With the Western Cape in grips of the ongoing drought, the celebrations planned for the 50th anniversary of the iconic Breede River Canoe Marathon this weekend may be somewhat muted as the field of 180 paddlers, 80 K2s, 17 K1s and 4 brave K3s, sets off on a rejigged race format forced on the event by the low level of the river.
Two months on from the second lowest Berg River Canoe Marathon in history, there were signs of winter rains rescueing the K2 Breede season, but after a rise in water on the weekend the Breede system has emptied fast, and made the first stage from Robertson to Bonnievale effectively unpaddleable.
In response the race organisers, anxious to ensure that the race’s large band of aficionados get to enjoy the annual two-day outing in the Breede valley, have decided to race the second stage, from Bonnievale to just outside Swellendam, twice.
This 33,5km section from Riggton Farm on the outskirts of Bonnievale to the Kam’bati Resort benefits from water from a number of tributaries, and the light rain forecast for later in the week may contribute water to the Breede system.
“It is going to be low,” confirmed race committee head Russell Ikin. “The paddlers will need to come into the race understanding that, and bring their best adventure spirit.”
The race has attracted a number of unusual entries, including the powerful Norwegian Vold brothers Eivind and Jon Amund who stole the limelight with their staggering start to the men’s K2 race at the recent ICF World Marathon Championships in Pietermaritzburg, and went on to finish sixth.
Also in the field are the powerful Swedes Joakim Lindberg and Emil Torstensson, Danish K2 Vet Women’s Silver medalist Jette Baelum partnering Angie Austin, her compatriot Pernille Stenum paddling with Lis Hart, Irelands Aisling Smith, who has secured a partner in local stalwart Kirsten Penderis.
With the river low, it is hard to make a call on potential winners, as the event may well have something of an adventure outing rather than a race about it.
Defending champ Stu MacLaren has entered, with his third different partner in three years in Kenny Rice, but he, like several others, will be watching the river levels and weather forecasts before making a final decision about participating.
Craig Flanagan and Dom Notten have also slipped in a late entry and will be a force to be reckoned with on the weekend.
The perennial Western Cape star Simon van Gysen has also slipped in an entry, interestingly in a K1, and while he consistently underplays his chances due to a lack of time to train, the professional scuba diver may well be at a distinct advantage on the low river conditions.
Paddlers will hardly need their splashcovers, and an educated and shrewdly managed K1 could well be a lot quicker over the numerous rocky shelves and pebble beds than the K2s.
The evergreen Giel van Deventer will be starting his 35th Breede River Canoe Marathon and will be paddling with his trusted partner Lodewyk Rabie, and will enjoy jockeying for position with a number of talented Grand Masters paddlers, including the Masters Cup silver medallists Rob MacLean and Andre Hawarden.
Melanie van Niekerk, fresh from her challenge for Team SA in the women’s K1 race at the World Marathon Champs will partner Century City paddler Scheepers Schoeman while the talented Joritha Prins partners Peter van der Merwe in another entry in the big field of mixed double crews.
The starting times of each stage remain the same, and the event organisers will ensure that the usual level of catering and hospitality is available at the start at Riggton Farm and the finish at Kam’bati.
Stage One: Saturday 16 September
Bonnievale (Riggton River Farm) to Kam’bati River Resort (33.5km) 10am start
Stage Two : Sunday 17 September
Bonnievale (Riggton River Farm) to Kam’bati River Resort (33.5km) 8:30am start