Between winds so strong they triggered a small craft advisory, swells so big the paddlers disappeared between them, boat-flipping chop and a few other setbacks (we’ll get to that), the Third Coast Cowboys’ Epic Kayak trip is puttering up the coast at about half its intended pace.
But things may be looking up.
Expedition leader West Hansen predicted the five-man team, which includes veteran paddlers Jimmy Harvey, Tim Curry and Jeff Wueste, and Branndon Bargo, co-star of the PBS documentary “The Highpointers,” would make the 385-mile trip from the southern tip of Texas to Sabine Pass near Port Arthur in a swift eight days.
Then they had to move their start from Boca Chica Beach to South Padre Island. And the winds picked up. And one of the paddlers swallowed way too much seawater on day one and couldn’t keep any food or drink down.
The team never made it to Mansfield Cut that first night, where I was hoping to meet them. They finally reached us at the end of day two, after delays that required a brief consultation with the Coast Guard. (Bargo got separated from the group and the others pulled ashore when they couldn’t find him. Hansen alerted the Coast Guard, then caught a ride in a truck up the beach where they spotted the missing paddler chugging along. Hansen returned to the group and paddled in.)
A few hours later, as I stood at the end of the jetty, I watched Wueste get pitched from his kayak just a few hundred yards from shore.
“Never a dull moment,” Hansen said when the team finallyregrouped on the beach.
We pitched our tents, enjoyed a gorgeous night on the beach, and slept until sunrise. (Harvey and I slurped up dehydrated chili from Packit Gourmet, an Austin-based company that makes really yummy camping meals. Just add boiling water.)
This morning, the team shifted its path to the Intercoastal Waterway, to avoid the worst of the seas. They’ve been making steady progress today, but even at their current clip of between 4 and 5 mph, I’ll be surprised if we meet them at Bird Island tonight as planned.
I’ve been having my own adventures as the paddlers battle the ocean. Terlingua-based Jason Jones, longtime friends with Hansen and the crew, has been driving me all over the place – it’s a 2.5-hour, 60-mile drive down the beach just to get to the cut. Once there, I discovered a population of racoons living between the giant granite blocks that make up the levy. I managed to wrap myself up in the tentacles of a jellyfish. (Jason volunteered to pee on it, but I declined the offer.) Jason made friends with a scrappy little dog named Xena the Warrior Princess.
Looks like I’ll be snoozing on a yacht belonging to a friend of a friend tonight, so life’s still good. If we don’t meet the guys tonight, we hope to catch up with them tomorrow.