously your support.)

The SERC and the Dolphin Club are right on the ocean overlooking San Francisco’s Aquatic Park a giant concrete circle with a small opening that’s supposed to break the bay’s more dangerous waves, but when I went out to swim it four hours earlier, some of those babies were capping.

“You don’t normally see it this choppy, Barry, a displaced Irishman tells me.  “Well come on, I’ll take you out.”  We swim .5 miles from bouy to bouy in the circular sea filled park.  He kicks my ass.  He might have 25 years over me but he’s also 25 yards over me in each 100 yard stretch.  “You’re doing good,” he tells me.  I hope he’s not lying.  “You don’t even have a wetsuit on and I do,” I tell him.” “Pfft,” he scoffs, “don’t worry about that.  You’ll do fine on your Sunday swim.  Just fine.”

We come into shore and I almost run into the dock.  “Oooooh, I was doing good there, tearin’ it up, and then I almost run into the dock.  I have to remember to sight for Alcatraz.”  Michael Phelps, though he be the fastest swimmer in the world, need not worry about where he’s going in the water.  A thick black line fills the bottom of his goggle vision.  In the open water, the black line… well, what black line…..

More to come when I get back from San Francisco.  Take care and good luck.

An Interesting Email Exchange

Should you set a big goal you’re not sure you can achieve and thus motivate yourself?  Or should you set a nice, sweet, achievable goal that you’re sure you can do thus, in theory, building your confidence?

This is an interesting debate.  View the exchange below between myself and the facilitator of our upcoming Escape from Alcatraz Swim.  Also, Leslie, if you’re reading this, I didn’t think there would be a problem if I published this exchange.  This is a complete professional exchange between a student and an instructor.  You will see the warmness she exudes in her communication which is why I went with her (there are several swim instructors running Alcatraz swims) over the others.  Go to swim-art.com if you want the realest deal in San Fran swim instructors.  In this exchange, you will see that both of us want the same thing – my success.  Which method is better?  We’ll discuss that in a moment.

First me:

March 3

I have never swum open water for distance, as in “okay Ryan, your goal is to swim from here to there” but I have swum in the ocean several times. This is the first time I have learned TI, but not the first time I’ve learned to swim.
I was planning on arriving Apr 2, I know you guys swim on Wednesday but don’t know if I can make that date, I will be there a few days beforehand to swim in the swim park or anywhere else you suggest. Are there other groups that swim on other days – Thursday Friday Saturday?

Her reply:

March 5

Hi Ryan,

Ok. That helps a lot.

So, I don’t want to be discouraging, but here’s what I think might work really well for you, in terms of progression, planning, and succeeding at what you want to accomplish.

1) Get comfortable with your stroke between now and May
2) Do some open water swims in Chicago in June
3) Come out here in July or August to swim Alcatraz
4) then continue to increase your distance and plan for some cold water training from September 2009 – whenever you are booked for Dover in 2010.

I think this plan will bring you the most success. I’m happy to hear your thoughts. If you are still determined to do Alcatraz in April, we will be happy to have you. Let me know what you think.



And my reply:

March 6
Thanks for your concern. I’m still doing this. I understand your doubt, but that’s okay. I have one month to take that away. So anything you want to share in terms of what you would like me to accomplish this month before I come out is fine.

Okay, thanks Leslie,

March 6

Hi Ryan,

Your goals for this month should be:

1) be able to swim a mile in less than 40 minutes in the pool, without stopping
2) be ready to tolerate 50-53 degree water by taking cold showers (are you wearing a wetsuit for this swim? – I would highly highly recommend it.
3) be able to sight efficiently and successfully
4) be ready to swim in choppy water – we call it the “washing machine” effect the way the water tosses you about.

I’ll wait to receive your sign up form.


March 6

Yes I’ve already been
1.submerging myself in the tub 45-50 degree gradually increasing time, yesterday was 10 min
2. swimming in the lake (Michigan) for brief periods (close to shore, don’t worry) don’t tell the cops, you’re technically not supposed to for another 2 months
3. Yes I’m using a wetsuit for the swim
4.sighting is upcoming in my lessons
5.I’ll give you updated times as I get them
So thank you. Once again, I understand you’re doing your job by warning me, but I’m commited. I’m young and ambitious, and don’t think I’m being unreasonable. If I am, it’s not a dangerous unreasonablity, so you shouldn’t be worried about me biting off more than I can chew. I will show up prepared. I have my goal; I will do it.
Thanks for supporting me.

So there you have it…
She wanted me to succeed; that much is obvious.  She did think I should wait, but I don’t want to.  I want to go for it.  It inspires me.  I could wait but then I’d feel like I was throwing the breaks on a beautiful ramp up to the big day.  I can’t back down.  I’ve gotta do it.
Now, as you’ll notice, I’m pumped.  The fear is pumping, but the excitement is too.  If I waited till July like she said, sure I’d have had a “better” shot, but then there is no motivation, no inspiration; and, that’s what we’re about – exploration, vision, touching the stars.  There is no star in waiting.  Let us do it.  Let us explore more visions.  My vision is to complete Alcatraz in under an hour.  Let us do it.
Here’s another exchange between me and my brother Zach, the most rational of the family.  “Are you preparing?” he asks.
“Yes, I’m doing all I know to do.”
“Are you just gonna show up there munching doughnuts saying ‘where’s duh water?'”
“No, I’m training, cold water training, elliptical machine, swimming every day.  I’m just scared; it’s my first open water swim.”
“Look, it’s a challenge; it’s gonna be challenging no matter how you look at it.  Just do all you can do and go.”
“Am I being naive?”
“No.  You’re not being dangerous.  You’ve got a goal, you’ve got a preparation plan.  Go do it.”
God, I love my brother.
So I feel a lot better after that.  Alcatraz, here we come.
Stay tuned.


March 7

Hi Ryan,

I AM reading this!!! LOL. And I’m FINE with it. It is an important discussion. I am glad you posted it. Your enthusiasm makes me so happy. And you can do this!


Escape from Alcatraz!


In preparation for our upcoming English Channel Swim, Eleven Visions will be, first, escaping from Alcatraz!  The Alcatraz swim, hosted by swim instructor Leslie Thomas, will take place April 5, and we want YOU to be there!  Follow our blog updates and web videos for the exciting details as Ryan tries to swim away from all the bad crap he’s done.  What he did to get thrown into Alcatraz we’ll never know.

The 1.25 mile swim will be Ryan’s first open water swim (no walls, no pool bottom) and he’s as nervous as the pope on his wedding night.  Come join in the fun.  We welcome your comments and suggestions.  ‘Swim straight’ has already been suggested.
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