Day One of the Fish Marathon covers a distance of 48km, and will take the average paddler less than four hours to complete.
The dam wall portage is over big rough boulders and the path below has sharp Karoo thorns, so make sure you are wearing decent running or paddling shoes. Portage over any convenient section of the dam wall, and then down the dusty path back towards the river, where there are a number of “put-in” options.
The massive Colletts weir comes up quickly, and sports the exciting two stage Double Trouble Chute! In an effort to make this a paddlers race, the committee has enabled paddlers to shoot this big weir by a stepped chute, followed by a short bend leading to a second steeper slide that has a big standing wave at the bottom! Watch out for swimmers at the bottom of the chute!
Once through Double Trouble, you enter into the fast flowing, narrow upper reaches of the Fish. Flow with the current and avoid the reeds on either side of the river. The river runs through willow trees in this section, which requires bold and decisive paddling. Remember to duck when going through the fronds of the willow trees, as there are often thick, head-high branches!
There are several fences along this section, designed to keep the farmers’ livestock from straying. These fences span the entire river with small openings in the centre that allow paddlers to pass through. The openings will be clearly marked with chevron tape. These fences are classic “strainers” and potentially a danger hazard, so steady, strong paddling will be necessary to pass through safely!
Next up is “Toastrack”, a low level bridge, with a clearance of about three feet. The gaps between the bridge pillars are narrow, and here the river flows over an old small weir, which at race water level is hardly noticeable, but results in the water moving at an angle across the bridge. This has resulted in many a boat being “wrapped” as punishment for timid or overly cautious paddling! The safest option is to pass under the bridge on the far right. There is an arrow clearly making this line and a stainless steal protector has been attached to the bridge between these pillars. The other option is down the center where the flow is stronger, but straighter. Confident paddlers can certainly choose this option. With both options it is critical to understand the need to DUCK as low as possible as you pass under the bridge to ensure that you do not hit your head! Helmets are recommended especially for novices! If you have any doubt about this obstacle you should portage on the right through the gates on either side of the road, then “put in” below the bridge in a channel that has been specially created.
At the 10km mark is Keith’s Flyover, a grade 3+ rapid that is the biggest of the race. Keith Collett is the owner of this farm and built the concrete bridge over the river, thus giving the rapid it’s name. About 15% of the field will attempt this rapid, of which about only half will successfully make it! If you are planning to shoot Keith’s take a look at the section describing this rapid in detail here.
The portages for Keith’s, are clearly marked. The right portage is easier, but involves a walk over Keith’s Flyover. There is also a slightly harder portage on the left, which involves a shorter walk. “Put in” at the pool immediately below the rapid, and paddle through the “carnage of submerged boats and swimmers!”
Below Keith’s, the river widens, and the rapids become easier, and more like rolling waves than drops. There are several bridges to pass under, and two compulsory weir portages, with opportunities to get some seconding help and refreshments.
After the second portage, the river runs through a thick grove of willows before reaching Soutpansdrift weir. The entrance to this weir is clearly marked with steel poles. Simply slide down the chute (it has a gentle 30 degree slope), and into the soft stopper below, before paddling on. It is easily negotiable, and should not pose any problem for paddlers properly qualified for this race.
The river immediately narrows as it runs through more willows. The traditional line down the centre is shallow, and in places quite tricky. Rather try to stay to the left of the river where there is a cleaner line through the trees.
After 500 meters, as you approach the bridge at Soutpansdrift, you will emerge from the trees into gently rolling waves across the entire river. Move to the rivers right and start looking for the large green arrow painted on the side of the bridge. This is the ONLY point of entry! Do not think of trying any other lines, as they will end in disaster, and unnecessary work for the safety crew! The green arrow on the bridge will line you up with a clear channel under the bridge. It is very important that you approach the arrow at a steady pace, and square to the bridge. Read the full description of this rapid here.
Once under the bridge, steady paddling is required. Keep left of the small island, and stay to the right of the river through 500 meters of moderate waves and into the last drop where you will be cheered on by seconds, spectators and adoring fans!
Soutpansdrift marks the completion of about 60% of Day One and the adrenaline rush will carry you through the next quarter of an hour. Steady moderate rapids fill the remainder of this section, and it is here that fatigue tends to kick in, and the kilometers seem to start dragging!
Close to the finish is a rapid called Knutsford Drop, where plenty of paddlers are dumped every year, mainly due to fatigue! This rapid must be shot on the right, through a simple series of waves or down the shallow, rocky centre, but have a look at the “famous picture of the frustrated paddlers stranded high and dry on the rocks in the middle of the rapid” before making your decision! The left option looks clean, but flows over a sharp ledge that whips up a strong stopper that is hard to penetrate, and usually flips paddlers that try this option.
At this point you can smell the “boerie” rolls braaing at the finish of Day One! Only a kilometer to go and you can “Hammer down a Hansa” before taking your boat to the overnight pound, and then sink your teeth into one of our fantastic boerewors rolls.
Download the Day One Roads Map here, or refer to the “Seconding” information on the drop down under “About the Race”.
FIRST DAY BY ROAD: FOLLOW THE YELLOW AND BLACK ROAD SIGNS ALONG THE ROUTE
The Marathon would not be possible were it not for the co-operation and kindness of the riparian farmers along the river. It is your duty as participants, seconds, spectators and canoeing enthusiasts that this goodwill be maintained through your action and behaviour. It is imperative that the paddlers and PARTICULARLY their seconds adhere to these rules required by the landowners as this will ensure a trouble-free arrangement and long-standing access to Keith’s. Please be considerate to the farmers and the marathon committee by co-operating with these requests. The inconsiderate behaviour of canoeists/seconds in previous years has resulted in many unpleasant confrontations.
The start is from the East bank of the Grassridge Dam (1) at 7h00. Allow 1½ hours for travelling, preparation and checking in. To get to Toastrack Bridge (4) in time, seconds should leave straight after the start. Please note that the road is on private property and this is a ONE-WAY road to Toastrack (4) and Keith’s Flyover (5) crossing over Keith’s Bridge and following the left bank of the river, exiting at Saltpan’s Bridge. This road has speed bumps and is accessible to BAKKIES and 4×4’s only. No trailers are permitted.
PLEASE USE DESIGNATED PARKING AND DO NOT PARK ON OR NEXT TO THE BRIDGE. The road will only be open on THURSDAY 26 SEPTEMBER 10h00 – 16h30 & FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER DURING THE EVENT.
Permission was granted on the provision that people using the road would adhere to certain conditions:
* ONLY ONE-WAY TRAFFIC IS ALLOWED, ONCE YOU GO TO TOASTRACK, YOU MUST CARRY ON TO SALTPAN’S BRIDGE.
* NO VEHICLES STOPPING ON BRIDGES. Canoeists portaging Keith’s will be crossing the flow of traffic at the bridge.
* NO SPECTATORS STANDING ON KEITH’S BRIDGE, VEHICLES CROSS OVER THE BRIDGE.
* DON’T LITTER & DON’T DRIVE OVER THE VELD, ANYONE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE WILL BE HELD LIABLE.
* USE THE ROAD AT YOUR OWN RISK, THE FARMERS & MARATHON HAVE TOTAL INDEMNITY FROM ANY CLAIMS.
* SHOULD THERE BE HEAVY RAIN, THE ROAD WILL BE CLOSED.
The continued use of this road is dependent on adherence to the above.
At Saltpan’s Bridge (10) there is an exciting series of rapids. The leading boats should be there about 1:45 hours from the start. Parking area has been made here, NO PARKING WITHIN 50m of Saltpan’s Bridge on the main road. Food and refreshments can also be bought there. Follow the signs to Katkop Weir (11), but please don’t park where the paddlers portage. This is followed by Glen Alpha (12) and then the Finish (13) 1 km below Knutsford Bridge where refreshments and food can be bought. This is a one way down road.