Cradock – In a race of contrasts, the Eastern Cape combination of Greg Louw and Andy Birkett won their third Fish River Canoe Marathon on Saturday and in the process claimed their second South African K2 Championship title.
After a dramatic Day 1 on Friday, Louw and Birkett had “clean race” on Saturday to claim the title with a deceptively large winning margin of 30 seconds over the all-World Champion pairing of Hank McGregor and Frenchman Jeremy Candy, with overnight leaders Hamish Lovemore and Clint Cook finishing third.
In the women’s race, Saskia Hockly and Christie Mackenzie (Team Euro Steel) could have been on a gentle weekend trip as they were never under any pressure and increased their overnight lead by six minutes to claim the title from Bridgitte Hartley and Serbian Krisztina Bedoc, with Jade Wilson and Nix Birkett third.
After a dramatic swim at Keith’s Flyover Rapid within 15km of the start on Friday, few pundits would have predicted Louw and Birkett (Team Euro Steel) would be able to repeat their victories of 2015 and 2017.
However, they eased back to the lead group before the end of the opening stage and then made no mistakes when it counted on Day 2 as they powered away from their rivals in the dash to the line after Cradock Weir, which had been designated a compulsory portage.
While Louw and Birkett were enjoying their clean race to the title, overnight leaders Cook and Lovemore had a stressful start to their day when Cook broke a paddle at Baroda Weir soon after the start. Luckily, a well-aimed throw from his seconds meant he had a new paddle almost immediately and the fightback from about 30 seconds back was not as dramatic as it could have been.
Midway through the stage Lovemore and Cook were back in the lead group but stumbled at the put-in after the final portage and they were left behind as the leading two crews paddled away after the portage.
At the portage around Cradock Weir, Frenchman Candy failed to get his splashcover properly positioned and the international team’s boat filled with water, which effectively ended their hopes on the final 3km dash to the finish.
With McGregor and Candy’s challenge literally sinking, Louw and Birkett had a relatively simple paddle home to victory.
“Clint’s broken paddle and our swim yesterday is part of racing and you always have to expect to overcome adversity in an event,” said Birkett after crossing the line. “We had a perfectly clean run today. Greg was superb in the front of the boat and did everything right at the right time.”
Hockly pretty much summed up their race when she described their title-winning race as “like a walk in the park”.
To be fair to her rivals, she was describing her partnership with Mackenzie and was referring more to her partner’s skills than the standard of competition, adding that “… she really knows exactly what she is doing. She knows all the lines and all the right channels and sitting behind her is such a pleasure.”
(Listed under position; names; overall time; (day 1; day2)
1 Greg Louw / Andy Birkett 4:48:26.37 (2:46:03.57; 2:02:22.80)
2 Hank Mcgregor / Jeremy Candy 4:48:56.13 (2:46:02.68; 2:02:53.45)
3 Hamish Lovemore / Clinton Cook 4:49:03.15 (2:46:01.81; 2:03:01.33)
4 Matthew Fenn / Joshua Fenn 4:51:15.21 (2:48:32.77; 2:02:42.43)
5 Bradley Boulle / Wayne Jacobs 4:54:47.16 (2:50:14.10; 2:04:33.05)
6 Matthew Coetzer / Ulvard Hart 4:57:21.56 (2:53:42.87; 2:03:38.69)
7 Sam Butcher / Matthew Millward 4:58:26.05 (2:52:11.77; 2:06:14.27)
8 Kyle Friedenstein / Bongani Ntinga 5:00:05.52 (2:53:46.89; 2:06:18.63)
9 Thomas Lovemore / Ron Benjano 5:01:01.46 (2:54:10.26; 2:06:51.20)
10 Robert Crichton / Luke Salmon 5:01:44.01 (2:54:11.12; 2:07:32.89)
1 Saskia Hockly / Christie Mackenzie 5:17:16.28 (3:04:36.50; 2:12:39.78)
2 Bridgitte Hartley / Krisztina Bedoc 5:27:56.69 (3:09:41.13; 2:18:15.56)
3 Jade Wilson / Nix Birkett 5:37:47.73 (3:12:25.01; 2:25:22.72)
4 Hilary Bruss / Chloe Bunnett 5:48:13.29 (3:27:02.65; 2:21:10.63)
5 Candice Starr / Stephanie Von Der Heyde 5:55:03.34 (3:19:02.39; 2:36:00.95)