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HomeNL-2013-07 Texas Water Safari

Watch the Start of the Texas Water Safari Trip
June 8th, 2013
by Harmon Everett

The plan was to get to the start of the Texas Water Safari early enough to get pictures of all the boat designs and tricks before the start. Then we would watch them go through Rio Vista to pick up on how best to get through there. After that we would put our boats in at City Park and paddle on down to Tom’s.
Terry and I didn’t get out of Houston until 7:30 or so (totally my fault! I picked up my daughter after she finished work at St. Luke’s in Woodlands) so we didn’t get to San Marcos River Retreat until 11 or so, and the tents put up and in bed by midnight. Tom’s was pretty empty, which was a mystery to both Tom and me. He said he figured the Safari had scared everybody away or something.

There were lots and lots of boats at the Safari, and we looked at lots of different customizations that people thought would help them survive the trip. The whole Texas Water Safari probably deserves a complete article or two all by itself.

We met Mark Andrus and his sister Lynn (ex-HCC member) there, as Lynn was preparing her boat – # 1212, Team Rain Dance.

We decided to watch the racers go through Rio Vista and see what strategies different teams would use, whether to portage the whole thing, or attempt to run all three drops, or what.

Most of the paddlers in the big 6 man boats would bail out and run downstream of the drops while 2 or three of the paddlers would either run the falls, or swim the boats through the drops to minimize stress on the boats. Many of the smaller boats would get disturbed by the big boats, and the big 6 man aluminum canoe tipped over 3 smaller boats that tried to get by as it was going through the second drop all by itself.
But a lot of boats made it, either by portaging the first drop, or the first two drops.
Then, there was the boat that didn’t make it.
Experienced paddlers know that in white water, your stability is in your paddle. Trying to balance is useless when water is hitting you from several directions and the flow is tearing at your boat.
These two ran the first drop with their paddles firmly on the gunwales, stiff in their seats, and a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look on their faces, with disastrous results.
They swamped, they bailed out, and the river, in working to equalize the pressure pushing against the entire length of the hull, swung it around and pushed it exactly into the center of the second drop – and pinned it there, with several tons of water pressure holding it against their every effort to get it loose. Thus ended their attempt to paddle the 264 miles of the race, practically at the start.
We heard that several hours later a fire truck came by and dragged it out with a winch. First time I’ve ever heard of a fire truck getting called to a canoe race...


We then went down to Cottonseed, where the property owner opens up his property only once every year, so the public can watch the racers go through Cottonseed.  There again some people chose to portage the whole thing to save wear on their boats. Some people did a careful minuet going from pool to pool, and some people barreled through with pure power. It amazed me once again how many of these paddlers did not know that their stability in rapids is in their paddle. I heard that some boats got torn up going through, but I didn’t see any personally.

We then went up to City Park and paddled upstream to find where the racers have to portage down some little falls out of the Aquarena Lake. Then we paddled down through rafts of tubers to Rio Vista. The Lions Club tubers get out at Rio Vista, and most of the rest of the trip was quiet and restful.
Except about a mile upstream from Tom’s, Don’s has a put-in for tubers, and suddenly the San Marcos was wall-to-wall tubers with coolers full of beer and sound systems going full blast. They extend all across the river, and while normally somewhat easy going and having a good time, it is really difficult to paddle through them, and they can push you into trees and rocks, because they don’t really care where they are going.
The noise from the tubers going by Tom’s was pretty disturbing up until about dark, when it quieted down, so we had a nice Saturday evening.
Sunday we woke up and, while we really didn’t have to get going very early, we started packing up camp. As we were finishing up, we started hearing thunder in the distance, and as we drove out of San Marcos River Retreat, big raindrops started cascading onto the windshield and it rained all the rest of Sunday.

The author, Harmon Everett