Black Murray’s bite

2008-02-27 00:00

THERE’S a rapid (or three) in every canoe race that has earned the respect of the top paddlers and which strikes fear into the hearts of the less skilled. It’s the place where races are won and lost, where a swim can hand the lead to a rival, where taking a risk can pay dividends and where the rocks devour boats like hungry trolls that spit out bits of fibreglass and shattered dreams.

At the Fish River canoe marathon it’s Keith’s Flyover. The Dusi has a bunch — Mission, Washing Machine, Hippo, Tombi and Tops Needles among them. And the Drak Challenge, on the Umzimkulu River at Underberg, has Black Murray on day one and Glenhaven on day two.

It depends on the water level as to how dangerous Black Murray is. When the Umzimkulu is pumping it is life-threatening. When it’s medium-low, as it was this weekend, it’s very technical and completely unforgiving.

To put it into perspective, in the first 10 kilometres of the 2008 Drak Challenge, a section of river known as the Valley of a Thousand Rapids which includes horrors such as Boomslang Cataract and which has Black Murray as the final straw, so to speak, more than 50 paddlers damaged their boats so badly they were unable to continue.

“It was carnage,” said a young paddler who missed a day’s lectures at Rhodes University to take part in the race, “brutal carnage.”

Black Murray presents a challenge for the spectators, too. It has obvious appeal as a viewpoint — lots of action and drama — but you have to earn the right to stand on the bank by slogging your way across the veld and down an almost vertical drop to get there. Fifteen minutes down and 30 minutes back up, said the race information sheet. Whoever wrote that lied. Or else the hike was timed by a 15-year-old with no fear of heights, an insane level of energy and a broken watch. It took us the best part of half-an-hour to get down to the river and what felt like an eternity to drag ourselves back up to the road.

But it was worth it. We spent the morning under a shady tree on the bank of the Umzimkulu and saw everything from the sheer class of Dusi king Graeme Pope-Ellis and his partner Geremy Cliff who made the rapid look like a ripple to guys with loads of experience and who should know better making a complete meal of it, to the fish-and-chips paddlers who really should have portaged but who charged in regardless.

Some of them got lucky. Their efforts weren’t always pretty, but they were effective. They got through, reasonably unscathed and high on adrenalin.

And then there were the casualties. Those who fell out thumped up against rocks and were tossed around like corks in the cold, clear malevolent maelstrom before being spat out by the washing machine at the far right of the last drop.

As for their boats, well there’s nothing worse than the cracking sound that a canoe makes as it wraps itself around a rock. Some were able to continue the race — duct tape is magic stuff — but there were quite a few that were beyond repair. Old boats fared worst — brittle, soft and already battle-scarred from previous encounters with unforgiving rocks, their decks and cockpits shattered into shards of razor-sharp fibreglass and resin.

There was a collective groan from the crowd as a double kayak ripped the deck off a K1 that had just been saved from being wrapped and was parked, foolishly as it turned out, across one of the paddling lines.

The tales of the drama were told and retold at the legendary Saturday-night party at the overnight stop in Underberg. The Sharks supporters got to celebrate a Super 14 victory as well. And then the survivors had to get up again on Sunday morning to face Glenhaven Rapid.

No wonder the organisers bill the Drak Challenge as the “most fun you can have canoeing”.

• See more pictures of the action at Black Murray on our website

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.