Swartland next on Western Cape canoeing calendar

The 2014 Swartland Canoe Marathon (where the people are friendly and the paddling is fun!) will be held this coming (long) weekend, on Saturday 14th/Sunday 15th June, over the 85km of the Berg River from Skooltjie (downstream of Wellington) to Bridgetown. The event, split into the two sections of 37km (Skootjie to Zonqusdrift) and 48km (Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown) also incorporates in it the AQRate/WCCU K1 Development Championships into the race. This will form part of the main race with the first three development paddlers to cross the finish line in Under 18 and Under 23 age categories, receiving cash prizes totaling R4000!  

The Swartland Canoe Marathon, held a full month before the iconic Berg River Cane Marathon (16th – 19th July), is the ideal paddling entree’ to the longer race as it not only sets up K1 paddlers by giving them good distance that is needed for ‘The Berg’, it also gives to those that do it and who are planning for the longer event, an excellent opportunity to race the first 2 days under competitve conditions.

Currently the Berg River is running at a good level (plus/minus 25 – 30 cumecs), which is an ideal racing level, although this might rise given that steady rain is falling in the catchment area. This as well as tha fact that the Berg River Dam 100% full right now, all the flow is going to be directed into the river.

Entries to date have been steady and although no well known up-country paddlers are entered (yet), the possibility exists that some of the KZN, East Cape and Gauteng ‘racing snakes’ will look to take part in this event which in its short history (some 8 years) has already hosted the SA K1 River Championships on 2 occasions.

But even without up-country ‘names’, a host of top rated WCCU paddlers have entered which will make this a hard fought contest. Leading the field is Jasper Mocke, recently off a very successful international surf ski tour in which not only did he win a number of events and podium place in others, he was the first ‘novice’ home in the iconic Molokai surf ski event held in Hawaii (5th overall). This immediate past weekend he won the silver medal for trhe Senior Men’s K1 in the SA Canoe Marathon Champs as well as the gold (with Hank McGregor) in the Senior Men’s K2 event. Jasper will be challeneged by those ‘old hands’ of the Berg – Graeme Solomon (a former Swartland winner and a Berg River Champ), Lance King (the current Berg River Champ and a former Swartland winner), Ernest van Riet (a former Swartland winner), his cousin, Louw van Riet, who won the first of the long distance races on the Berg River this season – the section from Gouda to Bridgetown 10 days ago, whilst the likes of Edgar Boehm jnr, Mynhardt Marais, Greg van Heerden are all possible podium placings, provided things go well for them.

And that’s not all for there will undoubtdly be some late entries if the history of this race is anything to go by?

Amongst the leading women – Alex Adie looks to be the favourite after her win in the Gouda Bridgetown race, whilst Kirsten Penderis and Robyn Henderson will chase her all the way. So too with the senior women, there might also be some late entries such as Bianca Beavitt and Alexa Cole, if business and family commitments allow it.

Among the Master paddlers, an array of names springs to mind that will be contesting in the various categories that make up a good number of the racing field and here such paddling lumiaries as Brandon Collyer, Rob Hart, Chris de Waal, Mike Schwan, Enslin van Riet, Eugene van der Westhuizen, Rob MacLean, Paul Lange, Ian Glass, Shaun Butler, Andre’ Hawarden, Giel van Deventer, Daantjie Malan and Anthony Penderis – among others will create ‘races within the race’, as each vies for a podium place in their respective age divisions.

Of the event itself – apart from the obvious obstacles to be found on the Berg River, i.e. the tree blocks and narrow, fast-flowing, twisting channels, there are a few rapids that the paddlers need to keep an eye out for – Klei Rapid being the first, just 10 – 15 minutes after the start and which, in the early morning (and with snow on the nearby mountains), will be a rude wake-up call! With the river up at the moment and most probably staying that way, weirs such as those to be found at Walter’s se Plaas, Roostein and the Hermon Bridge will be inundated although the most dangerous obstacle is to be found some 200m from the end point of day 1, Zonquasdrift Bridge, where there is a steel cable stretching across the river that if not marked with danger tape by the organizers, will cause mayhem.

Day 2 of the race, which is also Day 2 of the Berg River Marathon, taking paddlers down to Gouda Bridge (through the infamous ‘forests’ of the Berg River, although many paddlers will find, perhaps to their surprise, that ‘Working for Water’ has dropped many of them, opening up the landscape like never before, thus making for new views and the disappearance of old landmarks and checkpoints), has a number of obstacles to look out for. Black Rock, some 4.5km beyond the Gouda Bridge should be easily shot, on the right or down the middle, whilst the channels before and immediately after Train Bridge need to be treated cautiously as they will be flowing very quickly, thus creating the upwellings and ‘swirlies’ that can upset paddlers and for which the Berg is notorious for.

In the channels and forests below the Heuningberg, the higher water will open up numerous channels blocked or partially blocked when this section was raced 10 days ago whilst Ysterpen Rapid and the tree blocks beyond it will take their toll if not approached cautiously. Drie Heuwel’s Weir should constitute no problem though in the higher water.

Beyond the Drie Heuwels Weir, paddlers will do well to remember the ‘mantra’ of this section which culminates in the end at Bridgetown and that is to go, ‘left, left and left again’!

The final ‘run-in’ to Bridgetown – a flat 1.5km section that brings out the speedsters, will no doubt have spectators guessing until the last second who will cross the line first as the final paddle-in always ends in a flat-out sprint.

Whilst the entry date deadline has come and gone, paddlers who have been slow on the uptake may still enter this week, but need to make their move smartly if they want to be considered for decent seeded positions for starting on Day 1.

The event bvegins at 09h00 at Skooltjie on Saturday 14th and from 08h30 on Day 2 from Zonquasdrift.