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Two new races added to annual kayak race

Submitted photo — Participants launch from Port Gibson during last year’s race.
Submitted photo — Participants launch from Port Gibson during last year’s race.

With water moving at a half-million cubic feet per second, a 42-mile race on the Mississippi River can be a rich challenge.

That’s why this year the organizers of the Phatwater Kayak Challenge are offering those who might balk a the long race to take an option with halph the phat.

The 12th annual Phatwater challenge is set for Oct. 12, and in addition to the 42-mile downriver race from Port Gibson to Natchez Under-the-Hill, the event will include a 19-mile race and a 1-mile river crossing race.

The 19-mile race, which Phatwater assistant coordinator Adam Elliott said has been dubbed as “halph the phat,” will begin at the Waterproof grain elevator, and participants will launch their craft there when the pack leaders from the Port Gibson race reach that point in the river.

“Primarily, the aim is to give folks who want to get out there and participate in Phatwater but are a little leery of 42 miles an option,” Elliott said. “Eighteen miles seems a lot more manageable, and they can have a good time out on the water without being exhausted.”

The shortest event connected with the Phatwater Challenge, called “the crossing,” makes up for its brevity — it’s only a mile — by having participants paddle upriver.

“The crossing is a race from south of the (Mississippi River) bridge, starting at the boat ramp in Vidalia to Under-the-Hill,” Elliott said. “They will pass through the center span of the bridge and start inching toward our side of the river. It’s a considerable challenge. Where the water comes in through the bend above Natchez and straight lines for a couple of miles at the bridge, which creates its own speed in the water, has a significant challenge.”

Elliott said former Olympic paddlers have committed to the crossing race.

“We are doing this partly to maximize the visual impact of the race and to let people get a little closer to the event than they have in the past,” he said.

Started in 2001 with only 11 participants and a goal of showcasing the Mississippi River as a recreational as well as commercial corridor, the Phatwater Challenge has grown considerably, with recent years featuring approximately 200 participants.

The event is open to all in any human-powered craft, including — but not limited to — surfski, sea kayak, recreational canoe, racing canoe, outrigger canoe, touring kayak, sit-on-top, stand up paddleboard or other unspecified paddle craft.

The challenge itself starts at approximately 8 a.m. and will close at approximately 4 p.m., and a shuttle service is provided to all Phatwater and Halph the Phat participants.

The U.S. Coast Guard holds off all commercial river traffic during the event, which is sanctioned by the American Canoe Association.

In addition to being a recreational venture, the Phatwater Challenge also serves as a fundraising event for the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society.

Race Coordinator Keith Benoist said every year the race has commissioned a hand-crafted Bowie knife to be raffled off and has been able, to date, to give $50,000 to the NACHS through the production of the Bowie knife.

The knife is inspired by the story of Jim Bowie’s legendary blade used in the Sept. 19, 1827, duel-turned-brawl on a sandbar in the river north of Natchez, a point the kayakers pass on their way to Under-the-Hill.

This may be one of the last years the race raffles off the knife, Benoist said, because of the personal cost it takes for the blacksmith to make it.

“The guy who does this does it more or less for free, but if you were to commission that knife, it would cost you between $3,000 and $4,000,” he said.

For more information about the race, visit www.kayakmississippi.com — where registration for the race can be completed — or call 601-431-1731.