Pietermaritzburg - The big field of paddlers entered for the 69th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon that starts on Thursday could well be in for the best river conditions in more than a decade, if the predicted rainfall happens on time.
Currently the weather forecast is for cool and dry weather for the first stage of the race on Thursday, which will be ideal for the paddlers, particularly on the two long portages that are a key part of the 42km first leg of the race. They will be guaranteed medium river levels for that stage thanks to the water released from Henley Dam outside Pietermaritzburg.
The rain is forecast to start late on Thursday afternoon and continue on Friday and into Saturday. Friday's river levels will be excellent, thanks to extra water from Nagle dam supplementing the water from Henley dam, and any additional run-off from the overnight rains.
What is exciting the paddlers is the forecast of steady rain around Durban on Friday that could see water flowing into the Mngeni River through the Mzinyathi and Molweni Rivers, adding to the 17 cumecs of water that will be flowing out of Inanda dam.
With the Burma Road portage out-of-bounds this year, the entire field will paddle around the section of river that includes rapids like Graveyard, Island and Five Fingers, which are legendary river paddling obstacles when there is good water in the Mngeni.
"While weather forecasts are not wholly reliable, conditions look set to provide the best Dusi paddling conditions in more than a decade," said Dusi organising committee head Shane le Breton.
"A cool day with the paths dry underfoot is ideal for the first stage. And it really eases concerns about the water quality in Pietermaritzburg if there are no storms in the days before the race."
"Day Two will see more water coming in from Nagle dam at the confluence with the Mngeni, and with a little run-off from the tributaries in the valley, this is the paddler's favourite stage," he said.
"Water flowing into the Mngeni below Inanda Dam for Day Three will bump the river level up to conditions that we haven't seen for a long time, and the twenty kilometres from Tops Needle to Mango Rapid should be superb paddling. The perfect way to end a tough three days on the rivers."
Le Breton added that the regular summer storms had helped the recovery of the river system from the oil spill in August, and that the heavy inflows into the Msindusi and Mngeni Rivers from the surrounding tributaries had helped restore the natural ecology of the river systems.
"Dr Mark Graham from GroundTruth has been leading the rehabilitation project after the spill and he will be in the valleys with his team during the race during another series of tests."
"Together with the great job being done by the Euro Steel and AdReach Save Our Rivers clean-up teams, our partners the Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), and the passion of the paddlers to 'Do The Dusi' every year, it is so encouraging to see another big field lining up for what is sure to be a special Dusi.
"It is tribute to the deep legacy of this unique sporting event and the tireless work of a large number of people that we are able to get ready to enjoy another classic Dusi this week," said le Breton.
The 2020 Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place for February 27 to 29.