My first Umko was in 1981 a week after I arrived in SA having emigrated from UK. I was not paddling fit but the guys I had met up with in PMB (Rory, Jerome, Hubby and Dave Walker) mentioned that Clive Curson was looking for a partner and I agreed to paddle with him. At that time it was quite a long race – Josephines right to the sea in two days (113km). Clive was much taller than me with a long slow stroke rate verses my normal short high stroke rate so we were not too compatible. Clive sat in front of course as I had no clue where to go and what to expect. The main thing I remember apart from the rapids, the amazing valley and the great atmosphere at the overnight stop was Clive’s tactics to avoid being last in the elapsed time start the next day. As we were approaching the finish of the first day Clive pulled into the bank just before the finish. Jumped out of the boat and ran to talk to the time keepers to make sure we were more than 30 mins behind the leaders. I leant later that if we had gone off last in the elapsed time we would have probably paddled the whole of day two on our own as all the batches were going off before the 30 minutes elapsed time.
My next two races were the ones I won. Firstly with Chris Greeff in 1982 and then with Graeme Pope-Ellis in 1983. The races with Chris and Graeme were even longer as the course was changed to two days from Hella Hella to Goodenoughs Weir (130km). My win with Chris was quite a lucky win from what I remember. We were racing at the front on day two with Tony Scott /Malcolm Hall I think and at Whirl Pool we took a swim. For those that don’t know it this is not a nice place to swim and the boat, Chris and I were under water for a long time. I think Chris inadvertently kicked me back down as I was getting near the surface. Anyway we recovered the boat and front deck was in a bad shape and full of holes. We took off on the relatively flat section after whirl pool and managed to catch Scotty and Malcolm before No Name Rapid. As we caught them they somehow managed to rap their boat around a random boulder in the middle of nowhere. Had this not happened they would have beaten us for sure as we had to stop and empty three or four times between there and the finish due to the holes in our deck.
The race with Graeme was significant in that we were either the first or one of very few crews that had ever won 50 Miler, Dusi and Umko in the same season. I had also won the first Rand Daily Mail Iron Man the weekend before so was not the best prepared for a pure paddling race. As always Graeme drove amazingly well and we had a trouble free win.
My other races were not really of any significance. I have actually done seven all with different partners. (Kevin White, Greyling Viljoen, Herman Chalupsky and a social one with Trevor Scheepers). I hope that wasn’t because no one wanted to paddle with me twice. As mentioned by Chris Greeff the race I did with Herman Chalupsky was an interesting one. We swam and damaged the nose of our boat on 5&6 and rather than stop and repair the nose we found or stole the front 1.5 meters of another broken boat and just rammed this over the nose of our boat. This worked so well I don’t think we even bother to take it off and fix the boat for day two.
My last race was with Trevor Scheepers in 1994. I can’t believe it’s been so long. It is such a beautiful valley and an amazing race.