The Texas Water Safari, billed as the "World's Toughest Boat Race", is a trek down waterways from San Marcos, Texas, to Seadrift, Texas. The primary requirement is a boat powered only by human muscle. The event was first held in 1963, and is run annually.
In 1962 Frank Brown and Bill "Big Willie" George decided to navigate from San Marcos to Corpus Christi, Texas, without a motor. They wanted to share this month-long journey with others, so in 1963 they held the first Texas Water Safari.
The race is scheduled to begin on the second Saturday of June of each year, unless extremely inclement weather prevents it from being held safely. The Safari has been postponed in only three years (twice in 2004, making a total of four postponements). The total distance traveled is 262 miles. Racers must take all food and equipment needed with them, receiving only water and ice along the way.
The Safari course includes natural rivers like the San Marcos, with rapids and dams. Most boats destroyed on the course are lost in the upper river. The San Marcos River converges with the Guadalupe River and becomes wider and slower. The main dangers in the middle river are sweepers, downed trees, logjams and dams. Near the end of the course there are lakes and swamps, and it ends with a crossing of the San Antonio Bay.
There are many popular and private checkpoints along the course. Experienced support crews may jealously guard their secret checkpoints. There are 12 official checkpoints, including the finish line. Their locations are published and they are staffed with race officials. Each official checkpoint has a cutoff time which the racers must meet or be disqualified. The final cutoff time at the finish is 100 hours. The Team Captain of each team must be present at the checkpoint to sign off the team's time as the team leaves.
- Staples Dam
- Luling 90
- Zedler Mill-Luling Dam
- Palmetto Park
- Gonzales 183
- Cuero 766 (Cheapside)
- Cuero 236
- Victoria City Park
- Invista (formerly Dupont)
- Salt Water Barrier
Participants belong to one of a number of classes. The Unlimited class is one of the best known to spectators, and is restricted only to watercraft powered only by human muscle. Attempts have been made to win in craft of unconventional form, but the records show that the best results are achieved by a well-trained team in one of the multi-man canoes (the records for largest team and fastest finish time are held by nine- and six-person canoes respectively). In 2006 the Unlimited class was further restricted to no more than 6 persons on a team. Other classes include Tandem Unlimited (similar to unlimited, but only two entrants per boat), Solo Unlimited (one entrant), and other types defined by conventional canoe racing standards.
Participants tell of frequent hallucinations in the lower river (because boats take up to one hundred hours to finish, and many racers do not stop to sleep, delusions are often unavoidable). Other challenges include aggressive alligator gar, alligators, sharks (while crossing the bay), poisonous water moccasin snakes, fire ants, and mosquitos. Participants' boats are frequently damaged along the upper river, given the technical nature of this portion of the race course. Attempts to repair boats in the field are met with varying amounts of success.
The Safari is attended, in part, by a core group of followers consisting of former competitors, family and friends. Names and stories quickly become common-knowledge and there is a rich body of lore available to anyone who takes the time to seek it out.
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—J.G. (James Graham)
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“Before the land rose out of the ocean, and became dry land, chaos reigned; and between high and low water mark, where she is partially disrobed and rising, a sort of chaos reigns still, which only anomalous creatures can inhabit.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)