The 2013 Swartland Canoe Marathon (also the 2013 SA K1 River Championships) was raced in excellent weather conditions on a full river, thanks to the rain that fell the week before the race. If paddler’s made sure to follow the flow of the water, it made this of the Berg River over which the Swartland is raced (Skooltjie to Bridgetown – notorious for it’s tree blocks) relatively easily to negotiate and never once necessitated having to get out of their canoes to portage.
As has become the form with this race, the starting in batches of 20 paddlers, 5 minutes apart, added to every paddlers benefit as it meant that for the most part, paddlers of like-strength raced with one another, meaning that in those sections where ‘follow-my-leader’ tactics had to be employed, there was a lot less clashing of paddles and bumping of canoes plus the large, well marked arrows placed by
the River Sweeps indicating the best route through tree-blocks also assisted and this especially so where safety is concerned, as in a river flowing as strongly as the Berg was on 15th and 16th June, tree blocks become potentially very dangerous obstacles in the river.
Under a clear blue sky on Saturday 15th, the 1st 20 paddlers in ‘A’ batch came under starter Jurie Wessels’ orders to get away (37 kms) with flashing paddles at 10h00 on the dot and immediately, a large group formed consisting of Pierre-Andre Rabie (Stellenbosch), Ivan Kruger (Century City), Graeme Solomon (Peninsula), Ernest and Louw van Riet (US), Edgar Boehm jnr, Gavin White (Cen) and the two young ‘hotties’ from the Soweto Canoe Club, Siseko Ntondini and Tom Ncobo. The first real obstacle of the race, Klei Rapid, came up just 10 minutes after the start and Pierre-Andre led into it, closely followed by Solomon and Kruger plus Gavin White and the van Riet cousins, Ernest and Louw, to break the leading group down to 6 paddlers. The next rapid, ‘John’s Ribs’, saw Rabie, Solomon and Kruger make a small breakaway and by Grensplaas, these leading three had formed a gap between White and the Van Riets.
This wouldn’t stay this way for long though, as after the Grensplaas forest area comes what is now known as the ‘Lunar Landscape’ – this is because the NGO ‘Working for Water’, has chopped down many of the gum trees that formerly lined the river, opening it up to the surrounding farmlands – at the end of which is a tree block. Rabie and Kruger opted to try and get through on the left, whilst Solomon found a clear opening in the middle and, along with Ernest van Riet, became the leading two paddlers before a strong surge by Edgar Boehm jnr and Louw van Riet saw them hauled in through the river section that goes over the weirs at Walter se Plaas and Roostuin.
Working hard, Rabie, White and Ntondini caught the leaders by the Hermon Bridge and after the tree block close to the red train bridge the leading bunch had dropped to 4 paddlers (Solomon, Rabie, Kruger and Ntodini) before the plucky Sowetan lost touch. Things remained that way up front until they crossed the finishing line: Solomon 1st in 2 hours 32 minutes 52 seconds, then Kruger in 2:32:53 and then Rabie 2:32:55.
Michelle Eray (Knysna CC, E. Cape) totally dominated the Women’s section of the event, coming home in 2:47:01, whilst Kirsten Penderis (US) was 2nd in 3:00:24 and Paarl’s Joritha Prins was 3rd in 3:06:20.
One of the outstanding paddles of the day though, went to Stella Canoe Club’s (KZN) Lee McGregor. McGregor, a Grandmaster (i.e. 60 – 64 years), starting in ‘C’ batch, powered away to catch and pass all of those paddlers in ‘B’ batch and work his way into the ‘A’ batch to come home in 2:39:14 to record 9th place overall, an excellent result especially as he paddled alone for virtually the entire day.
Day 2 (43 kms) started with the 1st 30 paddlers from Day 1 going off from 08h30 and on elapsed time. From 09h00, the rest of the field was sent off and again in batches based on their results from the previous day of racing.
With Solomon, Kruger and Rabie having come in together at the end of Day 1, it was always going to be a case of these 3 working together, sharing the pull on the flat sections and waiting until the time was right to make the break, although being three, this would always be a tricky thing to do too early, as 2 paddlers with the capacity that these have, will always chase down and catch a breakaway single.
For the first third of the final day of racing, Solomon, Kruger and Rabie stuck together until at Black Rock Rapid. Kruger made the error that allowed Solomon and Rabie to get away and he was unable to catch up over the final 25 kms, whilst Solomon and Rabie shared the pull. It continued this way until the final kilometer sprint home to Bridgetown where Rabie out sprinted his Veteran fellow paddler. Solomon however still took the title (with mere seconds) because of the combined times over 2 days. Solomon thus claimed the SA K1 2013 Championship in an emphatic manner, sounding a warning to all-comers who will be racing the 2013 Berg River Canoe Marathon, that there is plenty of ‘vooma’ in those 40 year old arms of his and that he will be the paddler to beat. Kruger came home in 3rd spot in 3:07:07 and is a talent to watch out for as this U23 year old, currently training with Peter Cole’s ORKA Training Squad, has announced his intention of taking on the best paddlers and showing them a thing or two.
Of note in the Top 10 positions are the two youngsters from the Soweto Canoe Club, Siseko Ntondini and Tom Ncobo, who took 8th and 10th respectively. As novices to this section of the Berg River, these are excellent results as canoe racing on the Berg River is very different to what they are used to in Gauteng and KZN. Their Swartland entry was to set them up for the 2013 Berg and this has done exactly that. Seeing as they are still both U23 paddlers is more reason to celebrate as they are relative youngsters and who have a great future in this sport.
In the women’s event, Michelle Eray continued to dominate, finishing overall in 19th position and in a total time of 6:11:09. Kirsten Penderis was 2nd in 6:38:07 whilst Joritha Prins was the 3rd on the Women’s podium in 6:51:09.
Again on Day 2, Grandmaster Lee McGregor made inroads into the ranks of the ‘youngsters’ around him to record an excellent time of 3:09:19 to finish 7th overall with the time of 5:48:33. Any finishing time under 6 hours for this event is a top-rated one and so now the question everyone must be asking, will he be racing the 2013 Berg? Because if he does, another McGregor could well be re-writing some of the records in this iconic race!
Hosted by Peninsula Canoe Club. Co-sponsors – Harfield Guest Villa; HANSA; Cape Town Sport Photography; MetPet; Brian’s Kayak Centre; Knysna Racing; ORKA paddles and GAFFNET.