This was only my second year to participate in this challenging event, with about 135 canoe teams starting to paddle down the river at 9am Saturday morning (6/9), and continuing on down the river over 260 miles until they reached the Gulf Coast at Seadrift, Texas, 2 to 4 days later. Or else quit along the way.This year, 141 teams entered, 134 teams started in San Marcos, and 80+ teams actually made it all the way to the finish line. The first team to finish got there just before midnight on Sunday night, and the last team to arrive got there sometime late on Wednesday morning I think. See the event website at www.TexasWaterSafari.orgfor full details.
This was also the first year they had a death in the race, with a contestant being flown on Sunday (day 2) to a hospital back in San Marcos, after he collapsed. (details on their website).
Ham Radio operators staffed a boatload of checkpoints (pun intended) starting about the 16 mile point at Staples Dam (where my son David KD5MTJ and myself N5NTG where stationed). Each checkpoint ham team would record the team #, time in and out, and then enter that info into an Excel spreadsheet. Once entered, it was transmitted over Packet Radio downstream to all the other checkpoints using digipeaters that had been setup as relays all the way to the coast. Some checkpoints have become family traditions, where you almost have to inherit the assignment to be able to work it, but extra hams are usually always welcomed. The list of hams is quite long, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to list them all here without missing someone and possibly hurting their feelings.
I made a trip out to this location the week before the event, to contact the land owners and familiarize my self with the layout. That pre-planning helped make setup much smoother, because the owners allowed us to tap into their electricity and thus avoid the need for generator or extended battery operations on the day of the event. It also let us find out the “secret” location of the flush toilets inside the barn, instead of making the long trek across the bridge to the porta potties on the other side of the river.
We were up before dawn, and drove the 65 miles to Staples Dam, arriving around 9am in the morning. We set up our station within the next hour or so, and were ready when the first canoe team arrived around 11:15am. The canoes started pouring in non-stop around noon, and it was organized chaos for a couple of hours. It quieted down around 2pm, and the final cut-off time was 3pm for this checkpoint. We stayed active until about 4:30pm, waiting for the remaining canoes to arrive or be given news from a race official that a team had been pulled out before they got to our location. We ran a non-stop video surveillance camera (Vehicle DVR Recorder) that was attached to our pop-up tent, aimed at the river. We’ll be editing about 5 hours of video to shorten it way, way up, before posting it, if we ever get enough free time to finish that task.
Once we finished up, we broke down our setup, and drove to Luling to visit with Bart Pearl & Joe Thompson at the next checkpoint, then moved on to the Hwy 183 crossing at Zedler Mills Park in Luling where we found Stan Stanukinos, and Alfred & MaryAnne Horn holding down the ham station. Then we moved on downstream to Palmetto Park, where Don Kirchner & Lyle Turner were operating the BBQ, along with Gordon Dial and Jeremy Davenport, possibly a few others that I missed. When it got dark, David & I headed back to San Antonio,
SARO (San Antonio Repeater Organization) coordinates the first day or two’s checkpoints, and other ham clubs near Victory and Corpus Christi coordinate the bottom 2/3 of the route. They have the more challenging assignments, because those checkpoints open on Sunday and stay open until Tuesday or Wednesday many times. No check point closes completely until after all canoes have been accounted for, but there are cut-off deadlines that each team must meet to prevent being disqualified from the race and forced to drop out. We had about five (5) canoe teams drop out at Staples Dam, with one (1) canoe (Team #77) having the bad luck of being wrecked & split in half about 3 miles up stream from us, near Martindale where they had some whitewater rapids on the river.
My son & I had a PA system with a bullhorn speaker out by the river’s edge, so we could announce the arrivals of each team, call out their number to confirm if we had questions or couldn’t see their number clearly, etc. We often times would joke about them having almost completed the race, with only 244 miles left to go! Towards the end, we played music over the PA, such as “Dueling Banjos”, and let the property owner’s grand daughters play Karaoke on the microphone while we finished up the data entry & tried to send our entry data thru the digipeater. Unfortunately, Staples Dam appears to be in a dead zone, for both digipeater and cell phone usage, although voice communications on 2 meters & 440 were readable. We were unable to fully send our entire list of canoes until we got into Luling and sent them at that time.
Here are some photos that I took at the first three checkpoints along the river…