16 October 2011 by Chris Marais

When the Big Fish Comes to Town

During the first week of October, when summer has once again truly settled on the Great Karoo, thousands of river athletes and their families stream to Cradock - my new base.

You’ve had a year of seeing cars you know in the streets, waving to their occupants each morning. And the faces, the familiar faces who run banks, shops, guest houses, government departments, legal firms and doctors’ rooms, the delivery guy on his bony bicycle, the guy with the shiny German Army (old style) helmet who growls past my window on his Harley and every dog who ever barked in this little town.

That’s life in a small town. Very personal.

Suddenly Cradock gets this three-day general face lift every year, when they stage the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on local waters. There’s not a room or spare pizza to be had in this town over ‘The Fish Weekend’. Very fancy SUVs with out-of-province number plates, festooned with racing kayaks and, at the window of every car, the face of a city person enjoying a few days in the country. It brings a lot of positivity into town.

Also money, as the local shops, hotels and restaurants will tell you. Also, the Cradock Cancer Care Unit, for whom the sponsors and the racing fraternity raised about R350 000.

They all start pitching sometime on a Thursday, and by late afternoon most are on the water, getting the ‘hang of The Fish’. The next morning sees the start of the two-day race, as the Great Fish River takes them from Grassridge Dam down through farmlands, past an agricultural school and finally, on Day Two, over the Cradock Weir. Which, for those of you who like to take pictures, is pretty much the most visually spectacular part of the race.

The after-party is long, raucous and thoroughly enjoyable. And then quiet returns to Cradock that Sunday afternoon. The only remaining sign of the Fish People is that broken kayak lying by the roadside…

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