Nomakanjani

From 22 June to 02 July 2011, 20 guys endured an epic expedition over land and sea, covering 272 km between Kosi Bay and Richards Bay. This was done as part of a R1.5 million fundraising initiative to build a centrum for autistic children in Richards Bay. The need is massive and the closest alternative is 200km south in Durban.

The dream, backed by hard training and many sacrifices over the past year, finally became a reality when 11 paddlers, supported by a land crew (of which I was the photographer), arrived at Kosi Bay. One night and our adrenaline would be released! The end must be reached, Nomakanjani! (Nomakanjani is a Zulu word meaning “no matter what”)

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Day 1 (23 June 2011)

Day one started at 06h00, with the team aroused by Rankin and Ivan with coffee and an instant cereal breakfast.  Arriving at Kosi Lake 3, the team posed for cameras and had pre-expedition interviews – all were in great spirits when leaving.

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Under the GPS guidance of Leon, the 10 meter wide channel was reached (all the more impressive as the lake has a 22 km perimeter!)  The team snuck past a curious family of hippos to reach the channel.  The single file navigation of the winding channel was a fitting warm-up to the start.  The fish kraals, of pre-historic design and a subsistence operation were of particular interest.

After beaching and walking over the narrow sandbank that separated the lake system from the Indian Ocean’s crashing waves, reality was realised by all.

Faced with surf of 4 meters, a rip current and a dangerous ledge, the toll for the day after a difficult launch included a lacerated hand, broken paddle, one cracked ski and two demolished skis.  Being unable to cover the distance by sea, Franz, Leon, Rupert, Marius and Gideon decided to do the distance by beach instead.HJL_4767_0

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A tired paddling and walking team rejoined after sunset.  Arriving at the Mamela Bush Lodge, the mood was lifted by a bonfire and dinner.  A “Kozi” night was spent by twenty members, sardine style, in a two bedroom chalet with a single shower, hot water being provided courtesy of a donkey (city slickers – figure that one out!).

At the end of the day, 45 km was paddled by the team and 15 km walked – covering the distance: Nomakanjani!

Special thanks to Isimangaliso who approved the expedition through South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

 

Day 2 (24 June 2011)

The forecast was unpromising, the paddling ninjas donned their sea gear and the convoy left for the beach.  Getting to the beach turned out worse than expected – a fresh south westerly blowing with swells over 4 meters and no protection given by the bay, making Castle Rock an unassailable fortress.

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The decision not to paddle was hard to swallow, but Mother Nature had spoken.  Being determined Nomakanjani walked the distance on the beach, heading for Mabibi. A total of 19 km was covered on the beach – painful feet included.

 

Day 3 (25 June 2011)

The team was eager to mount their skis following a day without paddling. At the beach, few opportunities arose following swells, which came in sets of six to nine waves.  Conditions were better than the previous day (although tricky), with a deep-breaking surf, a rip tide and powerful foamies– timing was everything.  The team, led by Leo, set off in pairs…

6-louw-hendrik-launchingThe day’s task was paddling to Sodwana, a distance of 28 km in a challenging south westerly.  En route, the team spotted a whale family swimming north. Meanwhile, the land team had its own challenges– the A-frame on the surfski trailer broke and had to be re-welded.

After beaching successfully, the paddling team was welcomed at Flat Cat with hot coffee and Sherry. A boat repair centre was established, ensuring all surf skis were shipshape by the morning.

Day 4 (26 June 2011)

Single digit temperatures in Sodwana! Unheard of on the North Coast! With tracksuits, a polar fleece, a sleeping bag and a tent, it was still freezing!

A surveillance of the launch conditions before breakfast reported that the break was too big for a successful launch. The team decided to have a Sunday of planning and ski repair instead.

Day 5 (27 June 2011)

HJL_4675On arrival at Sodwana Beach, the perfect launching conditions stunned the team: the conditions were a contrast to the previous two days and surf predictions.

It was decided to paddle to as close to the wilderness area as possible before paddling past it.  Kingfisher Bay the target.

The sea conditions were close to perfect – with an assisting current and a slight headwind.

HJL_4760Some of the area paddled through bordered on the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park. While there, the team was treated to clear waters, visible reefs, and the odd turtle and whale.

After beaching the skis were positioned behind the dunes to enable a swift start to the next day’s session.

Day 6 (28 June 2011)

The 58 km would be covered in one go!

By now the Richards bay boykies know about layered clothing, beanies and getting a spot INSIDE the bakkie (not onnntoppp) – a brisk transfer to the beach at Sodwana is followed by KZN Wildlife giving us a 20 minute beach drive to Kingfisher Bay.

Sunrise: Spectacular.  Beach drive: Bonus.  Fog rolling in: Fantastic photos.

We were rather relieved to find all our skis just as we left them, when arriving with 3 minutes to spare.  “Get a move on guys, we are leaving at 07h00!”  “Uuuh … where is the sea?”  “In the direction of the sun, you twit!”  “Oh, … you mean that faint star to the north east?”  … Hurry up and wait …HJL_5263

09h20 launch time (feels like lunchtime already!).  Sea support spotted; it’s all systems go, go, go.  The current fades and disappears, the wind vanishes, and the sea becomes a gently undulating mesmerizing dam, with ripplets playing on the water.  Hallooo seasickness….

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Whales ahead me mateys!  It breaks the surfaces 20 meters from Piet.  Colourful crabs float by; schools of flying fish attend the paddling class; dolphins harass the team and an old turtle wallows past to check what the marine park had.

 

17:05 the sun sets.  Cape Vidal is ahead to the right.  A cheer goes up as leading lights of the land crew are spotted. With 58 km and 8 hours and 15 minutes under the belt, families and friends visiting for the first time are elated as we get onto the shore – hugs and kisses – aches and pains will kick in within the hour … ouch.  But for now – a glow in gratefulness.

This was the test. We all made it.

Day 7 (29 June 2011)

After a looooong night’s rest everybody felt good, thanks to the great work of the medics and the cooks.

HJL_6510_0Today we paddled from Cape Vidal to Mapelane, a distance of 36 km.  Finaly some runs were experienced, good time was made and the leg was completed in 4.5 hours.

A shark swam underneath some of the surfski’s, providing a lot of excitement.

Today was the first time that the team could socialise with family from home at Cape Vidal, which made it extra special.

Day 8 (30 June 2011)

Today would be our first upwind during the Nomakanjani experience, taking us as far as the wreck of the Jolly Rubino.  Launch conditions at Mapelane proved to be favourable with the front (of 31 km/hr) not yet fully developed.  Once around the promontory the full force of a fresh South Westerly slowed the pace to a slogging 5 km per hour.  “Fasten your seatbelts gents!  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

6-louw-hendrik-jolly-rubinoSafety at sea was a concern, as this was a day without sea support; with only land and (later) air support available.  The group functioned as a close knit team with the double acting as a sweep.

With the Bell chopper being spotted in the air, we realised that the beaching zone was close by. The videoman Barret had a field day capturing the fleet from all possible angles. (No, the video was more important than my shots for the day – Supersport broadcast)  Bell generously sponsored the use of the chopper for aerial photography of the event and, more importantly, committed this invaluable resource as emergency vehicle for speedy casevac, should it be needed.

The team had a well-deserved feet’s up at the Mapelane ski-boat club, our home base for the next two days.

Day 9 (01 July 2011)

On arrival at Dawsons the team was faced by elephantine swells on the horizon of 4m plus.  Multiple unpredictable breaks towards the backline.  A fresh South Westerly gale.

The Decision: To walk the talk.

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The Challenge: 28km of beach with a rapidly rising spring tide forcing the walkers into soft sand with paddle in hand. On arrival all made a bee-line for an extended hot shower and a quick feet up before downing dinner.  The medical station provided for further photo opportunities (censored!) – thanks heavens for having oxygen on hand (some would’ve preferred laughing gas though …)

With a touch of sadness we realize that this was the last day “roughing it” and tomorrow the last paddling …

Day 10 (02 July 2011)

Piece of pie … not.  Hlobane is a reality check.  No walk in the park with a 3 meter swell, treacherous shore break and a vicious backline. But all 11 ninjas are on the water and under way after more than an hour of fighting through the surf.

We are joined by the NSRI flotilla and the SAPS Water Wing arrives.

The atmosphere turns electric as we round Naval Island to the sight of jets of water erupting from the water cannon of the tugboats.   The 2000 strong crowd on the jetty give loud cheers as we enter the small craft harbour, with hundreds of balloons being released.  Family, friends and well-wishers throng the team as they make their way to land.

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We did it. Nomakanjani!

www.nomakanjani.com

www.ablecentre.org

PS. Thanks Franz for most of the writing. This was also published in the SA Paddler.