During our recent US Catalina Channel/road trip, Helen and I had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco. As well as swimming from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz, we took the opportunity to visit the South End Rowing Club (SERC). This venerable, wooden-built club sits on Aquatic Park at the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, nestling next to its sister club, the similarly venerable Dolphin club.
Both clubs are private members’ clubs, but they are happy to welcome guests, you just have to knock on the door, hope someone hears you, then sign in to accept the rules, and pay $10 day fee. It’s especially nice when visiting a new place like this to be shown around by a regular. We were lucky enough to be shown around the SERC by ‘not just any regular’, but Ranie Pearce, who has an admirable list of serious swims to her name, including the EC and Catalina Channel solos. Helen and Ranie knew each other from shared brutalisation at a past Distance Week, and greeted each other like old friends.
Ranie showed us around the club: the boat room, the day room, the racquets courts, and then directed me to the gents changing room. Soon the three of us met up outside and stepped out onto the small private beach the club owns. It was earlyish on a Sunday morning, and San Francisco was shrouded in the pea-soup fog it is legendary for. Again, a good reason to have a local guide. We struck out to the edge of the Cove, and checked the temperature at the buoy in the middle of the channel into the open bay (60F) – lovely and warm for Mid October in SF!
Ranie had already checked the tide tables, so knew that we were safe to strike out leftwards towards the GG bridge, staying close to the breakwater, and swimming against the very weak current created by the incoming tide just starting. We swam on through the fog for a while, eventually fetching up at Fort Mason, stopping at the 3rd port building along. We stopped quite a few times for a chat, and to laugh at the extremely playful harbour seal which spent quite a while swimming alongside me, showing off by jumping clean out of the water. Magic stuff!
After a while we returned the way we came, passing back past the entrance to the Cove, and swimming back to the end of the breakwater in the other direction. We then came back to the cove entrance once again, completing what is known locally as a ‘Chas Lap’, named after a South Ender who popularised the route. By the end of the swim, during which frequent chat stops had been enjoyed, the current was running a little harder, a good reminder that you really need to know what you are doing in this piece of water. Even though we are competent, sensible, and strong swimmers, it would be easy to be caught out if you weren’t careful. Though there are easier ways to get back using the shelter of breakwater or piers…….. the shame, the shame.
As we got to the buoy at the entrance to the Cove, the sun broke through the fog, and there was the Bay laid out in front of us, with Alcatraz Island right there, looking so close you could reach out and touch it!
Afterwards, we enjoyed a good late breakfast in the warm autumn sunshine with Ranie, and a great chat, before Ranie went off to her weekend, leaving us both with a SERC sweatshirt as a gift. Thank you very much to a generous and gracious host. You made us feel very welcome!!
We enjoyed it so much we came back the next day, this time swimming late in the afternoon, with no fog. This time, I got some beautiful photos of a very beautiful place. I have a strange soft spot for Dover Harbour, but this place is something else……