Richard Finlay – ‘a large crack in my helmet’

I have sooooooo many stories. Finished 13 UMko’s and lost two. That river is not for the faint hearted.

Robbie says he can never remember being scared. Yeah, right, it’s ok for him, but me, I’ve never been so scared in my life. In my early days of paddling UMKO (Hella-Hella to the Sea – four foot level), Doug Tatham and I (both paddling Sabre singles) were approaching Whirlpool. He went first and …. disappeared. Holy shit! I thought – wrong line, so I tried to keep left slightly hoping to steer away from the wall. I disappeared too. It was so fast you just didn’t have time to react. One second you were paddling furiously the next you were being tossed around like a rag doll.

Those few seconds were the most terrifying of my life. Being hurled along under the rock face, lungs bursting was not a pleasant experience. Thankfully both of us were spat out at the bottom but not before I lost my canoe, my paddle, my one shoe and sock, juice bottle and my nerve. My helmet had a rather large crack right through the plastic. Could have been my head!! Recovering my canoe a few hundred meters downstream I had lost my seat (pin sheared clean off), all my buoyancy and paddle broken in half.

Still finished though. Yeah. I’m sure there are so many of us that had the same experience but one thing is for sure, I so miss the sheer adrenalin rush of all those awesome rapids on the most feared river of all.

All my very best wishes to all you paddlers out there.

Cheers – Rich


I only started paddling in 1981. First Duzi in ’82. First Umko in ’82.

But I do remember one Umko when Bats & I paddled an Accord all the way to the sea and we did really well. Can’t remember where the race started , perhaps Josephines.

I remember the Helle Hella to Goodenoughs days. Even Oscar Chalupsky complained of the length of the first day. The top guys did 4 hrs on the first day and so you can imagine what times the back markers were doing.

The course changed numerous times over the years but in the later 1990s it always started at Hella Hella and finished at Riverside because of the potential violence lower down.

Ernie is probably the best person to talk to about the early years or even better, Charlie Mason.

Hope you are well.

We all had dinner at our favourite restaurant last night to wish Bernie & Karen well on their flight back to SA for three weeks. They will be staying with Karen’s folks and at the Riverside Hotel. Hope you can catch up with him.

Cheers – Rich

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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