For John Hayes of Dabulamanzi Canoe Club, Saturday 23 June will go down as a lucky day. As a competitor on the Men’s Health Swartland Canoe Marathon he could hardly have been luckier.
Paddling along on day one of the event between Hermon farm and Hermon bridge, a gale force north westerly wind started gusting. With what sounded like a rifle shot a 25 m high gum tree fell on to him, boat paddle and all. That’s when his luck began to change.
Andre van Heerden who was paddling immediately behind him said, “One minute John was there, paddling immediately ahead of me, and the next there was no sign of him at all.” André continued, “There was just nothing, he wasn’t there, his boat wasn’t there, he was gone.”
Realising the danger of the situation, and that John was possibly trapped in a strainer André feared for the worst. and that’s when John’s guardian angel came to the rescue. He popped up between the branches almost totally unscathed apart from a few scratches and a considerable shock. Of the boat and paddle there was no sign and they are unlikely to be recovered until the winter rains abate and the river level drops substantially and even then only pieces of fibreglass are expected. That was John’s lucky escape number one.
The organisers of the race had been given a new Knysna Racing K1 by sponsors Brian’s Kayak’s as a lucky draw prize. After a quick consultation with the sponsor and a few paddlers it was decided to give the boat to John as it was unlikely that there was anyone on the race more deserving of it. This was John’s second stroke of luck.
Later in the evening, a paddle sponsored by ORKA paddles, was given away as another lucky draw prize. Five names were initially drawn, and John’s was among them. The draw proceeded on the basis that each paddler would pull a name from the hat and the person named would be eliminated. Three unlucky paddlers took their seats. John Hayes and Kevin Bouwer were left. The next name out of the hat was John’s which left Kevin with the paddle.
Kevin took the microphone and said “I’m giving this paddle to John”, lucky break number three!
The same wind storm caused havoc further down the river, and when Peter Cole and Andrew Ross, who were paddling ahead of the field erecting direction arrows and generally making sure that the river was clear, got just beyond Gouda Bridge on the second day of the race, they found the river blocked by another massive tree that had fallen since Friday. Peter said, “We have done quite a lot of cutting, over the past three weeks, with the chainsaws donated to the club by Cutters, in preparation for the race, but this was the biggest we encountered.” It took them 45 minutes just to cut a narrow channel for the paddlers to get through.
The arrows were generally well received, apart from a few top paddlers who felt that it negated the advantage of tripping. For the majority it however levelled the playing field with the Capies even revealing some of their favourite sneaks!