Quintin van Jaarsveld
Local paddlers are primed and ready for the 67th edition of the iconic FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon, which gets underway at Camps Drift on Thursday.
This year is all about teamwork as paddlers pair up for three days of K2 competition from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
Five South Coast Canoe Club pairs will be in action.
Club chairman Willie Kunz reunites with previous partner Roy Delhove from Durban in the B batch, where the pressure will be on from the start.
The father and son pair of Rudi and Jordan Bense will start in the D batch, Ayrton Barron and Dylan Bense in G, Simon Heaver will be paddling with doctor, Patrick McNeill, previously from Port Shepstone, and Craig Rhodes is teaming up with Donovan Currie. They’ll start in H, the charity batch.
Kunz, eyeing his 23rd Dusi finish, said the South Coast contingent’s training on the Umzimkulu River went well.
“Rudi, Dylan, Ayrton and myself trained together in K2s most days. Ayrton made us a pull-up bar, which we put up at our racking,” Kunz told eHowzit.
“Our training simulated what you do on race day – paddle, run and paddle. Some days, we started off with a run around the golf course and then a paddle.
“We paddled down to the mouth, dropped the boats and ran to Chaka’s along the beach. Most days, we did our pull-ups and push-ups, except Rudi, who is not particularly fond of exercises,” he laughed.
Meanwhile, with the Western and Eastern Cape wrestling with a looming Day Zero and Umgeni Water extending its water restrictions on KwaZulu-Natal, paddlers are celebrating the confirmation that there will be enough water in the lower Umgeni River to paddle the final stage into Blue Lagoon on Saturday.
After a gruelling final stage in 2017 when there was no water below Inanda dam, forcing the field to portage all the way to the tidal estuary, the collaboration between Umgeni Water and the KwaZulu-Natal Canoe Union has ensured that there will be seven cubic meters per second (cumecs) in the river system to allow the 1000 paddlers that have entered the race to avoid the 22 kilometres of portaging that was forced on them 12 months ago.
“We work closely with Umgeni Water and the Drought Disaster Committee and they have agreed to give us seven cumecs. We don’t know what seven cumecs is going to be like on the river, but I do believe that the seven cumecs will channel into the deeper part of the river and we will be able to get into Durban, unlike last year!,” said Kevin Trodd, the Water Liaison Officer for the KwaZulu-Natal Canoe Union.
“There might be a few places, like Side Chute Rapid and Molweni Rapid, where we have to get out and carry your boats over, but I do believe we will be able to get to Durban a lot easier than the last Dusi,” said Trodd.
“The good years will come again,” he added.
The water is part of a carefully controlled ecological release, and was confirmed after the latest review of the major dams across the province found them to be roughly ten percent fuller than they were at the corresponding time last year.
Trodd was confident that the committee had come up with a good plan to get maximum benefit from the water available. He said that by planning to start release at midday on Friday, this would ensure that the water moves downriver to below the last rapid before the flatwater section into the finish in Durban.
“This will also give the paddlers a chance later on Friday afternoon to go and look at sections like Tops Needle Rapid and maybe Side Chute to get an idea of what the seven cumec flow will offer them on the final stage,” said Trodd.
“This will give a consistent flow throughout the race and make sure that all the paddlers have the same water,” explained Trodd.
“Based on our calculations, and the experience we have picked up from doing this for some time now, we plan to get the water to below Mango Rapid before the first paddlers get there on Saturday morning.
Race committee head Steve Botha added that the confirmed water was exciting news and a reward for faith that paddlers had in the race after last year’s gruelling final stage.
“We have to understand that the four year drought is a national priority and impacts heavily on the lives of everyone in the country. We are grateful that we have a productive and understanding relationship with Umgeni Water and have been able to contribute in our own way by managing the water from Henley dam for our canoeing races going into Inanda Dam, which is a vital part of the water infrastructure for the region,” he added.
“Yes the level of the water will be significantly lower than the paddlers have enjoyed in the past decade, but we are grateful for it and understand that while the drought has our province in its grips, this water is something to be very grateful for,” he added.