Water safari captains help paddlers keep going

Terry Alford helps R.D. Kissling, boat 38, up the bank of the Guadlupe River at a checkpoint just outside of Cuero on Sunday.
  • TEAM CAPTAIN SUPPLIES

  • TEAM CAPTAIN SUPPLIESFOR PADDLERS

    Water

    Water bottles, various sizes, with straws

    Ice

    Ice-filled socks to wrap around neck

    FOR CAPTAINS/CREW

    Folding chairs

    Snacks, drinks, coolers

    Towels

    Change of clothes

    Comfortable shoes

    Toothbrush, toothpaste

    Book, magazine, radio

    Pillow

    Hotel reservations

Resting on a discarded couch cushion, salvaged from a bedraggled couch along the Guadalupe River, Richard Ameen took a nap under a bridge.

The 50-year-old Texas Water Safari soloist, who has previously competed in the toughest canoe race in the world four times, arrived at the Cuero bridge checkpoint about 4 p.m. Sunday - sleep-deprived and physically nauseated.

"I gave him some water and told him to sleep," said Ameen's 20-year-old son, Alex, who is serving as team captain. "When he got here, he wasn't feeling well. The sun made him sick to his stomach, and he hasn't been able to keep food down."

It's the first time Alex has assisted his dad as captain on the water safari, but he was already familiar with the event from his father's previous years of competition.

"He's been involved with it for so long, so I already know a lot of the people out here," Alex said, relaxing in a folding chair near a grassy patch under the bridge where his father slept.

"That cushion is pretty gross, but he doesn't care right now," Alex chuckled. "He needs to sleep. He keeps trying to get up and socialize."

As many of the team captains do, Alex said, he makes sure his father has plenty of water and ice, the only provsions captains are allowed to exchange with paddlers at each checkpoint during the the 260-mile race from San Marcos to Seadrift. The participants' remaining supplies must be stored on their boats, and an exchange of any supplies other than ice and water from participant to captain results in immediate disqualification.

"I was given a towel and told to give it to my dad so he could rest his head on it. But I really couldn't give it to him. ... He's lucky he found that cushion," Alex said.

Many team captains and crew have dedicated days of their time to pushing their boaters to the finish line. Keeping their team motivated to cross the finish line, they camp out at checkpoints, sleep in their vehicles, and lug around heavy coolers and supplies.

"We're having a great time. I would definitely do it again if they asked me to," said team captain John Kohutek, who was also at the Cuero checkpoint waiting to assist his son and son-in-law.

Kohutek said he had never been a captain for the race, and it was the first attempt for his son, Cain Kohutek, and son-in-law, Charlie Herber.

"Right now they're in second place for their division," Kohutek said. "It's exciting, but I think it will be especially exciting in the later parts of the race, when you really start to see some interesting things."

Alex agreed the race becomes more entertaining toward the end, when competitors start to drop out, hunger and fatigue set in, and paddlers begin to hallucinate on the river.

"I'm pretty sure Count Dracula made an appearance one year. And my dad said he saw me mowing the lawn on the side the river another time," Alex said, laughing. "That's why I'm trying to give him advice and encourage him to rest. I'm proud of him for doing this. I don't think I could do it."