When the massive field descends on Cradock for the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on 7 and 8 October, the paddlers will confront a brand new obstacle as the race committee continues on its mission to eliminate portages around the numerous big weirs that span the river.
During the winter months when the water supply from Grassridge Dam is cutoff, committee members have been working on the construction of a new chute down the Baroda Weir, 500 metres after the start of the second stage of the famous two-day, 82km race, offering a new challenge to the paddlers and another exciting spectator point on the final stage.
The brain child of new race committee chair Roy Copeman, the massive Fish Chute allows paddlers the chance to shoot the five metre high drop for the first time, down a tried and tested design of steps built within a diamond shaped fish chute, before dropping into a rapid below the weir.
Once construction was completed, the new chute was tested by members of the Fish River Canoe Club, who gave it a unanimous thumbs up.
“The weir works really well and is a lot of fun ,” said Greg Louw, a Cradock local and K2 winner of the Hansa Fish with Andy Birkett last year.
“The chute itself is a lot like the Marlow Chute, but the gradient is gentler.
“It gets interesting below the weir though!
“When you get to the bottom of the chute there is a strong flow of water coming in from the right, which picks your boat up and pushes it left. They you get dropped over a rocky ledge, which is where the biggest stopper wave is!
“It is going to be fun to watch A Batch going down there as there will probably be a bunch of boats going down side-by-side,” he speculated.
Initial video footage released of paddlers testing the weir showed a number of rocks protruding from the rapid below the chute that would pose a risk to any craft that capsize at the foot of the weir.
Louw has however confirmed that true to the race committee’s form, these rocks have since been removed, making the rapid below the chute safe for paddlers and any accidental swimmers.
The race has always attracted a big field because it offers a guaranteed water released from Grassridge Dam which makes the 82 kilometres of flowing water, exciting rapids and weirs a favourite on the domestic and international canoeing calendar.
The first major chute constructed by the race committee was at the massive Marlow Weir, close to the famous Marlow Agricultural College on the outskirts of Cradock.
In 2010 the race committee added a novel two-step weir down the Collett’s Weir that has now become known as Double Trouble.
“This is a paddlers race and we want to try and reduce the obstacles that force the paddlers to make a compulsory portage,” said Roy Copeman.
“Day Two of the Hansa Fish has always been known as the Weir Day, as there were a number of big and very distinctive weirs that the paddlers have to shoot on the way to Cradock.
“Now there is another one!”
The 2016 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon takes place from Grassridge Dam to Cradock Sports Complex on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 October.