The challenge of the Dusi rapids

Kevin Davie at the Dusi Canoe Marathon: Friday, Inanda Dam

Extremely hot conditions coupled with low water levels would make day two challenging for most paddlers. The story is that while individual dams that fill the Dusi and Umgeni are full or fullish, overall dam levels are too low for the authorities to be generous with the water release.

Many paddlers now have GPS and heart-rate monitors on them, and so can give you facts and figures on all sorts of things but not on how hot it is. The consensus seemed to be in the high thirties, rising to 40 degrees Celsius in some of the valleys.
The hottest section for me was a portage we did that included some tar road. The tar reflected the heat. Some of the road was downhill, but it was too hot to run.

The main repair on our boat did not look that convincing to me. The low river meant that we risked doing the same damage to the boat. We therefore had to do more portage than we’d hoped to do.

The word from the front of the race was some of the rapids, notably Hippo, were closed, meaning that the normal line where paddlers shoot on the right was not working. The advice was to portage.

We were sitting on the water, waiting to go, when we heard that Ant Stott had won the day. This was by a more than convincing 13 minutes and means that we can reasonably expect that he will be on the podium in Durban. Stott is an enormously popular paddler in these parts. He is both very talented and Mr Nice Guy.

A few years back I was paddling the Lowveld Croc, a technical river where paddlers have to wear crash helmets. I was one of the last to leave. A small crowd, Stott included, watched as competitors shot a small weir near the start. I managed to swim at the weir and was emptying my boat and getting ready to continue. By now all other spectators had left, bar Stott.

He approached me and pointed out that I had broken my paddle. I was unaware of this, but the incident told me a lot about him.

Later that weekend I watched him and other top paddlers shooting some of the more difficult rapids. I have seen the same thing on another river. Stott really has an edge in rapids. He has an ethereal quality that separates him from the other top river paddlers in the country.

He is the current K2 international marathon champion. He also has several Dusi wins under his belt, but I think it is fair to say that he has been somewhat in the shadow of other paddlers, particularly Len Jenkins and Martin Dreyer, when it comes to the Dusi.

I’ll be sorry if Michael Mbanjwa does not make it to the finish first, but in Stott the Dusi will have fine winner.

Between us and Durban now are about 10 or so major rapids. Canoeists are expecting that the water release will be low. There are also stories of water hyacinth blockages.

We finished day two on the Inanda Dam and start here on Saturday. The first half an hour or so is on the dam, and then we tackle the big rapids below the dam. This is still the Umgeni River, but the release from the dam is so clear and cold that it might as well be a different river.

Saturday is also the shortest day, but there are numerous rapids that are boat-breakers. There is even the possibility that if the river is very low, as some paddlers are expecting, we’ll be doing the Burma Road portage. You basically carry your boat up the one side of a mountain and down the other, back to the river.

I have done this a couple of times, the first time because I was scared of the rapids, the second because our boat was more broken than not, and the third because there was no water in the river. It means that you miss some of the best rapids and best fun of the Dusi. It is meant to be quicker and is for the top runners, but for the back markers like me, it seems to take an eternity. If I have one hope for Saturday, besides finishing, it is that I do not have to do Burma.

Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie is M&G's business editor. A journalist for more than 30 years, he has worked in senior positions at most major titles in the country. Davie is a Nieman Fellow (1995-1996) and cyberspace innovator, having co-founded SA's first online-only news portal, Woza, and the first online stockbroking operation. He is a lecturer at Wits Journalism. In his spare time he can be found riding a bicycle, usually somewhere remote. Read more from Kevin Davie

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