From left, Graeme Solomon, Lance King and Hank McGregor battle for position on the Berg River. ©John Hishin
The Swartland Canoe Marathon (doubling as the 2011 S.A. K1 River Marathon Championships) was held on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th June, during a “window” of good weather (north west gale force wind, rain and a cold front for the 2 days before the event and the day after – how’s that for timing?) which saw a full Berg River flowing at 35 cumecs at the start (Skooltjie, Wellington), ending at approximately 44 cumecs and 39km later at Zonquasdrift (end of Day 1), and at the start of Day 2, flowing at 40 cumecs and ending at 42 cumecs, 46km later at Bridgetown (end of Day 2). This on a river that the previous weekend was flowing at 8 cumecs! So, not only did the organizers get the weather for this event right on the button. (Day 1 was alternatively overcast and sunny, and Day 2, was brilliant with blue skies and sunshine the whole day), but they also had very good and safe conditions on the river thanks to the hard work from PCC together with other local canoe clubs in clearing invasive alien trees which were blocking sections of the river.
Day 1 of the 2011 Swartland Canoe Marathon dawned cold and with scattered cloud but as it was windless, it made for perfect racing conditions. The race started at 10h00 sharp, with seeded batches of five rows of five paddlers each, each released at five-minute intervals, until all 255 entrants (including sweeps) were away on the fast flowing stream. Up front, there was a racing frenzy as the ‘who’s who’ of South African river paddling made the charge, which was not easy in the swirling, whirlpooling waters of the swiftly flowing Berg and in Klei Rapid, there was near disaster as paddles clashed and canoes bumped into each other as some 6 to 8 racing paddlers strained every sinew to stay upright and in racing mode. By the Grensplaas “turn-off” (the big left hander in the river that takes paddlers past Grensplaas and Zeekoegat), the leading bunch was down to 5 paddlers – Hank McGregor (Kingfisher Canoe Club, Durban) and the 2009 winner of the Swartland; Lance King (Milnerton), the Western Cape’s leading K1 paddler at the moment; Graeme Solomon (Peninsula Canoe Club), a past Swartland Champion; Matie Pierre-Andre Rabie, the 2010 Swartland Champion and Junior and U23 National Marathon paddler; and Heinrich Schloms (Paarl Canoe Club), a Senior National paddler from 2010.
These 5 played follow-the-leader through the slalom-like ‘forest’ to Hermon Bridge when Rabie having fell off to join the chasing bunch of Edgar Boehm jnr. (PCC), Robbie Herreveld (Dab), Jacques Theron (Dab) and Brandon van der Walt (UKN) – just look at those names, legendary canoeist all – and with 15 kms to go, simply maintained the classic racing bunch of 4 canoes all the way to Zonquasdrift.
200m from the Day 1 finishing line, there was a rope stretched low across the river which caused some consternation, but McGregor, timing things to perfection, outsprinted King and Solomon to win in 2 hours 28 minutes 26 seconds.
In the Senior Women’s race, it all came down to 2 paddlers – Matie Civil Engineering student Robyn Kime and the Eastern Cape’s Olympian and world rated surf ski paddler, Michelle Eray, who paddled together for the whole day, Eray taking line honours at Zonquasdrift one second ahead of Kime, in 2 hours 44 minutes 27 seconds. The 3rd woman home was Natal’s Hilary Pitchford closely followed by a paddler who elicited great interested when she entered – PCC’s Jean Wilson, a former National marathon paddler who is making a comeback after taking time out to start a family a family.
And so the afternoon continued, with tired but exhilarated paddlers reaching Zonquasdrift for an ice-cold Hansa, handed out by the gorgeous ‘Hansa Girls’ and a delicious lunch catered for by the local Riebeek Kasteel Primary School, UCT Physiotherapy students provided massages to help ease stiff and sore muscles whilst the sun warmed those who chose to sit in the open and swap war stories about the day’s paddle. That evening, the now famous “Swartland Shindig”, (sponsored by Hansa) got off to a roaring start at about 18h00 with a live band belting out hits of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, whilst the traditional raffle “where anyone can be a winner” went down a treat, many magnificent prizes being won by paddlers through the excellent system of drawing up preliminary winners and then putting them through their paces à la “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” by expert host, PCC’s Georges Willis. With every question being related to the race, canoeing and the Swartland area in general (and not a single trick question amongst them!), it made for an often hilarious and at all times, entertaining, show that, along with the excellent fare on sale, made for a wonderful evening. U18 paddler, Danie Botes from the Centurion Club, won the Knysna Racing Kayaks K1, whilst Angie (Gaffney) Austin, much to hubby Jean’s delight, won a year’s supply of Hansa!!
Day 2 dawned as perfect a day as can be experienced in the Western Cape winter – no wind, clear blue skies and crisp clear air that made it seem like the mountains across the valley could be touched if one simply stretched out one’s arm. The race started at 08h30, when the early morning mist was still rising off the water, with the male and female paddlers from Day 1 being sent off in elapsed time. The other paddlers departed from the Zonquasdrift Bridge in batches of 25 at five-minute intervals, beginning at 09h00. With a mere 6 seconds having separated the top 4 paddlers (McGregor, King, Solomon and Schloms) on Day 1, they soon formed up into the classic racing bunch and this continued through the 46km distance to Bridgetown, with Schloms only falling off over the final few hundred metres, McGregor again took the line in a sprint finish from King (by 4/100ths of a second!), while Solomon fell off the slip to come in 9 seconds off the pace. McGregor won Day 2 in 3 hours 48.81 seconds and regained his Swartland title with an excellent overall time of 5 hours 29 minutes and 15 seconds.
Hank McGregor claims the SA K1 River Championship at the end of the Swartland Marathon. ©John Hishin
In the women’s division, Michelle Eray and Robyn Kime matched strokes for most of Day 2, but Kime, by her own admission, was off her usual paddling fitness at this time of the year (not surprising being a final year CivEng student and having just been through a 3 week exam period!) and Eray got away from her after Train Bridge to take line honours over the 46km section by 4 minutes, giving the East Cape paddler the 2011 Swartland Women’s title in the overall time of 6 hours 4 minutes and 23 seconds. But the drama didn’t end there, as Jean Wilson gave Hilary Pitchford a good go to end up taking 3rd spot over all from the Natal woman by just on a minute and a half in the not too shabby overall time of 6 hours 33 minutes 31 seconds. Jean back on the podium after an absence of probably the better part of 8 years was a good sight for all paddlers to see and, together with her worthy opponents, Eray and Kime, drew terrific applause from the crowd at the prize giving.
As the 2011 Swartland Canoe Marathon doubled as the 2011 S.A. K1 River Marathon Championships, this year’s SA Champions are Hank McGregor (from KZN) and Michelle Eray (from the Eastern Cape).
Not only was the event outstanding, but Peninsula Canoe Club took a brave stance and made a decision to address some Social Development issues by creating an initiative to cover the financing and logistical organisation of improving the quality of life for pupils at the small Bergrivier Primary School situated at a very rural spot at the start of the race and known to the paddling fraternity as “Skooltjie”.
By “adopting” this school as their own cause célèbre, Peninsula Canoe Club knew they could make a difference in some kids’ lives and demonstrate to the local community that paddlers are people who are happy to be “giving back” to them.
As they had already committed to helping the school, the organizers decided also to investigate hiring the use of their toilets. When they went to inspect the toilets in the ablution block, what they found was quite disturbing.
The toilets were in a shocking state – some were cracked or broken, they were all completely blocked, and who knows how the kids were managing. Peninsula Canoe Club then agreed with the school that they would repair and upgrade the toilets and proceeded to do so (at a cost vastly exceeding what would have been paid to hire fancy portable toilets).
Part of the problem lay in the water supply to the toilets – it was pumped directly out of the Berg River into a holding tank and the pump was out of action. When enquiring about the drinking water at the school, the organizers were horrified to discover that the supply of water out of the Berg River is the only supply to the school and the children are presumably expected to drink this. Paddlers are all well aware of the quality of the water in this section of the Berg River. At times, the river upstream of here seems to be little more than a glorified sewer, particularly in the area just downstream of Wellington, after it has passed the Paarl sewerage works, the Mbekweni informal settlement and an industrial area.
What is amazing is that the pupils of this school have had to try and survive these conditions when just within 10 metres of the school there is a pipeline carrying water directly from the Berg River Dam. Although designated for irrigation purposes, this water, if it does come from the dam, is pristine. Peninsula Canoe Club then asked the building contractor to install the necessary pipes and to prepare for a connection into this pipeline, and this is what the club’s meagre funds and the race fees have financed:
- Replaced the broken toilets
- Repaired and renovated the ablution block
- Provided and fitted hand-basins in the ablution block
- Laid a pipeline from the school to the adjacent municipal pipeline
This is an on-going project, and funding is still required for the final connection between the two pipelines. The District Municipality requires a deposit of R12,000 to install a meter. (You’d think that somehow local government would find a way to cover this cost.) In the meantime, the pump has been repaired so water from the river continues to be used until the necessary funds can be raised.
So this tiny school, so long on the map for Berg River paddlers as one of the noticeable landmarks on the river, looks towards a much healthier future as an Outreach programme of the Peninsula Canoe Club.
Full credit must be given to the organising committee of the Swartland Canoe Marathon (hosted by Peninsula Canoe Club) for treating the 255 entrants to an event that must surely become a benchmark of superb canoe race organization.
2011 Swartland K1 Marathon/S.A. K1 Canoe River Championships, 17th/18th June.
- Hank McGregor, Kingfisher Canoe Club, KZN, 5:29:15
- Lance King, Milnerton, 5:29:17
- Graeme Solomon, Pen, 5:29:26
- Heinrich Schloms, Paarl, 5:29:44
- Pierre-Andre Rabie, Maties, 5:33:33
- Robbie Herreveld, Dab, 5:33:35
- Edgar Boehm jnr, Pen, 5:33:37
- Jacques Theron, Dab, 5:39:48:09
- Brandon van der Walt, UKN, 5:39:48:97
- Ernest van Riet, Maties, 5:48:01.
- Michelle Eray, Knysna, 6:04:23
- Robyn Kime, Maties, 6:07:35.
- Jean Wilson, Pen, 6:33:31
- Michael Pretorius, Milnerton, 6:25:22
- Sebastian Dorrington, Sim, 7:59:42.23
- Jandre Bezuidenhout, FLO, 6:04:59
- Rickus Scheepers, WAT, 6:20:36
- Danie Botes, CEN, 6:27:56
1. Robyn Kime, Maties, 6:07:35
- Brendan van der Walt, UKN, 5:39:48
- Ivan Kruger, CTY, 6:00:48
- Hannes Pienaar, NWU, 6:09:25
- Graeme Solomon, Pen, 5:29:26
- Robbie Herreveld, Dab, 5:33:33
- Jacques Theron, Dab, 5:33:35
- Wayne Wilson, Kin, 5:33:39
- Henri van der Merwe, Pen, 5:54:06
- Ian Trautmann, Pen, 5:55:40
- Jean Wilson, Pen, 6:33:31
- Lisa Scott, Mil, 6:46:36.
- Robyn Henderson, Mil, 7:01:21.08
Sub Masters (Men)
- Rob Hart, Pen, 5:58:19
- Chris de Waal, Mil, 5:59:25
- Neil ‘Beetle’ Bailey, Pen, 6:08:15
Sub Masters (Women)
- Lina Wentzel, NB, 7:26:20
- Lis Hart, Pen, 7:48:16
- Sylvia Nel, Wat, 8:11:38
- Graham Montieth, Dab, 5:48:02
- Mynhardt Marais, Prl, 5:59:05
- Paul Moxley, Pen, 6:02:05
- Shaun Butler, Pen, 6:16:54
- George Marx, CEN, 6:25:44
- Andre Rabie, Prl, 6:36:41
- Rob MacLean, Pen, 6:13:09
- Enslin van Riet, Mil, 6:19:13
- Giel Van Deventer, PRL, 6:41:02
- Willem van Riet, Pen, 7:09:44
- Vincent Buttrick, ERK, 8:00:51
- Dan Coetzer, VIC, 6:29:11