Expedition Africa – Day 1

This first day of Expedition Africa has transitioned into its first night and all teams are on foot. They’ll be trekking throughout the night. For many teams this has been a good day with positions gained; for others there have been errors and delays. Let’s look at a few of the happenings.


A magnificent sunrise over the Indian Ocean. A pretty beach. 80 red and yellow kayaks. 200 excited and apprehensive racers. And a blast of the South African instrument, the vuvuzela (made famous at the 2010 Football World Cup), which starts the race. Teams rushing into the sea.

Before the start - and everything is calm. Photo by Bruce Viaene.

For a few moments everything looked alright as the teams climbed on to the sit-on-top kayaks and their paddles were in the water. Some teams appeared to punch through the waves, making it out as a big set rolled in.

Within moments there were swimmers in the water, paddles floating away and overturned kayaks bobbing in the surf. Teams attempting to get out were spat back on to the beach, bedraggled and shell-shocked.

And then it would happen again. And again. And again. Occasionally a kayak would make it out; and dozen more would be dumped back on the shore.

Big waves! Photo by Andreas Strand.

When I left the beach about 30 minutes after the start, boats were still trying to get out past the breakers. An hour later two in-experienced teams were pulled from the water and placed under warm showers, given hot drinks and were transported to CP1.

Team Costa Rica made it out perfectly this morning. A team of surfers and kayakers, they arrived early at the beach to watch the waves, time the sets and position their boats for the start. It paid off. At the start they took to the water with the rest but waited for the end of a set to head out past the backline. Success!

Behind the surf things went a lot better for the teams and the field progressed swiftly to CP1 and then up the Umtamvuna River to T1 (paddle-hike transition).

What’s with the missed CPs?

Castle Lite missed CP5 on the Leg 2 hike through the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve.ย  Reportedly they reached CP6, realised their error and had to turn back.

Another team made a similar mistake – also missing CP5. I’m not sure who this was.

Team Cyanosis made a costly error when they missed CP7, the first checkpoint after the paddle/hike transition at T2. They took the road from T2 to CP8, realised their error and had to trek three kilometres along the beach (back in the direction of the transition) to the CP and then back again along the beach.

Navigator Nicholas Mulder was understandably looking glum at the bottom of the abseil.

It’s not as much the time lost, but that we did an additional six kilometres,” he says.

This mistake set them back a good 90 minutes and he’ll have to be on his game on this hike during the night to make up time lost.

Seagate's Chris Forne leads his team, Merrell Adventure Addicts and Haglof Silva down the short canyoning section of the hike through the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve. Photo by Bruce Viaene.

“Call the Hawks – investigation required”

On reaching T2 at 15h38, Abel van der Merwe from Bloed en OMO asked for ‘The Hawks’ to be called. The Hawks are the South African equivalent of, say, the FBI. He wanted to know it was humanly possible that they could be so far behind the leaders so early in the race. For comparison, in eight-and-a-half hours of racing, this last-placed team were already four hours behind at T2; that’s 28-kilometres into the race. FYI – Seagate checked in at 11h23…

Thank you Mr Weatherman

Conditions today have been good – probably a bit too warm for the European teams who are coming out of winter (the Russians still have snow at home!). The humidity here is a funny thing. Compared to Johannesburg it is humid. For this region, it is really mild at the moment (early winter). In summer the South Coast is sticky-hot and those not acclimatised drip with sweat non-stop.

In this season, if you’re working hard, moving fast and the wind is blowing, sweat evaporates quickly. But the moment you stop… sweat just runs off you. This will definitely affect the amount of water that the teams need to be drinking.

Water is often available from homesteads (rain tanks) and schools. There is a lot of water around in the rivers but it isn’t wise to drink any without treating it first because of the settlements upstream.

Crossing the beautiful, clear and flowing river at the bottom of the abseil, a member of Team Cinnober asks whether they can drink it. Our photographer responds, “Do you have purification tablets?”. “Ja,” he responds, drinking a handful of water was straight from the river!

Arverne Outdoor takes advantage of the cool, clear water below the abseil (abseil was down the cliffs pictured). Photo by Bruce Viaene.

We swam in the river today so we’ll be keeping our ears open for any changes in the gastric situation of this Cinnober racer. We hope the water was as clean as it looked!

Abseil social

Seagate made it through to the abseil at CP9 just ahead of Painted Wolf, Merrell Adventure Addicts and Haglofs Silva. Getting there first was a good plan. The abseil setup is as follows: four ropes and first come, first served. So, the Seagate each got a rope and down they went. The other teams were a bit mix-matched and so there was a bit of a sit-wait on top.

Donovan Sims (Merrell Adventure Addicts). Photo by Bruce Viaene.

The view from the top… it’s lovely out here.

Although the first part of the abseil itself was not too challenging, vegetation near and at the bottom entangled many. Some racers descended within five minutes. Others took up to 25 minutes to get down and unclip. With many teams arriving close together in the afternoon, a bottleneck was inevitable.

From the bottom of the abseil, a trail led out of the canyon and onto open, grassy terrain dotted with huts and curious children.

Curious, friendly children. Photo by Bruce Viaene.

Toto, I’ve a feelingย were not in Kansas anymore.”

The teams are now into wild terrain where footpaths, animal tracks, huts, goats and cattle dominate. This region shows a totally different side of South Africa to the pretty holiday town Port Edward where we’ve been based. We’re into really wild country of open land with cliffs and rivers and canyons and settlements.

Another side of beautiful South Africa. Photo by Bruce Viaene.

Where the teams are now there are no fences to block off tracts of land and teams really can go where ever they want to between the far-spaced checkpoints. This has already been shown by their tracks on the live online tracking platform. There are many ways to travel – some will prove more optimal than others.

Time estimates

The estimated time for this Leg 4 (80km) hike is 16 hours for the faster teams. Leg 5 is a canyoning section and it is estimated to take faster teams five hours.ย  We are expecting the front teams to reach T3 at the Mboyti River Lodge around 09h00 / 10h00 on Monday morning – 26 hours after the start. We’re aiming to catch them there – and other teams filtering through later.

After T3 they have their first bike leg; a 120-kilometre cycle to Port St Johns. Routes will take teams through some major towns in the region. As course director Stephan Muller said at briefing, this will definitely be quite an experience for the foreigners (and many of the South Africans too). We’ll post photographs during tomorrow to illustrate because any words that I conjure will be insufficient to do justice to the hustle and bustle and other-worldliness ย of these towns.

Hot links

Until tomorrow…


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