This first 34km stage of the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon saw the front three boats coming into the blind-corner finish with water flying off their paddles. Graeme Solomon and Ivan Kruger from Century City Canoe Club inched ahead to take the day’s win ahead of the Czech Republic team of Michael Odvarko and Kamil Mruzek, with Tom Schilperoort and Stuart Maclaren barely two seconds behind.
“We had a good one today,” says Solomon. It’s his first time in the Northern Cape. “It was very shallow and there are lots of rocks… quite an adventure.” For most of the stage, there were four or five boats together but with the lead changing constantly. “Sometimes you go left, sometimes you go right. If another team gets a gap and comes out in front, we just relax. You can’t panic,” he adds.
Odvarko and Mruzek got a jump on the other boats almost from the start when they took the early portage – around a kilometre from the start – on the left. Yesterday afternoon the pair put their brand-new K2 on the water to test it out and make adjustments. They used the opportunity to look at portage options. “The rest went right; we went left on the big stones. This got us a 100-metre gap from the beginning,” says Odvarko. “But then we made a mistake on the first weir. We got stuck and had to jump out.”
He speaks about being in a group with a number of boats, the lead constantly changing, being in the mix with Thulani Mbanjwa and Sbonelo Zondi and being caught by the Swedes, Emil Torstensson and Rasmus Jaruta.
“There were three of four other boats with us in the big stone field across the river. The water is low so you can’t see the current. Do you go left? Right? Through the middle? We have to make decisions on the race.”
Schilperpoort and Maclaren are upbeat at the finish and pleased with their first day, which Schilperoort describes as “hardcore”.
“As you come up to each section it’s a bit of a lottery because you can’t see where to go. We played cat-and-mouse all the way. The Swedes, who finished in fifth place, were paddling strong. They caught the bunch a few times. Coming into the finish was unreal,” he says. “It was a blind-corner so we couldn’t see the end but we could hear the noise,” explains Schilperpoort, referring to the 200-plus screaming, clapping and cheering children from the Blaauskop school in Keimoes.
Tomorrow’s second stage begins with an elapsed start where the pairs upfront have only one plan in mind: to get away from Mbanjwa and Zondi from the start. The reason for this is that there’s a 1,500-metre portage only 14 kilometres from the start and Mbanjwa and Zondi can run. Faster than anyone else. The first 20 teams from today will set off at the timed intervals in which they finished Day 1. This means that the first three from Day 1 have only one-minute 20-seconds on Mbanjwa and Zondi.
Referring to Mbanjwa and Zondi, Solomon and Kruger say, “Our plan is to get away from the runners as fast as we can. If they get to the portage with us they could get out two minutes ahead. Tomorrow we’ve got to put time in the bank; the portage and the last few kilometres will be crucial”.
With only two pairs in the women’s race Kirsten Penderis and Bianca Beavitt took today’s stage with a 19th place overall. Janet Sinclair and Beth Burton were initially paddling in the mixed doubles, but they decided to team up this morning.
Day 2 will start at 09h00 from Keimoes. The 39-kilometre stage features five weirs, more rapids, two portages (one long, one short) and a spectacular five-kilometre section through Neus Gorge.