The Rev. Themo Patriotis’ vision may not rank up there with the burning bush, or the prophet Ezekiel seeing gleaming wheels of topaz whirling in the sky.
But, some if not all of it will be realized this Saturday off Battery Park in Apalachicola when a hoped-for 2100 kayakers assemble to break the world record.
“I had this vision of an event, the largest gathering of kayaks in the world,” he told the city commissioners May 6. “Let’s throw our hat out there and say this is who we are. This is a community that really pulls together.”
During the first-ever Forgotten Coast Paddle Jam, which begins Friday night and runs through Saturday evening, they will try to set a new Guinness Book World Record for the largest floating gathering of kayaks.
The current record was set Sept. 24, 2011 when 1,902 kayaks and canoes assembled on Fourth Lake in Inlet, N.Y. , with Sutton’s Bay, Michigan now boasting that its 2,099 kayakers in Aug. 2013 set the new record.
On Saturday, sometime after noon, Patriotis and volunteer organizers plan to raft up as many as kayaks as they can, linked by boaters arm-in-arm or paddle-to-paddle, and assembled for 30 seconds. Proceeds from Saturday kayak events go towards helping “at risk” children, youth and families in need through the Outreach Ministries of the Apalachicola-St. George Island Cooperative Parish, where Patriotis pastors.
Patriotis’ appearance before the city commission to proclaim his vision, which dates back to Oct. 2013 when the paddle club was formed, was not an entirely smooth outing for the preacher.
The paddle jam, he sought, would call for the closure of Battery Park to all motorized boat launching from Friday afternoon on. That sweeping proclamation was challenged from among the audience, who complained of the inconvenience to charter operators and commercial fishermen.
“I’m all for this event,” said Sandi Hengle. “My concern is security and for local people. I do think it should be closed for the event but not an extended period of time.”
Patriotis made clear he would modify his vision if the city had an insurmountable problem. “We could move the event to St. George Island. That whole beach there would be a lot easier,” he said. “I want to be respectful. I don’t want to impose anything on the mayor and the citizens.”
Commissioner Jimmy Elliott sought compromise, inquiring what alternatives there might be at the seafood park west of town at Lombardi’s, or Abercrombie’s boat ramp out Bluff Road, or the Mill Pond, which is closed for construction.
“If they launch from Abercrombie’s launch, they could go down the river and then go down the river that way,” he said.
Patriotis said many of the kayakers will be new to the sport, of varying ages, suggesting inconvenience would detract from the event. Sporting goods outlets, outfitters, other vendors will be there, he said, bringing several hotel guests.
“I don’t think there's anybody who would give up 24 hours of their boat to help some kids,” said Elliott.
At Mayor Van Johnson’s suggestion, City Administrator Betty Taylor-Webb met with Patriotis last week, and details are in place for an inaugural event whose only actual threat might be bad weather. Clear weather with warm breezes are forecast for Saturday.
Kayakers can begin registering online at www.paddle2love.com. Pre-registration saves $5 over the day-of rate of $30, per kayak. First 500 will receive free performance t-shirt, a $20 value.
The Coast Guard has blessed the event; the sheriff’s office, and city police all are onboard.