Pete Peacock – The Famous Kingfisher Falls Plunge

So Pete Peacock went over the falls.
This is how it happened:

1.Charles Mason – most have done so inadvertently!

Kingfisher Falls is the only other place where almost everyone will carry their boat around. Of the very few who have shot it in racing craft, most have done so inadvertently! Most famous of these was Peter Peacock and Jimmy Potgieter who arrived at a preliminary race (Waterfall to Sea) late for the start. The field had already departed. Racing to catch up they put their heads down and paddled hard, thinking the race had started below the Falls. Too late, they saw to their horror that they were onto the dreaded Kingfisher Falls! Jimmy managed to cling to a rock at the lip of the drop and was eventually rescued by a group of umfaans who threw him a rope and hauled him to safety. Peter was swept over the falls together with their canoe. He survived miraculously with only a broken toe to show for his spectacular plunge.


2. Ali Mynard – the land of long lips and tightly shut eyes

The story about the waterfall goes like this. It was the first time that we organized a race from the Waterfall to the Lido by the sea. A road had been pushed in on the North side of the river which gave us access to rhe river in this segment.We arrived on that Sunday morning to find the river in full flood.The start was up from the waterfall to the bend coming down from Bad Rapid (that was what we knew it as). Stewart as usual was late so the start was delayed and later on about twenty boats set off. Mainly in doubles but Stewart was putting a Saber on the river as a first-ever (a remarkable feat in itself, but he was good enough to do this). The river was a seething brown mass and I was in the back of a double, with Paul Henry steering. As we came around the corner and lined up on the left bank portage (still well ahead) we saw Jimmy Potgieter and Peter Peacock well across to the right. I think that they were intending to portage but not having a chance to trip could not check out the right hand bank portage as the usual portage in the Marathon (ask Robbie about the ’72 Umko when he managed to navigate his way down the left without getting out of the boat – much sliding etc so not sure about “shooting” it). Robbie being in a single again “shot” the Waterfall on the Ieft overflow channel.
Now to what Jimmy told me later (by the way, Jimmy was one of the best Umko paddlers ever and could drink the water too – but that’s another story on it own): Jimmie was lined up to get out on the South Bank when they started to doubt where to get out. As we all know when we are in this situation somebody starts to “back paddle ” and the boat becomes unstable and voila: enter the land of long lips and tightly shut eyes. Only when you have swum in a raging river do you know that the body has an uncanny ability to shut tightly any vent on the body  that could take water. Peacock now in this position was washed in the direction of the Falls holding onto his home-made double (Jimmy was a master boat builder and this boat would have had no gel coat but a vi nylon inner, wooden gunnels and a plastic deck and hanging seats).
I believe the boat just broke up  when it hit the bottom and Pete was spat out below. I am not sure he even had a life jacket on.Jimmy is now sans boat able or at least try and swim and nits out for the South Bank only to swim into ?onto a shallow rock and grabs on for dear life. Now click into “old SA mode ” and remember Jimmy was a waarde boer (editor you decide what to leave out).
Now believe it of not, the local people had very little contact with Umlungus in that area and soon a crowed gathered  to look at the “thing “clinging to  a rock which was apparently about 15m from the bank. Soon a roap was produced  and after much discussion the throwing started (I believe if history has its say this was the first time a throw line was ever used in SA). The throw team got better and better with practice and managed to be able to actually get the line to Jimmie who point blank refused to touch it. There was much “Hau Bamba Boss Bamba”.
No ways was Jimmie going to bamba  while there was no race official  present, and the team called it a day.
But somehow word got out that there was an Umlungu stuck on a rock in the river and a race official was dispatched on the road on the  south bank. Story has it that Jimmie was there for about 2 hours having lodged himself firmly on the rock. Story has it that Jimmie caught the throw line first time the Umhulung was there to supervise.
Story goes that Jimmie said something like this “What? you think I was going to take a chance with those black guys and the rope? I had already lost Peter, assumed drowned, and was not going to take a chance”!
Check it out with Pete.
3. Rowan Rasmussen – “You need to get the full truth from Pete”

So this is how it starts. I must drop in a few comments and Robbie will back me up.

The race where Pete  went over and Jimmy nearly went over the falls was not all the way to the sea as I recall, but ended somewhere around Goodenough’s weir. I think I paddled a double with Rob as I clearly remember the incident but don’t think we paddled in singles. Might be dead wrong here.
I also believe Pete and Jimmy got just about to the lip of the falls when Jimmy realised what was up and, being in the front, jumped out and onto the rock while Pete was too late and went over. You need to get the full truth from Pete.
You are right about lifejackets Ali. I think the first time we were required to use them was after the very full Umko year. And never talk about helmets or sweeps. I think we approached races with a fatalistic sense of acceptance – A bit like the gunners below decks at Trafalgar and not like the modern destroyers with drones, missiles, and fighter cover to protect them. Nihilistic idiots!
4. Robbie Stewart – “we all said bullshit not possible!”
Just quickly,Rowan and I were in a K2 we shot most of the Waterfall down the left.Pete and Jimmy were late for the start and did not realise that they were on the inside line heading straight for the falls! Jimmy who was in front must have turned the boat and was able to grab onto a rock, Pete went over the falls backwards – trying to swim up stream. His only injury a broken toe!
They had a job getting Jimmy off the rock in the middle of the falls. A local guy helped using his belt to give Jimmy yo grab onto and then they grafted him to safety.When Frank Emmet told us at the end that Pete has gone over the falls but that he had seen him afterwards at the bottom we all said bullshit not possible!The race ended at Goodenoughs Wier it was a bad time there was cholera in the area and I remember some local Zulus carrying a very sick person out on a blanket.Robbie Stewart
5. Frank Emmet
Hi Rory,
A book on the Umko will be amazing, a must for anyone who has done a few Umko’s.
I will send my recollections of the Peter and Jimmy waterfall episode although it was not during a marathon.
I have forwarded mails to Bruce Webber as he was the KCC captain in some of those years, he usually has a good storey or two.—————————————————–NOW we’ll ask Pete Peacock!!

In February 1972 the first Umkomaas waterfall to Goodenoughs weir was held. A road had been put through on the north bank of the river. Jimmy Potgieter and I decided to race in a K2 but unfortunately arrived late at the start. Drivers were already climbing into vehicles and leaving. We hurriedly jumped onto a full river and took off to try and catch everyone.
Neither of us gave a thought as to whether we were above or below the waterfall. We went around the first corner on the right hand side and I looked up and saw vapour above the river. I shouted to Jimmy who was in the front of the boat and he took immediate action. We u turned and attempted to paddle away from the falls as the strong current was running hard against the steep right hand bank prevented any escape there.
We sprinted for all we were worth and went precisely nowhere. We were just metres from the edge of the falls. The front of the boat suddenly veered off to the left and we both jumped for the nearest rock. Being at the back I was closest to the edge and all I managed was a desperate grab at a very smooth rock on the lip of the falls and I was over and on my way. I distinctly remember thinking this cannot be happening and looking up and then down which confirmed I was on my way down. I hit nothing on the way down and, as in those days we had no lifejackets, I began swimming up as soon as I could. I seemed to be going nowhere and the thought crossed my mind the perhaps I was disoriented and swimming down instead of up so I stopped swimming for the surface to see what direction I would move in. It didn’t help, time passed, I suppose seconds, and air was becoming urgent. I started swimming for the surface again thinking I would rather go out trying for the surface, even if it was the wrong direction.I have no recollection of surfacing and was woken by water splashing in my face at the top of the first rapid after the falls. Luckily for me I was alongside a submerged rock and I just had to throw an arm over it to get my head out of the water. I was exhausted and had been any further away I would have drowned in the rapid. I lay there retching until I recovered then ran back up the gorge to see where Jimmy was.
As I climbed up I was relieved to see a figure sitting on a rock right on the edge of the falls. In my haste I stubbed and broke my big toe. Once back on top Jimmy indicated he would wait for a helicopter. Looking around I saw some cattle and two herdboys watching. The cattle had rope (asbestos belting) around their necks. I asked if I could borrow it to pull Jimmy off the right hand edge of the falls.
I duly knotted two pieces together, tied the end to a large log of wood and walked upstream and threw it into the current to float it down to Jimmy. It proved impossible and the current kept pushing the log to the left of the falls. At this stage I was shivering with cold or perhaps shock and was wondering what to do next. The herders had watched with interest and at this stage asked how much money I had. I happened to have a R1 coin and for this princely sum one fellow agreed to take the log much higher upstream and swim it down to Jimmy, from where his friend and I would pull them both back to the bank.
I checked the knots, held the end running down the bank while he swam for the falls. Once together on the edge of the falls they both held on and jumped while the friend and I ran back with the rope. It worked and they both virtually bounced on the surface of the water to safety.
Other Kingfisher Falls episodes:
Chris Wade
We had had, by our standards, a good first day of the marathon and were going well on the second day when we approached “The Waterfall”.  The river was at a good level and we had ‘heard’ about the side channel down the left.  When we got closer there was the channel and we paddled into it.  It did not take long before we realised we had made a big mistake!  On the short final drop back to river level our boat called it quits and we then had a five hour walk out to the coast.  The punch line of this episode was Rob Stewart looking disdainfully at us two amateurs and saying “Guys, you would have had a better chance by going over the main waterfall”.
 Jimmy Potgieter
Peacock Falls Jock Leyden

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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