Paarl – Paddlers that have entered the 2016 Berg River Canoe Marathon which takes place from Paarl to Velddrif are keeping a keen eye on weather forecasts and river levels leading up to the 240km race’s start Wednesday, 13 July.
The good news for the highly competitive 2016 field is that there is significantly more water in the Berg River system that there was this time last year, which was raced in tough, demanding low river conditions throughout the four days of the race as the region suffered the worst of the prevailing La Niña drought conditions.
Although long term forecasts suggest there is little rainfall expected in the final few days leading up to the race, a mid-race cold front is looming large on day three’s horizon.
“Since I saw the forecasts of a possible storm coming through next Thursday, I have not stopped refreshing my weather app to see what the latest prediction is,” laughs regular top performer Louw van Riet.
“We’ve had good rains for the past month and a half though so it is definitely not drought conditions anymore,” confirms the AQRate athlete.
“If this storm does arrive though then it looks like it may well be pretty cold on days three and four though!” he warns.
One of the most experienced and successful elite athlete in the field, Bamboo warehouse/Knysna Racing’s Graeme Solomon echoes Van Riet’s sentiments.
“Things are by no means dire as they were before last year’s race. I’m actually quite positive about the water level for a change,” chuckles Solomon.
“Even if we don’t get another drop of rain from now until race day, there is enough water coming in from the various side streams to keep the river at a decent level for this year’s race.”
Working for Water’s welcome removal of alien trees along the top section of the race route has led to Solomon and Van Riet describing the stretch as ‘a wide open highway’.
“The first section will be a bit sketchy as it is a bit on the low side but from kilometer 24 onwards the water level is 100%!” says Solomon.
“With all the trees that have been chopped down recently you won’t have to get out your boat between Paarl and Hermon once, which really is unusual for the Berg,” adds Van Riet.
With the water level having a direct impact on paddlers’ tactics, together with the new environmental factors to consider, the 2016 Berg appears set to be somewhat different in nature to recent years.
“Early on we’ll probably see bigger bunches than normal because of how open the river now is but Hermon to Gouda is definitely going to be the most technical section of this year’s race,” says Van Riet.
“The tree blocks there will see the race be quite similar to the ‘old Berg’, and that’s where we’ll probably start to see the race breaking up and tactics starting to come into the race a bit more.
“Below Misverstand Dam will also be absolutely fine, even though our dams not full,” adds AQRate’s top five hopeful who has enjoyed a steady build up to the race.
“So many people have been doing a lot of tripping ahead of this year’s Berg and I have probably done the most trips of them all,” laughs Van Riet.
“I don’t have a lot of speed at the moment though and with this year not being the biggest Berg field ever but almost certainly the strongest, it will be hard going trying to keep up with all these World Champions for four days.”
The 2016 Berg River Canoe Marathon starts in Paarl on 13 July and ends at Velddrif on 16 July. More information can be found at www.berg.org.za