Ric Whitton – ‘All that effort for nothing- Or was it!?

I have had some really hard Umko’s especially in those early years – Hella Hella to the sea in 2 days, we must have been crazy!!!
My hardest one by far is one that I was not even credited with.

I think it was 1992, Colleen and I had already done many Umkos together, so it was thought to be just another good Umko , especially as the course had been shortened due to problems in the Riverside area. The race was run from Hella Hella to Josephines on Day 1 and then Mpompomani to the sea for Day 2. Competitors were allowed to go home between stages.
Our daughter Debbie was doing her first Umkomaas in a K2 with Colleen’s brother Peter Zietsman, and, of course being a competitive family, the race was on!
Day 1 was going well up to No 3 where I managed to find “The Rock” head on which sent us into the drink. A very painful swim followed, especially for Colleen as she had managed to grab the boat and was trying to swim it down No 3 while I had somehow managed to reach the right bank and was running down shouting instructions to her to avoid the many rocks looming up and saw our boat wrap itself on at least 3 occasions.
By the time I reached Colleen in the pool at the bottom of the rapid she was battered and bruised and I was very popular for running down the bank instead of helping her swim the boat.
Anyway that was the least of my worries – the poor boat was trashed, wrapped in 3 places with bits of deck missing. While we were assessing the damage Debbie and Peter came paddling past asking if they could help. We shouted maybe a roll of Duct Tape, knowing it would take more than just the one we had. They duly pulled over and gave us their roll of tape and said they would wait for us at Josephines (little did they realise how long that would be!)
We managed to put the boat together enough to be able to paddle the flats and portage the rapids. Now if you know this stretch there are not a lot of flats and there are a lot of rapids most of which had never been portaged around, there were no easy routes! It was energy sapping, stumbling over rocks and boulders, through long reeds and grass. Bypassing the vehicles parked at No 8, adamant that we were going to complete this race.
We eventually reached Josephines at 6pm, stone last. The only people left there were our driver, Peter and Debbie and Ernie Alder to record our time. Considering we had started in the first batch and had finished long after the last paddler before us, we were now at least 2 hours behind the next closest competitor.
After a long drive back to Pinetown the last thing I was capable of doing was hours of work putting our totally trashed boat back together. Although I knew it was a contravention of the rules, we were so far behind anyone, that I thought we really wouldn’t be construed as a threat to anyone else in the race, and it would be overlooked, so I took another old boat off my rack, checked it over and loaded it on the car for the morning.
Up far too early the next morning we set off to the start and arrived just in time for the first batch (reverse order start) which we had now slotted into. We grabbed the boat off the car, ran down excited to be having a second chance to redeem ourselves on a stretch of river we both loved. Sitting in our boat awaiting starters orders, our names were bellowed over the loud hailer informing us to ”get off the water!” Shocked we paddled over to a small group standing around Bill Baron and his loud hailer, to be informed that it had been reported that we were paddling a different craft to the day before and as such were disqualified and were not allowed on the river. Even after pointing out that we would have to start hours ahead of anyone else in order to be a threat to anyone overall, and Ernie backing us up as to the state of our craft, Bill would have none of it, eventually informing us that if we paddled it would be unofficial and we would not be recorded on the results.
Well we had not gone through all that on the day before to not start Day 2 so, so be it, but we were going to start and we were going to do the absolute best we could!
We had a great paddle making it to the finish as the first boat home , but when we paddled up to the specially constructed wooden jetty (as it was almost impossible to get out in the reeds on that bank) Bill arrived on the scene and chased us off, informing us that the jetty was for official competitors only and that we had to get out elsewhere…….!!
True to Bill’s word we were never credited with a finish.
All that effort on Day 1, for nothing?
Or was it!
We knew what we had gone through, and what we had achieved against all odds, and we had made it all the way despite everything!

Richard Whitton

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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