Organisers of the Breede River Canoe Marathon have made a bold call on the format for the race this weekend, as the river system continues to suffer under the worsening drought in the Western Cape.
Despite rainfall on the weekend that pushed up the water level in the Breede River to around 14 cumecs, the level dropped dramatically and is currently around four cumecs, ruling out the shallower top section of the Breede that is traditionally raced on the first stage.
The race will be held over the section from Riggton Farm close to Bonnievale to Kam'bati Resort, the usual second day of the marathon, racing the same 33.5 kilometre stage on both Saturday and Sunday.
"This is a fall-back plan that has been used successfully in the past when the river level has been low," said race committee head Russell Ikin.
"We used it is 2015, and raced it at a similar level earlier this season.
"Bearing in mind that we get mostly K2s but also a few K3 and a few K1s, we are mindful that we need to be able to race the whole race without risk of boat damage.
"There are a number of tributaries that enter the Breede below Bonnievale which makes this easier to paddle in low river conditions. There is a little rain forecast for late in the week, but as the rain needs three days to get into the main Breede system, it won't have any bearing on the race," he added.
The pre-Breede race from Riggton Farm to Bonnievale was raced in similar conditions a few weeks ago, and while paddlers had to portage through the Waterfall rapid, the rest of the river was navigable.
With a number of international paddlers travelling to the Cape for the race after the recent World Marathon Champs in Pietermaritzburg, the race organisers are determined to offer as much of the traditional Breede experience, both on and off the water, on the occasion of the race's 50th anniversary.
"The drought has asked a lot of us, both as residents in the region now facing level 5 water restrictions, and as paddlers. The Berg marathon was the second lowest ever, and despite better rains in the build-up to the Breede, the marathon will be a low one this year," said Ikin.
"What I know we can count on is that the paddlers that have entered the race will come to the start with the usual positive attitude that we enjoy at the Breede every year.
"The drought is what it is. The paddling community understands that and has shown remarkable enthusiasm. I know they will bring their positive adventure spirit to the race this year," he concluded.
The race has seen a good entry of over 100 boats, including 4 K3s and 18 K1s, with the balance of the field being K2s that traditionally support this event well.
The 2017 Breede River Canoe Marathon takes place from Bonnievale to Swellendam on September 16 and 17.