When the close on 2000 paddlers
converge on Cradock for the Hansa Fish on 5 and 6 October this year, there
will be a small band of paddlers who will be making the road trip through
the small Karoo with kayaks trapped to their cars for the30th time,
including the race icon Rory Anderson who will me setting off on his 31st
the prizegiving for last years race the massive field rose as one to acclaim
Anderson when he was called up as the first recipient of the race’s 30th
milestone – making him the first ever Super Fish Eagle.
His achievement is remarkable for a whole lot of reasons.
Primarily river canoeing has a certain degree of risk and the unknown, no
matter how skilled or experienced the paddler. It is not unusual for a
skilled paddler to fail to finish a race because he or she wrapped a boat or
had a mishap along the way. A DNF in canoeing is no shame!
That Anderson has started and finished every single edition of this tough
two day race from Grassridge dam to Cradock defies the odds. It hasn’t
always been plain sailing for him.
“Training for the first Fish I got sucked under the Marlow Causeway,”
recalls Anderson, a scare that every paddler knows is genuinely life
threatening because any manner of debris wedged underneath a causeway will
pin and drown a person in seconds.
He has also finished his fair share of Fishes with badly damaged boats that
have had to be repaired on the banks, resulting on the race’s most
celebrated participant limping home long after the bulk of the field.
“One year we laughed so much because our K2 was almost sinking as we crossed
the finish line – we had to repair it after breaking at Marlow Chute. On
another occasion we went into Keith’s Flyover without any buoyancy
reinforcing our back deck, and we smashed the back deck badly!”
Having completed every edition of the Hansa Fish canoe marathon Anderson
believes the race has developed into the premier canoe marathon in South
Africa and is ideally located with similar travel distances from most of the
main centres of the country. "Along with its guaranteed water flow, it has
become the canoe marathon of choice for many paddlers," he said.
"This marathon just has the "X" factor," said Anderson. "It's difficult to
put your finger on it, but the overall experience in all aspects is what
does it for me."
"It's extremely well organised and there is never a dull moment throughout
the two days of racing," he said.
Anderson is one of the races founders and pioneers, having been part of the
small band of explorers that first tripped the river until it was staged
formally as a two day marathon for the first time in 1981. He was 23 years
old then, living in Port Elizabeth, and passionate about the canoeing
potential of the newly discovered section of irrigation water from the
"My earliest and one of my favourite memories was Mr Collett senior arriving
at the start of the first marathon with his hunting rifle in hand, which was
used as the first marathon starting gun," said Anderson. "At the outset I
wasn't quite sure where he was going with such a weapon!" he laughed.
The river as it was in 1981 was a far cry for the well managed section of
Brak and Fish river that is raced today. The willow tree thickets were far
denser and the paddlers weren’t able to clear safe paths through the fronds.
On the upper sections livestock fences spanned the river frequently, calling
for some novel improvisation from the paddlers.
"I have made many friends in the area, this and also the fact that it’s a
very exciting stretch of water makes it a compulsory event in my canoeing
calendar," he said.
Anderson now lives in Simonstown, but is determined to be on the startline
of the Hansa Fish once again, this time trying out a K3 for the first time.
"While I am enjoying my paddling as much as I do and while I am fortunate
enough to be fit to compete, I will always be at The Fish"," said Anderson.
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