SA paddlers take on world’s longest canoe race

17 July 2014

Only 12 teams have been brave enough to enter this year’s edition of the longest canoe race in the world, the Yukon 1 000 – meaning 1 000 miles (1 600 kilometres) – and they include the “South African Dung Beetles”, Duncan Paul and Donovan Boshoff of the Natal Canoe Club.

The event starts in Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, in Alaska, and concludes at the Alaska Pipeline/Dalton Highway after seven to 12 days of paddling for 18 hours a day. Clearly, it is not for the faint of heart.

Unsupported

As an unsupported race, the contestants have to look out for their own wellbeing and that means carrying three weeks of food supplies. “You have to take three weeks of food with you because if you have bad weather conditions or someone gets injured there is no way you can be helped out there,” Paul said at a send-off function in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he and Boshoff jetted off on their way to Canada for the start of the Yukon 1 000, which takes place from Monday, 21 July.

Paul previously took part in the Yukon River Quest in 2007, completing the mammoth 740 kilometre journey with fellow Natal Canoe Club member Colin Burden in 50 hours, while taking only one seven-hour and one three-hour break along the way.

Useful knowledge

Thanks to that previous experience, Paul explained, he learned some useful things, like the kinds of trials he and Boshoff can expect to face in the even longer Yukon 1 000.

“Sleep deprivation was the biggest one,” he said of the challenges he faced in 2007. “Obviously you have to be very fit. You start hallucinating, there is tendonitis in your wrists, sore bums from sitting down the whole time.

“The river is quite dangerous,” he added. “You can’t go too close to the bank. Branches and massive trees fall out, so they are 30 metres into the river and you can’t see the branches and the river is flowing really fast, and you get hooked up in those. The water temperature is four or five degrees.”

A bigger boat

Due to the nature of the race, it is entirely possible that, apart from the start, they might not see any of their fellow competitors at all along the route. The vast distance and the tough requirements of the test that lies in weight means the Dung Beetles have to use a bigger boat than usual.

“It’s a sea kayak,” Paul explained , “bigger than our kayaks because you’ve got a long list of mandatory things you have to take, like tents, sleeping bags, two stoves, three weeks of food, bear spray, flares. It has two hatches, so you are taking a lot of kit.

“The boat will weight from 80 to 100 kilograms by the time we are packed up and ready to start. It’s an expedition.”

Spot devices

The duo will also carry two Spot devices with them, in case one of the tracking gadgets breaks down. The devices allow them to be tracked by satellite. Every day, they must stop paddling by 23:00, when it gets dark, and within 15 minutes they must press their device. The competitors are allowed to start paddling the next morning at 05:00, when it becomes light again. They must press the Spot device every six hours.

In case of an emergency, the Spot devices contain a rescue mechanism, which would alert the Coast Guard on the United States side of the border and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada.

Goal

Paul and Boshoff have spent six months preparing for the Yukon 1 000, putting in training sessions of up to 100 kilometres a day. They’re planning to finish the distance in eight days, although seven days would be something they would be very pleased with, said Paul. The race record is six-and-a-half days.

Keeping up their energy will be vital to achieving their goals and finishing the race, he added.

Food

“We both trained by going to a dietician. Our intake is all based on calories and what you are burning up every day, so we have balanced that out,” Paul said.

“You can’t replace the calories as fast as you are burning them. We eat every half- hour, or at least every hour. A lot of that comes from energy drinks, probably 75 percent. You have to drink about half-a-litre every hour. You have to drink at least eight litres every day. That’s what we plan to do.”

Paul’s and Boshoff’s progress can be tracked on their blog – The South African Dung Beetles Blog