Quintin van Jaarsveld
It’s that time of the year again – when local paddlers and hundreds from the across the country descend on Pietermaritzburg for the most anticipated and revered race on the canoeing calendar, the Dusi.
Weather conditions and the effects of the two-year drought is set to define a tough, low water race when over a thousand paddlers start their three-day journey from Camps Drift on Thursday.
South Coast Canoe Club will be well represented with a dozen of its members, including three debutants, looking to go the distance in this year’s iconic event.
Club chairman Willie Kunz, father and son Rudi and Dylan Bense (the latter chasing his 10th Dusi finish), Denzil Nicholas and rookie Jarryd Nash are the club’s K1 competitors, debutant duo Ayrton Barron and Jean Geyer and the experienced tandem of Simon Heaver and Patrick McNeill will be paddling in a K2 and Luke Brauteseth, Warren Fairbrother and Donovan Currie in a K3.
Kunz said the local canoeing contingent are champing at the bit for what he regards as the sport’s ultimate challenge.
“There is no other canoe race like the Dusi. It is a challenge of the highest calibre and will test your endurance to the limits. Besides the camaraderie and friendships that you will enjoy on the river, the challenging spirit between you and your mates will still be there,” he told eHowzit.
There were some challenges on the road to the Dusi, Kunz said, but he’s confident they’ll give a good account of themselves.
“We have had some good training sessions with the youngsters and visiting paddlers over the December period. Unfortunately, not everybody can get to the river at the same time so some guys have to train on their own.
“Perhaps our running is not at the level that it should be, but I think that we have prepared well on the paddling side. Unfortunately, the first two days consists of a lot of running. I think Campbells portage is about 6km and Guinea Fowl about 4km plus a few minor ones thrown in. Day Two has Saddles and Ngumeni.”
Seven of the South Coast paddlers – Kunz, Barron, Geyer, Nicholas, Rudi Bense, Heaver and McNeill – completed the Drak Challenge and will take heart from their performances in the two-day race.
Kunz, a veteran boasting 21 Dusi finishes, missed last year’s event due to illness. He was diagnosed with Poly Amalgia Rhumatica, an auto immune disease, some two-and-a-half years ago.
“I am a bit nervous because of my illness. My skin is so thin from being on cortisone for such a long time that I have to consider paddling in tights and a long sleeve to protect myself.”
Elaborating on the illness and how it’s impacting his paddling, he said, “It started out of the blue in my thighs one Saturday morning and I could barely walk. I went for a cortisone injection on the Monday and have been on heavy bouts of cortisone – up to eight tablets a day – ever since.
“I was down to half a tablet a day as from January this year but that only lasted for three weeks. I am now back to four tablets a day and unfortunately will have to go through the weaning process all over again. Other than the cortisone, the only treatment that works and is a must is exercising.
“The side effects are lack of sleep, high blood pressure, you bulk and blow up, thinning of the blood and your skin is very thin. Every little bump, I bruise and bleed profusely which I why I have to wear some sort of protection for Dusi in case I fall out, which is almost impossible. I have been lucky to keep my weight in check with my exercises though.”
After securing silver in the grand masters division in his three last outings, Kunz will this year move up to the great grand masters (65-70) category. “The challenge to myself is a top three finish and to see how well I do against our new breed of young paddlers,” he said.
On some of his clubmates’ goals, Kunz said, “Ayrton and Jean will want to be competitive as they are both good runners. They have just bought a new K2 so they haven’t run with it all that much, which hopefully won’t be too much of a disadvantage.
“The K3 crew as the water talk goes are in it for a ‘jol’. It remains to be seen how they are going to feel after the first day’s ‘jollie patrollie’ as with work commitments from Warren and Donovan and Luke working away, their training was quite limited.
“Dylan Bense has just come back from being overseas and have only had about three weeks training. He has excellent river skills, though, which he will have to use to guide and help Denzel through his first K1 attempt.
“I think Jarryd would be happy with a finish. Whilst he is competitive, fit and strong, he has not paddled his K1 much in flowing water. In the past, he did his paddling in the back of a K2, which is vastly different from negotiating rapids in a K1.
“Simon is also a river dog of note and very skilled as a K2 driver. They will be looking to finish strongly and whilst he won’t admit it, there is a competitive streak in him. There is a lot of banter between him and Rudi.”
Meanwhile, the organisers have reassured paddlers that are concerned about the effect that the low level of Inanda dam will have on the final stage of the race that it is extremely unlikely that the race will have to revert to “low water rules” for the 36km Day Three from Msinsi Resort to Durban.
Despite heavy rainfall during the week leading up to the race, the level of Inanda dam remains at 60,32% and with water restriction in force across the region, paddlers are concerned that there will be no water flowing in the lower uMngeni.
However, race General Manager Brett Austen Smith has stepped in to reassure paddlers that the base flow should be enough to support the normal racing rules that require the paddlers to paddle from Inanda dam to the Burma Road take out.
Added to that, Austen Smith pointed to further rains forecast for the remainder of the week that could well result in water from keys tributaries such as the Mzinyathi and Molweni Rivers, topping up the water flow for the final leg.
“Yes we have ‘Low Water Rules’ on stand-by,” said Austen Smith. “But right now we are confident that there will be enough water in the uMngeni for paddlers, even the K2 and K3 crews, to get through comfortably enough on the final leg.
“We are fully mindful of the drought and back the efforts by the water authorities and municipalities to conserve this precious resource,” he added.
“Fortunately there is a base environmental flow that ensures there is some water in the system, and we are confident that this will enough to allow us to retain the normal rules for Day Three instead of the having to resort to the ‘Low Water Rules’,” he said.
Low Water Rules will allow paddlers to carry their craft down the road to uMzinyathi Rapid, and if necessary to use a path alongside the river to Little John Rapid, where paddlers have the option of taking the Burma Road portage. After the Burma Road portage put-in the river is usually normally navigable all the way to the finish at Blue Lagoon.