The N4 Trac Lowveld Crocodile River Race hosted by the local club and paddlers for the 53rd time, on 26 and 27 September provided the highlight for the year for Gauteng paddlers as well as a number who came up from Natal to enjoy the most exciting busiest river on the calendar.
The weather was sunny and very warm although there had been rain and overcast cold conditions in a few previous years, making it even more enjoyable as the narrow river has sections in shadow from overhanging trees canopy which with cold water from the Kwena dam has made paddlers cold and the bright sunshine always add to the river racers enjoyment, while ducking low hanging branches and working hard through sneaks and around rocks and boulders on the fast downhill slope of the river. The Crocodile winds through the valley and around the scenic mountain curves towards Nelspruit although the paddlers have little time to enjoy the high crags and beauty overlooking them.
As always paddlers thrived on the hospitality and helpfulness of the local Lowveld paddlers and their supportive farming groups, good food, cold drinks, shuttle / lifts, accommodation etc and the long drive home is always full of exciting war stories, and praise.
Baboons barked from trees along the river bank, and the voices of farming families also reached the busy paddlers as family groups picnicked along the river to watch the action while paddlers scarcely had time to acknowledge or greet them focussed on the fast and side swiping currents.
While the river is not suited to novice paddlers still learning to master river skills, and there were a number of boats needing repairs after the first day, only two of the almost 100 boats which started the race, were forced to withdraw due to boat damage. The walk out of the valley is long steep and hot with minimal mobile phone signal available near the river bank which is probably the biggest challenge of the river! Hence the general consensus – stay in your boat and stay on the river!-
It is certainly not unusual to have swimmers on the major rapids and even on the treacherous flat water when concentration lapses………but in most instances the water is relatively shallow and with a river bank fairly close by the situation can be easily remedied……and the swims add to the jokes chirps and war stories at the braai fires after the race…..there is no shame involved in a swim on the Loweld – its considered a war scar – to be expected and to brag about! The river has little currrents that do sabotage…….after completing this river, the paddlers efficiency ability is definitely raised a few notches, and he goes home a better paddler than before – it provides an excellent learning curve.
Phil de Graaf (Dabs)finished in a sit on top surfski boat, finishing in 59th place overall, and an overall time of 6h15 – there is no category for other than Kayak class in Gauteng races yet as there are still only individual or very few contestants, but he seems to have had a lot of fun!
It was a very close and exciting race where any one of the top paddlers could have ended up as the winner, with few places where overtaking a competitor was an option!
but all finishers felt triumphant and victorious having mastered the technically challenging busy exciting rapids with barely a 200m stretch of flat between them – and the flat stretch was inevitably simply a sign to prepare for the next turbulent stretch, requiring absolute concentration and focus!
Feedback from first timers generally indicate that the exposure to the exciting fastflowing narrow meandering downhill river was extremely addictive and they couldn’t wait to repair boats and get back on the second day and were definitely planning for the next year’s event!
Certainly there were groups who chose to wait for each other and they certainly got their monies worth out of the river, enjoying over 8 hours of fun!
Ladies first and we take our hats off to the only 3 ladies in the country, not intimidated by the challenge of the river, led to the finish by Janet Bartlet (Dabs) in a time of 5 hours 58 over the two days, in the Sub Master age category. Alexandra Jensen (Dabs) finished 2nd in 6 hours 4 minutes, while Ronel Stevens from Natal (FeZ) finished in 6 hours 43 minutes.
The very competitive race between the top paddlers had everybody guessing and the finish positions changed from Day 1 to Day 2, but the overall winner was ultimately Siseko Ntondini – Under 23 (SCARC) in a time of 4 hours over the two days of some +- 30kms each day, while Ant Stott (Nat) managed to clinch the second place podium after the second day finishing in 4:02 overall, as the first Sub Veteran. The first Senior finisher took the third podium position – Phineas Zulu (SCARC) in 4:02, with Veteran Piers Cruickshanks (Dabs) finishing 4th as the first Veteran in 4 :03.
Local paddler Gustav Smook from Lowveld settled for the 5th overall position as the first Sub Master in 4:13, and the 2nd senior finisher was Alex Roberts (Dabs) in 4:16. One second later the 3rd Senior finisher from Natal, Carl Folscher finished in 7th position overall, and Richard Cele (VLC) finished as 4th senior but a first timer on the river which earned him a special trophy!
In 9th place, Gerhard Steyn (Lowveld ) finished in 4:30 as the first Subgrand master, and Peter Geach (Dabs) was the Master podium finisher, as 21st K1 in 4:53. Pete O Connor (Dabs) was once again the Grand Master finisher in 4:57 in 23rd place.
Among the war stories after the first day, were the video replay dreams overnight as the adrenaline rush remained in the system keeping the excited paddlers on high alert while planning their lines for the next day in their dreams!
And all dream of the next race in 2016 with glee!
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