Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Escape from Alcatraz? No, just a boy taking a swim

Alcatraz Island, shown in this photo, looks close to
the shores of San Francisco, but it's farther than it appears. 

A 9-year-old boy accomplished what Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and hundreds of other prisoners could only hope to achieve but never did.

He swam two miles from Alcatraz Island to the shores of San Francisco.

On Sunday, Daniel Bessonov of Saratoga made the trip in 41 minutes, and he’d have been quicker had he and swim coach Jordan Wood, who swam with the boy, hadn’t overshot their target of Aquatic Park.

Instead, the two landed at a beach near the Golden Gate Yacht Club, adding a half-mile or more to what should have been a 1.5-mile swim.

The San Jose Mercury News documented the story and includes video of the swim on its post. Definitely worth a look.

Alcatraz was used as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963 and during that time no prisoners ever escaped. They tried, of course, despite the strong and unpredictable currents of San Francisco Bay.

According to Wikipedia, 36 men (including two who tried to escape twice) made 14 unsuccessful escape attempts. Of those, six were shot and killed during their attempt and three were lost at sea.

Gary Emich, another swim coach who followed the pair in a boat, told the Mercury News: “It’s a myth and mystery, that’s its allure. You couldn’t escape from Alcatraz because of the sharks and cold water and the current.

“The treachery of the currents is what makes it dangerous. That’s why the prisoners couldn’t do it. They would have had to know the tide cycles.”

National Park Service photo
Advantage Bessonov. The waters appeared calm and inviting the day he swam. A week earlier and the currents would have been too strong, Wood said.

To be sure, Bessonov isn’t the first child to make the swim, but his coaches told the Mercury News it is unusual for a swimmer so young to want to challenge the rough waters.

Wearing a wetsuit, Bessonov handled the 57-degree water well. He also coped with swimming through jellyfish. “It felt like moving Jell-O,” he told the paper.

Bessonov, who made three practice swims in the bay, wasn’t nervous until the Zodiac carrying them to Alcatraz neared the island.

“Before I got in the boat, I thought, `I can handle this,’” he recalled. “But when I saw it was such a long distance, it was scary.”

But not as scary as it was for those who dreamt of escaping Alcatraz back in the day.

Obviously, the jitters melted away for Bessonov. He wants to try it again when he’s 10. But this time without a wetsuit.

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