PHOTOS  (Apologies for poor quality due to bad light, overcast, drizzle, wet cameras…… )

Spring arrived in the Free State, to welcome the paddlers to the Liebensbergvlei 2 day race hosted by Dabulamanzi Canoe Club,  and supported by the Maluti Canoe Club based in nearby Ficksburg……..on 5 and 6 September……we know  this, because dozens of swallows were gathering in the air and swooping low to catch droplets of spray and insects just above the surface of the water and science tells us the swallows gather on arrival in Spring, and then gather again to depart, before winter………and the weekend also heralded the arrival of the rain, after the parching winter – the rain  so welcome to the farmers made paddlers on the river WET……

The race started at the Reitz Water Treatment Works, and finished in Tweeling, some 32kms down river at Zorgvliet farm.  The flowing water is pumped into the river from the Ash Water Project in the Maluti mountains of Lesotho, and flows from Clarens to Reitz, through Tweeling to Frankfort where it joins up with the Wilge River, which continues its journey into the Vaal dam.

The weekend temperatures dropped noticeably, after the past weeks of “false” summer as well making conditions for the race less than inviting….however, canoeists are known to be tough and unafraid of such challenges and the races went ahead.  There were however a number of last minute withdrawals as the rain fell steadily at the start – although the older age categories appeared undaunted  – after all paddlers dress for wet conditions!

With less than 45 paddlers finishing the first day, and nearly 60 on the second day – it seemed the rain on the first day was the deciding factor and some with sore stiff muscles after the hard work on the first day chose not to tackle the second day although the conditioning would have been ideal for the upcoming long distance two day races.  Certainly there were paddlers who due to other commitments were unable to commit to the two day race and made the effort to get to Reitz for at least one of the days.

The race provided excellent training to peak a few weeks before the Hansa Fish for those who were tough enough to do both days achieving 64kms, in preparation for the 80km marathon in Cradock next month and the difficult conditions only add to the conditioning and strengthening of the paddlers so well done to those who finished both days  – some 25 hardy paddlers with the older generations proving their muscle memory well conditioned by achieving some good times!

Otters were seen scrambling for cover as vehicles arrived at the start, or ducking for cover as the rain started……and numerous reedbuck were also noted along the river rushing away from the strange colourful animals hurtling down the river and scampering well camouflaged across the rocky hillocks……and there were plenty of birds.

The river has awesome rolling wave trains and some super size holes and stopper waves very similar to what can be expected at Fish and those who had swims should recognise that they are likely to do the same number of swims on Day 1 Fish, plus likely a few extra so it might be a good time to reconsider boat stability if the count is above 4, as well as considering the option of portaging the major rapids at Fish for the first year or doing the short course for a first year introduction to Fish while enjoying the vibe, party and become addicted!

Thanks to the marshalls and sweeps who spent some extra hours on the river watching over learners while they practiced their recovery from swims in rolling wave trains……hats off to Riaan Kriek and Kyle Lutge for their superb sweeping role – Maluti Canoe Club and Rorkes Drift Canoe Club!

Thank you most sincerely once again to those marshalls and paddlers who willingly assist our Gauteng river para-canoeist, Constant Olivier, at the slippery tricky portages, as well as hauling the large heavy K3 from point to point and up the slippery banks – and even admin and race organisers assisted – MUCH appreciated – you more fortunate athletes,  are all part of the team that is helping him to achieve a goal – the Hansa Fish River marathon  – thank you one and all!

The muddy farm roads were the greatest difficulty on the first day and the timekeepers and photographers as well as numerous spectators were stuck in the mud and unable to set up at the finish – ploughing their way on foot to their points arriving late despite best efforts and it took a 4 x 4 massive tractor to tow them out of the mess…… (WHOEVER heard of a 4 x 4 tractor!?)

The para-canoeist was unable to walk away up the steep slope, and with bakkies wheels stuck in thick mud, the wheelchair was also no help in the ongoing rain, and he was stranded cold and wet at the finish until his rescue……a long wait till a hot shower warm drink and dry clothes – his biggest challenge for the two day race weekend!

The top finishing paddlers zoomed straight past the finish line where no banners, table or timekeeper had been set up due to being stuck in the mud, and were called back by the stranded Constant Olivier huddling in his stranded bakkie trying to keep out of the cold air and by the time they had walked up the steep muddy hill with their boat, they were also freezing and needed hot shower and borrowed blanket to avoid hypothermia.

The paddlers were extremely grateful to Piet Potgieter and family, of the Zorgvliet farm where the finish was as well as the accommodation and delicious hamburgers and boerie rolls to console the weary chilled but triumphant finishers, while their tractor chugged up and down the slippery slopes most effectively!

I have combined the race reports of both days for this feedback so those wanting a clear picture of either single day, rather than both days should please refer to the results on the GCU website to avoid confusion…..

The overall winners of the race with the best time on Day  1 of 2:13 as well as 2nd place finishers on Day 2 of 2:19 were the local youth from the Dihlabeng Club based in Bethlehem, Cyprian Ngidi and Katletho Mahlaba……Ngidi also participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, C2 Slalom event with Master Cele so it was indeed an honour to paddle on the same water as such a  superb athlete and nobody minded being beat by them!

Congratulations to  Dean Burscough and Harald Wattrus (DABS – Sub Grand Masters) who achieved the fastest time on Day 2……2:17 – impressive for over 60 year olds !  The young Dihalbeng paddlers were tired after their first day racing and cold – well that’s their excuse…..

Having received good advice in support of my wish to promote our lady paddlers participation – we will be dealing with the female race achievers early in the report so congratulations to Sarah Saunders and Janet Bartlet (DABS) who finished 6th overall on DAY 1 only, in a time of 2 hour 23.  The ONLY ladies team to take on the cold dreary challenge!

ONLY TWO other females were brave enough to get on the water in the rain on Day 1, and also finish BOTH days –  including Mariaan Lombard, novice first year earning points and experience / gaining mileage for Fish and still having a few swims, finishing with her father Hermanus (Watuni) also a relatively inexperienced river paddler, in a decent time of 3h10 for a 32km day – for new paddlers – well done and congratulations!

And well done to Mariaan for going back to do Day 2 perhaps reluctantly – she was no doubt dreading the cold experience, but it went very well, paddling with Marius Horgan they finished  in 2:46.  Marius had finished as first Under 23 on Day 1 in 2:36 so she didnt slow him down that much!!

And….yours truly – thats me – Jennie Dallas ……the only other lady who did both days……an SGM paddler with a GM partner as well as a para-canoeist  in a heavy K3 –  taking photos, slipsliding carrying a para adult on slippery portages……so again – THANKS to those who assisted making Day 2 MUCH more bearable…..Times:  3:05, and 2:58…..for Day 1 and Day 2 respectively

Well done then also to the minority group of Para-Canoeists – the one and only Gauteng river para – Constant Olivier – in the K3 – he was most reluctant to consider a second day after almost becoming hypothermic slithering up the muddy bank to find the bakkie stuck in the mud and unable to get to warm clothes and hot showers……but – he bravely went back and thanks to the support and help received – had a fantastic day and clocked 64kms mileage for the weekend – stiff, achy and very chuffed while earning the respect of the other participants…..

Other mixed doubles who participated only on Day 2 included Emile Theunissen and Renee Wright (Dabs/FLCC) in 2:25 and at that speed had no excuse for not having got on the water on the first day except intimidated by the weather……!   Dylan Pons and Marcelle Huber (DABS) were 2nd Mixed Double in 2:40, and Cobus Wagner with Marlise Swanepoel (Dabs) in 2:42, with Terence Vrugtman and Ashlee Cramb (FLCC) in 2:55.

George Louw and Daniel Barnard were the 2nd place finishers as well as top finishing Sub Veterans  on the first dreary day (DABS) in a time of 2:14 however they did not participate in the second day.

Father and Son team Carel and Peter van Biljon were 3rd finishers on the first day and 7th overall on the second day achieving times of 2:18 and 2:20 (DABS) – while Peter is a first year novice attending varsity at UJ, Carel has paddled previously and there is little doubt that he is thoroughly enjoying his return to the river, bonding with a strong young health male partner and building great family relationship and they are both looking forward to a very successful enjoyable Fish marathon – esp the party!

VLC had a good turnout club representation especially on Day 2, and Richard Cele partnered with Patrick Chappel finished as a very satisfactory 4th place in 2h20 on Day 1, and 2h10 on Day 2 in the same finish position.

Peter Steyn  (Maluti) was the first K1 finisher on Day 1  in 2h22 – Another Sub Grand master hardened tough athlete and 2nd on Day 2 in 2h24, while Colin Ledwaba (VLC) was the first K1 finisher on Day 2 in 2h20 as the first Under 23.

Grant Thiel and Brian Whillier were the first finishing Masters (Dabs)  in 2h32 on Day 1 with Meyer Steyn partnering with Graham Neate taking that podium position on Day 2 in 2h20.

Under 18 top finishers were VLC’s Buti Lamola and Kanyisa Mancoba on Day 2 only in 2h24, while there were no juniors on the rainy Day 1, and Richard Macgillivray and Robert Hamer from the same club finished in 2h25 as first Sub Veterans, and their club colleagues Marius Croucamp and Martin Thirlwell finished as first Veterans in  2h27.

Peter O Connor achieved a magnificent finish as Grand Master K1 in 2h31 (Dabs)

Gordon Malcolm (DABS) finished as the first Veteran on Day 1 in 2;45 but dumped his single to double with Chad Andrews  to finish in 2:19 as the 3rd place finishers for the second day.

Thanks to Canoe Concepts for some giveaway lucky draw prizes to spark up the prizegiving!

So lotsa fun and excitement, adventures, obstacles, challenges, braai fires with huge logs, delicious food and hot drinks and great cameradie…..a super weekend and thank you to organisers Dabulamanzi for providing the opportunity on a clean fast very FISH LIKE RIVER to help prepare Gauties for their next challenges!  Hip HIP ?    HOORAY!

Jennie Dallas

for GCU PR

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