08 October 2012 by Chris Marais

Fishy business

The Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon is a spectacular 2-day canoeing event that lights up the Karoo river town of Cradock in October each year.

Action scenes at the Cradock Weir during the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon. Photo Julienne du Toit

It was that time of the year when man and Fish (the Great Fish River, that is) combined to stage one of the world’s top canoeing events in my home town of Cradock in the Eastern Cape.

Lifesavers and a course director watch the competitors as they shoot the Cradock Weir. Photo Chris Marais

The Weir Captain looked a bit like Harry Potter on steroids holding a wizard’s wand.

We normally follow the 2-day race from its start, just after dawn on the Friday of the 1st weekend in October over at Grassridge Dam, right up to Saturday lunchtime at the finishing post, just below the sports fields in the little Karoo town.

This year, however, we hunkered down at what is arguably the most dramatic spot of the event: the Cradock Weir. This is where the competitors in single-, 2-person and 3-person canoes come floating down a wall of water before shooting off towards the finish line less than 5km away.

The lean sportsmen and sportswomen come 1st, and with them it’s all energy and speed and river-cunning. An hour or so later the Funny Folk come sliding by, dressed in Asterix caps and super-hero outfits and frilly wigs and, occasionally, Elvis suits.

The 3 Masked Men – happy to have made it. Photo Chris Marais

The Weir Captain, the guy who guides the paddlers to the safest place of descent, looked a bit like a Harry Potter on steroids holding a wizard’s wand as, with a little stick, he pointed out the way to all who passed.

You could opt out of shooting the Cradock Weir and do the portage detour, which would probably have given you a better time. But the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon is a special race, spectacular in many ways, and trying the Full Monty on the water includes going 'over the wall', so to speak.

The townsfolk joined the Rhodes University student gang on the river banks and cheered on their favourite competitors. The students were in full cry with their varsity songs, dance routines, vuvuzelas, beer and Brutal Fruits.

The 2 top ‘Fish’ men were Len Jenkins and Hank McGregor. The rivalry between these superb athletes is legendary; this year Jenkins won his 6th ‘Fish’, beating McGregor by metres after 2 days of racing.

Category: Sport

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