Mix of excitement and drama on day one

2019-02-15 14:35
Sbonelo Khwela shoots Mission Rapids on his way to winning day one of the Dusi Canoe marathon on Friday.

Sbonelo Khwela shoots Mission Rapids on his way to winning day one of the Dusi Canoe marathon on Friday. (Ian Carbutt)

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The Dusi Canoe Marathon is famous for its mixture of excitement and drama involving gutsy or unlucky paddlers, and it was no different on the opening day of the 2019 race on Thursday.

A hearty development featured multiple event champion Andy Birkett of Maritzburg and his wife, Nikki, marking Valentine’s Day by both taking part in the gruelling event and both sitting in the top five places of their respective categories for the opening stage.

This was despite Nikki tackling the Dusi for the first time in her life.

“I have got an awesome husband,” she said with a big smile after completing stage one from Camps Drift in Pieter­maritzburg to Duzi Bridge outside Cato Ridge o Friday morning.

“This is my first Dusi and he gave me very helpful advice before the race, going through the route on Google and things.

“It was hectic on the river today, but also a lot of fun. I am more used to surfski than river racing.”

Some of Andy’s written notes were still visible on Nikki’s boat at the day’s stop.

The couple have an eight-month-old son, David, who is being looked after by family members during the racing hours of the three-day event.

“I missed David all the way today, but I knew he was in safe hands, with my mom and Andy’s mom and other family members. We will all meet at the family home in Howick now and later get ready for tomorrow’s race again.”

Nikki Birkett, wife of multiple Dusi champion Andy Birkett, entered her first Dusi on Valentine’s Day yesterday and finished the opening stage fifth among the women.[Carl Peters]

But it wasn’t a smooth experience for two other leading contenders, Hank McGregor of Durban among the men and Maritzburger Christie Mackenzie among the women.

They both capsized their boats fairly early in the race and wasted valuable time reorganising themselves.

McGregor, who won the doubles race with Andy Birkett last year, had to settle for 23rd place on the day and was a hefty 25 minutes behind stage winner Sbonelo Khwela.

Shongweni-based Khwela was more than one minute quicker than second-placed Andy Birkett and almost six minutes faster than another well-known regional paddler, Thulani Mbanjwa.

Mackenzie managed to put herself straight and went on to finish the stage second to Tamika Haw.

Friday’s second stage is 46 kilometres long, from Duzi Bridge to Msinsi Resort on Inanda Dam outside Hillcrest.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  dusi canoe marathon

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