Women paddlers in rare win

2012-04-04 00:00

THE final race in the 2011-2012 KZN river racing season, the Hi-Q-Popes Canoe Centre Tugela Marathon, was staged at the weekend.

The race that’s not a race is the traditional season-closer and is held over two days from Middle Drift to Dunlop’s farm near Mandini with an overnight stop at Mabopane.

This year was not without its challenges. with paddlers facing a great deal of water but very little of it in the river.

Torrential rain on the Friday before the race left the gravel tracks to the overnight stop in an unknown condition and the organisers down-graded the first day to an optional “at your own risk” trip, with the actual racing settled only on the second day.

Despite the heavy local rain, the river remained at a rocky 60-80 cumecs, making much of the 27 km of day one a boat-rending grind over half-submerged boulders.

But the weather was cool and spirits remained high, with the usual relaxed holiday atmosphere around the campfire at Mabopane camp.

Sunday dawned clear but cool with the river slightly lower.

The day-two course was shortened to finish at the old stop at Pon’s Farm to avoid the last five kilometres of sandbanks and the rest of the course was a little easier as the river narrowed into a deeper gorge for much of the 27 km.

Debbie Germiquet and Carmen Blakeney quickly broke clear with Rick Whitton and Stuart Donald to lead all the way to the finish, giving a rare overall win by a women’s boat.

Brian Bader from East Rand Kayak in Gauteng had a grand day in a K1 as he took third overall, first K1, first out-of-province paddler and first Master. Lana Allan won the women’s race in a K1 from Hillary Pitchford and Jane Bain, while Linda Lodge and Ray van der Poll were the only mixed boat to finish.

The much coveted “Sponge Cake” award went, for only the second time in the race’s history, to the organisers, Crusaders Canoe Club, for “cancelling the first day due to a slight drizzle”.

Owen Hemmingway of sponsors Popes Canoe Centre became the first paddler to complete 25 consecutive editions of this extraordinary event, and timekeeper for the same number of races (your correspondent John Oliver) completed both days in a canoe for the first time in 14 years.

Finally the paddlers made their way up out of valley for a traditional lunch at the Tree of Libation, a giant fig on top of a hill overlooking the Tugela River and the sugar-cane farms of Zululand.

With river racing done for another season, there remains just one final day of sprinting at the K2 Section of KZN Sprint Champs at Nagle Dam on Saturday and SA Slalom Championships at the Moto-X Weir in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday, April 14.

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