Thanks for a successful Phatwater

Published 12:20 am Friday, October 19, 2007

Brave women and men of all ages and configurations set forth this past Saturday, on what was for some the adventure of a lifetime; for others, a chance to bask in glory. The Phatwater Kayak Challenge VI got under way at the shot of the cannon, fired by Steve Osborne of Port Gibson, at 8:25 a.m.

Madness ensued as paddles of all sizes and colors stabbed into the water, churning the Mississippi with more than two-hundred hands. Punctuating the procession with precision, a lone osprey took wing in the river’s first bend, as if to foreshadow the drawing of our grand prize, the Pygmy Boat Works Osprey HP, which was won by paddler Ken Tillis, of New Orleans, and hand crafted by river denizen Adam Elliott of Natchez.

The weather was epic, the scenery glorious, the mood, electrifying. Four hours and 16 minutes later a five-year record was broken, as Mike Herbert, of Rogers, Ark., struggled past the buoys which marked the finish line at the foot of Fulton Street, Under-The-Hill. His goal for the day, to break the elusive four-hour mark, was dashed, however, by the combination of a heavy headwind and record low water for the Phat. Next year, the $1,000 prize will mature to twice this amount and Mike will return to make another record-breaking attempt.

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There were a few surprises in this year’s sixth annual Phatwater. These will be the subject of a “Special to The Democrat,” to appear later, but the least surprising among them was the continued, selfless devotion of our safety boaters.

Their combined, continued outpouring of assistance marks them as the most important people involved in this annual event. For, in the vessel that is the whole of the Phatwater, the safety boaters are the very keel which guides this entire event. Without them, there could be no Phatwater, yet, year after year, they fail to be adequately recognized.

This year that will change, however. In a ceremony at L’il Dagos Restaurant, under the direction of L’il Dagos proprietor and Phatwater veteran Modi Mascagni, a special dinner will be given in honor of our safety boaters during November. Anyone among you who wishes to attend this event and learn more about the Phatwater, or about volunteering for next year’s Phatwater, on Oct. 11, 2008, is welcome to do so at your own expense. Watch the “Tracings” in The Democrat for the date.

Now, to set the record straight, the Phatwater Kayak Challenge, 2007, is proud to count among our safety boaters the following captains and crew members: Our rookie of the year captain’s recognition goes to Captain Lindsey Callon, of Callon Petroleum, in Natchez. Crossing over to Monterey, the Phatwater wishes to thank the boat doctor, Captain Billy “Hammerhead” Sutton, and his intrepid mate and Phatwater photographer, Karen Stowers.

To long time veteran Captain James Schuchs, of Tara Plumbing, and his crew, made up of his wife Carolyn and long time veteran Tonja Butler, we offer our deepest thanks. To our ancient Mariner and able Captain Mark Coffee, whose noteworthy photography supports our Web site, and whose knowledge of the Mississippi is unsurpassed, we offer our deepest appreciation.

To Captain Jim Lindley and crew, we are immeasurably in your debt and hold you in the highest esteem. Thank you captain. To the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, and the Adams County Search and Rescue Team, comprised of Deputy Ricky Stevens and mates, and Curtis Gibson, respectively, we offer our sincere gratitude. To Charles Feltus, also with the ACSRT, whose shore-bound communication network helped us keep tabs on all safety boat operations, our most sincere accolades. To Captain Kevin Colbert and mate Brent Bourland, in whose makeup there exists no greater dichotomy in the annals of maritime jurisprudence, a thousand thanks. To Co-Captains Randy Meng and Forrest Flinn, know that you are our guiding beacon — especially in the early morning fog.

To the Natchez Fire Department, and the Big Red Boat, a warm thanks to Captain Allen Lewis and his able mate, Firefighter David “Scooter” Hugg.

To the U.S. Coast Guard, and Petty Officer First Class Denham, from the Memphis District Marine Safety Unit, we were simply blown away by your presence, and by your direction at initiating a river closure to barge traffic. This was unbelievable! Thanks a million.

Finally, I wish to offer my personal thanks to mate Karren Ewing, and to Captain Chris Gibson of the Natchez Fire Department, whose measure of devotion to the Phatwater we can scarcely calculate. From re-welding our injured, dilapidated kayak trailer, to flying us over the Phatwater for a photographic survey, to providing assistance at every twist in our schedule, to the loan of your personal property for our after-race party — ah, the list is simply too long. Chris, to put things into perspective, you da’man. Thanks.

Keith Benoist is the organizer of the annual Phatwater Kayak Challenge.