Rory ‘ChickenMan’ Pennefather – fighting crime and evil

Rory Pennefather & Tony Scott

Scotty pays tribute:


Normally a front paddler in a K2, I was lucky enough to sit behind Rory Pennefather, fondly known as “Chicken Man”, who as a driver is in a class of his own – in any river at any level. On this particular occasion we were tiger-lining a left bend below Josephine’s when Rory’s blade caught between the rocks and ripped him out the boat. After a short swim I emptied the boat and ran back upstream to find Rory sitting on a rock with his face ashen and his shoulder protruding at a sickening angle. After a bout of arm manoeuvres we managed to re-seat the shoulder. Back in the boat Rory battled on, slowly building up the pace as the pain subsided.  We ultimately caught and passed the leading bunch.  Maybe the Maritzburg chaps can fill me in on the origin of his nickname but it sure ain’t to do with his heart.

Tony Scott

Hi Pete

I had a loose shoulder for a few years at the time when it dislocated just after the start of the Umko marathon. We finished second that year to Chris Greef and Lance Park.

Scotty was great fun to paddle with. It felt like having a turbo boost with him sitting behind me, but he could joke around better than anyone. The year before my dislocation we won the Umko marathon, but the first time we had ever sat together in a K2 was at the start at Josephine’s Drift.

Scotty asked me how long the first day would take us and I guessed about three hours. “Right”, he said. “That’s it. In three hours I stop paddling” and he was true to his word! When the three hours were up we could see the finish about a hundred metres ahead of us and Scotty put down his paddle and left me to paddle the last bit on my own. I think he checked in his rear view mirror to make sure no one was in sight before he knocked off!

I got the Chicken Man nickname from living in a canoeist’s digs in PMB in the seventies. My brother Pat, Hubby Sandberg, Matt Carlisle, Alick Rennie, Jerome Truran and Jim Taylor plus other paddlers lived there off and on for several years. Most, but not all, were lazy students who wouldn’t get up in the morning, but fortunately there was a radio cartoon clip at 7am every morning of a super hero called Chicken Man. I made it my duty when the loud and terrifying chicken call came on, to turn up the radio volume and wake the house. It was treated with annoyance and mirth and earned me the name, try as hard as I might to change it to Feathered Fighter or Winged Warrior. Chicken Man fought “crime and evil” and I told them that indolence and lethargy were both. It was hard to take much seriously living in a digs with such characters.

The thing that we did best was training, but even this was a bit hit and miss. To go back to Tony Scott, one weekend we were all off to Durban with surf yaks and surf skis on the roof for a day of surfing when we passed Scotty, Paul Chalupsky and a couple of other top Durban paddlers on their way to Henley dam for sprint training. This was an anomaly as the Durban paddlers were a wild and rough lot, by and large and we were generally squeaky clean. Scotty entertained his car load with images he had of us sitting on the beach with booze, dope and chicks, tattoos and piercings, while the Durban Surf crowd trained and drank milk shakes.

Our digs did a lot of river paddling on weekends and lots of it on the Umkomaas. One weekend Hubby came across a kid (baby goat) trapped between a swollen Umko and a steep , shaley bank. With his kind heart he couldn’t leave it so he loaded it up on his splashy and paddled it to safety. But it was either the thrill of paddling on a swollen Umko or Hubby’s advanced maternal abilities that got the kid attached to him for life. So of course he brought it home. Now the kid found living with so many canoeists stressful and it died soon after. Which was sad but inevitable and definitely not caused by any maternal neglect from its adoptive mother.

Talking of this adoptive mother, Hubby is as kind as they come, but he cannot cope with slovenly workmanship when it comes to canoes and that is one of the reasons why the canoes of Knysna Racing are made so well. Torture to Hubby was watching the rest of us repairing canoes or getting them ready for a race, so he would always take over and do the job perfectly. Working badly on a boat became a strategy. Hubby always came and did the job for us.

A lot of canoeing stories were born out of this digs. I could pass them on to you, but perhaps they could form a part of your next book?!

Regards – Rory


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.

One thought on “Rory ‘ChickenMan’ Pennefather – fighting crime and evil”

  1. Rory ‘Chicken Man’ Pennefather, what a nice guy and a class act.

    Sorry, not directly Umko related, but a good story (I think anyway):
    I remember that house in Pmb, the grass grew so high in the yard the city council must have decided to cut it because it was a health hazard (too many rats) or fire hazard or something. Anyway, we came back from training at Henley Dam one evening, nearly drove past the house cause we didn’t recognize it and then hey presto, there at the bottom of the yard along the fence was the Natal University K4 that had been missing for a few years. Poor Chicken Man, I guess even he drew the line at mowing the lawn on his own.


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