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Swimmers Brave Cold 1.5-Mile Swim From Alcatraz To Aquatic Park

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- About 26 well-trained swimmers braved the cool waters of San Francisco Bay Saturday morning for a wintertime swim from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park, according to an event spokesman.

The swimmers dove off at Alcatraz into the 50-degree bay water at about 11:15 a.m. for the 1.5-mile-long dip, said Coach Pedro Ordenes, head of the San Francisco swim group Water World Swim.

The open water trek, which includes several boats and kayaks carrying coaches and paramedics in case of emergency, is the group's sixth annual Alcatraz Winter Swim, Ordenes said.

The time of the swim was crucial as the speed of the current in the bay was at a minimum for the 45 minutes it took swimmers to reach Aquatic Park in the Marina District at 580 Jefferson St., Ordenes said.

Many of the swimmers, who ranged in age from 15 to 64, did not wear wet suits and can withstand the cold water "because of their training since the summer in water with the temperature coming down gradually," Ordenes said.

"We have several sessions every week," Ordenes said. "We use a pool to keep training and swim about two times a week in the open water in Aquatic Park."

"We permit only a high-level of swimmer," Ordenes said. "When we see them hesitating about it, we don't recommend they do it. This is very, very, special."

Water World Swim only accepts swimmers with enough advanced training and the mental toughness to see it through, Ordenes said.

"One of the main things is navigation and the other is endurance," Ordenes said. "Fifty percent of it is mental, focusing on swimming and not on the cold and climatic conditions."

Swimmers must also be well aware of the bay's water currents, which go through about six cycles and "you have to know how the currents work and how they change," Ordenes said.

Yet another important factor for swimmers will be to watch for coastal landmarks, which for today's swim include San Francisco's Fontana Towers housing complex, Fort Mason and the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts, Ordenes said.

As for the chances that the few escapees from the now-closed federal prison on Alcatraz had in swimming the bay to safety decades ago, Ordenes said, "I still believe that one could have made it, by luck."

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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