Swimming in the Bay | Mechanics' Institute

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Swimming in the Bay

Mechanics' Institute Board of Trustee President Lindsey Crittenden is a San Francisco-based writer. She also loves to swim, and she shared her recent experience about swimming in the San Francisco Bay.  

My exercise of choice has been, for some 30 years, swimming.  Lap swimming, in a pool, up and back, some sixty times.  I like the security of seeing where I’m going, of that black line on the bottom.  Since passing the pool on my way to the Y locker room after fleeing another two-left-feet, headache-inducing aerobics class and thinking, Swimming, hm now doesn’t that look appealing?, I’ve sought out pools wherever I’ve lived or traveled.  Mostly indoors, often over-chlorinated; from the gorgeous Julia Morgan pools of Berkeley City Club and Hearst Gym to the small, overheated hotel pools on business trips – I’ve been happy to find any pool clean and (relatively) spacious enough to immerse myself in water, the only place my body feels completely free.

I’ve been lucky enough, since UCSF opened its facility at Mission Bay, to swim outdoors in the Schwab Aquatic Center Pool.  Six lanes, and usually one to myself if I time it right, this pool offers fresh air, 81-degree water temperature, and (for the most part) other swimmers who know what circle lane means.

And then the pandemic hit.  For the first few weeks I was OK.  It was winter, after all, and walks in the rain felt cozy, a way to wave to shop owners and neighbors in this strange new era of social distancing.  Social distancing and Sheltering at Home long ago lost any novelty, and my neighborhood streets and staircases became all-too-familiar, predictable, even tedious.  I started to move my arms in circles and sweeps as I walked, the only way I could pretend (sort of) that I was doing crawl and breaststroke while upright.  

One day, it hit me:  San Francisco has water on three sides.  Aquatic Park lies less than a mile from where my husband and I live.  So one day I did it.  I put on my suit, asked a friend to meet me for a walk, and when we ended at the bleachers outside the Maritime Museum at the foot of Polk Street, asked her to watch my stuff while I took a dip.  (Yes, I had warned her.)  I’ll last about 30 seconds, I told her.  I just have to get in the water.

I did.  And as soon as the wet bay hit my bare knees, I was a convert.  A few more steps, and I dove in.   And swam, blissfully, for 10 minutes.  It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see through the opaque gray-green of the water.  It didn’t matter that the water was some 20 degrees cooler than at my pool.  That’s what insulated caps are for, and I had one (even if I had only used it once). That was in mid-August, and I’ve been swimming at Aquatic Park many mornings since, now for up to 45 minutes.

Temperatures have dipped – my teeth often chatter not only during the 5-minute drive home but even after I get out of a hot shower – and I took a week’s break after a close encounter with a friendly harbor seal, but I’m hooked.  I’m going to need a wet suit soon, especially since UCSF – subject to separate guidelines than those for fitness centers, because it is an academic institution – just announced that it can’t reopen its pool any time soon.  But to keep moving in the water, even if I can’t see that black line on the bottom, has helped me stay afloat both in the water and out of it during these dark, difficult times.


Posted on Nov. 24, 2020 by Celeste Steward