Mike Vehbi -Weed Lady’s oops!

Good afternoon Peter.


I have been informed by Rob Davey that you were looking for a few stories related to paddling the Umko  river for possible inclusion in the book you are busy writing.

I’d like to share two incidents that you are welcome to use in your book should you find them sufficiently worthy of mentioning.

Please feel free to apply your writing skills to the stories in order to give them more “effect”.

By way of introduction to the first incident I need to mention that I have been amazed by some of the people who paddle. There are  people from all walks of life and it usually catches people by surprise to find that out that some of those paddlers even come from the judiciary and law enforcement agencies…and, as I found out,  some people even have physical disabilities.


In addition to the above is the fact that just a few kilometres down from Josephine’s Bridge, cannabis (dagga) is being cultivated on a grand scale on the banks of the Umko river.


Bearing the above in mind, I’d like to share two humorous anecdotes that both have the Umko river as their common denominator.

The first incident occurred at one of the Swiftwater courses which Rob Hill hosts, at Hella Hella, on the Umko river.

I have omitted names, for obvious reasons.


After a day of lectures and on-river practical rescue and survival techniques, all the participants are provided with dinner at the Hella Hella outdoor education centre.

During dinner the topic of the cannabis plantations came up.

One of the younger female participants who was seated next to me stated that it was a pity that we hadn’t padded along the lower  stretches of the river so that she could’ve harvested some of the illegal cannabis crop as she was quite partial to it.

Her comment immediately caused all those who had heard it to look up from their dinner plates in surprise.

They all stared in her direction and then glanced at me and then at a woman who was seated to my left.

Then they all began to laugh.

The young woman who had made the remark immediately realised that something was amiss and she demanded to know what was going on.

You can imagine her surprise and embarrassment  when she was told that sitting right next to her was a magistrate and that sitting next to him was a Police lieutenant colonel, who was also the station commander at a Police station not too far away from where we were!!


The second incident occurred a few years ago at one of the rapids on the Umko River.

I had only started paddling a few months prior to the incident so I wasn’t familiar with the most of the paddlers who paddle the Umko.

Shortly after acquiring my river proficiency I completed a Swiftwater course with the aforementioned legend of the Umko, Rob Hill.

When the club made it known that they needed safety marshals for the Number 8 to Josephine’s Canoe race,  I had volunteered to perform marshalling duties for the Kingfisher Canoe club’s Number 8 to Josephine’s race.

I was assigned to marshal at a rapid named Devil’s toilet.

The river level was at about 1,4 meters.

At that level I was kept very busy with my throw-bag, dragging paddlers from the centre of the river to where I was standing, which was about 30 meters downstream from the rapid, on river left.

Aside from the paddlers there was also an assortment of canoes and paddles that came floating down the river from the rapid.

I managed to grab some of the canoes and paddles as they came floating past me.

You can imagine my surprise when one of the paddles I grabbed from the river had an arm still attached to it!!


I was instantaneously horrified and at the same time awed at the power of the mighty Umko rapids that they could sever a paddler’s arm.

Fortunately my horror and aware were short-lived as another Umko legend, Jan De Neef, came floating past me calling for his artificial arm and paddle.


This time it was me who felt embarrassed that I had assumed that paddling was the exclusive domain of the able-bodied.

Since this incident I have come to know and hugely respect Jan for his dedication and commitment to the wonderful sport of river paddling.

He has introduced and given guidance to many novice paddlers….myself included…and he has certainly not let the loss of one his limbs affect his paddling or his enthusiasm.


He is, in my opinion, a worthy ambassadors of our sport and another legend of the Umko and paddling in general.



Good luck with the book and please feel free to contact me should you wish to do so.



Kind regards and season’s greetings to you and your family.


Mike Vehbi

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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