Fish River Wrap
For 4 years the Fish River Canoe Marathon has been a goal of mine. It was the first river race I ever did, in the back of a K2. I vowed to return but every year since something has come up that kept me away. But 2014 I silently made the commitment to get to the start line no matter what, but with an extra condition, I had to do it in a single. Now for those of you who follow this blog, you will know that I am clueless when it comes to navigating a riverboat, so this undertaking was a big one.
My boat of choice was a Kayak Centre Sniper and after 3 river races in the single and a lot of flat water training, we loaded up and started the 9 hr drive to Cradock, home of the Great Fish River. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon to icy conditions and got onto the river pretty much straight away. The goal was to shoot Marlow chute, which we did, one swim, one success. Check out the video of Day 1’s antics.
Thursday was a bit warmer so we headed up to the start of day one to shoot Double Trouble, Toast Rack and get a taste of the notorious willow tree section. Double Trouble is a lot of fun and I had a 100% success rate shooting it twice with video proof of my prowess.
Below Double Trouble lies Toast Rack, a much talked about obstacle. I am not sure why as it’s a doddle. But the rapids below Toast Rack are far more of an issue. The Willows are challenging as the combination of rapids, eddies and tree branches in a skinny boat make for a less than ideal mix. The footage gives a great idea of the challenges involved.
At the end of the day we drove back down river and shot Marlow Chute and shot it a third time successfully. We then paddled down to the finish, running around the famous Cradock weir, a mistake in hindsight.
Fri morning was race day and I was off in the third batch of the day. It was sunny but extremely cold at around 8 degrees. An easy paddle across the dam got me to Double Trouble without trouble. Sadly I had to negotiate a swimmer on the central platform of Double Trouble with the net result being a 3 min swim in the pool below.
From then on I was bulletproof, catching and passing paddlers easily. I made sure to always have a paddler in front to follow as I had no idea where I was going. This plan backfired on me though. Just above Soutpans Rapid, I had been following a guy who seemed to know the river but he took a swim at Soutpans Weir leaving me without a guide. I decide to turn around a wait for him which resulted in an awful swim. I lost 15 min and had to climb a tree mid-river to empty my boat a get going again. The river really taught me a lesson and I was rattled and exhausted and ended up swimming under the bridge at Soutpans rapid, the worse possible place to swim in the whole race. I managed to get out after only swimming the top section and my boat made the whole rapid with minor damage so I was able to finish day 1 in 4.01. I had hoped for a sub 3.40 but I was just stoked to finish.
Day 2 had me buried in G batch. A conservative start but strong paddling and running had me at the front of the batch by the put in after the first portage. A silly stupid swim at Gauging weir cost me 2 minutes.
A short queue at Cradock and an equally short swim. I came so close to making it and I think if I had shot it while tripping I would have stood a better chance.
From there it was plain sailing to the finish. I felt great and paddled strongly finishing in 2.38. I think a sub 2.30 is a possibility with no swims and a better batch.
What an amazing race and weekend away. Next year for sure.