Cape Town - This weekend, Cape Town-based adventurer Ray Chaplin begins a
2 300km source-to-sea expedition.
He aims to follow the length
of the Orange River - from its source in Lesotho to the Atlantic Ocean -
by riverboard. Titled ‘The Plastics SA Nampak Rigid Plastics Orange
River Project’, Chaplin will take four to six months to accomplish this
There have been other expeditions that have set out to navigate the
length of the Orange River. There have been plastic kayaks, racing
kayaks and even a swimming relay that took on the river for a couple of
days at a time over several years. A major river in South Africa, the
Orange regularly welcomes kayaks and rafts on commercially-operated
sections. But to navigate the length of the river, in the water, by
riverboard and alone? Chaplin is embarking on an adventurous first.
Riverboarding is an in-the-water discipline where the athlete lies
on a buoyant board to travel down a river. This isn’t an ordinary
boogie-board, like those used in swimming training or at the beach.
Chaplin’s specialised river craft is moulded from hard plastic by the
Parys-based kayak design and manufacturing company, Fluid. This
riverboard, called a Fluid Anvil, has Chaplin positioned so that his
forearms, elbows and chest rest on the board while his feet - wearing
fins - kick for propulsion and steering. A water-sports discipline,
riverboarding is termed ‘face level’ as the athlete’s head is only just
The riverboard offers limited protection from rocky collisions in
rapids, which is why a full-face helmet and knee pads are crucial.
Although he’ll portage the Gariep and Van Der Kloof Dam walls and the
major waterfalls of Augrabies Falls, Twin Falls and Richie Falls, the
rest of the time he’ll be in the water moving through rapids and
flat-water sections on the riverboard.
Chaplin’s journey starts on Saturday, April 6, 2013 from the Mnweni
Valley in the Central Drakensberg. For the first 80km the
river is small in size with a low volume of water and a steep gradient,
which makes it unnavigable. Yet Chaplin will keep to his source-to-sea
objective by carrying the riverboard from the start.
When he sets off on foot from the Mnweni Cultural Village he’ll be
carrying a waterproof backpack loaded with everything he needs for this
journey - clothing, first aid supplies, food, camping equipment and
riverboarding gear. On top of this he’ll strap his riverboard and
helmet. The riverboard alone weighs in at little under 10kg;
he’s expecting to set off with 40kg on his back.
A hiking trail will take Chaplin into the valley and to the top of
the Mnweni Pass and into Lesotho. Here, at 3 000m above sea
level, lies the source of the Orange River - an, open expanse of marsh
and small streams that first becomes the Senqu River and, later, the
Orange River. Hiking parallel to the stream, it will take him a week to
cover the 80km to the first main settlement, the village of
Mokhotlong in Lesotho. He’ll re-stock food supplies and can get into
the river for the first time.
The Fluid Anvil has limited storage space in its waterproof hull,
which Chaplin will use to stow food. Everything else will be stashed in
drybags within a waterproof backpack.
Chaplin’s biggest concerns are infection, skin conditions and
drowning. He’ll be in the water during daylight hours - that’s a good
10 hours a day. Along much of the 2 300km distance water quality
is questionable. Every cut and scrape as well as eyes, ears, mouth,
orifices and even areas like nailbeds and bellybutton are exposed to
“Each day I’ll spend an hour out of the water at lunchtime to dry
out and at the end of the day I’ve got antiseptic soap to scrub down.
I’ll have one day a week not in the water to thoroughly dry my skin and
disinfect,” he explains. “I’ve really got to take care not to get any
open wounds, because this could be serious trouble.”
Chaplin is cautious of getting a fin and foot trapped between rocks
(known as foot entrapment) as well as hazardous river features like
strainers and syphons. He has been training for months on the Plamiet,
Molenaars, Dwars and Liesbeek rivers in Cape Town at both high and low
volume. He also trained at Wadi Adventure, a white water park in Abu
Dhabi, to hone his skills in swift-moving water.
“Thanks to the patience and generosity of members of the Cape White
Water Club, I had an incredibly steep learning curve last year,” he
Chaplin accompanied very experienced river kayakers from the Club on
numerous trips to learn from them. “They taught me to read water and
how to take defensive action to get myself out of trouble. They have
given me the confidence to undertake this project alone,” he adds.
Ironically, Chaplin’s specialised riverboard is plastic and it was
this same material that sparked the idea for this expedition.
“During my time on the Dwars River last year, high up near the
watershed, I was horrified by the amount of plastic waste in the water
and hanging from vegetation on the riverbank after flooding. Litter and
waste from people starts off on land, ends up in rivers and is pushed
into in the sea,” he says. “I became very ill from this trip as a
result of the water pollution.”
The water samples that Chaplin takes, every 100km along the
River, will be analysed for pathogens and contaminants – an indication
as to the health of the river as it passes through populated,
agricultural and remote areas. On his rest days, he will lead clean-up
activities, encouraging the participation of children and adults from
communities along the river.
In an email sent to Chaplin before his departure, Charl van
Rensberg, co-designer of the Fluid Anvil and a Face Level Riverboarding
athlete writes, “You’re embarking on no small undertaking; big respect
for following through and going for it. Well done for sticking to your
plan and for helping to raise awareness of river pollution… and all
through a riverboard. May you have a safe trip and one BIG adventure.”
That he will.
Chaplin’s journey can be followed online through his website, social media and live tracking.
LIVE TRACKING: https://share.delorme.com/RayChaplin
Expedition: The Plastics SA Nampak Rigid Plastics Orange River Project
Adventurer: Ray Chaplin
Home town: Cape Town
Discipline: Riverboard (with hiking for the first 80km)
Distance: approximately 2 300km
Route: Start from Mnweni Cultural Village (Central
Drakensberg) and following the length of the Orange River from its
tributary, the Senqu River in Lesotho, through the Free State, into the
Northern Cape and to the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay.
Start date: Saturday, April 6, 2013
Expected duration: 4-6 months
Nature of expedition: Alone. Re-supply in towns