Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt underscored their status as the premier big water canoeing crew in the country with a fourth victory in the Stihl Umkomaas Canoe marathon.
The victory was the fifth time that McGregor, the reigning world K1 marathon champion, has taken the crown, four of them with his friend and training partner Van Der Walt.
The duo started the 32km final stage from Hella Hella to Josephine’s bridge locked in a three boat tussle with Cam Schoeman and Czech Republic star Jakub Adam, and Dusi champ and world Under 23 champ Andy Birkett and former Umko champ Jacques Theron.
McGregor and Van Der Walt managed to squeeze ahead in the tough approaches to Number One rapid, and emerged safely from Number One with a twenty second lead.
“We put the hurt in early in the approaches to the big Number One rapid,” said McGregor. “It seemed to work because we had a sixty or seventy metre gap after Number One and we managed to keep on stretching it. We had a faultless day.”
Van Der Walt said that they were surprised by their early lead going into the Gorge, featuring the notorious rapids simply numbered Number One to Number Eight, but said they had to capitalise on their unexpected early advantage.
“In big water it is really hard to catch guys, so we realised that we had to make it count,” said Van Der Walt. “We tried to take the gap and hold it and fortunately we were able to opened it.”
He added that his combination with McGregor had once again managed to click on the day and set themselves apart from the rest of the strong field on the tricky 1,5m medium to full Umkomaas River.
“There is a special feel that we have in this combination that I really don’t think the other crews have,” said Van Der Walt. “It’s partly down to plenty of years together but we also know how to read each other and anticipate what to do in the big rapids.”
Former world champ Cam Schoeman and his Czech republic partner Jakub Adam came storming back from a bad swim at the nasty rapid Number Five & Six to reclaim second place from Andy Birkett and Jacques Theron in a thrilling endsprint.
Don Wewege and Len Jenkins were fourth with junior Dusi champ Damon Stamp teaming up with Carl Folscher to round out the top five.
Hilary Bruss and Jen Theron raced away with the women’s title, finishing three minutes clear of the first mixed doubles crew of husband-and-wife Marc and Debbie Germiquet.
The Junior and Under 23 title fell to Michaelhouse schoolboys Brandon Macleod and Alan Houston, with junior runner-up Brandon Orpwood of Maritzburg College claiming the overall k1 prize.
McGregor added that he felt the mass paddling community in South Africa was missing out on the jewel event on the Umkomaas river.
“This was probably one of the funnest paddles that I have done,” he said. “Grant and I spoke about it on the river today. “It takes a little bit of confidence but paddlers really misty come off their Dusi season looking to test out the Umkomaas. With the right boat and the right equipment you will have a fantastic time out.”
Umko legend Charlie Mason completed his 47th consecutive Umkomaas Canoe Marathon
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – STIHL UMKOMAAS CANOE MARATHON 2014
1.Hank McGregor/Grant van der Walt 3:42:50.15
2.Cam Schoeman/Jakub Adam (CZE) 3:45:06.85
3.Jacques Theron/Andy Birkett 3:45:07.52
4.Don Wewege/Len Jenkins 3:55:54.79
5.Damon Stamp/Carl Folscher 3:55:55.71
6.Mark Mulder/Lee Furby 3:59:02.96
7.Dave Hamilton-Brown/Brian Longley 3:59:52.79
8.Justin Wenke/Shaun Dias 4:08:18.91
9.Warren Valentine/Travis Wilkinson 4:08:33.50
10.Hilary Bruss/Jen Theron 4:09:29.90 1st Women
11.Gary Clarke/Fred Deyzel 4:09:59.60
12.Debbie Germiquet/Mark Germiquet 4:12:03.22 1st Mixed Double
13.Mark Shuter/Nic Roodt 4:15:18.66
14.Brandon Macleod/Alan Houston 4:16:32.42 1st U18/U23
15.Andrew Hall/Paul Hatfield 4:18:08.52
16.James Birkett/Michael Laverack 4:20:38.38
17.Brandon Orpwood 4:25:15.32 U18 1st K1
18.James Clowes/Brad White 4:27:20.39
19.Colinn Simpkins/Colin Wilson 4:27:35.11
20.Dave White/Malcolm Percival 4:29:34.88
1.Hilary Bruss/Jen Theron 4:09:29.90
2.Di Reitz/Patricia Stannard 5:15:09.18
3.Lorna Holmes/Renita Dennison 6:26:16.33