6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 9_KZN, sport

Quadruply Certifiable

The Comrades Marathon’s Quadruple Green Number is awarded only to people who are certifiably crazy. The award – and membership of that exclusive club – means you have run the 89km Comrades ultra-marathon at least forty times! Holy shit!!

47 Medals
RaceNoName
403Louis Massyn
916Barry Holland
45 Medals
RaceNoName
183Dave Rogers
43 Medals
RaceNoName
3111Vic Boston
42 Medals
RaceNoName
1Clive Crawley
1180Zwelitsha Gono
1702Dave Lowe
1704Alan Robb
4192Wietsche Van Der Westhuizen
7296Mike Cowling
41 Medals
RaceNoName
1550– – – – – David Williams – – – – –
1689Tommy Neitski
40 Medals
RaceNoName
145Kenny Craig
1221Riel Hugo
1691Johann Van Eeden
2516Boysie Van Staden
4286Shaun Wood

Dave ‘Jesus’ Williams is a Kingfisher Canoe Club stalwart who has helped run the Umkomaas canoe marathon for about the same number of years he’s been shuffling the Comrades. He’s done it all: Driving trucks, pitching tents, digging toilets, rigging toilets on trucks, buying food, preparing food, serving in the pub, listening to paddlers gaaning aan about how scary THEIR race was; you name it, Jesus has done it. And with aplomb and with a smile. He was there 36ys ago when I did my only Umko and patiently served us rowdy hooligans with beer after beer at the overnight stop until there were only two okes left drinking – me and Chris Greeff. Eventually we got tired of people rudely shouting at us to shut up, they were trying to sleep, so we staggered off to our sleeping bags on the grass under the big marquee. There was a small difference between me and the man I’d been matching beer for beer till late that night: He was actually leading the race and duly went on to win the singles the next day. I finished in eventually-th place.

– Dave ‘Jesus’ Williams on the right working hard as always –

I last saw Dave Jesus at the 2016 Umko – he was driving the beer truck and selling beer at the prize-giving. We had a good chat. He had given me good stories for the Umko 50yrs book, but now I mainly wanted to know about the Comrades. About HOW MANY? about WHY!? and about ARE YOU MAD?!

He couldn’t really explain, but all he talked about was beating other ous. So even though his finishing time was stretching out compared to his best days, he always had goals and people to beat. Then his “battle” was against Tilda Tearle (she who actually won the damn thing one year). He beats her, then she beats him; how and when, Dave describes in great detail – “I was leading for 30km and then my knee started to hurt and I heard she was catching up to me” etc etc. He remembers every yard, every pace, every change of fortune, good or bad. In Comrades as well as all the other races he does, he always has some or other bet or goal or competition going on with his comrades in running. That’s what keeps him going. That, and the insanity.

– later he shaved the beard and became Dave ‘John Cleese’ Williams –

A lovely modest oke. But quite mad – he has also run 100km around a 400m athletics track and has run 100 MILES, too. He also runs a cross country race from Royal Natal National Park up to Witsieshoek, along the road to the car park then up to the foot of the chain ladder, up the ladder onto the Amphitheatre, down the gulley and back to National Park campsite. About 50 rugged cross-country kilometres with a huge altitude gain that makes the Harrismith mountain race look like a short flat stroll.
~~~oo0oo~~~

6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport, travel

Mix Your Drinks, Add River Water

It was advice from my chairman and as a new, fairly young member, I trusted him implicitly. You add sherry to your beer, said Allie Peter with a knowing nod. When we got to the bottle store in Cradock he spotted me at the till with a dozen Black Labels and a bottle of Old Brown Sherry.

‘No, Swanie,’ he came with more advice, ‘Get Ship Sherry. You can get TWO bottles for the price of one Old Brown.’ As a new, fairly young member, I trusted my chairman of the Kingfisher Canoe Club implicitly, so I dutifully swopped my bottle for two Ship Sherries. This decision was going to reverberate . .

– a good blend, I was told – I notice bevshots haven’t analysed it yet –

At Gattie’s house (that’s Malcolm Phillips Esq. to you) we stood around with cans of beer in our hands, topping them up with sherry every so often. It worked a treat and was a marvelous idea. I could see my chairman had been around and knew a thing or two. The mix seemed to enhance my paddling knowledge and experience vastly.

Much later that night I was busy expounding on some finer point of competitive paddling – probably on how one could win the race the next day – when I realised in mid-sentence, with my one finger held high to emphasise that important point I was making, that I was completely alone in Gattie’s lounge. Everyone had buggered off to bed and I had no-one to drink with. I looked around and found a corner, downed the rest of my berry mix and lay down to sleep. It was carpeted, I think.

Later I remember through a slight haze seeing Gattie asking if his prize bull was being slaughtered, but when he saw it was only me kneeling and hugging the porcelain bowl, he said ‘Oh’ and went back to bed. The porcelain bowl had amplified my sounds of slight distress like a large white telephone, waking him up in his bedroom far down the other end of the house.

It must have been a good clearing out as I felt fine when we left for the Grassridge Dam and the start of the marathon in Bruce Gillmer’s kombi a few hours later. Dave and Michelle were there and I spose some other paddlers and I’m sure my boat was on the roofrack. After a few km’s there was an ominous rumble and I knew I had a little lower intestinal challenge; which would have been fine – and some fun – if there hadn’t been a lady – and a real lady she is, too – in the bus.

I had to warn them. It was soon after a famous nuclear disaster, so I announced ‘We need to stop the bus or there will be a Chernobyl-like disaster on board.’ Bruce was a bit slow to respond, so it was only when the waft hit his own personal nostrils that he pulled over smartly and let me release the rest of the vapour at the roadside. Ah, that was better. With the pressure off I was fine again. I did notice I wasn’t talking so much about winning the race though.

The grumbling re-occurred on the dam, making that start the roughest I have ever endured. The wind and the waves on Grassridge Dam were worse than any rapids I have ever paddled. I was very glad to carry my boat down to the Fish River – leaving the dam stone last, I’m sure. The river was plain sailing and the rest of the day a pleasure.

That night I sipped daintily at plain beer. I was beginning the long slow process of learning to think carefully when considering advice freely given by sundry Chairmen of Kingfisher Canoe Club.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

See the Fun of the Fish in the Eighties (video)

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

The Fish

My dates don’t tally. I thought I did the 1983 Fish, but Chernobyl was in 1986. I must have done the 1986 Fish. All I know is, the rinderpest was still a thing . .

The first race in 1982 attracted 77 paddlers in 52 boats. 37 boats finished the race, as the thick willows and many fences on the upper stretches of the river took their toll. It was won by Sunley Uys from Chris Greeff, the first person to shoot Cradock weir in the race.

In those days, the race was held on a much lower river, 13 cumecs (roughly half of the current level!) and it started with a very long – over 50km – first day. The paddlers left the Grassridge Dam wall and paddled back around the island on the dam before hitting the river, eventually finishing at the Baroda weir, 2,5km below the current overnight stop. The paddlers all camped at Baroda overnight, before racing the shorter 33km second stage into Cradock.

Stanford Slabbert says of the first race “In those days the paddlers had to lift the fences – yussis! remember the fences! – and the river mats (fences weighed down by reeds and flotsam and jetsam) took out quite a few paddlers. Getting under (or over) them was quite an art”.

“I recall one double crew”, says Slabbert. “The front paddler bent forward to get under the fence and flicked the fence hoping to get it over his partners head as well. It didn’t. The fence caught his hair and pulled him right out of the boat and they swam!”

Legends were already being born. Herve ‘Caveman’ de Rauville stunned spectators by pioneering a way to shoot Marlow weir. He managed to reverse his boat into the chute on the extreme left, and took the massive slide back into the river going forward, and made it!

The field doubled in 1983, as the word of this great race spread. 145 paddlers in 110 boats. It was won on debut by Joburg paddler Niels Verkerk, who recalls, ‘It was a very long first day, especially as the river was not as full as it is now (it was running at 17 cumecs in 1983). Less than half the guys shot Keiths, which was not that bad as the hole at the bottom wasn’t that big.’

At a medium level, the lines at Soutpansdrift were also different. The weir above Soutpans was always a problem, as there was no chute, no pipes. At the bottom of the rapid, the only line was extreme left, underneath the willow tree – yussis! remember the low-hanging willow trees! – and then a sharp turn at the bottom to avoid hitting the rocks, where the spectators gather like vultures.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Serious, Focused Paddling

. . racing, in fact.

I put my head down, leaned forward and reached for a blade-full of Umgeni water and pulled it back to behind my hip. This was not a characteristic action. I was not used to putting effort into my paddling, but this was serious: I had team-mates, and we were in a race. This was the KCC 12-hour enduro.

When I got back from my blistering lap under the big concrete Athlone bridge pier in the Umgeni river at Blue Lagoon, my team-mates assured me it was the slowest lap in the history of canoeing, a record unlikely ever to be broken and they had all grown a beard, shaved it off and grown another while waiting for me.

Thanks guys. It was nothing.

Roly Bennett took over from me (yes, we were a crack squad) and fell out three times before he got out from under the shadow of the Athlone bridge.

He then stood up in the shallow water and filled the boat halfway with water, reckoning this gave him some stability; being a yachtsman he knew all about lead in your keel. He got back in and paddled off with half a millimetre of freeboard, gunwales awash half the time;

When Roly – eventually – got back :-

– my team-mates assured me my record had been shattered and I was now only the second-most useless member of the crack squad;

* alternative ending (I can’t remember which is true):

– my team-mates told me that despite Roly being handicapped by a pathetic tap-tapping paddling action and a half-sunken ship, my record still stood. Sadly, I think this was the actual story.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

– the scene of the action years later –
1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Up the Creek

I can’t really say I was born ‘up Shit Creek without a paddle,’ but I can say that mere days after I was born I was taken home to our house on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And that it would be ten years or so before I owned my first paddle.

The first time ‘I paddled my own canoe’ was years later after we had lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a blue and red canoe. As far as I remember the first place we paddled it was in a little inlet off the Wilge river above the Sunnymede weir, some distance upstream of town. Right here:

Sunnymede on the Wilge River upstream from Harrismith FS ca1965

Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded zinc roof sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe by their carpenter father Jes? We paddled it, wobbling unsteadily, on their tiny little pond in the deep shade of wattle trees above their house up against the northern cliff of Kings Hill.

Then Charlie Ryder came to town, and one thing led to another . . .

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Good school friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerie Hansen – who died tragically early. He told of fun days spent paddling, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next that same little pond. He also remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, they had one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a HINO.

Gerie used to say ‘He No Go So Good’, and Piet says when it finally gave up the ghost he said ‘He No Go No More’!!

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originated on Platberg mountain, flowed down, past our plot and westward through the golf course on the north edge of town, then turned south and flowed into the Wilge below the park weir;

gooi’ing kleilat – lethal weapon; a lump of clay on the end of a whippy stick or lath; spoken about way more than practiced, in my experience; Here’s a kid loading one:

windbuks – airgun, pellet gun,

3_USA, 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, Family, travel

Jean-Prieur du Plessis, Texan

I contacted JP du Plessis wanting to know wassup!? Catch me up on your USA sojourn!

He wrote:

Good to hear from you. We’re living in Austin, Texas – since January 2016.

We spent sixteen years in Mandeville, Lousiana – near New Orleans. We raised our kids there, and still have the house there.

Prior stints in Chicago, Illinois, Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles, California. Can’t believe we’ve been here 30 years.

I fondly (jealously!) followed your past road trips through the States on vrystaatconfessions.com – Sorry you had to experience Shreveport!? I get to travel quite a bit for work. I have extensively traveled the Gulf States by road and other places by air.

Hopefully you made your way on I-20 through to Vicksburg and saw the mighty Mississippi River on your way up from Shreveport to New York with Larry Wingert?

I still think that is why I came here: because of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer as well as the fascinating origins of American music in the Mississippi Delta.

We had a great time living in New Orleans. Our daughter still lives there. We’re going there for a few days on Wednesday for a bit of Mardi Gras and work.

Our other kids live in Brooklyn, New York City, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Funny….I thought so much of you yesterday listening to a “rubriek” on the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about this guy who traveled all over the States on his canoe. For two decades! Saying: Hey I’m not lost and I’m not homeless…..I’m just paddling on the water seeing some fantastic geography and meeting very nice people on the way, (paraphrased). He wrote three books (not published). I will try to find the link for you.

I think that may have been Dick Conant:

We have built a new home:

Take an online walk-through JP’s home here.

….now, after a lot of bloed, sweet en trane, we will take Sweet Melissa the Airstream on the road again – to the loud music of The Allman Brothers!

Sweet Melissa

See, learning from you, I have now almost written my first blog!

Cheers brother. Keep in touch…..even better…come visit and take the Melissa the “karavaan” on a road trip. – J-P

3_USA, 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport, travel

Kayak the Ocoee

Atlanta Lincoln2
Atlanta Lincoln1

We hired a Lincoln Continental Town Car in Atlanta and put roofracks on. Dave Jones, dentist and US paddling legend and coach, put us up for the night before we headed North. Chris Greeff, kayaking legend & trip organiser; Herve de Rauville, kayaking legend; Jurie the SABC cameraman, Steve Fourie, a friend of Chris’. And me.

And off we went to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Which was completely empty. Not low. Empty.

Then they turned on the tap at twelve noon and we could paddle. The full flow of the Ocoee gets diverted to generate power! How criminal is that!! That it even flows occasionally is only thanks to hard lobbying by paddlers and environmentalists. From around 1913 to 1977 the river was mostly bone dry – all the water diverted to generate power. Now sections of it flow again at certain times.

259

I’m in orange.

Here’s a description of the short stretch of river we paddled:

The Middle Ocoee
The Middle Ocoee is the portion of whitewater, on this stretch of water, paddlers and rafting enthusiasts, have been paddling for decades. Beginning at Rogers Branch and just over 5 miles long, this class 3-4 section of whitewater is an adrenaline junkies dream, crammed with waves and holes.

Entrance rapid gives you whitewater from the get-go. As soon as you launch onto the middle Ocoee you are in a class 4 rapid, paddling through waves and dropping ledges. It’s a fun and exciting way to begin your trip.
Broken Nose begins with a large S-shaped wave. Swirling water behind it will send you to a series of ledges. This is a great place for pictures, so smile.
Next, Slice and Dice: two widely spaced ledges, fun to drop, especially the second ledge. If done correctly, you can get a great surf here “on the fly”.
An interesting and humorous set of rock formations highlights the rapid, Moon Chute. After making your way behind the elephant shaped rock, do some 360’s in front of “sweet-cheeks,” then drop through the chute and over the ledge at the bottom.
Double Suck, an appropriately named rapid, where a good-sized ledge drops you into two hydraulics. Paddle hard or you might catch another surf here.
Double Trouble, which is more ominous in name than in structure, is a set of three large waves, which will have everybody yelling. This is another great photo spot. You won’t find an easier, more fun rapid.
Next is Flipper (No, it’s not named after the dolphin). Here, a great ledge drop puts you into a diagonal wave. Hit this wave with a right hand angle and enjoy the ride, or angle left to eddy out. Then enjoy one of the best surfs on the river.
Table saw was originally named for a giant saw-blade shaped wave in the middle of it. The rock forming the wave was moved during a flood several years ago, making this one of the most exciting rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The big waves in this one will make the boat buck like a bronco.
At Diamond Splitter, point your boat upstream and ferry it between two rocks. Once there get a couple of 360’s in before dropping through the chute and into the hydraulic.

Me on the Ocoee river

Slingshot is where most of the water in the river is pushed through a narrow space, making a deep channel with a very swift current. To make this one a little more interesting, see how many 360’s you can complete from top to bottom.
Cat’s Pajamas start with a couple of good ledges, with nice hydraulics. After those, it will look as though you are paddling toward a big dry rock, but keep going. At the last second, there will be a big splash and you will be pushed clear.
Hell’s Hole is the biggest wave on the river. Start this one in the middle of the river, drifting right. Just above the wave, start paddling! When you crest this 7-8 ft. wave, you will drop into a large hydraulic. Stay focused because just downstream are the last two ledges known as

Powerhouse. Drop these ledges just right of center for a great ride.
Once through Powerhouse, collect yourself and take out at Caney Creek.

——-ooo000ooo——-

The dry river when they turn off the taps. Very sad:

6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, sport

A Rolling Selfie

I saw the above pic on the internets and it reminded me of an incident after a river outing. It’s apparently of an old fella who rolled and his wife is still inside, but they’re getting a picture already. I can believe that these days, everyone has a camera in their pocket, but my story was back in the eighties BCE, Before the Cellphone Era.

We’d paddled to Josephine’s bridge and me and Bernie (I think it was) were on our way out of the valley when we rounded Dead Man’s Corner and saw a car on its roof with the wheels still spinning. We skidded to a halt, hopped out and ran over, ready to rescue and get the car back on its wheels before all the oil ran out (or that’s what I was thinking – dunno if that actually happens?) or before another car zoomed into it.

We shouted “You OK?” and a young guy said “Fine!” and started crawling out on his tummy out of the drivers seat window. As we grabbed the car and started to heave he said “WAIT!” grabbed his camera and took a picture of the upside down car. “One for the album!” he said, grinning.

I’d never seen that before.

We righted him and off he went. Driving off we decided it must definitely have been a case of Daddy having bought the car for sonnyboy.