Heat wave to make Non-Stop Dusi even tougher
As around 150 boats set off from Camps Drift at dawn on Friday morning, the fifteenth edition of The Unlimited Non-Stop Dusi looks set to challenge the canoeists with one of the toughest race conditions ever as the heat wave that has gripped KwaZulu-Natal has left the Umsindusi and Umgeni rivers running low.
The traditional no-rules format will swing in favour of the strong runners who will be able to use a variety of experimental portages to make up time on the canoeists struggling in the low rivers.
That should further strengthen the position of pre-race favourites Michael Mbanjwa and Eric Zondi. Both have won this gruelling race before, Zondi with his partner Thomas Ngidi last year while Mbanjwa swept the boards for three consecutive years between 2007 and 2009 with Martin Dreyer and Piers Cruickshanks.
Both are products of the fertile canoeing programme started by the late Robert Lembethe at Nagle dam and both will be buoyed by the hysterical support they enjoy in the valley, particularly over the first thirty kilometres of the race.
A question mark hangs over the combination probing their recovery from the thrilling The Unlimited Dusi just less than a fortnight ago, in which Mbanjwa finished third and Zondi fourth. With every prospect of a long tough day on a low river with typical KZN February heat and humidity to boot, Mbanjwa and Zondi’s ability to pace themselves over eight hours will be critically tested.
With Ant Stott and partner derailed from what would have been his maiden Non-Stop bid due to injuries suffered in a training accident on the Umkomaas last weekend, Mbanjwa and Zondi’s bid for Non-Stop glory may find it’s strongest challenge from another two youngsters raised in the valley and products of the Change A Life Academy – Thomas Ngidi and his cousin Nhlanhla Cele.
Ngidi tasted victory with Zondi in last year’s race, when he drove their K2 skillfully to victory. “Don’t underestimate us,” said Ngidi. “I really believe we have what it takes to win this race.”
The race has simplified its structure and in an apparent return to it’s no-frills origins will now only award prizes to the first boats home, consolidating on the recent trend to encourage singles by awarding separate K1 prizes.
That hasn’t discouraged 26 K1 entries, including three female singles entries, including the defending champion and current record holder Hillary Pitchford, as well as several elite racers including Guy Collyer, Marc Mulder and Glenn Hillier.
The first woman to ever complete a Non-Stop Dusi in a K1 Debbie Germiquet will be racing with her father Rick Whitton in a potent bid for the Mixed doubles prize, while Germiquet’s husband Marc Germiquet strengthens the family challenge in a K1.
The race imposes very few restrictions on the paddlers, allowing them to choose what options for paddling and portaging they see fit, as long as they pass through checkpoints shortly after the first weir, at Yellow Rock and at the Inanda Dam wall, where cut-off times will be enforced.
The Unlimited Non-stop Dusi starts at 5:30am on Friday 4 March 2011 at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg and ends at Blue Lagoon in Durban.