Duncan ‘Porky’ Paul – “I wondered why he alone got the message”

Porky Paul '73

Usually only the winners get radio airtime and that if they’re lucky. But in his first Umko in 1971, fifteen year old Porky Paul achieved fame (or notoriety). He broke up on day two of the 3-day race and walked out of the valley. He was pronounced lost, was all over the news and had the old SAP gearing up to send helicopters, men and dogs to look for him. Then he turned up.

The very next year with more walking than paddling experience Porky hit the highest Umko in the 50 year history of the race. He paddled that one all the way and survived to tell these tales.

Read on:


Hi all, I’ve been away and caught up with all the stories last night.  Fantastic. – it brings back great memories.  It is as if we all are suffering from PTSD and have this sudden outpouring of these memories!

I also remember Colin Wilson at Hella Hella.  He put his boat in the water and back on the car twice before declaring he received a “direct message from God not to paddle” and left his boat securely strapped on his car.  I was very impressed and I wondered why he alone got the message and not the rest of us!

Also, at the first overnight stop, the Daily News Reporter Evelyn Holthouzen’s car was stuck in mud and we were pushing him out when the car was suddenly freed and wheel spun off covering a paddler, surname Timmerman, I think, in mud from head to toe as he was standing directly behind a wheel.  All  we saw was 2 whites of eyes and white teeth.  He was really unhappy and we were all laughing our heads off.

More to add later on Ali’s swim on Day 3.

Best regards



It was in 1970 as a 15 year old when I started paddling and purchased my first canoe – a well used Lymfy from Mike Von Wieregen. It cost me R30. R15 from my pocket money and my Dad gave me the other R15. A good deal!! I was the proud owner of my first canoe. I paddled this boat from the first race of the season – the Albert Falls race and virtually every other race, except the 50 mile and Duzi which I did in doubles. It was a very tired boat by the time the Umko came up end of January, 1971 (In those days, the race was 3 days finishing at the sea). The river was low on Day 1 and my boat took a hammering. At the overnight stop I patched as best as I could. On Day 2 it wasn’t long before it was leaking badly, getting progressively worse and as the day wore on, I finished all my patching kit. I dropped further down the field begging each passing paddler to spare some of their patching tape which was typically vinyl & genken. There was no duct tape in those days. The river was really low and try as I may, couldn’t help but scrape off these patches. In the end, I couldn’t paddle 100 meters without stopping to empty. It was impossible to make any progress and the obvious thing was to bale. But where? By now I was the last paddler, I was half way between the first and second overnight stop. After seeing where I had came down that day, I knew for sure that I couldn’t walk back to the 1st overnight stop. Whatever, I was in for an epic. Probably the biggest decision in my life so far. Character building stuff.

I went to the nearest kraal and immediately had a communication problem. No English and I couldn’t speak a word of Zulu. I remember the kraal had traditional Bee-hive huts.


I eventually was given the best route out of the valley, a foot path straight up the mountain on the Northern bank, a daunting task for a 15 year old Umko novice and city boy. I had been on a Wilderness Leadership School trail when I was 13 years old and would draw on that experience. I wasn’t going to leave my beloved canoe in the valley and decided to carry it up the valley, which was equal to three consecutive Buma Roads, if not steeper. I had started about mid-morning and crested the valley mid afternoon after getting some assistance on the last third from two helpful local umfaans. We arrived at a trading store where I borrowed some money to compensate the 2 umfaans for their sterling efforts.

I passed out on the grass in front of the trading store and waited for the daily taxi which arrived at 5pm. With my boat strapped on the roof of the taxi, a broken old Humber, and packed in amongst the other passengers, I was taken to the nearest european at a German Mission station. I walked in wearing takkies, a vest, peak cap, carrying my paddle and splashy. I was burnt to a cider by the sun. I had no idea where I was. There was a gracious and friendly German Priest who gave me a bed, blanket and scrambled egg on thick German bread.

(Maybe Himmelberg mission?)

Meantime, at the overnight stop, there was great consternation. My schoolmaster, Ali Maynard, waited for the last boats to come in and when the sun set, realized I was “lost” up the valley. There was some hope when a local man, a deaf & dumb mute, walked into camp and gesticulating wildly and communicating in a series of grunts + groans indicating something was happening up the valley. Ali went up in a vehicle, in the dark, and an hour later arrived at a kraal, which turned out to be the poor fellow’s home. He indicated his gratitude to Ali for the free lift and delivering him on his doorstep. However, no schoolboy!
Since it was clearly impossible to start looking for a pint-sized schoolboy in the middle of the night, it was decided to report the matter to the SAP at Umkomaas. By this time all the officials had had enough of the oppressive heat, and there was no shortage of volunteers to get out of the valley on any excuse. Ossie Peake and Don Johnston drew the short straws and departed in Hamish Gerrard’s well-worn Land Rover. The constable on duty at the Umkomaas Police Station quite wisely decided that there was nothing that he could do at 1.00 a m. but they were made very comfortable in the police quarters, and assisted by the off-duty staff, proceeded to make a big hole in the beer that some other hopeful deserting official had loaded into the Land Rover.
Unaware of all this, I requested the Priest to drop me on the Richmond road early the next morning and still in my paddling kit, I hitched a lift to the Pietermaritzburg / Durban highway and then onto my home in Durban. I was in the swimming pool when I was told I was “missing”. I called the Police in Durban to report that I was safe. The call was timeous as they were about to dispatch helicopters and police dog teams into the Valley. I then hitched a lift to the finish and was driving past Louis Botha airport when Radio Port Natal announced that “Duncan Paul, the 15 year old canoeist had been found!” I told the person giving me a lift that is me. He didn’t believe it!

I arrived at the finish and everyone seemed very happy that I was alive and well but got wrapped over the knuckles for not reporting in. I didn’t know how I could have done that in those days!

A month later, the German Priest kindly delivered my canoe to Marianhill Monastery for my collection. I was happy to be re-united with my boat but it was in such a bad way, it was never used on the river again. This experience set the theme for a number of Epics later in my life.


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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