Birkett and Fenn, and Solms and Behn in command on Day 2 of Dusi Canoe Marathon

Abby Solms (front) and Jessica Behn have increased their big lead on Day 2 of the Dusi Canoe Marathon on Friday

Abby Solms (front) and Jessica Behn have increased their big lead on Day 2 of the Dusi Canoe Marathon on Friday. Photo: Ant Grote/Gameplan Media

Published Feb 16, 2024


Former World Champion and Dusi crown prince, Andy Birkett, put himself one stage away from his 14th title when he and Matthew Fenn won Day 2 of the Dusi Canoe Marathon on Friday and all but snuffed out the hopes of their challengers.

A mistake early on the second stage by Msawenkosi Mtolo and Sbonelo Khwela gave Birkett and Fenn the edge they needed to take control of the race. However, the manner in which the new leaders powered away over the closing kilometres of Day 2 from Mphaya Bridge to Inanda Dam, suggests the error at Gauging Weir simply pre-empted the inevitable.

Birkett and Fenn will take a five-minute advantage into Day 3 from Inanda Dam to Durban's Blue Lagoon on Saturday, and it seems only a big mistake is going to change the order over the final 36km stage.

Andy Birkett (front) and Matt Fenn negotiate Washing Machine Rapid on Day 2 of the Dusi Canoe Marathon on Friday. Photo: Ant Grote/Gameplan Media

In the see-saw battle for the final podium spot, Bongani Ntinga and Sandile Mtolo ended up losing some of their narrow four-second advantage over Banetse Nkhoesa and Siseko Ntondini. With the difference now just two seconds, it seems likely they will fight another cat-and-mouse battle for the third day in a row on Saturday.

Currently, leading U23 paddlers Scott Little and Jeremy Maher are sitting fifth, but with just a two-second advantage over Thulani Mbanjwa and Kwandokuhle Mzolo, the struggle for a top-five finish is wide open.

In the women's race, there was almost no drama or intrigue as former champion Abby Solms and her young Pietermaritzburg schoolgirl partner, Jessica Behn, had a clean run and paddle for the second day in succession, and they added another minute to their already substantial lead. They will set off for Durban on Saturday with an advantage of more than 10 minutes over Bridgitte Hartley and Hilary Bruss.

Jenna Nisbet and Nix Birkett's challenge for second never materialised and they slipped seven minutes further behind Hartley and Bruss, and are now surely simply expecting to hold their podium position.

The mixed doubles race is also going as expected with Hank and Pippa McGregor almost doubling their lead over Brad Boulle and Emma Hatfield, and the multiple World Champion and his wife are now almost 13 minutes clear.

Hank McGregor (front) and his wife Pippa are far ahead of the mixed doubles race and up into the top 15 overall after Day 2 of the Dusi Canoe Marathon on Friday. Photo: Ant Grote/Gameplan Media

Remarkably, the McGregor pairing are sitting in 15th position overall and are leading the sub veterans category overall.

Birkett was full of praise for his young partner, whose insistence of a conservative approach paid dividends on Friday as they closed in on Gauging Weir with the overnight leaders.

"At the approaches to the weir, I said to Matt let's put the splashies on and shoot it," said Birkett after finishing Friday's stage. "We had tripped it and shot it comfortably. But at the last minute Matt said: 'No, we're not shooting this. We are going to portage this and just take a more conservative approach.'

"I think it was the right call, so well done to Matt for that. And then we saw them bashing down on the left and being forced to jump out their boat.

"We then had to try and capitalise on that, but I think for them it must have been a tough pill to swallow when you see your competitors paddling off and you're still trying to get back in your boat."

But is Birkett confident of collecting his 14th win and putting himself just one victory away from that of "Dusi King" Graeme Pope Ellis?

"I've been tripping sometimes and you break your boat on the smallest of rapids, even after doing the river 100 times, so I know anything can happen," he said. "We are going to have to stay focused – and that is something Matt kept reminding me the whole of today: 'Do not make mistakes and keep focused,' he kept telling me.

"Tomorrow we're going to have to look sharp. If we make a big mistake then it's race over."

Khwela was philosophical about the error at Gauging Weir.

"Yeah, that is the part of the race," he said. "We had a good day until then and we knew Andy and Matt were going to try and catch us before Ngumeni.

Second-placed men, Msawenkosi Mtolo (back) and Sbonelo Khwela, shoot Washing Machine Rapid on Day 2 of the Dusi Canoe Marathon on Friday. Photo: Ant Grote/Gameplan Media

"We then got stuck at Gauging Weir, we tried our best to wriggle through, but we couldn't. We had to fall out to get unstuck and then empty the boat and put on our splashies.

"Tomorrow it must be just full gas all the way to Durban. There's nothing that we can leave in our tank so we will try to push ourselves. But anything can still happen to anyone, so we're gonna push and see if they make a mistake, then be there to capitalise on that.

The third and final stage on Saturday sees paddlers finish their crossing of Inanda Dam, before a short portage around the Dam Wall and into some big rapids below the dam. If the water release is decent, experienced paddlers can have some fun in a stretch of river littered with significant rapids, before the final flat-water stretch into Durban's Blue Lagoon.



1 Andy Birkett / Matthew Fenn (2:28:02; 2:26:37) 4:54:40

2 Msawenkosi Mtolo / Sbonelo Khwela (2:27:36; 2:32:19) 4:59:55

3 Bongani Ntinga / Sandile Mtolo (2:32:44; 2:35:12) 5:07:57

4 Banetse Nkhoesa / Siseko Ntondini (2:32:48; 2:35:11) 5:07:59

5 Scott Little / Jeremy Maher (2:35:16; 2:34:23) 5:09:40


1 Abby Solms / Jessica Behn (3:00:14; 2:54:20) 5:54:35

2 Bridgitte Hartley / Hilary Bruss (3:09:37; 2:55:16) 6:04:54

3 Jenna Nisbet / Nix Birkett (3:16:28; 3:02:10) 6:18:39

4 Amy Hulett / Neriyah Dill (3:23:01; 3:14:05) 6:37:06

5 Shannon Parker-Dennison / Nosipho Mthembu (3:27:02; 3:17:24) 6:44:27


1 Hank Mcgregor / Pippa Mcgregor (2:54:11; 2:47:18) 5:41:30

2 Bradley Boulle / Emma Hatfield (3:00:52; 2:53:25) 5:54:18

3 Dave Mckenzie / Helen Buley (3:16:32; 3:05:54) 6:22:27

4 Scott Rogers / Michaela Geytenbeek (3:20:44; 3:15:26) 6:36:10

5 Abbey Hackland / James Hackland (3:24:14; 3:19:35) 6:43:49

Gameplan Media

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