Testing Breede awaits strong field of paddlers

The 52nd edition of the Breede River Canoe Marathon gets underway on Saturday morning, with the iconic race once again plagued by low water conditions.

Despite the fact that the Berg River Canoe Marathon and the Bamboo Warehouse Push and Pull marathon both enjoyed excellent water levels this year, the winter rains have since then dried up and the level of the Breede has dropped steadily and is currently running at a very low level.

The race organisers from Milnerton Canoe Club have opted to stage the entire race on the lower reaches of the river, where the Riviersonderend tributary offers a little extra water and the Breede River basin deepens somewhat.

The first stage will be the full 34 kilometre haul from the race base at Riggton Farm to the Kam’Bati resort, and the paddlers will return to the same starting point for a 17km second stage on Sunday ending at Drew Bridge.

“As was the case last year when we had similar water levels, the demands of the race are very different,” said race director Richard Allen. “Tough boats are useful, and the ability to read shallow water and decide where and when to jump out and carry your boat over the rocks is very important.

“We get to race the section from Riggton to Drew bridge twice so I expect the competitive crews to use the first stage to carefully learn the lines and channels so that they can use this knowledge to their advantage on the final stage,” he said.

“Most of our entrants come for the pleasure of two days paddling in this fantastic valley. For them it will be a case of bringing a tough boat, a good sense of humour and an adventurous spirit, along with the kit to repair boats overnight!” he added.

With the race deciding the WCCU K2 River Champs, there is a lot at stake, and the seeded men’s A batch features a number of very strong crews, even if the defending champions Stu MacLaren and Kenny Rice are absent because they are travelling to the surfski world champs in France.

Pressure on the podium places will come from the Cradock raised siblings Ryan and Greg Louw, the light Under 23 crew of Alan Houston and Stew Little, the ominous combination of Anders Hart and Dom Notten, Paarl rising star Bartho Visser and Ernest van Riet, the seasoned Heinrich Schloms and John de Villiers, and the pairing of Clint Cook and Shaun Rubenstein.

The women’s race should be just as intriguing with the new K2 pairing of Dusi champ Christie Mackenzie and Kim Van Gysen attracting much attention, but they will line up alongside some strong crews like Melanie Van Niekerk and lifesaver Christian Geromont, Angie Austen and Jess Pollock and the experienced Lis Hart and Romy Findlay.

With low water a certainty there are a number of wily paddler who have opted to race the two day outing in K1s, including the powerhouse Simon van Gysen, and it will be interesting to see if he can stay with the leading K2s overall.

The race was due to host the SA K3 championships as well, but the very low water level is unsuited to the unwieldy and heavy craft, and in the last week more than half the K3 entries have unbundled in K2s and K1s, leaving just three hardy K3s in the starting batches for Saturday morning’s first stage.

The first stage is a 34km leg from Riggton Farm near Bonnievale and finishes at Kam’Bati Resort close to Swellendam. The second stage is a 17km leg from Riggton Farm to Drew Bridge. The prize giving will take place at Riggton Farm.