Forty-five years ago today, three prisoners at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary escaped onto a makeshift raft and disappeared into the Bay. Their bodies were never recovered and it remains a mystery whether they ever made it to shore.
This morning, three Bay Area residents will commemorate the Frank Morris and Anglin Brothers escape by swimming from the South End Rowing Club to Alcatraz Island and back — for the 500th time.
The three accomplished open-water swimmers — Gary Emich, of Pacifica, Steven Hurwitz, of Burlingame, and Pedro Ordenes, of Mill Valley — will have to endure high winds, choppy waters and temperatures that can drop to 46 degrees during the two-mile swim.
After entering the water at the South End Rowing Club on Jefferson Street at 10 a.m., the swimmers will take about an hour to navigate the treacherous currents, which can exceed 7 mph, touch the Rock and head back to the bleachers at Aquatic Park. The swimmers do not wear wetsuits — their bodies are acclimated to the cold temperatures, they say.
Each athlete has his own reasons for taking on the legendary swim hundreds of times. All three, however, say it’s addicting.
Ordenes, 60, grew up in Chile and is training to swim across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia. “My brother was training to come to Alcatraz, and he passed away from cancer. I’m doing this on behalf of health,” he said.
With a lifeguard father, Emich, 56, who has swam the Amazon River and circumnavigated Manhattan Island among many other swims around the world, said he was swimming before he could walk. He first saw swimmers in the Bay in 1990 and was “bitten by the bug.”
Hurwitz, 46, who has also swam Manhattan Island and competed in English Channel relays, said he was tired of pool swimming and wanted a challenge.
After today, the trio doesn’t plan to hang up its swim caps at 500 crossings. Emich, a triathlon coach for open-water swims, challenged his partners on Sunday to collectively swim 45 more crossings, which would put the team at 1,545 total crossings — or one for each Alcatraz Island prisoner.