Robbie Stewart – ‘down the middle every rapid’

Rob Stewart

Origin of 5&6 being called “Robbie’s Special”

I was about 14 when I lost my first boat in Robbie’s – the silly thing was paul had said: “Whatever you do don’t shoot 5 & 6 – wait for me” So being a well behaved, obedient young chap I came round this corner and realised “Oh sh1t! that looks like a real rapid” so I tried to get out on a sloping rock on the left hand side – of course when I jumped out onto the sloping rock and tried to lift my kayak I slid into the water and had a swim of all swims down the main drop of (later to be called Robbie’s Special) the rapid. My brand new kayak got wedged under the big rock in the middle – one of the very first but not the last – never to be seen again!

Luckily one of the JKCC guys had also come to grief somewhere nearby – it was either Peter Gladwin or Dereck Antrobus – and he and I set off downstream carrying what was left of his Kayak. I had lost one shoe – so there I was set to walk about 10km over the hills with one shoe. Luckily about a kilometre downstream one of the umfaans on the bank was wearing my other shoe and very kindly gave it back to me.

One of my enduring memories of the Umkomaas in those days was how friendly the locals were despite all that was going on in South Africa at the time.

We ended up later that afternoon drinking “Zulu” beer with a guy called Mackenzie and his mates – in the typical manner – all seated on the ground in a circle passing the clay pot around.

I only lost/broke one other kayak at Robbie’s but do swim it a few times I think.

The second time I broke my boat – we had to race in pairs in those days – so although I was still a schoolboy (about 17) I was paddling with Paul Chalupsky. He left me to make my own way to No 8 and when I got to the end I discovered that Paul and Poppa had left me to get a lift home with Charlie Mason.


Or as Rowan Rasmussen tells it:

As I understand it the 5&6 drop ended up being called Robbie’s Special  after Rob insisted on swimming rather than paddling through that obstacle. He was a young guy being shepherded down the top section with Paul Chalupsky who explained the right way to do it. Being young and knowing better, it seems Rob made his own plans and after wrapping and swallowing loads of Umkomaas a few times, they decided he needed to be forever reminded of his frailty and incompetence by having this section as a permanent reminder to him and all who followed, that nobody is bigger and better than the river.

. . . or something like that!!!


Robbie continues:

I had in the years prior to that done trips down the Umkomaas with the KCC guys ( I think in the year before the first Marathon) – who were always good to me I and as the Duzi was what I really wanted to do I swapped to KCC.

I did my first Duzi as a Dragon and maybe even my second – but then I changed to KCC – I think the last race I did with Paul was the catalyst for my move to KCC.

The Umkomaas after that was my first race as a KCC member.

Fuller version:

Hi Pete,

It is a long story.

I had been a Dragon’s member since I was 13 and can remember being on the bank at Sand Grabs cheering Paul and his partner Robbie Knudsen.

They came second and there was some tension and I don’t think that Robbie was seen in a Kayak again.

So some years later I was still at school but paddling reasonably well Paul needed a partner for the Hella Hella Joshaphine’s race. Needless to say I wrapped my Kayak for the second (and last time) in Robbie’s special and walked out with Dereck Antrobus and Henry Dudley. That was the time when I retrieved my shoe from a youngster (I don’t know whether “Umfaan” is still politically correct?) about two kilometres below Robbie’s and I think Dereck found his Kayak at about the same time and decided to paddle the wreck to the end. Peter and I ended up sharing Zulu beer above No8 with a guy called Campbell and his friends. By the time I got to the end Papa Schultz and Paul had left and the KCC guys gave me a lift home.

That was the final straw – I had been on the traditional KCC Easter trip down the Umkomaas and the KCC guys had always been friendly and were all Duzi paddlers which I wanted to do. Before my first Duzi which I raced in Dragon’s colours Charlie and Tank Rogers had given my partner and I lifts to do trips on the Duzi, so I had decided to join KCC and arrived at the start of the with my own Kayak but in KCC gear. Quite rightly Papa pointed out that I was still a Dragon’s member so I had to change shirts. It was no big deal to me and I think it was quite a wet Umko so I was very happy to be sleeping the Dragon’s tent. Paul and Papa were always good to me – so was Paul’s mom who always had some Strudel for me when we arrived back at Papa’s place.

But the rest is history – because of the Duzi and the number of trips I had done on the Duzi and Umkomaas with the KCC guys I did join KCC but then later started the Durban section of the University of Natal Canoe Club (which started under the KCC banner) so I raced for Natal Uni for quite a few years and then back to KCC.

Thinking back – it is one of the things I miss – I have paddled a lot with my boys – mainly in the sea here – but I really regret not having taken them down the Umkomaas for the first time.

Keep well, Regards  Robbie


Rasmussen Approaches 9

On the left in No.8:

“Paddle Rowan!”

“I can’t paddle I’m in a tree!”


Great Stuff Rory!!

Those were the days.

I don’t remember ever being scared – we thought we were bullet proof!

Poor Rowan had no say in where we went – it was down the middle every rapid!

Do you remember the night Papa Schultz chased Ken Willan with a hammer? – it was either a 4lb hammer or a rubber mallet – he used it for knocking in his tent pegs. Ken was lucky Papa tripped over the same guy rope Ken had – I just remember Ken crawling away at high speed while Papa was prostrate on the ground.

Or the time on the second day Dave Biggs came in half way down the field on his Lilo after breaking his boat?

And the classic when Val MacWade and Julie Worlock were having a drink down in the Lido pre the Prize Giving- the function area with the windows that opened on to the side of the pool. The boys were skinny dipping – and I can remember meeting a very irate Val storming out of the Pub. What had happened is that you could only see the bottom half of the guys and Julie said to Val – “Look there’s Trevor” – Val took one look and said  “HOW DO YOU KNOW”! Trevor was not called a donkey for nothing but I think it was his freckly legs that gave him away.

Those were the days!


Rowan, Remember coming round the corner into that long straight on the second day (still in 1972) and we saw the long splash right across the river? It was the cable from the punt that was dragging in the water, getting pulled downstream, then releasing and flying 20’ into the air and then come crashing down again with a huge splash. It would have cut a person, let alone a boat, in half!

And who should be midstream, swimming with their boat but Trevor MacWade and Denis Banks? Heading straight for the cable! We offered to help but could not do much the river was going too fast – and we were winning the race at that stage and had ourselves to worry about. We headed straight for the pole supporting the cable and went under it there. It was a bit tense!

Also do you remember seeing what looked like washing draped on the grass on the bank but it was Charlie Mason and his squad hanging onto the grass watching us go past – probably to see where we went.

Probably the most exciting three days of our lives!

Clearly remember the noise of the rocks rolling down the river bed – particularly in that first big rapid after Josephine’s. And having to be careful not to paddle into a barbed wire fence if you were cutting a corner.

And Porky puking at the start of the second day when he saw me in a life jacket. He was still a schoolboy and I was the only person who had a life jacket, I think, but I only put it on because the waves had been knocking my breath out. We were hitting them so hard on the first day that I decided to wear it on the second day.

Roly Alborough lost his boat at the overnight stop – the river had come up so much that it had got washed away!

Rowan and I led the race almost to the last bridge before Umkomaas. Scottie and Paul were paddling better than Rowan and I then, but by taking the tiger line on every rapid we were well ahead until we hit a bloody big rock in that last big rapid before the weir – I think we called it House Rock – I went through my footrest which meant that steering was a bit of a challenge. The only mistake we made in the race was not shooting Goodenough’s Weir – I can remember being at the bottom and jumping up and down to see if we could see Paul and Scottie – no sign of them but we struggled in the flat water after the weir with all the swirls in the river. Scottie and Paul caught us not far from the end and beat us by less than a minute.

A couple of years later Pete Peacock and I were again in a good position to win the race but on the second day our boat packed up – an Accord built for the Duzi – the gunwales were too thin for the Umko and gave in.

I didn’t have any luck in the Umko but we had a lot of fun.

I also made a tactical error racing my Sabre on the Waterfall race in the lead up to the Umko. I should have tried it out in secret because after I did that race all the other guys decided to race in their Sabres in the marathon and I lost the advantage.

I remember in that race a bunch of us were approaching Goodenough’s weir together and Clive Curson was not sure where to go – we had all slowed down doing the “swan neck” craning our necks trying to see what was on the other side when Clive got too close to the drop turned round to try to paddle away and shot the weir backwards! Being good friends we all shot the weir and paddled off leaving Clive swimming on his own.

One of the best feature of the Umkomaas was the overnight stops – the camaraderie from the shared experience was amazing. Everyone had been through a lot of excitement and was pretty hyped up!


Hey Rowan,
I was just reflecting that you were a very trusting (or very stupid) friend to follow me down those rapids. You had no choice but to hang on and hope for the best.
On balance your timing is amazing taking into account that we were literally fighting for our lives.
Those were the days!


Hi guys,
I have just said to Rowan that it was the most exciting three days of paddling I had in my life!
Do you remember the tension of not wanting to cut the corner too much in case you came upon a barbed wire fence in your way?
That cable across the river – the most spectacular hazard I have seen on a river.
Going round the falls – pushing our luck drop by drop, waiting to get stuck or it to look too scary – and suddenly we were at the bottom without having to get out!
Was I disappointed we didn’t win? – now 35 years later I am – but at the time it was such a rush that anyone who got to the end in one piece was a winner.
The Accord that Rowan and I had built for the Duzi that year was a wonderful boat � �� when we hit House Rock it came to a dead stop I think I even came off my seat – any other boat would have folded � � the foot rest didn’t break but I think the stainless steel (maybe they were aluminium?) brackets at the side bent. The gunwales were about 25mm x 25mm Geleton the footrests were hardwood – the bottom was lined with Vinylon and it weighed almost spot on the Duzi weight limit.
It was built in my folks garage in Stirling Crescent with Vanilla Fudge and the Woodstock LP playing.
They were good days.
Regards, – Robbie

Hi Pete, Sorry this is late but I think it is a picture of the first Hella Hella Josephine’s Race.

Hope the quality is OK – I will see if my daughter-in-law can scan a jpeg edition of the picture.

You can see Mercia, paul and Papa Chalupsky – forgotten the Dragon guy they ear talking to but I think the chap with his head in a boat is Rob Knudsen – Paul would have to confirm.

Charlie will have to help with the KCC guys names but I think it is Hamish Gerard with a Andy Cap type hat with his back to the picture on the left of the KCC group.

I think it could be the day that we left before the race stared because paul got the mutters because they were waiting for some of the other paddlers to arrive. They were well mannered in those days and would wait for people they knew were on the way!

If it is then I think one of the boats in the front was mine which later in the morning I posted at Robbie’s Special.

I am not in the picture – probably in the bush releasing the tension.

Regards –  Robbie


Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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