Sam Ritchie helps lift a victorious Boat No. 314 out of the water late Sunday evening after his team won the 50th Texas Water Safari.
Photo by Will Brown
As of Monday, June 11, 2012
SEADRIFT - A white light bobbed in the choppy water. Many who were on solid ground thought it was another false dawn, but it wasn't. The first paddlers in the Texas Water Safari had made it to Seadrift.
The winners, for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, were boat No. 314.
Daniel Cruz, Amado Cruz, Sam Ritchie, William Russell, Andrew Soles and Andrew Stephens walked toward the Pavilion in Seadrift at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, more than 38 hours after they left San Marcos.
Their time in the 50th edition of the race was nearly 90 minutes faster than the 39 hours 51 minutes it took the group to complete the race a year ago. Though they were more than two hours ahead of the closest boat, the paddlers did not take anything for granted.
"Some years the competition is extremely stiff," Russell said. "No matter who you are racing against, so many things can happen."
Once the team established its lead, Russell said they focused on remaining healthy and not breaking their boat. An added challenge was making it to the Pavilion here in the dark, despite heavy winds. Lead paddler Daniel Cruz had a light attached to his head, while the lights of the Pavilion served as a de-facto lighthouse for the group.
When they reached the shore, the boaters collectively flipped to their left to exit the water and pulled their victorious boat past the finish line.
Amado Cruz, Daniel Cruz and Andrew Stephens were a part of the team all four years. It was Ritchie's third time entering the Texas Water Safari and third time he's been on a winning team.
Ritchie used to be a sprint paddler, but Stephens convinced him he should try marathon canoeing. Ritchie, a programmer for Twitter, said Stephens made the Texas Water Safari sound fanciful, persuading him to join the team in 2010.
"There are some longer ones, but this is certainly the most maniacal of canoe races," Ritchie said, adding the heat, log jams, rapids and bay made the event unique. "You have to be a good paddler in every sense. The range of skills this takes is fairly broad."
The six paddlers have entered the Texas Water Safari a combined 36 times and finished 34 times. Daniel Cruz has completed the grueling 260-mile race five of the seven times he has entered.
"They are extremely competitive. We know they are in safe hands with each other, but the bay makes us nervous," said Stephens' wife, Erin, at the finish line Sunday night.
This is the fourth year Stephens has accompanied her husband to South Texas while he participates in the race. With a laugh she said she "thought about competing, and thought against it."
The victors parked their boat beneath the flagpole at the Pavilion and enjoyed a midnight barbeque with their wives, family and friends. There was beer, brisket, a stiff breeze - and many broad smiles.