Loudon Wainwright III is many things to many people — the guy behind "Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road)", the "singing surgeon" on M*A*S*H*, a multiple Grammy nominee and winner, and Rufus's and Martha's dad. He's also an avid outdoor swimmer, one who argued this weekend in the New York Times that San Francisco is home to one of the best places to swim in the world.
In a essay adapted from his upcoming memoir and headlined "The 10 Best Places to Swim in the World, According to Me," the 70-year-old Wainwright establishes his credibility as a swimmer, recalling a boys-only swim class at a YMCA where students learned in the nude, as well as his membership on the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club swim team.
"For 50 years I’ve been traveling around the world performing," Wainwright writes, "and along with my guitar I always pack a bathing suit and goggles. From the beginning, a lot of my life has been about me in the water, and it’s stayed that way for decades, in pools, ponds, reservoirs, rivers, oceans and bays."
It's our bay that makes his "Top 10 swimming spots — not in any particular order — the result of those 50 years on the road." Following locations like Austin's Deep Eddy Pool ("the oldest swimming pool in the state") and The 40 Foot ("The first section of Ulysses ends with Buck Mulligan taking a dip there, plunging into 'the scrotum-tightening sea.'"), San Francisco's Aquatic Park comes in at the unordered tenth spot.
"The water in San Francisco Bay in summer (September and October) is bracing," Wainwright says, "and in February it has a real snap to it. Strong tides are always a major factor — it can take three-quarters of an hour to get out to a seemingly close buoy, while the return journey back might take you seven minutes."
No mention is made of the Dolphin Club, the 140-year old organization whose members "swim year-round" in that Wainwright-beloved bit of Bay, or the South End Rowing Club (whose member and Board of Supes rep Aaron Peskin was famously photographed by San Francisco Magazine as he emerged, clad only in a Speedo, from those waters in 2007). According to the Dolphin Club, temperatures in the drink "vary from about 50 F in January to about 61 F in September." Wainwright and Peskin like it cold, it appears.