21 July 2009
Hank McGregor paddled his way into the canoeing record books by equalling Robbie Herreveld’s six victories in the Berg River Canoe Marathon on the weekend. McGregor secured the title in style, while the enthralling women’s race went the way of 19-year-old debutant Robyn Kime.
There was a massed start for the 56-kilometre final stage from Zoutkloof to the West Coast fishing town of Velddrif, which meant that all McGregor had to do was to stay with the front bunch to secure the overall race victory. After a flawless day on a full river, he sprinted away from a six-boat bunch to cross the finishing line alone while celebrating his sixth title in style.
“This is such a special race to take part in, let alone to win,” said McGregor. “The obstacles and the sheer distances of each stage make it the toughest race I have ever done.
‘I dreamt of possibly winning it’
“Ever since I was kid growing up in the Cape I wanted to do this race, and dreamt of possibly winning it.”
McGregor also savoured the shared record with “King of the Berg” Robbie Herreveld. “It’s fantastic to share his record,” he reckoned. “Simply to be mentioned in the same sentence as Robbie is an honour and a privilege. Maybe he will make a comeback next year and we can race it together!”
McGregor’s finish was more dramatic than had been anticipated; he saw a 500-metre lead that he had worked hard to establish evaporate when the five men chasing him took a short-cut on the long final loop in the river before Velddrif.
“For the start of the race, this sneak channel was banned,” said a clearly frustrated McGregor. “When I got to Oordraplek I double-checked with the race official, who told me that we had to stay in the main channel, which is what I did. I was very surprised to see the five-boat chasing bunch suddenly arrive on my tail a hundred metres behind me at the finish.”
‘It was a bit nerve-wracking”
There were some anxious moments for the front bunch as they charged down the full river and across flooded vleis. “It was a bit nerve racking,” admitted McGregor.
“At one stage we got stuck in a fence and had to break the wire to get free. We then ran out of water and had to carry our boats for 200 metres to get back into the river.”
Second place went to Lance King, which was his best ever paddling result. “I am over the moon,” he bubbled afterwards. “I have paid my dues on this race, taken more than my fair share of wrong channels, and had my share of admin. So to have it all come together like this feels very special.”
The women’s race had provided captivating action on each of the race’s first three days and heading into the final stage pre-race favourite Robyn Kime was on the back foot after a series of disasters on the critical first stage left her nearly five minute adrift of Lindi-May Harmsen.
By the time that two women started side-by-side on the final stage, Harmsen’s lead had been whittled down to 52 seconds.
When Harmsen made a critical error – her first of the race – by taking a channel that proved to be a long-way around a bend, it left the door open for Kime to scamper away to claim the women’s title by six minutes. She became only the fourth women in the history of the race to win it on debut.
“Obviously I am disappointed,” said Harmsen. “For a while I could see Robyn (Kime) ahead of me after she got a lead when we went over some fences, but then all of a sudden she was gone. But full credit to her, she paddled like a steam train today.”
McGregor and King paved the way for their Team Epic to claim the team prize comfortably, with fellow team mates Pieter-Willem Basson and Heinrich Schloms all finishing in the top-five, thus ensuring victory over Graeme Solomon’s Team Roamer Rand.
Pierre-Andre Rabie was the first under-21 paddler to cross the line, finishing in sixth place overall, while Joseph Williams took the juniors’ title in 51st place overall.
Two paddlers made race history by becoming the first competitors to complete the Berg River Canoe Marathon history 40 times: Andre Collins and Giel van Deventer reached the milestone after enjoying a hitch-free final stage to Velddrif, where they both received heroes welcomes.
“This has got to be one of the best Bergs ever,” enthused Collins. “The weather and water has been magnificent – warm, blue skies and a full river. I had the pleasure paddling with Willem van Riet (who took part in the first ever Berg in 1962) on the third stage and we agreed that this has been one of the best.”
Collins was quick to congratulate Van Deventer when he made it to the finish and promised to share a “bottle of great 20-year-old” with him after the race.
- Hank McGregor 13:22.54
- Lance King 13:25.58
- Graeme Solomon 13:32.04
- Pieter-Willem Basson 13:33.54
- Heinrich Schloms 13:37.27
- Pierre Andre Rabie 13:44.43
- Ernest van Riet 14:02.05
- Edgar Boehm Jnr 14:03.10
- Andrew Birkett 14:10.53
- Cornelius Human 14:14.05
- Robyn Kime 15:26.07
- Lindi-May Harmsen 15:32.11
- Jemma Hofmeyer 15:50.08
- Angie Gafney 16:15.34
- Lisa Scott 16:23.21