6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Serious, Focused Paddling

. . racing, in fact.

I put my head down, leaned forward and reached for a blade-full of Umgeni water and pulled it back to behind my hip. This was not a characteristic action. I was not used to putting effort into my paddling, but this was serious: I had team-mates, and we were in a race. This was the KCC 12-hour enduro.

When I got back from my blistering lap under the big concrete Athlone bridge pier in the Umgeni river at Blue Lagoon, my team-mates assured me it was the slowest lap in the history of canoeing, a record unlikely ever to be broken and they had all grown a beard, shaved it off and grown another while waiting for me.

Thanks guys. It was nothing.

Roly Bennett took over from me (yes, we were a crack squad) and fell out three times before he got out from under the shadow of the Athlone bridge.

He then stood up in the shallow water and filled the boat halfway with water, reckoning this gave him some stability; being a yachtsman he knew all about lead in your keel. He got back in and paddled off with half a millimetre of freeboard, gunwales awash half the time;

When Roly – eventually – got back :-

– my team-mates assured me my record had been shattered and I was now only the second-most useless member of the crack squad;

* alternative ending (I can’t remember which is true):

– my team-mates told me that despite Roly being handicapped by a pathetic tap-tapping paddling action and a half-sunken ship, my record still stood. Sadly, I think this was the actual story.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

– the scene of the action years later –
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport

The Lowveld Croc

Never mind crocs, watch out for hippos!

There’s a Crocodile River in Gauteng, so the river near Nelspruit that flows east into Mocambique and forms the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park has to be called the “Lowveld Croc”.

A wonderful canoe (kayak really) race is held annually on this river. The presence of hippopotamuses in the river adds a risk and a thrill to the two-day race. Race organisers engage with local farmers and wildlife people and trip the river in the weeks before the race in order to identify possible hippo hotspots which are then compulsory portages on race days. Sometimes a helicopter is used to do a scouting flight on race day morning, and volunteer paddlers also scout the route by starting ahead of the competing racers.

The year I did the race (1983 or 1984) I remember the route as from above Montrose falls to Mbombela town (formerly Nelspruit). We portaged around the falls.

montrose-falls 3

The hippo were in the last pool before the finish in Nelspruit, so the race was ended a few km short at the last accessible spot before the hippo pool. I see they now start higher up and end the race above Montrose falls.