It was touted to be the race of all races, the most hotly contested men’s race for a long time. The “fantastic four” as they were dubbed, Andy Birkett, Lance Kime, Sbonelo Khwela and Thulani Mbanjwa, were the hot favourites to take the checkered flag at Blue Lagoon. The Dusi Canoe Marathon 2015 was set to be a cracker!
Day 1 started off with a dash for Ernie Pierce wier, always best to get there first to avoid any carnage which may take place at the bottom! From there they headed downstream to commercial and Taxi rapid. By the time they got to Taxi, there were three together but Sbonelo had someone been left behind. However, he managed to recover this at Cambell’s and by the time they got to Jeff’s rd he was in front with a small lead over the chasing duo of Andy and Lance. Mission rapid saw things changed with Andy in front followed by Lance and then Sbonelo. This is how it stayed til the end where Andy managed to hold onto a slender lead over Lance.
The ladies race was more a one horse race with Lauda O’Donoghue capitilizing on her strengths and despite a swim at Taxi, managed to dominate the rest of the day, with a 13min lead after day 1 over the Peek sisters.
For the rest of the field, it was a long hot day, temperatures peaking in the late 30’s with humidity topping it to make it a tough slog down into the Valley of a 1000 Hills.
Day 2 started off cooler, with a cold front having moved in over night! Dark gloomy conditions greeted the early morning crows of the chickens in the valley. The top paddlers eased into their warms-ups before the gun went off at 6am. Again, Andy set a blistering pace over saddles portages, down into washing machine and into the lower gorge area and out onto the dam. Unfortunately for us, the spectators, he was just too good out on the dam, finishing off day 2 with more than a 5min lead over Lance and Sbonelo who had maintained their positions from overnight, being 2 and 3 respectively. The field behind grit their teeth and followed as fast as they could, taking advantage of the cooler conditions, but as usual the winds picked up on the dam, adding the dreaded head-wind scenario which most paddler fear when getting to the dam.
Laura dominated day 2 once again, but the surprise was Jenna Ward coming from 6th overall right up to third!
Unfortunately, tragedy struck at the rapids in the Big Bend area, with Heini Jordaan being caught in his canoe and despite all the medical assistance, died along the river which he had passed 18 times before without any problems.
Day 3, with the reverse order start, allowed us to capture some of the action lower down in the field in the clean waters below Inanda Dam. Always fund shooting this section of the river, amazing what clean water does for the soul! Tops Needle, Umzimyati and Little John provide for some of the excitement, while for other’s the dreaded Burma portage looms, if you don’t want to paddle around! Watching Andy go over Burma is incredible, blistering the pace down the other side, down a huge embankment that has been created by earthworks in the area and then down to pumphouse! Amazing speed by an incredible athlete!
Andy took line honours for the fifth time and collect almost as many trophies for it! The reverse order start has proved a huge success with the large numbers of people lining the river bank at the finish is an incredible sight and must be amazing for the top paddlers to finish in front of.
Another amazing race, great paddling from the top 4 and some incredible scenery along the way.