Fish River Canoe Marathon for Dummies Part 2

 In Race Reports, River Racing, Uncategorized

“While Day 1 can leave you a bit shell shocked, Day 2 will leave you smiling ear to ear.”


Day 2 of the Fish River Canoe Marathon is completely different to day 1. The river is a lot less intimidating. The water is shallower and wider and the river is bit more technical as a result.

The Start

The Fish River Canoe Marathon Day 2 start is exactly where you finish and can be quite a challenge. Batches are 50 boats big, all in a narrow fast flowing river. The time keeper will dock you 5 minutes if you cross the line early. So you have to be adept at paddling backwards in a fast flowing current while dodging all those around you trying to do the same. Chaos. I recommend staying close to the left bank, sniff out an eddy, or hang onto the reeds.

No need for a splash cover as 1.5 km down stream is the first portage. I prefer to stay left after the start. Everyone seems to hit the right side after the gun, so there is a lot of congestion and messy waves making passing and smooth paddling difficult. The left is just more open with less traffic. But as you get close to the take out you need to move right to the take out point.

First Portage

The take out is easy and the first section is wide open so you can make up a lot of places if u run hard straight away. As you get back to the river you have to climb over a low fence and down a steep concrete sloped wall. This is a challenge to do along side 50 other crews. All the more reason to try and get there first. The best put in point is up river (left) of the island of green reeds. You can put in to the right of the reeds but it makes it tougher to negotiate another slightly down river. There is plenty time to put your splashy on mid river.

First Real Challenge

There are a few minor bubblies after the put in. Stay right. Look for a reed island where the river splits. Take the right channel. Stay river right when the channels join the main river again. About 100m later there is a nasty rock that always has a boat wrapped around it. For some reason the river makes you want to go left of this rock, don’t! It will take you over a nasty rock section. Stay on the right, hug the corner, look and laugh at those who went left.

From there the flat paddling begins. Find a fast wave and get a move on. As a novice this is where you can make up time. There are a few bubblies and they tend to be shallow and on bends. Be sure you stay in the main flow but point the boat slightly inside of the bends so you don’t get pushed wide into the outside banks.

Bucking Bronco

At 12 km start looking sharp. You will be feeling confident by now as its just been flat water and bubblies. At 12 km there is a no name rapid that we refer to as Bucking Bronco. It’s quite challenging and claims plenty victims. A swim here will not hurt or break the boat but you will struggle to get back in and lose plenty time.

Here is a how to handle the Bucking Bronco. At 12 km head river middle left. Look for what appears to be a reed island with the main water flow heading right. The water also flows left pass the island but this is a dead end. As you approach the island move across to the extreme left of the channel as it bends right. But stay right of the island. Get across early as there are 3 big stopper waves mid channel. Being on the left means you will miss all 3. If you don’t get across early enough you need to straighten up mid channel and take the stoppers square on. This what happened to me, and, as you can see in the video, I took the stoppers straight on the chin. As you punch through the last stopper the river bends hard left and the current pushes you into the mud cliff on the outside where this is a strong eddy. Getting stuck or a swim here will take a while. So hard left immediately after punching the last stopper. If you managed to get river left early just follow the inside bend of the river.

Gauging Weir

After km after km of flat winding river and minor bubblies you will arrive at gauging weir at 23 km. On the approach look for a tall concrete pillar above the reeds on the river left. The river gets really wide as you approach. You can shoot this anywhere but there are 2 favourite spots. Extreme left is the old line which most still take. This is hard on the tail of your boat. Then there is the middle line where you won’t touch a thing. I prefer the middle line because if you fall out the river is shallow and it’s easy to get in. The stopper wave at the bottom is larger than expected and it caught me out as you can see in the video. But its really easy. Eyes up and let the boat do the work. Aim for the left cnr of the island below the weir as you approach.

Marlow Weir Portage

At 23.5 km is Marlow weir portage. Easy take out on the right. Easy portage to over take on so run hard. There will a seconding table. The put is below a low level bridge on a steep grass bank. Not a lot of room and it will be congested. If there is a K3 in front of you run hard to get to the put in before them. The best put in spot is right in the cnr between the bank and the bridge. There is a little mud platform that makes life easy. No need to put the splashy on till later.

Marlow Chute

At just under 29 km is Marlow Chute. This is a lot of fun and a short swim if you don’t make it. You will have tripped this so it will be easy. Drop in straight, sit up straight, eyes up and let the boat do the work. Remember not to get too excited after you make it as you still need to negotiate a small rapid and a bend to the left.

Sneaky Chute

At 30 km there is a sneaky chute if you are looking to catch up time. It’s narrow and has 2 significant drops in it so only take it if you feeling strong and confident. If someone swims ahead of you it will be a log jam quickly and there could be boat damage. If a plonker heads into the chute ahead of you, maybe go around. I have included 2 videos, one for each option.

To take the chute look for the entrance to channel heading off right as the river bends sharply to the left. The channel is wide and calm to start with but quickly narrows as it bends to the left. It gets so narrow you cannot paddle. At its narrowest point is the first drop, so make sure you have plenty of speed before the narrows so you can still steer positively when you can no longer paddle. At the drop the river opens up a bit. I recommend heading slightly towards the middle. The swims I have seen have been because the paddler stayed left and the nose of the boat got caught in the reeds and they were spun around. There is a second drop at the end just before the you rejoin the main river. Its no big deal and a not a major swim if you swim at the bottom drop.

Following the main river to the left is an easy bubbly with a gentle bend to the right. Very easy but slower than the chute.

Cradock Weir

This weir is iconic and synonymous with the Fish River Canoe Marathon. There is no reason not to shoot it. It can’t hurt your boat, it’s a short swim and life guards are there to pull you out. Just do it. If you really are racing the clock and there is a queue then portage but you will be missing out. Queue up river right. Listen to the life guards. Paddle positively and aim a few cm left of where the life guard on the apex indicates. This because you want the cockpit (your feet) to slide down the apex and not the nose of the canoe. So you need to be a little more left than you think. Also aim more down river and less cross river. This gives you the momentum to move away from the suck back. Brace left, sit up straight and be ready to paddle right as you land. If you swim, aim for just behind the life guard tower as its shallow there and an easy get in. In the video I am too away from the apex and possibly not facing downriver enough before the drop.

From there to the finish is very straight fwd. Only the Golf Course Rapid is left and after what you have conquered to this point, it’s hardly worth a mention.

Go go go, just a few bubblies. Enjoy them and savour the moment. Completing the Fish River Canoe Marathon is something to be proud of.

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kieths-rapid-with-gara paddles at the fish river canoe marathon