Ernie Alder R.I.P

Ernie Alder, Kingfisher Canoe Club and Umko stalwart and longtime all-round dependable, reliable and ever-present backbone of the club and the race, died after a short illness on Sunday this week.

Travis Wilkinson of KCC wrote:

It is with a heavy heart that I write of the passing of Ernie Alder!
There are very few truly selfless individuals, those that give of their time beyond what could ever be expected without seeking reward or adulation!
Ernie you will, for me, always be synonymous with KCC and there will never be a time, driving in to the car park, that I do not look for your vehicle, your welcoming smile or your loudhailer!
Rest in peace my friend, you did so much to assist me in my time as chairman and for the numerous chairs before and those that came after.
Your legacy will forever be intertwined with the history of KCC and you will be sorely missed at the club and along the many riverbanks and boat pounds across the country!

A gentleman, a gentle man! We will miss you – ‘Elvis Kingfisher’



Nephew Alistair McWade wrote:

– always kind, funny and compassionate;

– a life well lived;

– completed 17 Comrades marathons!

– numerous Dusi and Umko canoe marathons;

– very active in Kingfisher Canoe Club for decades;


More on Ernie.

You know you’re special when your mates name the pub after you in your time!

Ernie's Pub



Ernie ‘Carruthers’ Alder – Nibble my ear

Umko Ernie John Oliver
Hugh Raw wrote in:
Hi Pete – I have a little anecdote about Ernie Alder.
He runs a tight ship – always has, even when in the HR department in charge of pension matters at Durban Municipality. He is to this day the stalwart of KCC race organisers. This is no doubt because he is a stickler for accuracy in all he does.
It was my cavalier approach to filling in race entry forms which brought me into direct conflict with this very direct man. I don’t know why it is but when the form requires answers to questions like SEX , I write Yes Please and under name of Medical Aid I write GOD.
The phone rang pretty quick after that, “You haven’t completed the entry form – you are not entered in the race yet,” growled Ernie in his “nice” voice. “What is your Medical Aid’s phone number – You got a Hot Line upstairs?”
So I supplied the missing info with lots of apologies and the phone went dead. On the morning of the race at Hella Hella start I cockily asked him if I could change my entry from a K2 to a K3. In those days a K3 was a nuisance and entry forms did not cater for them.
So I supplied all the extra info and with the help of Ernie and The Bearded One it was sorted out.
In front of the amused crowd Ernie said, “Nibble my ear”, leaning in closer to me.
“What for,” I spluttered .
“Just nibble my ear. I like a bit of passion when I’m being fucked around.”
Interview with Ernie Alder for The Umko 50 Years book;
We met at Circus Circus, Musgrave Centre on 6 Aug 2015
(draft version hand-written)The year ____ Bill Barron was the chairman.
The UMKO overnight campsite flooded – Rained out
Paddlers’ kit was left in the valley on Green’s farm.

Before he leaves the kit, Ernie parks the two kit trucks back-to-back with the doors against each other so they cannot be opened. He leaves the hired security guards there and drives out in his own 4X4 bakkie.
Some paddlers are desperate:
– My air tickets to Aussie and my passports are in my bags!
– My special keys to open the bank are in my bags!
((Query: A motorbike went in to fetch that urgent stuff???))) – IS THAT RIGHT?
Farmer Green goes in on horseback to give food to the guards.
Over a week later Green phones to say “You can come now”. Ernie, Charlie Mason and Roy Swingewood fetch. The wet kit is taken to KCC, locked up, only Ernie and Bill have keys.
All paddlers are always instructed to mark their kit clearly. And of course, they did like normal co-operative paddlers.
Ja, right!!
They sorted out the marked kit (a few bags). Then they went thru the huge mountainous pile of unmarked bags (HOW MANY PADDLERS?), opening and searching for ID (eg wallets) and then labelling bags and sorting them into piles judging on addresses found. One wallet has R7000 in it!
Pete Zietsman needs his bag urgently, so he comes in and helps. They spread it out on the KCC lawn to help in the search. The kit is starting to smell bad. The ‘Transvaal’ pile especially is smelling worse & worse.
Then the Transvaalie kit gets shipped behind the Boerewors Curtain by courier to Dabulamanzi club in JHB thanks to Daphne Hawarden’s connections. Ernie and Colin Mercer leave DBN at 11pm, drive to JHB to be at Dabulamanzi early. Paddlers have been notified to fetch their kit at Dabs club from 8am.
Paddlers find their kit, sign for it and leave. Some say thank you.
One bag has expensive camera equipment in it, fetched by the relieved owner. Another worried-looking owner claims the bag that Ernie knows has the fat wallet in it, so Ernie watches him. This paddler feverishly dives into his bag, finds his wallet, whips it open and counts. With a hugely relieved look he scurries off.
“Uh, excuse me!” calls Ernie.
“Get your bag?”
“Everything in it?”
“Wallet as you left it?”
“A thank you would be nice”
“Oh, thanks” he mutters.
“Our pleasure” says Ernie.
AND THEN they finally open a bag and find the source of the particularly bad smell:
Two huge raw, green Texan-size rump steaks!!

Once The Food Went Vrot!

The day before the 19 __ race Ernie fetched the food frozen in a huge pot. As it thawed it became obvious something had gone wrong (‘it went bloop!’) and replacement food was needed. At short notice. From his flat in Musgrave Road Ernie starts phoning. “I need food for ((300)) people, can you help?”
No. No. No.

Then the Royal Hotel said yes! “Can you have it ready by 2pm?” No, but they think they can do it by 3pm. Its finally ready at 5pm.
Ernie fetched it at the Royal in Bugsy Grant’s big Ford F250 truck, puts it next to the tents and tentpoles and sets off for the Umkomaas valley. On the way they’re stopped three times by police road blocks (‘dagga road blocks’). Each one wants to search this heavily-laden truck with its back wheels invisible under the loadbed and its headlights aimed at Venus. The last lot put sniffer dogs on it who get very excited at the thought of a meal from the Royal Hotel!
Thank goodness when they get to the Old Buck campsite the army truck Chris Greeff had arranged was there and their tents were being pitched (despite the troopie driving the truck having made an unauthorised detour to visit a chick he once met).

On the way back the slightly lighter truck hits tar and picks up speed only to disappear in a cloud of dust (this according to the driver of a following BMW). A loud bang had preceded a loss of control – right rear tyre burst. However, having Driven the Fastest Milk Cart – in the West, this was but a small challenge to our Ernie, Ernie, and he brought the F250 to a safe halt where the wide-eyed Bee Emm driver helped change the tyre.

Back at his Musgrave Road flat Ernie showered and changed into his paddling kit and drove to the start at Hella Hella.

YES, dear paddlers, remember who our oft-maligned and slandered officials are behind their official badges and uniforms: paddlers like you and me – except ones who do WAY more than you and me!!

So without a wink of sleep Ernie sets off from Hella Hella on Day One in his Accord with his “paddling captain” Greg ‘GT’ White sitting in front. This Day One just happens to be the longest-ever Day One of the Umko before or since: 75km (or longer – depends who you ask) all the way to Old Buck (or some other – depends who you ask) Rapid! Even Oscar said as he pulled in at the overnight stop that day “Never in my life have I sat on my arse for so long!”


Allie Peter – ‘What The Umko Means To Me’

Chairman Allie practices river valley Diplomatic Relations yet again:

Allie Peter Drinks

One of the great Philosophers once claimed that the only fear is “The Fear of the Unknown”. Methinks when one bobs around on a full Umkomaas at Hella Hella it is possibly the fear of the known which results in an urge to visit the toilet, that dry mouth and the distinct lack of frivolity.

I spent some time thinking about the river. its moods, changes, the vegetation, the people that live on the banks, the canoeists who attempt to challenge this brown, seething water mass as it winds its way to the Indian Ocean. These thoughts and reflections welled up ambivalent, ubiquitous emotions that are extremely difficult to express after about 30 years of intimate involvement with one of South Africa’s last big wild rivers.


For the sake of the record the following visions are uppermost in my mind’s eye when I think Umkomaas:

My first race with a lot of useful (and useless) advice given to me by the late Arthur Egerton.
The wonderful overnight stops with all the camaraderie.
Paddling from Hella Hella for the first time with Mr “Super-Wol” Mike Frizelle who introduced me to 5&6 by default.
Phone calls from Ernie Alder telling me the water truck had come to grief.
Being unable to get to overnight stops as planned due to adverse water conditions.
Observing the modification of Dan Crosby’s nose.
My first introduction (per kind favour of Bruce Gillmer and Tom Shave) to Yakka!
Paddling with greats like Chris Greeff and the late Lance Park.
Making some wonderful friendships.
Discussing the ways of the world with Derek Freeman of Whisky Canyon fame.
Having Rob Cunnama’s tyres shot by the Parks Board man.
Introducing novices to the mysteries of the Umkomaas.
Listening to Charlie Mason’s insightful philosophy of “No Better Laxative than a Full Umkomaas”.
Elephants raiding the overnight campsite.

Umko eles 1999 program
Ken Reynolds with his Kahlua dose gun at the overnight stop.

UMKO Kahlua
Ballie’s snore machine used to sample the Umko herb.
Finding some naked nature lovers at St Elmos after dinging a craft.
Instructing Jacques Nel to Sit Still in a language the clergy do not know.
Ken Reynolds catching snakes.
The Springbok canoeing team swimming in No.1.
The mighty roar of No.2.
The fantastic food supplied by Rennie and his team.
Listening to “Frightening Water Buffalo” Stan Freiman for 2 hours on the phone trying to convince me that the race be postponed.
Paddling 80kms on one day due to a change in format.
Ernie Alder’s incredible and timeless help when organising the race.
The great disappointment when Hansa pulled out.

Umngazi River Bungalows coming to our rescue thanks to Hugh Bland.
Watching Johnny Woods enjoy a swim in Gully.
Being more scared in a helicopter than on the river.
Thinking that the next bend has to be the overnight stop.

Meeting the late Chief Vella at Old Buck after whom the rapid was named.
Hugh Raw’s patience, help and friendship under adverse conditions.

All the unselfish help from the many, many backroom girls and boys who make the event what it is.


Allie on Bar tent dress code:

If my memory is not too doff these special aprons, when lifted, had elephant ears on either side of a rather large male appendage — hence “the dance of the extremely rare and threatened Umko sub-species of the African elephant” which only happened on very rare occasions and only during the marathon — I think there were only two old bulls on the last occasion [one MUCH older than the other!] The farmer I think was Krauzer.


Umko 1996 program (Alli Peter).JPG

Chris Wade – Stop to smell the orchids

My main memory of the Umkomaas is the sheer beauty of the valleys we paddled through and in particular the cliff faces overhanging the river.  Very early in my Umko paddling career, Brian Grant and I were passing below a cliff face in the St. Elmo’s area when there was a sudden loss of power from the rear of the boat.  “Paddle Brian” I shouted.  “Look at all those orchids up there!” came the reply followed by a string of botanical names. Initially I was irritated by this.  Hell, we were in a race!  Later it dawned on me that we were not going to win the race and that Brian had the right approach.  In my many passages down the river in later years, I always took time out to soak up the magnificent scenery around me, often just drifting along in the pools below the cliff faces.

We had had, by our standards, a good first day of the marathon and were going well on the second day when we approached “The Waterfall”.  The river was at a good level and we had ‘heard’ about the side channel down the left.  When we got closer there was the channel and we paddled into it.  It did not take long before we realised we had made a big mistake!  On the short final drop back to river level our boat called it quits and we then had a five hour walk out to the coast.  The punch line of this episode was Rob Stewart looking disdainfully at us two amateurs and saying “Guys, you would have had a better chance by going over the main waterfall”.

I had the privilege of paddling three marathons with “Mr Umko”.  In our third race we were in the water at the start waiting for our batch start when Charles in his usual laconic way says to me “Shall we make a bit of an effort?” instead of his usual previous race question of “You are not in a hurry are you?”  The GO is given and we take off like a bullet and are a good 20 metres ahead of the youngsters as we go into the first left/right drop before the approaches to #1.  Down the approaches we go with me wondering how long we will able to keep this pace up before I blow when Charles casually announces that we have no rudder.  No real problem. We pull over, haul the boat on to the rocks and take out our extensive emergency repair kit.  New piece of cable and connectors in hand and all we need to do is thread the cable through the rudder wheel.  Not included in the repair kit is reading glasses and there we have two middle-aged gents trying to put the cable through a small hole we cannot see too clearly.

Bright idea!!  We lift the rudder end of the boat up and face it into the sun.  We can now see the cable hole properly and in no time at all we are back on the river.  True to Charles’ style we continue at a steady pace and pass many boats before the overnight stop.

P.S. Allie has already beaten me to it but I must reiterate the immeasurable contribution Ernie Alder has made to both the Marathon and the many other Umko one day races.