Winston Smart – “Leatherman Surgery”


Nervous anticipation was the order of the day when we started our first Umko at 12h40 in E-batch. The race started out pretty uneventful, bar a swim and pulling a few cheek and eye muscles, the approaches to #1 being even bigger than the “Chute” (Vaal River), but with no end in sight!

Then disaster struck at #4 in the form of a boulder which was to wear our, until then, only slightly shop-soiled Tsunami. Fortunately it was soon shrugged off and joined us in the swimming gala to the next plunge pool.

In assessing the damage, we found that the hull was torn through between the cockpits, seam popped from back of rear cockpit to the front seat, in all, not at good…

Fortunately my resourceful “Mc Givor” partner namely Brian Bader (no relation of Douglas) took charge of the situation, out came the Leatherman and the awl was used to drill holes were along the split seams to stitch-zip them up with cable ties.

Next the bone-saw was used to saw slots along the tear in the hull and duly sewn together using a roof-rack tie-down which was stowed in the boat.

By now we were surrounded by local spectators who insisted that we were crazy to be paddling on the Umko, they did however let us use their T-shirts to sufficiently dry the boat  for duct-taping the wounds closed and fixing stick splints to the back cockpit rim.

The boat was now suitably repaired for flat water, which happens to be fairly scarce on Day 1, and the Umkomaas River as a whole for that matter. We proceeded to portage around most of the big water during daylight. I was running next to my dive booties a lot of the time, trying not to think “Mamba” whilst going through the long buffalo grass. I had by now also acquired a well bruised coccyx from slipping and punching noughts on rocks.

The kind gesture of a lift from some race officials in a 4X4 was declined and I certainly started regretting it at around about sunset.

We finally stumbled into the overnight camp at 19h30 to find everybody already tuckered and well established in the tents. Our obvious priority now was to get the boat race-ready for Day 2, the repair station had long since been disbanded and we had to go about sourcing repair gear. The best light came shining through the entrance of the officials tent, but Rob Davey was not having us doing repairs right there and we were unceremoniously told – Off!

My ‘best’ (and only) towel was used to dry the boat this time.

In order to get the boat watertight, rigid and race-ready again, the surgically ‘cable-tie’ stitched seams and ‘tie-down’ sewn hull was glassed over by ‘Dr Bader’, as the rain came bucketing down. Our hot mix seemed to take a little too long in going off using the ‘peroxide’ we were issued as catalyst, so we added a little more… a few times, too many, until we suddenly almost had a fire on our hands!

Fortunately the repair turned out to be sound and we managed Day 2 in a respectable time (day time) and as opposed to a DNF we secured an overall 1st place (if read from the bottom of the last page of the race results!).

Fortunately I did manage to redeem myself  by completing the 2002 Umko relatively unscathed in a K1.

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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