I was obsessed with the Dusi Canoe Marathon and had been training for it. A lonely pursuit when you’re in the Free State and there’s no canoe club and few have even heard of such malligheid. Then my boat got stolen in December, so come January I hitch-hiked to PMB with schoolmate Jean Roux to watch the start. We then bummed a ride with some paddler’s second, sleeping in the open on the riverbank.
I had been following the van Riet brothers’ winning streak closely, but that year a fella named Graeme Pope-Ellis teamed up with Eric Clarke to win his first Dusi on a full river. 222 paddlers each paid R3,60 to enter the race.
In Durban we walked from the Blue Lagoon finish to South Beach, where we spent the night on the sand. The next night the cops kicked us off the beach and we spent a night on the red polish stoep of the Point Road police station. Noisy! Rough!
I drove down from JHB with Louis van Reenen with two boats on his VW roofrack. We tossed a coin, he won and I drove while he paddled his brand-new red Hai closed cockpit white water boat. First time he’d ever been on a river. Emmerentia Dam had been his only training ground. He swam miles and drank gallons of the river in the flood-level Dusi and Umgeni!! But he was one tough character and he finished! (Pope-Ellis and Peter Peacock won – their second win as a team).
Luxury camping at Blue Lagoon
I finally get into a Limfy and do the race. I’m one of 1020 paddlers – the first time that the entry had broken through the 1000 barrier. I’m in a black Kingfisher Canoe Club T-shirt paddling a red and white Limfy from Gordie Rowe and Rick Whitton. Gordie made my boat “light but strong” – in-joke!! On the water at the start I spot Louis – he’s back for more! His second Dusi, my first. A low river.
Mainstay cane spirits took over as the title sponsor. Pope-Ellis and Cornish beat the Biggs brothers to give “The Pope” an unprecedented tenth win. Is the Pope a Canoeist?!
This time Greg Bennett’s brother Roland seconds us and we live in the lap of luxury the first night: Cold beer and hot food at Dusi Bridge. Then he loses focus. Then we look after ourselves.
For the first time paddlers were allowed to go home to their Mommies overnight. We thought that was a terrible development, so tried to drink for those who weren’t there. Apparently a new rule made paddling round Burma Road compulsory that year. A low river.
Sheila seconds me. In theory. I’m in a white Sabre (which reminds me how Arthur Egerton called his Sabre ‘Excalibur’ – “King Arthur” see?). I pitch the tent after finding Sheila in the beer tent, I cook the food and I pack the car!
Pope-Ellis was beaten by John Edmonds on a low river. Women were allowed to race in K1’s for the first time – as long as they were accompanied by a male paddler! Marlene Boshoff was the first woman to finish the race in a single, accompanied by Martin Lowenstein, beating her twin sister Jenny Bentel.
Hansa sponsored 1987, bringing bigger media exposure and the entry numbers picked up again. Pope-Ellis broke the K1 record by beating John Edmonds to claim his 13th title. In a monstrous injustice and swindle we are not met by bikini-clad Hansa girls as we finish – they only came later!
A thought: All 4 my Dusis were booze-sponsored! *hic*
The official records show me having completed seven Dusis but I have only done four, and nogschlepped on two. The three phantom ones I probably paid and entered, meaning to do them, but life got in the way. Probably 1986, 1988 and 1989. In my mind I imagine the NCC boys asking ‘Did we lose Swanie under a rock?’ ‘Nah, he probably finished. Mark him down as finished, then we don’t have to go looking for him.’