Historic return of 'Kelkiewyn'

Cape Town - The Berg River canoe marathon will relive a slice of its fifty year history when the boat that won the first race in 1962 is paddled by stalwart Lionel Ekermans after being lovingly restored to its original condition.

Dubbed "Kelkiewyn" the fibreglass and canvas rudderless kayak took Nollie Meiring to victory in the inaugural race from Paarl to the West Coast.

Meiring however was summarily banned by the South African Canoe Federation for transgressing his amateur status for winning the shiny red VW Beetle that he received as winner of the first Berg.

Meiring quit canoeing and his famous canoe was abandoned in Cape Town before heading back to his local Likkewaan canoe club where the 44-year old turned to coaching youngsters.

He handed his boat, an "Attack" model kayak, to the Western Province Canoe Union members, with the intention that they take a mould off it and make craft for other paddlers to race. The boat was however left in a hidden corner of a number of paddler's gardens where the wood, canvas and fibreglass perished badly.

In 1996, Andre Collins, who had dumped the craft into a neighbour's garden, asked Lionel "Lonkie" Ekermans to try and restore it in time for the 35th Berg, which he duly did and completed the race in the craft.

Since then it has been on display on the wall of the Milnerton canoe club, until Ekermans took up the idea of doing this year's Windhoek Berg in "Kelkiewyn" to add value to the 50th anniversary celebrations.

"My hope is that by paddling "Kelkiewyn" in the race this year it will attract a little more attention to the race and remind people of its history," said Ekermans, who will be starting his 39th Berg.

While Ekermans has the advantage of having paddled the craft before, the 243km race will be a substantial challenge.

"The boat has no rudder, so I have to steer it with my paddles and by leaning the boat," said Ekermans. "I believe Nollie Meiring had a problem with his feet and because he couldn't use a rudder as there was no rudder fitted to "Kelkiewyn" at all. I want to stay true to the original design so I will race it without a rudder."

"It's not too much of a problem in the top section of the race because the river is narrow and the water bounces off the sides, which helps to keep the boat going straight," said Ekermans. "But on the final day where the river is flat and wide it tends to go all over the place."

Ekermans is passionate about retaining the boats original characteristics, and while he has rebuilt sections of the glassfibre hull and replaced the rotten canvas and timber, he strives to keep as close as possible to the original specifications.

"I have taken "Kelkiewyn" out for a paddle once or twice and it seems there is no leaking through the canvas. I have kept the original colours of the canvas deck, so all I might do is add a clear layer to seal the deck to make sure it is waterproof," he said.

The Berg River Canoe Marathon takes place from July 13-16, preceded by a time trial on July 12.

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