Best Built Canoe
In earlier years many paddlers preferred to borrow moulds, often owned by Clubs, and construct their own boats. At the overnight stop at Josephines, Kingfisher traditionally held a “best built boat” competition. The competition was consistently won by German innovation and precision engineering – carried out by Poppa Chalupsky (Pauls father). Pauls boat had many optional extras for example, high cockpits, moulded double lip cockpits into which the spray cover recessed, vinyl glued to the entire hull (which made the boat waterproof even with cracks in the fibreglass), stainless steel nose cone and a sprung rudder blade (a spring contraption which returned the rudder to the downward position).
The rest of us mortals had to fend for ourselves. I managed to find a K1 glass hull and framed deck which I covered with clear plastic. The clear plastic exposed, in lieu of a standard T-bar, a timber footrest with pedals – until then reserved for paddle skis only. This spelt the end of the Best Built Cup for the Bismarck. Needless to say Paul and Poppa was extremely irate at losing to a relatively simple innovation.
The final slap in the face came halfway through the third day when Paul’s entire patented rudder system fell off – some say that over design is what let the Germans down during the Second World War.
Most Memorable Incident
In earlier years the race extended over three days from Hella Hella to the Indian Ocean. The third day included a waterfall which was normally portaged on the left. Another option was a narrow chute on the left of the falls which cut the 150m scramble in half. At the end of day two, Malcolm Hall and I were in second place by two minutes behind Oscar Chalupsky and Lee McGregor. Before the start of day three, we managed to hitch a ride on the TV helicopter to check out the sneak chute. Standing on the rocks at the top of the falls I was stupid enough to suggest to Malcolm that the falls might be shootable. I should have known that Malcolm’s answer to these kind of questions was always the same “down the centre Mrs Venter”. Back to the start of day three we kicked off two minutes behind the leaders – who were well out of site at that velocity of water. Over the falls we went, reorganised our spray covers which popped on impact and paddled around the first kink after the falls right up to Oscar and Lee who had just re-entered. After a wide-eyed double-take, they took off with us right behind them all the way to Gulley. We followed them over “the drop” which is an option to the right of Gulley, only to find them swimming through the rapid below where we narrowly avoided their mess. Oscar and Lee came home in a helicopter with their boat never to be seen again. Colin Simpkins and Sean Rice passed us on the flat with one km to go – no prize for second place but Oscar’s expression had made it all worthwhile.
Normally a front paddler in a K2, I was lucky enough to sit behind Rory Pennfather, fondly known as “chicken man” and 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 Josephines 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 siting 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 aint to do with his heart.
We arrived at Hella Hella to find the river roaring at about 50 foot. (NB: TONY MEANT FIFTEEN!). Quite a few entrants after checking the level, climbed back in their cars and left. One such person viz Colin Wilson tried extremely hard to start, taking his boat on and off his car about five times before reluctantly giving way to common sense. I was paddling with Paul Chalupsky probably the most experienced paddler on the Umkomaas at the time, and felt relatively confident in a big Accord (which I called the Queen Mary).
The lines at this high level were totally different – generally been the inside corner. Rapids 5 and 6 is normally entered on the right of the centre rock. This year we were right of the big rock on the right bank, normally high and dry then down through the flooded fields to finally re-enter down a cascade below the end of 5 and 6.
The singles left before the doubles. When we caught the singles I can still picture them against the far bank – huddled like a bunch of ducklings – all following Charlie Mason – racing was the last thing on their minds – now it was down to survival.
We had one swim, which after discussion with Robbie Stewart, was probably the same place that him and his partner Rowan Rasmussen had swum – a little upstream from Mpanomani Rapid. The speed that the water was moving left no time to head for the side or avoid what was a huge wave almost as wide as the river. All I heard was Paul shout one word “CRIKEY” and we were under water.
After every river race Poppa (Paul’s father) would resurface his boats back to mint condition. After this race he didn’t need to service the boat – we never touched a single rock in 130kms.
Doc Cursen, father or springbok canoeist Clive Cursen, was always on hand at the overnight stops as race doctor often assisting with time keeping and the likes. At the second stop Paul was suffering from badly sandblasted eyeballs, caused by the constant smashing into mud laden waves. Doc managed to lay his hands on a bottle of eye drops for cows. This sent Paul break dancing around the campsite for 10 minutes. They did the trick.
The Queen Mary Paul believed, was unsinkable with stainless nose cone, vinyl lining, high cockpits and high fitting spray covers. Paul eventually convinced me that with all this we wouldn’t need pumps. This decision left us playing catch up with Robbie Stuart and Rowan Rasmussen after every stop to empty the boat. We finally caught them at the start of the flat water at Goodenoughs Weir – which in normal conditions was only shootable through a specific chute on the right. At this level the chute was not identifiable and we chose to portage, and at the put in we dumped the nose of our boat next to Robbie and Rowan (who had made the same choice). Then came Paul’s classic comment, in his special race day German accent …”dats your bundle”.
Just to correct in over 20 Umkomaas’s I have never not finished. Furthermore Dave McCormack and I have never swum. I have discussed the attached with Dave who totally agrees with my recollection.
Dave and I won the Umko which finished before Four Foot Drop. Seven years later, a last minute decision found us paddling the same boat, by then very patched and fragile. Existing No. 8 I shouted to Dave that we had lost our rudder. He suggested I look back, which I did, only to see the back of the boat in the air at a 45 degree angle from behind the back cockpit. We managed to paddle to the bank where we spent three hours patching.
It was on separate occasion while paddling with Paddy Quinlin and, with a comfortable lead we cracked open the nose on a relatively minor rapid above No Name. Chris and Tim passed us on one of our many emptyings to the finish.
Looks pretty honest from Colin. The rock is in a rapid called “Stripey”(after the symmetrical stripes on the adjacent mountain on the left bank). Its one of those where if you read the water perfectly and position you boat perfectly, you stopped dead. After a few years in order to miss it, I tried the wrong line – and guess what, I still hit it. There was a similar teeth rattler at the bottom of No. 2 where the right line was the wrong line. This one disappeared after Demoina.
From: pete swanepoel home [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 03 October 2015 12:39 PM
To: Umko Tony Scott <email@example.com>
Subject: Malcolm Hall or Dave McCormack – or both?
I thought you paddled Umko with McCormack, but three guys have mentioned Malcolm now.
- Help me out pls.
- Also, here’s Colin Slipskin’s version of events on one race. Maybe he’s exaggerating or taking a chance? Check it out and keep him honest 🙂 – tks Pete
“The Umko, that year, was very low. We raced the first day from Hella Hella to Riverside. Somehow Starsky and I managed to break away, together with Tony Scott and Malcolm Hall. We managed to outsprint them, but still took nearly six and a half hours to complete the day. If the winners took six and a half hours, you can imagine what some of the back markers did. Many ran out of daylight and had to sleep on the river bank, coming into the campsite the next morning, grabbing a quick breakfast, filling up their juice bottles and getting back onto the water.
As is the custom, the slower paddlers were let off earlier on the second day, with the elapsed time guys going off later. Starsky is the world’s most notorious wake snake. Once he finds a wave, it is almost impossible to get rid of him. On the second day, we stuck to Scotty like super glue. About an hour into the day, as we approached a particular rapid, Scotty asked us to back off a bit as “there is a rock in this rapid, and I don’t know how to miss it”. True to his word, he drove straight into something, and stopped stone dead. Both of their splashcovers popped, and they got stuck. Starsky made it safely to the bottom of the rapid, where he promptly put his paddles down and waited. I asked him what the hell he was doing. He explained that he was waiting for his lift (Scotty/Malcolm). He gave me a look of absolute horror when I suggested that we go on alone, and try to hold them off. Much later, the TV crew at the waterfall informed us that we had a 5 minute lead. Neither of us could believe that we were on the brink of winning our first major race.
Thanks for the chat.
Digging in the old boxes under the stairs would be very welcome (I’m sure there’s some good stuff there – which you MUST publish!), but telling your stories and memories and skinder about other guys is what I would really like!
Your stories of:
– Sleeping off the premises! (No cap for you!)
– Having to eat lunch on the other side of the river
– Surfing the wave at night
– The Urban Legend of “If the river before was low, the Umko would be high!”
are what are going to make the book a fun and memorable read. I need those!
072-394 7002PS: Did you hear Paul saying “Dat’s your bundle” to Robbie at Goodenough’s?
PPS: Please forward to your son and tell him we need stories from some guys on instagram – we have many stories so far from guys on salusa45 (and you’ll probly even have to explain salusa45 to him!)
——– Forwarded Message ——–
Fabulous and exciting.