Fast flow, flat water and a few rapids marked the first day of the two-day Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon (GKCM). Four paddlers in a tight pack charged towards the finish with Czech marathon star Jakob Adam taking the Day 1 win.
This race is staged in the Northern Cape on the Orange River, a region of contrast. Stark, rocky terrain marks the landscape away from the river, while an emerald swathe of grape vines follows the river’s course.
Going into the main rapids of the stage – 10 kilometres from the start in Upington – a bunch of 16 paddlers were still close to each other and jostling to get good lines. Race winner Adam took a conservative approach by hanging back to avoid falling out. He caught the pack again on the flat water.
“It was not so easy today as I wasn’t feeling so confident about the rapids,” says Adam.
With nine kilometres to go, the lead bunch was down to eight boats working together against a strong headwind. Closing in on the finish, the bunch split.
“I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to keep with the break to the finish,” explains second-placed Stuart Maclaren.
After a flat-out sprint to the finish at Oranjerus, Adam claimed victory. He crossed the finish line barely a second ahead of Maclaren, Tom Schilperpoort and Thulani Mbanjwa to log a 2:01:42 time.
In the women’s race, Abby Solms recovered from a swim to finish little over a minute ahead of Bianca Beavitt.
“I was paddling with a group of guys going into the main rapid and was probably a bit overconfident; I should have given them more space. I went into the last big dropper sideways and came out,” she says.
“I had quite a long swim and by the time I got to the side Bianca had passed me.”
Solm caught Beavitt and they stayed together for most of the stage.
“When we got to the weir I knew there were only three-and-a-half kilometres to go. I broke away and paddled hard to the finish,” Solm recalls.
The paddlers are all looking forward to the adventures that the Day 2 section has to offer. They’re in for three portages, a spectacular canyon and many rapids.
Mention the word ‘portage’ and the name Mbanjwa is said in respectful tones. A superb runner, on foot Mbanjwa eats into the lead of paddlers ahead and breaks away from those behind.
Mbanjwa and the 15 young paddlers that have come with him to the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon live in the summer-rainfall KwaZulu-Natal Province. Their winter training has been on dams – and on foot.
“Tomorrow the portages will be good for the guys; they are all strong runners and they will move up quite a lot,” he says.
Knowing what Mbanjwa can do on the portages, Maclaren’s strategy is to keep the front in sight, but to hold back a little to conserve energy.
“The final portage after the dam is crucial. Very crucial,” Maclaren says. “The race tomorrow starts after the portage.”
Day 2 of the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon starts at 08h00 below the Keimos bridge. Paddlers will be set off at intervals with the leading pack of Adam, Maclaren, Schilperpoort and Mbanjwa starting. The route covers 37 kilometres and finishes in the town of Kakamas. With the river flowing at 140 cumecs, finish times should be close to two-and-a-half hours.
Results: Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon Day 1
- Jakob Adam (Czech),2:01:42
- Stuart Maclaren 2:01:43
- Tom Schilperpoort 2:01:44
- Thulani Mbanjwa 2:01:45
- Abby Solms 2:17:37
- Bianca Beavitt 2:18:45
- Alex Adie 2:25:26