Mistakes from both the men’s and women’s overnight leaders at the death handed PE-based Greg Louw and KZN’s Andy Birkett and the crew of Jenna Ward and Anna Kožíšková the respective Fish River Canoe Marathon titles last month.
Starting the final day with just a one second lead, the surprise package of Stuart Maclaren and Frenchman Cyrille Carre were right in the mix until they fell out at the bottom of the Marlow Chute, just nine kilometers from the finish. This mistake handed the advantage to the experienced Louw and Birkett duo who put the hammer down right to the finish where they claimed their second consecutive title.
The winning pair, who went in the second stage as the favourites, were made to work hard for their victory as Maclaren and Carre living up to their word of putting them under pressure the whole way. “We had a good, clean day today and managed to get through all the major obstacles first which we wanted to do and avoided making any mistakes,” Merrell/Knysna Racing’s Louw said. Greg of course, was born and raised in Cradock and knows the Fish River possibly better than anyone.
“Stu (MacLaren) and Cyrille (Carre) were really strong throughout and it could have been anybodies race right up until they had an unfortunate swim. Andy and I click in a boat which means that we don’t have to have too much time together before it comes right, it’s not ideal but if you click you can make the boat move pretty quickly,” said Louw.
It was heart-wrenching for the runners-up who seemed to be mixing it up well with Louw and Birkett until they fell out at the Marlow Chute and they cut disappointed figures at the finish. “I don’t even know where the start to be honest,” a gutted Maclaren said. “It was one of those swims where we were basically out of the boat before we hit the bottom. We had their card for a lot of the day which is probably the most upsetting part. We really wanted to have a proper crack coming into the finish line, but that’s racing and we will definitely be back to give it another go!”
It was another solid day in the boat for the Murray Starr and Adrian Boros combination as they powered their way home to an impressive third place overall.
The ladies race followed a similar pattern despite the 61 second deficit that Ward and Kožíšková had to overturn at the start of the final stage. Throughout the day the chasing pair managed to whittle down the overnight advantage and caught the leading pair at the Marlow Causeway portage. From there it was a straight shot to the finish and the pressure told as Hartley and Bedec capsized at the Cradock Weir which gave Ward and Kožíšková a slight gap which they took.
“I did feel a bit of pressure going into the race considering Anna has won the last few Fish’s that she has paddled with Abby,” Ward said with a smile. “It’s a great feeling for me to say that I have done a good job replacing Anna’s usual partner Abby (Solms) for now! I have never won the Fish so to come away with a win is massive, I’m so happy.”
It was another case of so close as Hartley and Bedec came unstuck at the Cradock Weir and despite not getting over the line, Hartley was proud of their efforts. “Yesterday for us to shoot Double Trouble and Soutpans and make it was great,” she said. “It was always going to be a challenge taking a novice down but Krisztina was incredible for a first-timer. We took up the challenge and really pushed as hard as we could but unfortunately we came undone right at the end, but we gave it a good shot.”
With the drama at the front of the ladies race unfolding the Under 23 pair of Kyeta Purchase and Kerry Segal went about their business quietly and cruised home to a solid third place overall.
The age group tussles followed a similar pattern to the opening day with a tight contest for the Under 23 crown, where Tom Lovemore and Kenny Rice took home the honours ahead of Jarryd Gibson and Brandon Orpwood with Mthobisi Cele and Mpilo Zondi finishing third.
Purchase and Segal claimed the Under 23 women’s crown in dominant fashion as the Peek sisters, Cana and Jordan, finished second over 20 minutes behind them while Dee Kotze and Kelly Biljoen rounded out the Under 23 women’s positions.
Alex Masina and Stewart Little were in a class of their own as they motored home to the junior boys title just over seven minutes ahead of impressive Under 16 pair of Hamish Lovemore and David Evans with the duo of Emanuel Zaloumis and Callam Davis having a strong day to finish third.
The junior girls title went to the dominant Under 16 Epworth pair of Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett who were followed home by another Under 16 crew in Cayleigh Shaw and Cara Waud as Tracey Oellerman and Shannon Parker-Dennison rounded out the junior girls podium.
Defending champion pair, Greg Louw and Andy Birkett, claimed their second successive title after the second and final stage of the 2017 Fish River Canoe Marathon. © Nick Tatham/Gameplan Media