Canoeists replicate Dusi race pioneers’ feat in canvas craft

2013-11-27 00:00

EARLY on Friday morning a hardy band of 16 canoeists will set off on a four-day journey to Durban following the original Dusi canoe marathon route, paddling replica canvas and wood craft of the same design used by Dr Ian Player when he won the inaugural Dusi in 1951.

The commemorative Canvas Dusi was started by paddling stalwart John Oliver in 2002, with the intention of replicating the pioneering feats of the race’s founders.

One of the race’s staunchest supporters, Anton Venter, has fine tuned the skills needed to build these boats from suitable timber and canvas, and is able to supply these replica craft to keen paddlers from around R1 500, roughly 25% of the cost of a modern fibreglass craft.

The four-day adventure has seen a gradual turnover in personnel in the decade that it has been run, with more and more younger paddlers joining the trip.

“In the beginning, it was just a bunch of us old ballies,” said Hugh Raw, one of the Canvas Dusi’s most passionate supporters. “It is great to see the younger paddlers joining us, like the Wright brothers, which helps to bring down the average age.”

The race is staged on the first weekend in December to coincide with the good water releases for the two-day 50 Miler race. However, it does mean that the first and last days of the Canvas Dusi trip are often paddled on low rivers.

On the final stage from Molweni to Blue Lagoon in Durban, the paddlers will not carry their craft over the notorious Burma Road portage, but instead face up to the big rapids on the paddle round.

“Peter Peacock [a former Dusi winner] has started shooting the big stuff in these wood and canvas canoes, which have open cockpits with no splash covers,” said Raw.

“Last year, I shot Island One and Two rapids following Peter’s lines and we both made it.”

These rapids are studiously avoided by the normal Dusi paddlers.

“These wood and canvas craft can be quite hard work to maintain and they don’t have a very long life span,” said Raw. “If you pick up a rip in the canvas, that’s quite easy to fix because you can patch it with contact adhesive. But when you break one of the wooden ribs in the boat, then they become quite weak.”

Day one will take the 16 paddlers to Yellow Rock, close to the first overnight stop of the normal Dusi Marathon. Day two overnights conveniently at Mfula Store, while the third stage ends at Molweni, below the Inanda dam wall, and the final stage on Monday ends at Blue Lagoon in Durban.

“It is a totally social trip, and we all stay together and help each other out whenever necessary,” said Raw. “We did lose one of our number last year — he somehow got lost on the Guinea Fowl portage — and we were enormously relieved to see him stumbling out of the bush several hours later. But, generally speaking, the group that starts is the same group that will finish the trip in Durban.”

The Dusi Canoe Marathon next year is profiling the contributions that icons like Player, Ernie Pearce, Graeme Pope-Ellis and Robert Lembethe played in getting the famous race to where it is today.

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