Drama on Fish River first day

2008-10-03 00:00

Cradock — A morning of high drama at the notorious Keith’s Flyover rapid turned the first stage of the Hansa Powerade Fish River Canoe marathon on its head as several title contenders were unceremoniously dumped into the churning water, ending the challenge of the German crew of Max Hoff and Stephen Stiefenhoefer in a fleeting, controversial collision in the rapid.

Hoff and Stiefenhoefer were right behind Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt going into the rapids, when the race leaders were stopped dead in their tracks by a massive stopper wave. The Germans collided with the stationary kayak and capsized, and in seconds their kayak was sucked under water and out of sight, ending their race.

McGregor and Van der Walt went on to win the tough 46-km stage to Knutsford, with Cradock locals Ryan and Greg Louw alongside them, while the frustrated Germans were left to rue what might have been.

“Somebody should teach them how to paddle,” said Stiefenhoefer about the collision with McGregor and Van der Walt. “They stopped paddling in the big water and we went under their boat and lost our canoe. It is very unfortunate that we are out of the race.”

Van der Walt was exhausted after the stage, suffering the after-effects of his medal-winning effort at the world marathon championships in the Czech Republic a fortnight ago. The leaders were caught by the Louw brothers shortly after Soutpansdrift rapids, and paddled the final portion of the stage together.

“I realised that Grant was really exhausted, so it will be interesting to see how [today] unfolds,” said McGregor.

“We had a great day, apart from getting well and truly molested in Keith’s Flyover,” said Ryan Louw. “At each portage, we got splits that showed we were getting closer and closer to Hank [McGregor] and Grant [van der Walt], and we worked together for the last bit.”

Third was the crew of Doug Bird and Nic Burden, three minutes behind the two leaders, two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the fourth placed Maties crew of Ernest Van Riet and Heinrich Schloms.

Dusi hero Michael Mbanjwa and his partner, Piers Cruikshanks, were also Keith’s Flyover casualties, as their kayak joined the heap of boats wrecked by the unforgiving rapid.

The women’s race produced even more drama at Keith’s Flyover, as the first two crews swam through the nasty rapid, and Carol Joyce and Jen Hodson capsized moments before Alexa Cole and Bridgitte Hartley swam.

Abbey Miedema and Michéle Eray momentarily took the lead as they portaged around the rapid, only to see Czech duo Michala Mruskova and Katerina Vacikova successfully shoot the rapid to race into the lead.

“We had a real scare at the top of the rapid,” said Mruskova after the stage win. “We were hit by the big wave above the bridge and we started to capsize as well. I had to do half an Eskimo roll to get us back up, and we were able to complete the rest of the rapid.”

Miedema and Eray finished 50 seconds adrift of the Czech girls, who gradually pulled away from them in the final hour, with Cole and Hartley third, a further minute back.

The leading junior boys were Stu Waterworth and Ben Biggs, who raced home to ninth place overall.

The final 36-km stage from Knutsford to Cradock includes three testing weirs in the final 10 km.

This includes the four metre- high Cradock weir that has regularly played a major part in determining the outcome of the race.

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