The PhatWater Kayak Challenge (October 9, 2004) begins at the Claiborne County Port Facility, near Grand Gulf, six miles from Port Gibson, Mississippi. Port Gibson is on U.S. Highway 61, halfway between Vicksburg and Natchez. (Course Map link on website here).
There is a concrete boat ramp at the port facility for launching. Nearby camping, at Grand Gulf Military Park has all modern facilities, and is only 3.5 miles from the put-in.
The starting line is a slack water inlet, facing the Mississippi River. At the starting gun, paddlers will move directly into the river. The transition to current from slack water is barely noticeable.
Looking downstream, to the southwest, paddlers will see a broad vista with gray-blue water, flanked by green willows and distant, white sand beaches.
Beyond the view from the starting line the river makes a westerly bend for several miles, then turns hard south. Approximately six miles downstream, the first of two large Grain Elevators is encountered, river-right (West Bank). This marks the St. Joseph, Louisiana, elevator. Lead paddlers will reach this elevator in an hour to an hour and a half. Others will take as much as two hours or longer to reach this landmark. There is a large sandbar across from the elevator which makes for a good rest stop.
From this point the river continues south for several miles, then again shifts westward for a time. A large sand island lies just below the St. "Joe" elevator. However, it is best to stay in the main channel since the current inside the island is almost non-existent.
Below this island the course is more or less a straight shot south, though there is a significant bend just as you come upon a second grain elevator, at Waterproof, Louisiana. It will take from 3 to 3.5 hours for the lead element to reach this second elevator. There is another broad sandbar across from the elevator ideal for resting and stretching. The Waterproof elevator is approximately 16 miles above Natchez.
The river narrows a bit upon reaching the Waterproof elevator, though it widens again far before reaching the landing at Natchez.
Below the Waterproof Elevator paddlers will notice the confluence of Cole's Creek, entering the Mississippi, river-left.
Two final prominent landmarks line the course, prior to the Natchez Landing. The first is a pair of large white signs on either side of the river denoting an underwater pipe line. At this point you will be approximately seven miles above Natchez. A second land mark in the distance is a pair of towers and power cables extending over the river. The powerline is between five and six miles above Natchez. The Isle of Capri Casino and the bluffs of Natchez are easy to see from this point.
Bouy markers, RED for river left, GREEN for river right, are in place throughout the course, and are randomly spaced about three quarters of a mile apart. They offer a rudimentary measure of progress, though they are by no means an accurate gauge of actual miles traveled.
Avoid getting too close to the bouys, as they can sway erratically in the strong current.
There are two take outs along the route. One is at St. Joseph, Louisiana, river right, and the other is at Waterproof, Louisiana, also river right. The St. Joe take out is approximately ten miles into the trip, and the Waterproof take out is approximately thirty miles into the trip. If you take out at either of these locations, you need to arrange to have a driver here to pick you and your boat up. The race committee is not equipped to provide a shuttle service from either of these take outs. Both are on the outskirts of small farming towns, with little or no commerce or other facilities available.
Natchez, Mississippi, where registration for the race occurs, is in Southwest Mississippi, on the river, halfway between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Natchez is located on U.S. 61. If you are traveling north, take I-10 from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, then go north to U.S. 61, and follow 61 to Natchez. If you are driving from the north, take I-55 to Hazelhurst, Mississippi, thirty miles south of Jackson, Mississippi. At the Hazelhurst exit, take Hwy. 28 to Fayette, Mississippi, then turn south on U.S. 61 to Natchez.
Both the Put-In and Take-Out have concrete, commercial ramps. Directions to the put-in at Grand Gulf will be provided at registration. Registration is held all day long, 8 October, 2004, at the Under-The-Hill Saloon, in Natchez, Mississippi. Anyone in Natchez can tell you how to get to "Under-The-Hill". Registration for athletes is $25. This gets you a Phatwater T-shirt, a meal at the party, and helps pay our charity choice, the local Humane Society.