A South Texas heat wave washed over boaters during the first two days of the Texas Water Safari, making for a difficult year on the river.
The area between Cuero and Victoria was especially brutal, said Ryan Martinez, who is racing for team Moody and the Beast.
“The sun needs to go down,” Martinez said. “There’s no shade on that section of the river.”
Teams like Martinez’s that arrived Saturday at Riverside Park’s boat dock were among the race’s fastest. TWS participants have until 9 a.m. Tuesday to reach the Victoria checkpoint.
Though this year’s heat wave has posed an extra challenge, experienced team captain Jeff Kellerton said this part of the river is tough even in a normal year.
“This is where people start looking like pumpkins,” Kellerton said.
Saturday morning, his team, Riverfitness, was already feeling the effects. After maintaining a tight race for first place with Skid Row, one of its paddlers dropped out early in the day due to fatigue.
Kellerton didn’t expect the team to make its 32-hour goal with one less paddler, but he held out hope for the race’s unpredictable final stretch.
“They’re not even sure what to expect between Invista and the salt-water barrier,” Kellerton said. “In the bay, anything can happen.”
Despite the added difficulty with one of their seats missing, the boat remained in a close race for first in its class division. Its competitor, Skid Row, passed the checkpoint 40 minutes before Riverfitness came to the boat dock at 10:36 a.m.
Despite heat this year that slowed down teams like Kellerton’s, Texas Water Safari president Allen Spelce is excited for this year’s results.
“We’re still on pace for a record number of finishers,” Spelce said.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, the race had thinned from 176 teams that started in San Marcos to 154. Communications director Harvey Babb said a drop-out rate of 50 to 60 percent is normal in an average year.
“We have the most boats we’ve ever had over the 57 years,” said TWS board member Bob Spain. “The most (finishers) we’ve ever had is 107 and we started 143. This time we started 176 with good water, so we’ll have some records both on the number that started and on the number of finishers too.”