The 2020 Dusi Canoe Marathon came to a thrilling end at Blue Lagoon on Saturday as Andy Birkett won his tenth title along with a first-time winner Khumbulani Nzimande as Tamika and Bianca Haw coasted to a maiden title.
Both crews started the third and final day with solid leads in their respective races as 36 intrepid kilometres stood between them and victory.
In the men’s race the Euro Steel pair of Birkett and Nzimande didn’t have it all their own way despite powering across the dam stretch that starts the day.
They increased their lead by forty seconds in the initial stages but lost that advantage when Nzimande couldn’t put his splash cover on in the Tops Needle rapid and they took on water.
From there they had to get out and empty which cost them around a minute as they got back in and powered home.
“It’s never plane sailing on the Dusi and you will always have some hiccups along the way,” Birkett said after the win.
“It’s been such an incredible journey with Khumbulani and he was so tough and showed incredible BMT to step up every day.
“He was so strong and I think he got fitter as the days went on!”
A first Dusi title for the 24 year-old Nzimande was more than he could ever have dreamed of.
“I am so so so happy,” he said with a huge smile. “I am completely lost for words, it’s been an amazing experience.
“Over the last months I have learnt so much from Andy and have changed so much.”
Sbonelo Khwela and Thulani Mbanjwa had all the work to do on the final day and they put in a near flawless performance but couldn’t close the gap on the winners.
“We just tried to put the hammer down from the beginning of the day,” Mbanjwa said.
“Our approach was to hit it as hard as we could but take it easy through the big rapids and that’s what we did.
“With Andy and Khumbulani not making any big mistake today it meant that it was going to be so hard for us to catch them.
“Paddling around (the Burma Road portage) was a lot of fun and we were a little nervous at Island One but Sbonelo was so good with the steering at the back so we got through easily.”
The Capetonian pair of Lance Kime and Shaun Rubenstein surprised all to hold on to their third place and claim the last spot on the podium.
The ladies race saw the Haw sisters, Tamika and Bianca, maintain their significant lead in the race on a mistake-free day into Durban and a first title for the Southern Drakensberg sisters.
Younger sister Bianca, who was in the front of the boat, was ecstatic that they achieved their goal of an overall win.
“It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet that we have won!” she said.
“We wanted to win the race but we wanted to enjoy it, and we did.”
The sisters went through the build-up races under the radar but Tamika knew that they had the ability when the race came about.
“We know that paddling isn’t our strongest point and the pre-races didn’t have a lot of running so we weren’t too worried,” she said.
“Winning the race was the focus and to have done that is really special considering it’s my tenth and Yankee’s fifth,” Tamika said on the eve of her surprise batchelorette party.
Cana Peek and Christie Mackenzie were going to have to rely on some misfortune for the boat ahead of them to make up the deficit, however that was not to be.
They put in a solid day despite a swim at the bottom of Island rapid and were strong enough to hold on to second place.
A third strong day of paddling from Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase saw them stroke home to the bottom spot on the podium.
In the age group tussles the Under 23 men’s crown went to Thabani Msia and Mvelo Ngidi, who led the race from start to finish, ahead of Hamish Mackenzie and David Evans while Alex Masina and Bongani Ntinga claimed the bronze.
Peek and Mackenzie dominated the women’s Under 23 category ahead of Amy Peckett and Cara Waud while the Under 18 crew of Georgina Howard and Saskia Hockly were the third Under 23 women’s boat home.
The Under 18 boys tussle ended with Michaelhouse dominating the podium.
Ross Leslie and Chase Leisegang took home the honours ahead of Sam Butcher and Matthew Millward in second as Jack Edmonds and Khandokuhle Mzolo finished third.
Howard and Ward were the strongest Under 18 girls in the race and they finished ahead of Shannon Parker-Dennison and Frances Forsyth in second and the Under 16 pair of Melonie Croeser and Olivia Woodburn.
Dusi Duke Martin Dreyer and his wife Jeannie were the strongest mixed doubles pair over the three days.