Major paddlers ready for 50 miler

2008-12-04 00:00

With all the major players entered, and the Duzi and Umgeni rivers already flowing strongly ahead of the release from Henley Dam, everything looks set for an excellent running of Umzinyathi Canoe Club’s House of Paint 50 Miler this weekend.

On the start line at 7 am on Saturday at Mission Rapid will be the current first five Hansa Powerade Dusi seeds Ant Stott, Michael Mbanjwa, Len Jenkins, Andrew Birkett (junior) and Shaun Griffin.

A glut of other top contenders, including Nick Stubbs, Shaun Rubenstein, Cam Schoeman, Jason Graham, Loveday Zondi, Lucas Mthalane, Shane Price and Nkosi Cele, have also entered, setting the scene for some very close racing.

In the women’s category, there are just eight seeded boats with Abby Miedema at the top and Abie Adie, Robyn Kime and Kirsty van der Merwe all ready to cause an upset.

All eyes will also be on Martin Dreyer’s men from the Change a Life project at Nagle Dam. Dreyer is preparing paddlers from the Umzinduzi/Umgeni valley for the 2009 Dusi. He intends to have 10 finish in the top 50 in the big race in January and this weekend should give a good indication of their progress. Boats to watch are Lucas Mthalane, Nkosiyayise Cele, Zonele Nzuza, Nhlanhla Cele, Tom Ngcobo and Mkhonzeni Gumede.

While Robyn Kime is expected to take the girls’ race with reasonable ease, two other boats to watch will be Tamika Haw and Lauren Canham, both of whom have been making significant progress up the women’s ladder in recent months. Both are products of KZN’s top developer of strong female paddlers, Epworth School in Pietermaritzburg.

On day one the course follows the same route as the past few years down the Umsunduzi, through the confluence with the Umgeni, to finish a short distance upstream from last year in the pool below the Marianni Foley causeway. As usual, in what is touted as a paddlers’ race, the Dusi portages of Finger Neck, Cabbage Tree, First Saddle and the Confluence Portage are all out of bounds. This forces the paddlers through some areas shunned by the faint-hearted on the Duzi, such as Bell rapid, Washing Machine, Tree Stump and Ibis Point. Washing Machine rapid is the hot-spot target for the leaders on day one.

Day two on Sunday begins again at 7 am in the pool below Marianni Foley and is followed shortly by the very paddler-unfriendly 3 km Umgmeni Hill Portage, the only real chance in the race for the Dusi runner specialists to gain an advantage over their more skilled paddling rivals. Then it is back into the water for the Hot-Mile of the Big Three rapids, Gum Tree, Tombi and Hippo Rocks before Mfula Store. From there to Inanda dam the rapids are smaller and the flat sections increase in length and number before the chaos of pools, sand wiers and unstable sand causeways in the zone of the uncontrolled sandwinning operations from Mbeje’s Store to the headwaters of the dam. Once in the dam the best of the flat-marathon paddlers will come to the fore with a chance to make up valuable water before the finish at the Msinsi resort.

The sponsors — House of Paint — have put significant support into canoeing in KZN over the past two years, sponsoring Umzinyathi’s other major event, the South African K4 Championships in August, and Natal Canoe Club’s Ozzie Gladwin two months ago. They will also be providing a helicopter, essential in the security arrangements for the weekend’s race. While the non-release of water from Inanda Dam for the race was a serious blow to the canoeists hoping to race the exciting section of the Dusi course from the dam to Blue Lagoon, it was far more so to the water-starved lower section of the Umgeni river, where unless the dam overflows there is no natural flow at all apart from releases for canoe races.

However, the release confirmed by Umgeni Water from Henley Dam will make for excellent racing on the revised course higher up the two rivers, and should help Inanda Dam to spill sooner rather than later.

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