Kayakers, canoeists compete Saturday

Published 9:44 am Friday, October 9, 2009

NATCHEZ — Keith Benoist has a hunch the eighth-annual Phatwater Kayak Challenge will break records.

He expects more than 150 kayakers and canoeists from across the world to paddle “42 miles and some change” along the Mississippi River in a test of stamina and endurance.

He also expects this year’s winner to break the challenge record set by last year’s winner, Steve Woods of South Africa. Woods’ time was 3:54.

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“We’re giving away three $1,000 prizes to the winners, and an additional $1,000 to whoever breaks the record,” said Benoist, who co-founded the challenge with girlfriend Melissa Morrison in 2002.

The race begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, six miles from Port Gibson at the Claiborne County Port Facility, and ends at the Natchez Under-the-Hill boat ramp.

Registration is $55 for American Canoe Association members and $65 for non-ACA members. Online registration ended at noon Thursday.

Classes are determined by type of boat and participants’ skills, Benoist said.

“We’ve actually got one standup paddle — he’s paddling on a surfboard basically,” Benoist said.

“As individual classes come in, we’ll award them trophies and get everyone accounted for.”

Free refreshments and food will await participants and volunteers at Bailey Park and the Under-the-Hill Saloon, where Barefoot Tendencies will be one of three bands to perform from noon until midnight, Benoist said.

Spectators meanwhile can enter into a raffle for a Phatwater Bowie knife, donated by Bowie’s Tavern owner Michael Worley. Raffle proceeds go to the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society.

Kayakers and canoeists from five foreign countries and 18 states participated in last year’s challenge, Benoist said. Benoist estimates the challenge will pump $60,000 to $75,000 into the local economy this weekend.

“It’s going to be pretty jammed up,” Benoist said.

For more information, call 601-431-1731 or visit the Web site www.kayakmississippi.com.