With the 2020 Dusi Canoe Marathon just more than two months away, debate about insisting that paddlers portage around Taxi Rapid on the first stage of the race is dominating conversation in local canoeing circles.
As reported recently on dusi.co.za Taxi Rapid has developed significantly in recent years and is now a big drop, where paddlers, particularly those in the front of a K2, get immersed in the river at a section suspected to be a source of ecoli pollution.
At the Umpetha Challenge in October, organisers made the rapid a compulsory portage as they tried to limit the number of athletes who fell ill with “Dusi guts”.
After the challenge a survey found that 96% of the 109 paddlers who took part had no complaints, while just two reported upset stomachs.
Sixty-six percent of participants in last year’s Dusi Canoe Marathon reported falling ill with “Dusi guts”.
A few weeks later the Supa-Quick Fezela Challenge was held over the same section of river and the hosts gave paddlers the option of shooting Taxi Rapid, which almost all of the 106 finishers did. The post-race survey showed that only two of 72 respondents fell ill after the race.
“This is important information as we monitor the river as part of our drive to ensure the health and safety of every paddler in next year’s Dusi,” said race committee head Shane Le Breton.
River pollution has been a hot topic since a massive spill of edible oil and caustic soda into the Baynespruit, a tributary of the Msundusi River, in August, polluting the river and water further downstream.
Le Breton added that the survey results needed to be read in conjunction with river-water quality reports for the corresponding period before jumping to any conclusions about making Taxi Rapid a compulsory portage.
“For the Dusi, we will be testing the river with DUCT (Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust) thoroughly and if the results show that the ecoli levels in the river are high, it makes sense to keep paddlers away from the affected areas,” he said.
Taxi Rapid is above the outflow of the Darvill waste water treatment plant and the confluence of the Baynespruit River, which, according to a document by Esmeralda Ramburran, is “classified as one of the most highly polluted rivers in the region, currently consistently ranked in the top six most polluted rivers in South Africa”.
One paddler in favour of portaging around Taxi Rapid is multiple Dusi champion, Martin “The Dusi Duke” Dreyer, who will be taking part in next year’s event with his wife, Jeannie.
“Just be sensible,” said Dreyer. “We all know that this section of river carries a higher risk of contamination, so start the day well hydrated and then don’t take any drinking bottles with you at the start of the race.
“Once you get to Campbell’s Farm portage you can get a drinking bottle or bladder from your second,” he said.