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Friday, April 24, 2015

Historic Aquatic Park May Be Lost To Commercial Interests

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

There are several iconic venues in the open water swimming world from Dover to Manhattan Island. These locations provide not only historical perspectives, but also present continued opportunities for future open water swimmers.

One of these most hallowed grounds is Aquatic Park in San Francisco Bay. But this proving ground for newbies and greats may soon be lost forever if commercial interests have their way.

The National Park Service recently proposed at a public meeting to relocate the ferry service to Alcatraz Island virtually next door to the South End Rowing Club at Ft Mason in San Francisco Bay's Aquatic Park.

This change by the National Park Service would involve regular departures from Ft. Mason to Alcatraz beginning at 8:45 am.

Bill Wygant, President of the South End Rowing Club, describes a number of issues, but the most important for the South End Rowing Club would be the virtual destruction of prime open water training grounds. As proposed, the ferry's path of travel would cut across many of the open water swimming courses that are used by local and visiting swimmers. "The ferry would operate with a frequency that would severely limit our ability to use the bay as we do now.

We feel that this would have a very negative impact on the sport of open water swimming due to the number of people that train for marathon swims here in the San Francisco Bay

Marathon swimming, cold water swimming, open water challenges, relays, triathlons, adventure races, all kinds of events are the goal of people who walk into Aquatic Park. With ferry looming so close to swimmers, the inherent risks of open water swimming would escalate to dangerous levels.

Both newcomers and veterans would be at risk even with brightly colored swim caps or while swimming in pairs or groups. Undoubtedly, the proximity of humans and ferries in such a small area presents a significant and avoidable danger understood by any open water enthusiast.

Wygant writes, "The problem is in the draft of the Environmental Impact Statement. It says that there would be no affect on swimming or boating in the bay. As a result, they have not formulated any plans for mitigation of the affects of regular commercial ferry service so close to the club."

It is a serious problem with a predictable outcome: swimmers, adventurers and triathletes would have no voice in this or future developments if an opposing case is not developed now.

"The draft of the Environmental Impact Statement says that the environmentally correct choice is for the ferry terminal to remain where it is now at Pier 31 1/2, well to the east of the club," writes Wygant. "There are hotels and restaurants that have been developed in that area to handle the 1.4 million passengers who come each year to ride the ferry to Alcatraz. Moving this activity near the club would have other negative affects on us by eliminating our parking. So to put it in a positive way, we are very supportive of the National Park Service plans to remain at Pier 31 1/2."

A link to the comment page for the Alcatraz Ferry Embarkation Draft Environmental Information Summary is here.

Among the dozens of marathon swimmers from the South End Rowing Club, several renowned athletes such as Lynne Cox, Trent Grimsey, Roz Savage, Janel Jorgensen, and Kim Chambers are writing letters in protest.

Additionally, Senator Diane Feinstein, a powerful national and local politician, is becoming involved on this issue and wants to hear from interested parties (submit comments here).

In addition to retaining the legal services of the Paul Hastings LLP, one of America's best environmental law firms, the South End Rowing Club and the Dolphin Club are seen as stake holders for posterity in these polarizing issues. "Our members were swimming across the Golden Gate before there was a Golden Gate Bridge, or even before there was a National Park Service," explains Wygant. "These waters are sacred training grounds for open water swimming and we need a voice in future plans for commercializing our area of the bay."

As English Channel record holder Trent Grimsey writes to the National Park Service, "I am writing today on behalf of the South End Rowing Club to ask you to reconsider your plans to move the Alcatraz Island ferry service to Ft Mason/Pier 3.

The South End Rowing Club sits on historic (1873) training grounds for marathon swimming. Moving the ferry service to an area traditionally reserved for recreation would impair the clubs ability to use that area of the bay. This would be an irreplaceable loss to our sport of open water swimming. Being the English Channel World Record holder, I know first-hand the amount of training that is needed to prepare for a marathon swim. Many of the best marathon swimmers in the world fly to San Francisco just to swim in the bay area to get their bodies acclimatised to the cool waters.

I was lucky enough to be able to swim with the South End Rowing club in the San Francisco Bay last year in the lead up to the 2014 Alcatraz Invitational Swiim held by the club. It truly was an amazing experience swimming in the bay that week and one I will never forget. Moving the ferry service will have a massive impact on the swimming community not only in the San Francisco Bay, but also internationally

Swimmers, triathletes and adventurers and their supporters are being encouraged to submit supportive comments on this issue at the comment page for the Alcatraz Ferry Embarkation Draft Environmental Information Summary here.

Additionally, Aquatic Park was built in the 1930’s for the benefit of the local population. By moving the ferry, commercial interests would impinge upon and curtail the enjoyment of the resident populace and place more emphasis on the enjoyment of the tourists over the health and benefit of the city residents.

The past and the future cannot be lost.

An update is here.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association


  1. Thank you Bill Wygant for highlighting this important issue!

    South End swimmers and rowers are an active part of the maritime community, and we all have a right to enjoy the Bay without the pollution and noise that would come with the ferry move to Fort Mason.

    Please everyone speak up, and write to the Park Service and your local representatives.
    - Tony.

  2. plenty of places to swim in the bay. Aquatic park is nothing special. this is a non-issue. stop whining and embrace progress.

    1. That's the kind of post I expect from a guy posting anonymously.

  3. Actually there are NOT "plenty of places to swim in SF bay". Most are open to the bay, to boats and or otherwise not generally considered safe. AP is protected, it is well known to boaters ( therefore again, safer) and it is generally accepted as a very clean place to swim as well. Moving the NPS ferry here is not "progress" . It is an intrusion on the residents and users of AP. If you are swimming in other places in SF Bay, please do take care. I'd hate to see you run over by a boat and then the Coast Guard would severly curtail everyone's swimming in SF Bay. Suzie Dods


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