The team left this morning a few minutes before 9:00 am. The winds were strong, creating swells 4-5 feet. As with the rest of West and Jeff’s expeditions, systems are in place for safety, communication with me is important and the tracking systems are important tools. All paddlers are wearing PFDs the entire time they are paddling. As the team paddled up the coast, they appeared to making good time considering the wind and water conditions. As the afternoon wore on, they decided to stop, get a quick bite to eat, then move on. They were meeting Jason Jones and Pam LeBlanc (pamleblancadventures) at Mansfield Cut, a predetermined meeting place. I received a text from the GPS to have Jason and Pam meet the team on the Gulf side of the cut. They were already in place at the jetties, Gulf-side, right where the team wanted them.
As the team finished up eating, they prepared to leave. As it goes, Branndon Bargo takes off first, with Jeff Wueste and Jimmy Harvey directly behind and Tim Curry and West Hansen bringing up the rear. This ensures eyes are on each other, at all times. As Branndon took off, Jeff and Jimmy behind him, a big gale force wind popped up and made some strange water turns. Jeff and Jimmy both dumped just outside of the breakpoint. West and Tim got to them, got them upright and they were going to head back to shore. With the strange wind upheaval the decision was made to wait a bit before leaving. They turned to holler at Branndon so he could head to shore but they lost sight of him. West got out his binoculars, but with the white caps and having white boats, it was difficult to distinguish between the two. The four searched while walking up and down the beach, to no avail. A Park Conservation Officer came along as the decision was made to call the Coast Guard. West explained what was happening. The PCO said he thought he saw Branndon a ways up the beach, close to the jetties. He confirmed Branndon was wearing a yellow PFD. Yep, he is. Branndon, unaware what had happened behind him, paddled up the coast, made it to the jetties, without incident, expecting the rest of the team to be just 15 minutes or so behind him. Once West found Branndon was safe, he headed back to Jeff, Jimmy & Tim. They took off and made great time to the jetties, as the wind had died down and water was in a little better condition to paddle.
Once tents were up and everyone had eaten, they discussed how to prevent this from happening in the future. In expeditions that I’ve been involved in, the rule is the entire team sticks together, always.
All members of the team are having a great time. I’ve heard there is singing, laughing, encouragement and all kinds of kum-bah-ya moments occurring.