Alcatraz is one of the oldest and well known prisons in the U.S. During its 121 years of operation, the jail held many notorious criminals such as Al Capone, Mickey Cohen, and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. There has only been one successful escape story from this prison which was in June 12, 1962, when the Anglin Brothers and Frank Lee Morris successfully escaped and swam out into the ocean. No one has any record of where they are today. As for Major Peter Cossette, 56th Fighter Wing executive officer, he successfully swam the same route as the prisoners and lives to tell the story.
Cossette participated in the 23rd Annual Alcatraz Sharkfest located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. He was one of the 800 participants from all over the world who swam from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco pier. It was a mile and a half course and the water temperature was about 58 degrees.
For Cossette, preparation was key before heading out to the island.
“I did all of my training in a pool which was very calm and was about 72 degrees,” he said. “I spent several hours training for this, but I didn’t know what to expect.”
Cossette and all of the participants were sent out to the island in a ferry. Once they reached the destination, they immediately jumped off the ferry and the race began.
“Everyone was anxious about the temperature,” Cossette said. “We all knew it was cold, but once I dove in the water, the cold knocked the wind out of me. The wet suit I had on definitely helped out, but it took me at least 20 minutes of swimming for my hands and feet to warm up.”
The Alcatraz Sharkfest is not for everyone. On their website it has a warning saying the swim is not for inexperienced swimmers. The event is for experienced open-water swimmers only. Cossette knew he was in deep water in the middle of the San Francisco Bay but with hard work and dedication, he was able to successfully complete the mile and a half swim with his wife waiting for him at the finish line.
“I was very glad I wasn’t in the cold water and was waiting for him at the finish line instead,” said Capt. Sarah Cossette, 56th Medical Group health care integrator. “I’m very proud of him finishing the race. It was a difficult swim, but he overcame the obstacles and I was glad to see him cross that finish line.”
The experience of swimming from the iconic Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco pier is an experience that only a select few have accomplished. Cossette is now among those few.