Apart from Colin (Copper/Mango/Cockroach/Red Disappointer/Ginger) Simpkins and Mark Perrow (whom I don’t consider as Gauteng paddlers anymore anyway) I have done the most Umko’ s of any non-Natal paddler finishing hopefully my 30th in the anniversary year 2016.
My first Umko was in 1978 with Saal de Jager. It was SAK2 and we collected our brand new translucent blue Foxbat from Gordon Rowe’s house in Maritzburg. Got into the boat at Josephine’s and instantly had to adapt to pedals – up to that stage I had only pedalled boats with T-bars!
Next Umko a couple of years later. My partner broke his hand in a brawl in Hillbrow a week before the race – Yes we were tough in those days! So I tackled the race in my Sella K1 with a way too high seat and promptly had a swim in the Approaches to No.1. I now was the last paddler in my batch and proceeded down river blindly. Eventually got to rapid 5&6 and saw everybody getting out to portage. With youthful courage (stupidity?) I said to myself: “Well let’s see why everybody is portaging.” And proceeded to shoot the rapid blind. Spun out above the pinnacle on river left – did a windgat high Telemark to get back into the current and promptly dropped into the most massive of holes next to the pinnacle. My dress code – a pair of Polly Shorts and a running vest. No lifejacket or helmet or shoes. Yes we were tough (and stupid) in those days. In any case I survived the swims and finished my race.
I also think I was the first pilot to take a K3 safely through 5&6 many years later.
Umko has enriched my life. The camaraderie, the excitement, the experiences but above all the privilege we have to paddle down this magnificent King of Rivers in our beautiful country.
I hope to do many more – Charlie watch out!
Two observations on Umko:
1. Every year the average age of the paddlers is one year older.
2. If you want to wrap your boat – do it in the Approaches.