In our early teens my Dad would load us up in our old Peugeot farm bakkie and take us to Hella Hella bridge. He would lash four lorry tubes together with orange baling twine and the four of us would each sit on a tube and off we would go. There was only one line down the rapids: Straight down the middle with Dad out in front!
Something happened in my heart during those ‘harum scarum’ trips. I loved the adventure, the adrenalin and the smell of that chocolate brown raging water. I was hooked and I wanted more. We graduated from tubes to canoes, with Rory Pennefather getting me going during school days at (( SCHOOL)). We found an old wrapped K2 on the Umkomaas, ((WHERE? MORE OR LESS?)) dragged it all the way to No.8 and took it home and cut out the middle section to convert it to a K1.
In preparation for our first Umko marathon Roly Alborough (our ‘ou man’ – WAS THIS A SCHOOL THING?)) took me, David, Rory, Clive Curson and Hubby Sandberg for a 3-day trip to the sea from Josephine’s. My newly=shaped whitewater boat turned out to be a disaster! Apart from leaking through my rough, unskilled fibreglass job, the boat nose-dived in every drop, hurling me out. I had at least 20 swims before I reached the sea!
Our first night at Riverside was unforgettable. Roly decided to teach these young guys how he thought ‘the manne’ should behave on a trip. We paddled across the river and climbed up a steep slope to a Zulu kraal where we all got very drunk on utshwala. We virtually rolled back down the hill on the way back to camp. Roly couldn’t stop and crashed through a thorn bush and into the river.
That night we got really cold and huddled around the fire in our seeping bags. In the middle of the night we were woken by loud shots of alarm from David. His sleeping bag was belching out clouds of black smoke. We didn’t sleep much.
Exhausted and sunburnt we eventually paddled on to the sandbank at the beach at Umkomaas at 8pm in the pitch dark. What a trip!
Big Flood Year (late 60’s?)
We set off from Hella Hella with chocolate brown water flowing at the 17ft level at the bridge. I had my new self-built Limfy K1. I just remember huge waves, huge holes and huge eyes. Amazingly I got as far as No.4 and found myself well up in the field. Then a massive swim in No.4 – my boat disappeared never to be seen again.
I swam and swam – no lifejacket. The river was so full I couldn’t make it to the bank for about 2km. The water cycling off the bank made it impossible to latch onto reeds or trees.
Robbie’s Special was coming up fast and I was totally exhausted. At last David came past and saw his little boetie
was having an epic, so sacrificed his race to get me out of the river just a few hundred metres
above 5&6. (David was my hero from then on!).
On the same day my Dad launched two tractor tubes lashed together with rope with himself and 12yr-old Dan aboard. Dan recalls rushing towards No.1 and only seeing ‘steam’ pumping out from the rapid. They made it down the middle but then disaster struck just above No.2. The long stopper wave just above the rapid which runs from river right to left caught them. They were recycled several times before Dan lost his grip and swam, apparently spending some time being recycled and then getting washed out and crawling up onto the bank – very shaken.
My Dad was eventually washed through and went hurtling downstream into No.2 – also unable to make the bank. Realising his Dad had disappeared into the distance Dan began fighting his way through the thick bush back to the start at the bridge. As he started he almost stepped onto an enormous snake (he thought it looked “like a Gaboon Viper”)! He reached the bridge safely where Terry Fox and Trevor McWade had also headed upstream after losing their boat. Big Story!
Years later with a little more finesse in a canoe Chris Greeff and I travelled down from Pretoria to race together. We took off from Josephine’s and just ‘clicked’ – arriving at Riverside in the top three!
Overnight – typical horseplay and fooling around was going on. I made the mistake of starting a scuffle with Hubby Sandberg and unexpectedly got him to the ground. Hubby ‘stripped’ – lost his temper – and next thing he did a judo move and I landed on my head. I heard a loud crack and there went my collar bone: Race Over.
A very grumpy Chris Greeff suddenly had no partner to finish the race with.
St Elmo’s campsite
We camped on river left opposite St Elmo’s. A typically steamy hot humid day in the valley, followed by a big thunderstorm, causing everyone to squeeze into the big marquee to sleep. I found myself lying on my sleeping mat alongside a big guy on a stretcher. Suddenly there was huge crash directly above me and next thing I was completely flattened by a huge weight in the dark. I yelled with all I had, thinking my last night had arrived! After frantic kicking and shoving I managed to crawl out from under the weight on me. Only then did I realise I had shifted under the the big guy’s stretcher which had collapsed on top of me!
Much shouting from the rest of the crew and then great hilarity at what had happened! What a night!
Tony Scott was our hero in those days. He seemed so laid back yet was the most amazing paddler.
I’ll never forget the start of one day two at Riverside store. Scotty had won day one and so was to set off first. Everyone else was already in their boats warming up, looking nervous and tense. The organisers starting calling for Scotty who hadn’t been seen around that morning yet. Scotty strolled up and casually climbed into his boat at three minutes to go looking totally chilled; Then lit a cigarette and had a last smoke. With one minute to go he pulled his spraydeck on while chatting to his buddies. 3 – 2 – 1 – GO and off he went into the rising sun – to easily win the race overall in a single!
Some guys just have it all!
Years go by and now I have found a beautiful wife and have to show her the Umkomaas. Margie and I have a clear run all the way to Gully paddling in an old Tyger K2 that weighed a ton and just wouldn’t turn!
At Gully, to avoid going into the ‘scary’ main shute and drop you have to make a precision and critical hard turn to the right to make the sneak channel and so drop in on river right.
Well, we missed the line! Next thing we are facing upstream right above the drop and shute, slowly being washed backwards into it. I screamed to Margie PADDLE! Just when I thought we were finished and about to run it backwards I feel this superhuman power coming through from the back and slowly we edged out way forward ferry-gliding across to safety – very shaken!
That same Paul Kruger (Peter Marlin??) drowned at Gully.
Dad’s First Umko – at 72
My Dad was a tough old farmer but had never canoed. Well, that year David, Dan and I were all racing the marathon so Dad decided he wasn’t going to be left out of the fun. He had done the Staebraes to Josephine’s section in an old Gordon Rowe ((SHINDY – ?)) whitewater boat once or twice and no amount of cautioning from his boys could change his mind.
The river was flowing strongly on the first day and we all got to Riverside in good time. Hours later Dad was nowhere to be seen and we started to get worried.
Then the stragglers started trickling in and the stories started coming out. The crew of boats with miles of duct tape and acacia branches holding them together told of how this old guy had stopped to help them – spent an hour or so helping them patch, then gone to help the next boat in distress. In between he would get out at every irrigation pump to check out what crops the farmers in this neck of the woods were irrigating.
((He made it to Riverside . . . ?? – Enjoyed a few beers . . ?? ))
He finally made it to ((The Lido Hotel in Umkomaas)) at the end – last man home – and that was Old Pops!