FNB Dusi -- Birkett & Solms Cruise to Grueling FNB Dusi Titles

Day 2:

The 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon’s venomous stage two tail flicked as drama unfolded behind the unrivalled Andy Birkett and Abby Solms as the race for second place heated up with both the men’s and the women’s race’s podiums receiving a shake up before the finish at Inanda Dam on Friday.

Paddlers knew that the second stage of the three-day journey was going to be as tough as they get with the 10km stretch along Inanda Dam not providing any favours with water levels being so low.

When race leader Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett set off at 6am this morning he had a four minute advantage over Sbonelo Khwela, however the 26 year-old refused to rule out the option that Khwela might make up the deficit.

“I convinced myself at one stage that Sbonelo was right on my tail!” Birkett quipped.

“It was good motivation for me though to get me through but when I got to Nqumeni I was ready to get in my car and go home.

“Worrying about Sbonelo was good for motivation but I was paddling scared all day with these guys chasing me down.”


Birkett’s endeavours through the stage were beyond comprehension as he continued to balloon his advantage and by the time he arrived at the head-waters of Inanda Dam he had a 14 minute lead over Khwela.

“I was tired but I wasn’t stressed because I know that if you stress then you have the chance to make mistakes.

“Two years ago I made a big mistake at Thombi and Hippo (Rapids) purely because I was stressing about being caught instead of concentrating on your own race,” he mentioned.

Making up the five minutes between himself and Sbonelo Khwela meant that Euro Steel/Kayak Centre’s Hank McGregor had to knuckle down on the paddling and limit the damage on the Nqumeni portage however the plan didn’t quite come together.

“It was always going to be a massive ask for me to try and catch two phenomenal athletes and I tried not to get too excited at the start and pace myself so the wheels don’t fall off on the dam.

“I then tried to push my pace and then made the biggest mistake possible, I took completely the wrong path going down Nqumeni and ended up bundu bashing and when I got back to the water I was spent emotionally and physically,” McGregor admitted.

McGregor’s efforts over the 10km stretch on the dam was a testament to his attitude as he hunted down Khwela in front of him and dissolved any advantage that Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Khwela had.

The 46km stretch from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam was not without its drama for Khwela who, whilst on the treacherous Nqumeni portage, came unstuck.

“I was running over Nqumeni and my seconds gave me a fresh water bottle but when I got to the put-in at the bottom I didn’t have any juice.

“I started to panic a little and knew the distance I had to go until I got a refill. Luckily I was helped out with a bit of water and then some cold drink that got me through to the dam.

“When I got on the dam I had to put in as much power as possible but when I looked back I saw Hank. Eventually Hank caught me and we stayed together all the way to the finish and I was happy that I stayed with him right to the finish,” Khwela said.

After the second stage it is fair to say that Euro Steel’s Abby Solms has an eye over the Inanda Dam wall to Blue Lagoon and a maiden FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon title.

“It’s comforting to know that I have such a substantial lead and tomorrow I am not under too much pressure,” Solms smiled.

“Tomorrow is a big day with Burma Road and it is going to be hot so racing aside it going to be a hard.”

Solms’ charge to the finish on Friday was fairly flawless despite a hiccup at one of the Big Three rapids however Solms went through the day focusing on picking off the men’s competition around her.

“I started in and amongst the men so I kept telling myself that I wanted to catch a certain guy by a specific point and stay ahead of the guys behind me.

“In my head I knew that I wanted to get to the dam with a group so I planned my race and used the guys as markers,” she explained.

In pursuit of her first FNB Dusi podium in only her second attempt, Euro Steel’s Bridgitte Hartley made up the ground that she might have lost after a disastrous first stage on Thursday.

“I would have to say my two days were chalk and cheese!” a visibly exhausted Hartley said. “I definitely had a much better day today. I tried to keep calm in the beginning and get through the few obstacles along the way.

“When I knew I was through the obstacles I knew that I could power away!”

Tracking down young Christie Mackenzie was the first take on Hartley’s to-do list on Friday however it was job done quite early on the second stage.

“It was a little bit unexpected that I would catch Christie as early as I did and I thought that if I could catch her before five kilometres I could put some time into her and not have to worry about looking over my shoulder,” Hartley added.

With the central theme of race twists running like a spine through day two the junior race saw its own twist with Stewart Little taking the lead in the junior race category from Mvelo Ngidi while Christie Mackenzie consolidated her substantial lead in the junior girls age group.

In the under 16 age category, David Evans was in sublime form finishing as the second junior boat over the line while Caitlin Mackenzie was the strongest Under 16 girl on the day and maintains her overall Under 16 lead.

Day Three, the final stage of the 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon is a 36km stage from Msinsi Resort to Blue Lagoon in Durban. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za

Day 2 Video:

Andy Birkett and Abby Solms

Three flawless days from Andy Birkett and Abby Solms in the toughest conditions in over a decade saw the pair march convincingly to their respective men’s and women’s titles at the 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon finishing at Blue Lagoon on Saturday.

Andy Birkett’s three day performance was one of class and experience as he didn’t put a foot wrong on his 120km trip to the sea. Birkett has now tied with the ‘Dusi Duke’ Martin Dreyer with seven Dusi victories with Birkett finishing first in four consecutive races from 2014 to 2017.

“I am not surprised we didn’t have a water release on day three with the drought that we are experiencing but this stage today was definitely the toughest stage of Dusi racing I have experienced,” Birkett said.

“It was a tough day and everyone really deserves their medals!”

“This year’s win has been quite special with the conditions and I can really appreciate sitting back and putting my feet up for a bit – maybe a bit of kite surfing!”

The race for second was ended half way up the grueling Burma Road portage as Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Sbonelo Khwela powered past Hank McGregor and into the distance to his best K1 place at the FNB Dusi.

“I am really happy with my second and I don’t mind losing to a guy like Andy, he paddled so well!”

“I have been working so hard on my paddling so to come second ahead of a guy like Hank McGregor is a great feeling,” Khwela continued.

“To keep focused on my own race today was very important to me and to not chase Hank on the dam. I managed to keep my cool and it worked for me!”

Before the start of the final stage on Saturday most punters would have put the podium positions to rest with McGregor and Khwela set to fight it out for third, however Build-it/Williams Hunt’s Thulani Mbanjwa had other ideas.

“On day one I felt really flat and I was not happy with how I went so I knew that if I could fix it over the next two days I would be in a good position.

“Today the legs felt really good and I just carried on powering on the runs.

“I did have to look over my shoulder a bit to see if Hank was behind me but I managed to hold him off, something I am proud of!” Mbanjwa said.

Solm’s performance was unrivalled as she led the ladies race from the first portage on the opening day to the finish at the mouth to the Indian Ocean. It was a sublime way for the 27 year-old to wrap up her first FNB Dusi title.

“I think I feel more relief than anything at the moment!” Solms mentioned with a smile.

“It was such a tough race, we had all the elements against us throughout but I came into the race wanting to win and I managed to achieve exactly what I wanted!”

With 120km to navigate from start to finish the margins for error become smaller and smaller as the race progresses and despite a slight mishap on the second stage of the race Solms believes she was as close to her best as she could get.

“You are never going to have a flawless race but I was happy that I managed to put three really good days of paddling.

“I have put so much into this so it is satisfying to get a good result,” a chuffed Solms added.

Bridgitte Hartley went into the final day in second and might have had the edge over the dam with her flat-water prowess however when the paddlers were on their feet it was Mackenzie who came into her own.

“I’m very, very happy with my result! I am still just trying to get my breath back from that stretch into the finish but still over the moon with a podium finish.

“I was so happy with how I went today considering my performance yesterday. I nearly felt like giving up on the dam but I am happy I pushed through today in such tough conditions!”

Hundreds of paddlers set off from Camps Drift on Thursday not entirely sure of what the three days of paddling would have in store with uncertain water levels and difficult environmental issues to consider, however as is Dusi tradition paddlers embraced the experience positively at the finish on Saturday.

“It’s fantastic to see the unbelievable turnout of the competing paddlers and spectators enjoy the incredible experience of taking part in this competition.  We congratulate all the participants especially the winners who showed impressive resilience all the way to the finish line,” says Howard Arrand, KZN Provincial Head of FNB Business.

Stewart Little walked away with the Under 18 boys prize ahead of Mvelo Ngidi and Minenhle Mbhele in second and third respectively. Behind Mackenzie in the girls under 18 increment was Tracey Oellermann and Gemma Lawson.

David Evans was impressive over the three days winning the Under 16 boys crown while Caitlin Mackenzie was the fastest Under 26 girl throughout the three days.

Source (reprinted): http://dusi.co.za/2017/02/18/2367/