Dusi Bridge - Pre-race favourites Andy Birkett and Hank McGregor and the Peek sisters Jordan and Cana took the respective men's and women's stage one honours at Thursday's first stage of the 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon but in sharply contrasting races.
Racing on a medium level uMsindusi River under cool and overcast skies the drama in the men’s race started at the second major obstacle of the day, the FNB Weir where the Houston brothers Alan and Andrew paddled into the bushes on the left which cost them some valuable time early in the day.
For the strong elite field it quickly became a case of trying to catch Euro Steel's Birkett and McGregor as they led the men's race from start to finish and never really looked like they were in trouble throughout.
"I wouldn't have minded if we were 30 seconds behind to be honest," Birkett mentioned.
"To have just under a two minute lead going into the second day is great for us.
"The plan was to try and stay out of the trouble at the start and to set our own pace and if guys ran off the front we would just let them go.
"It was a bit of a shock that we were the first boat going over the first portage and we set a good pace throughout."
The mercurial pair of Birkett and McGregor seem to be in a fairly relaxed mental space after their day one victory, McGregor was quick to quip about his running prowess.
"I have never beaten Andy on the Cabbage Tree portage but today I managed to do it!" he said with a chuckle.
"I've also never won the first day of the Dusi so today has been a day of firsts!
"With that said I have had a lot of fun today and paddling with Andy is a great experience."
Sbonelo Khwela and Siseko Ntondini managed to hold on to their second spot on the day, just finishing a second ahead of Carl Folscher and Hungarian Adrian Boros, who were the surprise package of day one.
Boros, who is one of Hungary's premier marathon paddlers, knows what to expect on day two of the Dusi and is looking forward to a day that plays more to his strengths.
"I cannot wait for the flat water on the dam on Friday," he commented.
"My running has improved but my paddling is my strength and Carl and I hope to finish tomorrow well."
The women's showdown was not without drama as the Peek sisters took a swim at Ernie Pearce Weir right at the start of the race which put them on the back foot from the outset.
Christie Mackenzie and Bridgitte Hartley set a blistering early pace after the sisters had their swim and tried to hold out for as long as possible. The Peek's running ability then shone through as they powered through the ladies field.
"After our swim we didn't need to tell each other that we had to work hard to make up that time," Jordan Peek said.
"We just put our heads down and worked our way through the field.
"We used the water to the best of our ability to conserve as much energy as we could and I had to make sure that my driving was on point to get us through."
Day one was going to be the stage that the Peek's were going to make their move and despite their swim they were by far the strongest crew on the day. Cana Peek doesn't believe that that will be the case on day two.
"Tomorrow is a completely different ball game and there is a lot more paddling and it is going to be an interesting race. Hopefully we don't make any more mistakes now.
"There is the dam tomorrow which is going to be tough and the girls chasing us are incredibly strong paddlers so we will have to be strong if we want to stay ahead," Cana commented.
Mackenzie and Hartley had to settle for second place after stage one with a five minute gap separating them from first, but more importantly there is only one-and-a-half minutes separating them from third place.
Jenna Ward and Vanda Kiszli finished the opening day in third place in the ladies race after a strong performance on day one. Their marathon paddling prowess will come to the fore on day two after they went about conserving energy on day one.
"The paddle on the dam will play to our strengths and we will be looking forward to that, but there is a lot of paddling between the start and the dam with some of the race's biggest rapids so we just have to take it one obstacle at a time.
"We have to get through the Nqumeni portage too!" she added with a smile.
The Under 23 men's race is being dominated by Martin Dreyer's Change a Life/Euro Steel duo of Mpilo Zondi and Mthobisi Cele. They came into the race as strong contenders and hold the cards ahead of fellow Change a Life stars Mvelo Ngidi and Thabani Msiya in second and Nqobile Makhanya and Siyanfda Gwamanda in third.
In the junior boys showdown, Maritzburg College's Hamish Mackenie and David Evans are well and truly in control with a near ten minute lead over Dominic Leslie and Sam Speed in second and Andile Mtolo and Kelly Tarr in third.
Epworth's Amy Peckett and Caitlin Mackenzie were the strongest junior girls crew on day one, albeit by just 12 seconds over their fellow Epworthian's Cara Waud and Tracy Oellerman in second as well as Casey Robertson and Anna Hauff in third.
There was drama later in the day when the race disciplinary committee and race jury sat to hear a complaint that Khwela and Ntondini had received illegal assistance from their seconds going up the Devils Cauldron section on the Guinea Fowl portage.
The pair admitted that their seconds had entered the area where no seconding is allowed against their instructions and accepted full responsibility for this infraction. They were both fined R500 and will retain their positions in the race.
The second stage of the 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon takes paddlers 46km from Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort at Inanda Dam.
1. Hank McGregor/Andy Birkett 2:41:11.10
2. Siseko Ntondini/Sbonelo Khwela 2:43:07.71
3. Carl Folscher/Adrian Boros 2:43:08.83
4. Andrew Houston/Alan Houston 2:43:37.63
5. Ant Stott/Banetse Nkhoesa 2:44:42.64
6. Jacques Theron/Thulani Mbanjwa 2:48:10.30
7. Mthobisi Cele/Mpilo Zondi (U23) 2:48:24.24
8. Loveday Zondi/Thando Ngamlana 2:48:31.33
9. Richard Cele/Nhlanhlayakhe Cele 2:48:32.48
10. Mvelo Ngidi/Thabani Msiya (U23) 2:50:07.22
11. Nqobile Makhanya/Siyanda Gwamanda (U23) 2:52:41.82
12. Zonele Nzuza/Piers Cruickshanks 2:52:46.84
13. Hamish Mackenzie/David Evans (U18) 2:56:28.61
14. Mmeli Cele/Msawenkosi Mtolo 2:57:28.30
15. Kwanda Mhlophe/Sipho Canham 2:58:10.72
16. Shaun Griffin/Dirk Van Den Berg 2:58:48.65
17. Thomas Ngidi/Mzamo Zondi 3:01:24.02
18. Murray Haw/Craig Carter-Brown 3:01:25.97
19. Jason Graham/Lucas Mthalane 3:01:49.32
20. Richard Fly/Peter Jacobs 3:01:56.83
1. Jordan Peek/Cana Peek (U23) 3:12:32.94
2. Bridgitte Hartley/Christie Mackenzie 3:17:38.67
3. Jenna Ward/Vanda Kiszli 3:19:11.16
4. Susan Machpech/Kelly Howe 3:24:14.25
5. Caitlin Mackenzie/Amy Peckett (U18) 3:28:27.97
6. Cara Waud/Tracey Oellermann (U18) 3:28:39.91
7. Kyeta Purchase/Kerry Segal 3:32:38.82
8. Kate Birkett/Nicky Irvine 3:49:92.41
9. Holly Spencer/Daniela Afonso 4:14:07.44
10. Melissa van Rooyen/Lorna Oliver 4:19:09.00
1.Mthobisi Cele/Mpilo Zondi 2:48:24.24
2.Mvelo Ngidi/Thabani Msiya 2:50:07.22
3.Nqobile Makhanya/Siyanda Gwamanda 2:52:41.82
4. Jabulani Gwamanda/Nkosikhona Mabaso 3:02.22
5. Stewart Little/Khumbulani Nzimande 3:03.00
1. Jordan Peek/Cana Peek 3:12.32
1. Hamish Mackenzie/David Evans 2:56:28.61
2. Dominic Leslie/Sam Speed 3:06:22.47
3. Andile Mtolo/Kelly Tarr 3:09:32.41
4. Zanenhlanhla Mbala/Wongoma Makhasi 3:18:35.75
5. Sandile Mtolo/Minenhle Mbhele 3:21:57.29
1. Caitlin Mackenzie/Amy Peckett 3:28:27.97
2. Cara Waud/Tracey Oellermann 3:28:39.91
3. Casey Robertson/Anna Hauff 4:15:26.64
1. Ross Leslie/Sam Butcher 3:27:52.94
1. Shannon Parker-Dennisen/Frances Forsyth 4:30:17.84