Pietermaritzburg – Following the Dusi Canoe Marathon’s pioneering journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban by the late Dr Ian Player in 1951, a group of intrepid adventurers are set to recreate the annual canvas canoe pilgrimage for the fourteenth time when they set off on their four day journey from Alexandra Park to Blue Lagoon on Thursday for the 2014 Canvas Dusi.
Dusi Archives/ Gameplan Media
Player passed away following a stroke on Sunday last week and the tributes for the conservationist have poured in since. The Canvas Dusi in 2014 now carries added relevance due to the loss of the first ever Dusi winner and the paddlers will remember Player’s legacy when they set off on their journey.
The crafts are made of canvas and wood and weigh as much as 22kg but can get to 30kg when they have been in the water. Along with the original craft, Canvas Dusi participants look to recreate the journey by wearing khaki shorts and shirts as well as hats sporting the animal skin hatbands used to differentiate the clubs that the paddlers belonged to in the early days of the race.
One of the race's staunchest supporters Anton Venter has fine-tuned the skills needed to build these boats from suitable timber and canvas, and is able to supply these replica craft to keen paddlers from around R1500, roughly 25% of the cost of an entry level modern fiberglass craft.
Venter is however quick to point out the pros and cons of these original craft. “They are very buoyant and very stable. If you hit rocks from the front, it is no problem but when you hit them from the side, it breaks.
"You get an idea of what the guys had to do in the old days. We've got it very easy now!” he also stresses.
With thirteen Canvas Dusis already completed, the traditions have been developed through the years and the big moment is the beginning of your second trip where you receive a memento that makes you part of the group.
"Once you have done one of these trips, you get your leopard band on your second trip. Then you are one of the 'manne'!
"We are a helluva nice crowd and we don't take 'laaities'. We look for the more experienced paddler which is very important in these boats and the oldest guy is 75!” an enthusiastic Venter adds.
Doug Burden joins the group when they negotiate their way down to Durban and the General Manager of the Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) uses the trip as an opportunity to report any illegal activities or the like along the route.
"Doug takes note of all the illegal sand mining and reports it. We look at what is being dumped into the river and take record of that and we check out for any damage to the river, so there is also a great benefit to us doing this trip,” Venter mentions.
Five-time winner of the Dusi Canoe Marathon, Peter Peacock has become a regular participant at the Canvas Dusi and following a competitive career on the river he relishes the chance to relax and take in all of the sights and sounds of the trip from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
"It's great fun! You have time to look at the birds and take it easy.
"The valley has changed a lot, but it is a special place for me," the Dusi icon mentions.
The 64th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban from Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 February 2015. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za