Kingman group braced for cold at Alcatraz swim

KINGMAN - It all started with a family vacation to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco for Eric Depner.

Depner's twin daughters, Sofia and Victoria, 12, were on the swim team for about a year when they looked across the San Francisco Bay and to the city and asked their dad if they could swim that.

Depner then proceeded to tell his daughters the story of how when the prison held inmates that there was no successful escape attempts, in part because of the distance of the swim and the conditions.

A couple of months had passed when Depner found out about a swim team coach in Phoenix who was talking about taking a group of kids to swim Alcatraz.

"It's went from, 'No, you're nuts', to 'we found somebody that did it,' and worked with them," Depner said.

Now Depner, his daughters, and four other kids from Kingman are on their way to San Francisco this weekend to swim the 1.4 miles from Alcatraz to the city along with the span of the Golden Gate Bridge the next day

"It's the kids' goal, it's not the parents' goal," said Terry Miyauchi, whose son Jacob, 14, will be participating.

In order to prepare for the swim, the kids have done extensive training over the winter to condition them for what they'll encounter in the San Francisco Bay.

A large portion of their training included swimming the lakes of Arizona, particularly Lake Bartlet just north of Phoenix. According to Miyauchi, the temperature of the lake is about the same as the bay, which for this time of year is typically anywhere between 48 and 52 degrees.

"All the training they've gone though, they've done cold water lake swims with the same distance," Depner said. "Probably seven swims in the lake before they did Alcatraz and we're there every time to see them while they swim. So it kind of builds your confidence as a parent to see that they can do that."

Besides the training, other safety precautions have been instituted, including having two adults swim with the kids. Volunteers in kayaks will be in the water and the Coast Guard will provide some assistance.

"There's quite a few safety precautions that take place," Miyauchi said.

The distance won't be the challenge, according to Miyauchi it will be the cold water, currents and murkiness of the bay that will be the real challenge.

"Here you have a black line and you can follow that," said Jacob Miyauchi, comparing the conditions of swimming in a pool versus the bay. "It's a lot harder to swim in a straight line when you can't see the bottom."

The kids will be wearing wetsuits that will cover everything but their feet, hands and face, which will help with the cold water. But Miyauchi isn't concerned with hypothermia setting in since at the most he feels the kids will only be in the water for about an hour. Nevertheless, the cold water will be a challenge.

"The biggest challenge for the kids is the cold water with their hands and feet," Depner said. "It's hard to breath when you first start swimming. It's mentally overcoming that challenge. Once you get going, it's not that bad. That first 10 minutes is very difficult until your body warms up."

The currents and the tide will be just as challenging for the kids as the cold water. Miyauchi says the kids will do the swim around 10 or 11 in the morning, about the time the tide is about finished coming in.

"When the tide is coming in at full strength it is almost impossible to swim," Miyauchi said. "What we do is attempt to swim it at slack tide, when the tide is just finishing coming in and is getting ready to reverse and go back the other way."

Another challenge for Miyauchi and his group this time of year is finding out exactly when that slack tide is. Since San Francisco Bay is so large and a large area of land mass drains into the bay, the published tides could be off by hours. To counter this, Miyauchi said they will do a test swim to see when the actual slack tide is.

"We get a bunch of kids on a boat and go out to Alcatraz about an hour or two before that set tide," Miyauchi said. "And we might actually sit on that boat waiting for that right time, and then when that gets identified, the swimmers will jump."

This will be the second year the Depners and Miyauchis will embark on this swim.