Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia sport

Up the Creek

I was born up Shit Creek without a paddle. Quite literally. OK, my actual birth, per se, was in Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home, less than half a kilometer away on Kings Hill, but mere days after I was born – as soon as I could be wrapped in swaddling clothes – I was taken home to my manger on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And it was twelve years or so before I owned my first paddle. So this is a true story.

– ruins of our house on the plot – trees in in the middle ground are on the banks of shit creek – – me thinking ‘where’s me paddle? –

I paddled my own canoe about twelve years later after we lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a red and blue canoe with paddle. 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:

– younger sis Sheila operates the paddle I was born without –
Sunnymede on the Wilge River upstream from Harrismith FS ca1965
– same little inlet off the Wilge – Mother Mary and Barbara on land, me airborne, Sheila on water –

Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded corrugated zinc roofing sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by good school friend Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe his older boet Hein; or 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 . . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

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 that zinc canoe, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next that same little pond. We both remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, the Hansens actually owned one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a little 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’!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originates on Platberg mountain, flows down, past our old plot and westward through the golf course on the northern edge of town, then turns south and flows into the Wilge below the old park weir; Sensitive Harrismith people refer to it as ‘die spruit met die naam;’

die spruit met die naam – ‘the creek with the name’ – too coy! It’s Die Kakspruit; always will be. Shit Creek.

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,

Categories
3_USA 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

Road Trip Out West

First we went west from Oklahoma, to New Mexico. I went with the Manars in Tom’s luxury (I really should know what that car was) towing their blue Willys Jeep, quite a recent model. We drove to Red River, to Granma Merrill’s cottage in the valley south of town.

– Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River –

After a wonderful stay with a huge gang of the very best people, Jim n Katie Patterson took me and Dottie Moffett to Las Vegas from Red River, New Mexico in their silver-grey Ford LTD.

The LTD, with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson

We drove via Colorado where we caught a steam train from Durango north to Silverton.

Then we drove through Utah, visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park:

In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. It boasted (natch) the ‘biggest neon sign in the world’! I learnt to gamble. I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were $10 down. We’d paid our dues and could go to bed.

Jim n Katie took us to a show! We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away – also Joan warbled a bit and Pet told a joke! I saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us good seats! We got great seats.

StardustSign1973

After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we were just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I just had to get down there. I started running down the Bright Angel trail. Dottie joined me; she was fit – Oklahoma’s number 2 tennis player! It’s about 10km to the river. I’d give us an hour to get down, I thought. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Every now and then we’d have to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass, sometimes with a steep drop inches away. We made sure we were always on the upside!

Bright Angel trailhead
Bright Angel Trail seen from the South Rim. Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.

At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the Canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there was water, green shrubbery and even some tall trees.

Indian Gardens Grand Canyon.jpg

In about an hour we got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving blue-green water. I had never seen such a large volume of clear water flowing like that. Our South African rivers mostly run small and muddy and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d been kayaking for a few years, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that eleven years later I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level brown river! *(see below)*

bridge grand canyon.jpg

The hike back out was steep, but hey, we were 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!

Then we headed home by and large followed the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, back to Oklahoma. To Apache, and then Katie and I drove the delightful Dottie on to Ardmore.

I learned later:

  • They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
  • The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre down you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
  • The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of Glen Canyon Dam upstream;
  • Jim Patterson has since hiked rim to rim through the canyon a number of times – he made it an annual pilgrimage. The last I heard was when he was 70!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Footnote – Eleven years later, in ’84, I arrived under that bridge in my kayak:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (27)
– our group’s accompanying rafts under the same bridge, eleven years later –

The level was high, and the Little Colorado poured brown floodwaters into the Colorado, so the water wasn’t running clear.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school sport travel

Hitch Hike to Durban

Once chosen as a Rotary Exchange Student in 1972, I had to get to Durban to get my passport done and – I think – some other paperwork; My big mate Leon Fluffy Crawley hitch-hiked down with me. On the way down – or on the way back – we called in at big sister Barbara where she was staying in the Pietermaritzburg YWCA. We met her friend Lyn there.

That’s about all I remember! Luckily, Fluffy remembers it too!

Other hitch hiking at school was to Witsieshoek with Claudio and Carlos.

Hitch hike to Bloemfontein with Jean Roux to watch a rugby test.

Hitch hike to the 1972 Dusi – again with Jean Roux.

~~~oo0oo~~~

The picture is the group of Rotary exchange students chosen in 1972 for 1973. It may have been taken at the airport, about to leave. If so, it was students from all over South Africa, leaving for all over the world. Kneeling next to me is the guy who went jolling with me in New York; Seated next to him is Eve Woodhouse from Durban, who ended up in a village Fort Cobb near mine – Apache – in Oklahoma; Right behind me is Lynn Wade from Vryheid.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal school sport

Meadows and Old School

This is a rambling post cos it started with an email thread that began with gardens and then moved on to sport – swimming and athletics, and lots of old school pals’ names. The gardens were Mariette van Wyk Greyling’s Cape garden with a pin-tailed whydah at her garden feeder; and mine with KwaZulu Natal meadows rather then lawns.

Subject: Sundry garden pictures – Here’s one showing the bit of lawn and the more of meadow. Plus your pintail added in.

– my garden – and a pintail like Mariette’s –

Mariette wrote: Green with envy. My type of garden. You have a stunning pool. And you don’t even swim!

– Jess in the Jungle – when the pool was clearer –

Swim? So The Talk Turned To Sport – and Injury!

Me: I swim like a corobrik. In the warmest weather I dive in, swim to the far end, halfway back, and walk up the steps. Swimming training over. At all times I am able to touch the bottom.

Pierre, Tuffy, Sheila, Ilse, Lulu (and maybe you?) used to go to Mazelspoort outside Bloemfontein for the big Free State gala. Me I was still swimming breadths, not lengths and even then in the shallow end! That’s why I took up canoeing: When there’s water about, I need a boat.

Mariette: Yip I went to Mazels.  Second team though. The others were all in the elite team. I always aspired to follow in Sheila’s footsteps. Didn’t get there.

Well, now I’m in hospital – probably for the next week. Shattered my ankle walking the dog. Just want to get out. Gave me the wrong meds last night. My drip came undone and spilled over the bed. The op is only on Friday – provided the horrendous swelling is down.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Me: I just re-read: What? “Op on Friday”!? Ouch! Hope all goes well. As a dedicated coward I will cross fingers and hope you’re well and that I never land up there. Note to self: Walk slower. Especially near bridges or mud.

“Aspired” – that’s so good. I can’t think I ever aspired to anything. It’s so weird. I have always suffered from complete complacent contentment. Weird. A non-planner. At the atletiekdag in Std nine I won something and De Wet Ras came up to me and said “Hey jy! Jy moet ophou wen. Ek wil die beste seunsatleet wen hierdie jaar!”, digging me in the ribs. We laughed and I thought, ‘He’s actually aiming to win it!’ That struck me as unusual. I didn’t think you set out to win things. You just went your hardest and it just either happened or it didn’t. Ridiculous in retrospect. I had won it the year before ‘out of the blue,’ that’s why De Wet was saying ‘hold back!’ And he did, in fact, win it that Std 9 year – 1971.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Mariette: That’s quite something beating De Wet at something sport-related. What was it? Think hard!! Strange that you weren’t competitive. You were good at a few things. Mind you, I wasn’t competitive in sport either. Academically yes. Just wanted to do my own thing sport-wise. But I did want to join Sheila and them in first team swimming. Not for competitive reasons. They simply were a fun crowd.

Even though I was in the first team tennis, there was never much FUN among us lot. Actually got bored with tennis. The car accident gave me a reason to stop without being seen as a drip.  Team members I remember were De Wet, Fluffy, you, Scottie or was it Blikkies? Elsie, Ina, I think, me and Noeline? Can’t remember a single fun thing, even when we took bus trips to all those mal rock n rollin’ places. Ha ha. Maybe getting some free koeksisters 🙂

~~~oo0oo~~~

– 1970 victor ludorum – ‘Miss Betfit’ hands over – Annie Euthimiou took the pic –

Me: I didn’t beat De Wet – he was an age group older. I just won something and he was kidding that I should stop winning as he was going for the victor ludorum (beste senior seunsatleet) that I had won the previous year in Std 8. Here’s old Ella Bedford handing me that beker that year – 1970. Ann Euthimiou took the picture. When the announcement was made it didn’t register with me. De Wet, sitting next to me, dug his elbow in my ribs: ‘Hey! Dis jy, jong!’ That’s when I mosey’d down for my Ella Fitz-Bedford handshake.

In the inter-regional athletics byeenkoms that year – 1970 – in Senekal we had a blast.

So DeWet won it in 1971. The next year – 1972, our matric – things were different: I just couldn’t lose! I won the 100m, 200m, 400m, 3000m, long jump, high jump (edit: WRONG: Fluffy Crawley won the high jump – I see he also won the paalspring), the discus, the javelin, the U/17 4X100 relay and the U/19 relay. It was ridiculous. I felt like the wind was under my wings and I could always run faster, throw harder, jump further. An amazing feeling. I was really fit, fittest I have ever been. I’d been training to do the Dusi canoe marathon, but that didn’t happen till eleven years later. Sheila found the cutting from the Chronicle that Mom had sent to her mother Annie down in George.

But not quite ‘couldn’t lose’ – in the 800m I thought, ‘better take this one easy, lots of events still to go,’ so when Klein Uiltjie Earle ran off I let him go thinking Ek Sal Jou Vang but he just gaan’d aan and aan and I ended up coming third. Well done Klein Uiltjie! I think Stefan Ferreira came second (edit: WRONG: Stefan passed him; Uiltjie got second). Stefan also got second in high jump and he won the 1500m easily.

In the paalspring – pole vault – teacher Ben Marais said “Ons begin op 2m” and I said Nooit Meneer! Ek kon in die hoogspring net 1,56m spring, hoe gaan ek hoer spring met n paal in my hand? I had never paalspring’d in my life. So I ran at the 2m bar, ducked under it and gave up. Went and rested on the pawiljoen – and tended to blisters on my heels.

That year Gabba Coetzee broke the U/19 shot put record and I broke the U/17 100m record. Mine stood for over 20yrs and I think Gabba’s still stands! I used to see him in Harrismith from time to time and he’d always update me: ‘Die rekords staan nog steeds.’ Then one year he told me ‘Yours was beaten. A new boy came to town who ran like the wind.’ His was still standing.

– Ray Moore –

Tennis – You’re right, that was definitely Scottie Meyer in tennis. I lost most of my singles matches, but Fluffy and I won a few doubles games. Years later I was sent to Addington hospital in Durban by the army and there was Petrie de Villiers from Warden who was a tennis foe and also a team mate when we went to Bloemfontein to play at the Vrystaat whatevers. I got knocked out in the first round by a Symington who went on to win, I think. Petrie would usually beat Fluffy and his twin brother Jossie would always beat me, but Fluffy and I would usually beat the broers in the doubles. Our tennis role models were Ray Moore and Frew MacMillan – especially Ray with his Afro frizz hairstyle. I drew his cartoon image everywhere, even on a white T-shirt!

Interesting times. We drove to Bloem in Bruce Humphries’ little brand-new white Ford Cortina. Dunno where we stayed. In a school koshuis, maybe.

Fluffy tells of another year we went to Bloem to play rugby against Sentraal or JBM Hertzog. Daan Smuts took us in his old VW. The night before the match he took us to a party. Beer! Late at night he dropped us off at an empty skool koshuis to spend the night. There were beds but no bedclothes. We lay shivering in our clothes on the mattresses. Daan was our kinda guy: Lotsa fun, zero organisation! Laid back. Rules = optional.

The swimmers were a fun crowd. They were probly – definitely – the coolest bunch at school over the years. And, of course, also the coldest in those Harrismith temperatures.

~~~oo0oo~~~

– drum majorettes – pomptroppies –

Mariette: Jis, you were hot in so many things. I knew you were good at all sorts of stuff, but forgot about your athletics achievements. At that stage athletics didn’t interest me much – probably because I wasn’t good at anything. Tried ‘em all: From shotput (whoever the teacher in charge was said to me ‘nee man, gaan sit op die bank’), ditto with discus and javelin, high jump (too short) and whatever else was going. Fourth or maybe it was fifth in the 100m at some stage was my big achievement. I just enjoyed shouting for the Kudus and listening to Jan van Wyk’s mal quips. Oh, and being a hot drum majorette J.

Ja, old Gabba. What a rock. And what a sad end.

I remember Petrie well. Quite smaaked him, but Elsie won his favour – I didn’t stand a chance. Saw him years later again at varsity – same mischievous face. Strange that the girls all fancied him so much and his twin brother never got a second glance.

Chariots of Beer is top-notch. Had a good chuckle.

~~~oo0oo~~~

atletiekdag – school athletics day

“Hey jy! Jy moet ophou wen. Ek wil die beste seunsatleet wen hierdie jaar!” – Hey, Stop winning. I want to win the victor ludorum this year!

koeksisters – like deep-fried, mega-sugar, syrupy doughnuts

beste senior seunsatleet – victor ludorum; best senior male athlete of the day

Ek Sal Jou Vang – I’ll catch up to you – I didn’t

gaan’d aan – carried on and on; he didn’t flag

hoe gaan ek hoer spring met n paal in my hand? – how do you jump with a pole in your hand? – pole vault novice question

pawiljoen – pavilion, grandstand

die rekords staan nog steeds – our records have not yet been beaten

byeenkoms – meet; event; gathering

koshuis – hostel; literally ‘food house’

‘nee man, gaan sit op die bank’ – rather take a break; try out for the maths olympiad

smaaked – fancied

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 9_KwaZuluNatal sport Wildlife, Game Reserves

My Umko Marathon

There he goes, no lifejacket as was the way those days.

1983Umko

. . another guy might be wearing full lifejacket and helmet but he’d be disqualified: wasn’t wearing his club colours! Such was ‘safety’ back when ships were made of wood and men were made of iron!

map 4

I roared in 140th – looks like 152 finishers, but maybe there was another whole page? Can’t tell – the first page is also missing so we can’t see who won. I know Chris Greeff won the singles. I spent a long time training him in the bar till late at night when the GO TO BED!!s built to a crescendo and we politely thanked Jesus, downed a last beer – and did as we were told. This was Jesus Williams, of course, the saintly Umko barman.

– 1983 Umko results with Jesus Williams – when he shaved they started calling him John Cleese Williams –

The next year 1984 there were 280 finishers. Oh, hang on, the other page was given the wrong year. Here it is: 1983 results:

162 finishers out of 263 starters:

1983

Notables who finished behind me were Pete the Pom Mountford, Richard Finlay and Toekoe Egerton. They should pull finger.

That was my only Umko marathon. For a few years after that I would sweep or pick out flotsam and jetsam at No.1 rapid, staying with Barry and Lyn Porter on their game farm afterwards.

– 1987 – the swimming gala below No.1 –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 4_Optometry Johannesburg 5_Army days 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).

– annie watson – mary frances – peter frank –

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a  Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.

I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers sport

Slalom Handicap

Two Springbok paddlers were watching me intently as I nimbly maneuvered my boat through the water. As I got to the gate that they were judging I ducked into an eddy and rested on my paddle, getting my breath back and having a chuckle at how clumsily I had bashed through the last gate.

And this is where it turns nasty. Instead of shouting admiration at my skill and encouragement for me to ‘Keep It Up!’ or something, they bellowed, while hosing themselves: ‘Don’t worry Swanie, we’re not using a stopwatch, we’re using a calendar.”

Put me off my stroke. Kirby and Stewart carry the heavy responsibility of probably ruining a promising international slalom paddling career.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 9_KwaZuluNatal 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.

On the Umko, Dave has 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. At the time, his main “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, I suppose. 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, then 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.

Certifiable.
~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
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~~~~~

Categories
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 –