St Francis Paddling Club Turned Eleven on 16 March 2022!

by Richard Arderne

 

It was recently eleven years since the founding of the St Francis Paddling Club.

So I thought it time to jot down a few lines about paddling in St Francis and our wonderful club.

On 16 March 2011, MJ Pretorius and Chris Opperman (both now living elsewhere) persuaded us to form a club. I was somehow the first chairman, and Pete King the captain, a position he still holds! I was clever enough to find an excellent replacement after a few years, Clint Hempel. And a few years later Pete Mitchley took over.

St Francis Paddling Club Founding Meeting at Christy’s Catch, 16 March 2011

Front: Eric Stewart, Phil Honey, Penny Hulett, Mike Stark, Nevil Hulett, Pete King

Back: Greg Renault, Richard Arderne, Rob Birch, MJ Pretorius, Chris Opperman, Brian Wells

Some background: when we moved to St Francis in 2005, I had been paddling for 15 years in Cape Town (and in St Francis on holidays), and so joined Pete King and his crew. We soon planned new races to add to the Harvey’s race, held every Christmas since the early 90’s (now called the Sporty Anderson). The first new race was held on 21 May 2006, held in BIG surf, and all four locals (Pete King, Byron Andrews, Kipper Halbert and me) did the short course!

21 May 2006, Gary Africa & Coffee McCalgan from PE, and Steph Le Roux from Plett

Around 2007, we added two new races which have been held ever since, the King of the Kromme (singles) and the Canals Winter Challenge (doubles):

King of the Kromme, 16 April 2017

 

Canals Winter Challenge, 26 July 2015

Besides these two annual races, and the now three Christmas races (the Shark Pt Doubles, the New Year’s Day Canal Dice, and the Sporty Anderson), we have had many other memorable races, such as the two from Cape St Francis beach on 29 April 2012 and 12 April 2014, both which coincided with paddlers’ weddings, which led to two illustrious fields of paddlers, both held in beautiful weather, both won by a Mocke, first Dawid then Jasper.

Cape St Francis Surfski Challenge, 12 April 2014

JBay Downwind Dice, 20 July 2013 – 35knots plus!

Another memorable race, but in very different weather, was the JBay Downwind Dice on 20 July 2013, in 35 knots! We had a scary time with the NSRI rescuing a few paddlers (including Pete Hoffman!), then searching for one .. who turned out to be safely aboard a fishing boat!

An unforgettable race was from Oyster Bay to Cape St Francis on 23 December 2017, with serious surf to get through to the deep water start, and Dirkie Ellis swimming with a shark (with a photo to prove it!), and Mark Bosch breaking his double in half whilst surfing a wave at Seal Point, right in front of me. Luckily we had Barry Culligan helping with safety again, this time buzzing us with his micro-light!

Richard Arderne and Andre van Wyk, looking nervous before the start at Oyster Bay, and Dirkie Ellis swimming on the way to the start, with an ominous fin nearby!

Getting back to the forming of the club, without Dave and Marie Louw, the club would not have flourished. Dave was our timekeeper at the canal harbour (with no shelter from the weather!) before Nevil Hulett persuaded us to move to his new Quaysyde restaurant, which proved a good move. Marie set up our website stfrancispaddlingclub.co.za, the best in the land, and she is the backbone of the club … and runs the East Cape Canoe Union too!

A busy start at Quays

A few years ago Mandy McGregor and Anita Dabrowski took over from the Louws as timekeepers, reasonably sheltered at Quays, sometimes with a glass of wine in hand!

The first Time Trial was held on 23 March 2011. Since then, we have had over 470, with over 7000 individual TTs paddled! Average attendance over the years has been 15, but rose to 24 in 2021, partly due to paddle boarders (1km, 2km, and 3km). SUPs are also welcome. TTs are at 5.30pm on Wednesdays, 10kms, 5kms, and 3kms, and are never cancelled due to bad weather!

Time Trial start at the old venue, the Canal Harbour

The 10km Singles Time Trial record has been improved from Pete King’s 49.47min in 2011 to Matt Bouman’s 41.26 in 2016, and then Hank McGregor’s incredible 39.00 on 19 July 2018.

Hank McGregor’s record 39.00min for 10km on 19 July 2018

The 10km Doubles Time Trial record has changed more frequently than the singles record, and even my name appeared a few times (I have been clever to paddle in the back with some top paddlers, including a 41.54 in 2018!). Then Phil Smith took over in 2015 with various partners, first Clint Hempel, then in 2016 with Greg Louw, the first boat under 40 minutes. Then Phil did a 39.05 with Stephan Vorster, and most recently, in April 2021, 38.15 with Ricci Talevi! When will he break 38min in a double, and 40min in a single?

In my opinion, the premier award is the Time Trial Attendance Trophy. Rich Poole has his name on it three times (in 2018 for 49 out of 49 TTs!) and Roeltin Louw and Pete King twice.

 

Another attendance award is the “250 TT” t-shirt. So far Pete King, myself and Brian Wells are wearing them, but Phil Smith and Stefan Vorster will very soon be wearing theirs!

Besides our sheltered canals, we have the wonderful Kromme River (also with fun downwinds), and the sea, often with quite sheltered paddling out to Shark Point, and often exciting (sometimes too exciting ..) westerly downwinds to JBay, and easterly downwinds to Oyster Bay … in the open ocean. And best of all, riding waves at Huletts! Some of our paddlers completed an epic 70km paddle to Eersterivier. And we are so lucky to have clean river and ocean water

St Francis, halfway between Cape Town and Durban, with excellent paddling options, is well suited to hosting national events. And so we did … with SA National Marathon Champs, in June 2018 and October 2020, the latter incorporating the National Single Surfski Champs. The first was organized by Daryl Staples (with Dave and Marie Louw) and the second by Nigel Harvey and Frank Baker, both events made possible by many volunteers. Given the success of these two events, we will surely host many more.

SA National Marathon Champs, June 2018: Day 3, Ladies start

We are fortunate to be quite close to South Africa’s best river race, the Fish (Cradock) and the best surfski race, the Pete Marlin (East London) and many of our members have enjoyed these over the years.

The start of the daunting four-day 240km PE2EL is also close by (but too far for me!). We do have many braver club members who have completed this ultra endurance event: Mickey Sadler, Nigel Harvey, Clint Hempel, Haydn Holmes, Pete King, Daryl Staples, Phil Honey, Andrew Dunstan, Graydon Mitchley, Phil Smith, and Gordon Spalding.

Phil Honey, Daryl Staples & Pete King, start of PE2EL 2014, looking a bit anxious!

We have had many fun evenings, notably our Year End Awards, at the old harbour in the early years, and recently at the wonderful St Francis Field Boma. Phil Honey amazingly won The Most Improved Paddler for a few years in a row but after the PE2EL, became the most unimproved!

One of Clint Hempel’s many innovations as Chairman was the annual Movember fundraising for Hospice. I have been asked not to display any photos of my attempts.

Our website records that we now have 179 members!  … more than most city clubs! We have welcomed many enthusiastic new members over the past few years, some quite new to paddling. To illustrate this, we had 31 paddlers complete the 5km on 9 February 2022!

Another indication of the success of the club is the strong demand for racks. Pete Bridges and Garth Perry built our first rack for six skis at the canal harbour, and I said “why so many?” We now have 120 racks, and a loong waiting list!

Besides helping with the running of events, Dave Louw also spends countless hours coaching Sea Vista teenagers, which he started in 2011. Six guppies were donated by members, four of them by Clint Hempel. More funds were donated over the years to fund attendance at races, and river proficiency courses etc.

Dave’s young paddlers at the Gamtoos for the Dirk Ellis race

Their training is split into an “off” season, training three days a week and “on” season, training five days and every second Saturday, to prepare for SA Schools. Dave limits his group to twelve paddlers, the most that can fit in his Landy! … he transports them from Sea vista, and back. One youngster, Dale Abrahams, paddled with Dave for six years. Dave now has a “pizza fund” to motivate the paddlers to attend all training sessions during a month!

Ladies Captain Steph Arndt tells me that the Ladies Tuesday Morning Group started seven years ago by her, Jo Brown and Madeleine Barry “in wobbly K1s from the slipway, then Hein and Jason from Carbonology introduced us to their brilliant skis. Now 35 members!” Steph also has been arranging club kit for the last few years.

Steph and Penny Hulett must surely be the most prolific doubles combination in the club, with Penny being one of our founder members.

Amica De Jager and Maria Holmes have broken 50min a few times, with their best being 48.58. I wonder when Amica or Maria will break 50 in a single??

Phil Smith has been our fastest paddler since 2015, soon after he started paddling! He is surely one of SA’s top ten paddlers .. and we have the best paddlers in the world! Third place in two ultra-long PE2EL’s is just one of his many achievements … with much more to come!

Phil Smith winning the King of the Kromme, 3 April 2021

No story about our club can be complete without highlighting Pete King’s paddling, both his speed (many 46min 10km’s in his 60’s!) and his attendance (nearly 400 TTs) and his participation at so many events; Pete Marlin, Breede, Fish, PE2EL, Berg etc: Legend!!

The Mitchley boys, Graydon and Oli, must be noted for their excellent paddling and sportsmanship. Oli and his father made a brave attempt at the PE2EL, and Graydon’s 44.26 for 10kms, is still third on our “Top Gear” board in our clubhouse (Quays), behind only Phil Smith and Stephan Vorster, but ahead of accomplished Andrew Carter and Gordon Spalding, two relatively new members, both who have achieved much on the national paddling stage.

We are fortunate to have top lifesaver, paddler and swimmer Haydn Holmes in town, as well as  Russell Sadler and Carmel Billson, also very well-known in the life-saving world. And Mickey Sadler, who paddled an amazing 27 Scottburgh to Brightons!!

Stephan Vorster has been an excellent club member, encouraging many paddlers to improve their fitness. He is also one of the fittest 50 to 60 year olds in SA!

We are possibly different from some clubs in that we have quite a few members who start paddling fairly late in life, often without a background of lifesaving or surfing. These paddlers so enjoy the safe canals and river, and seldom paddle in the sea. Three examples are Felix Muchika, Andrew Bowren and Ken McGregor, all who have paddled over 100 5km TTs.

Somewhat surprisingly JBay doesn’t have a paddling club, despite being much bigger than St Francis. So Dappie Prinsloo and Henri Alers drive through most weeks for our TT.  Danie Coetzer also did so for many years, but sadly passed in 2020, when he was still paddling 10km under 50min in his 70’s! And we recently lost another real club character, Mike Stark, one of our founding members.

Chopper von Wildemann was much involved with our club, only four-time winner of the Sporty Anderson, and who wrote an excellent weekly Weekend Post paddling column for many years.

Bluewater Canoe Club (BWCC) in PE have always been great supporters of our races. We attend some of their events, especially on the Sunday’s River, but they travel here much more than vice versa!

Carbonology have been loyal supporters of our club, always willing to provide a paddle as a prize for our races. PW Harvey have sponsored many club races, as have Carey Olsen and Dirk Ellis Motors. Last-mentioned also provided a club trailer, essential for many of our activities. Being the franchisee of Pam Golding Properties, I have enjoyed sponsoring many races over the last 16 years.

We have had two training exercises in the bay with the NSRI over the last few years, which we should do annually. We have also had fun trips to paddle the length of the Mpofu Dam and the Churchill Dam.

Whilst Quays is a wonderful clubhouse, the property on which it is situated is on the market, raising some concern as to whether we should be looking for a long term home.

Two comments about our club members:

1). We are short of members in their 20’s and 30’s. Probably just the nature of our town.

2). We have had quite a few paddlers who paddle a few TTs but then stop coming. Somehow they didn’t enjoy the TTs enough, or maybe they prefer paddling on their own or earlier in the day. But maybe we can find a way to embrace new members so that they don’t drift away.

All the winners, Canals Winter Challenge, 20 July 2014

At the top of the river, just before the start of a Kromme Downwind, 16 October 2021

To end off on a personal note, paddling has been a big part of my life since the early 90’s, with Billy Harker’s surfski races, and Clifton and Hout Bay dices and Breede Marathons. And then the last 16 years paddling here in St Francis. I’ve so enjoyed the camaraderie amongst paddlers.

I have paddled doubles with many partners, but particularly enjoyed many races with Clint Hempel (until he found faster partners!). Possibly our best result was coming oh so close to beating Phil Smith and Haydn Holmes at the 2015 Pete Marlin (20secs behind them .. we took a deep line, they took the shallow line, they didn’t know we were so close!).

Richard and Clint, taken by Cath Hempel, struggling to get out on a big day at Cape St Francis!

 

This is not an “authorised” club history.

I consulted a few members to help my memory, but it’s just my ramblings. Apologies for errors and omissions.