A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955 as was Mom Mary in 1928 and Gran Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” was also the queen of South Africa. Elizabeth, not Pieter-Dirk.

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 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban and got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! These random – un-chronological – personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know: With one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Add your memories in the comments if you were there!

P Addled Brains

That Pretoria restaurant probably spiked our drinks with omega fish oil because when they finally asked us to leave we were brilliant.
We wisely allowed Terry to drive my white Ford Cortina 2-litre deluxe GL while Pierre and Old Pete and I gave directions, instructions, comments, witticisms and dropped pearls of wisdom.

‘Twas a balmy night and the breeze was slight. The canoe on the roofrack seemed to Brauer to be a better bet for catching that breeze, so he nimbly hopped out of the window and sat in the cockpit of my Dusi boat. A white Limfy with red deck it was. I was on an army camp and brought the boat to get some time off as I was “training for Dusi” on Roodeplaat dam.

First Duzi. Dad seconds in my Cortina 2,0l GL

Terry thought ‘Uh! Oh! HKK’* and pressed on the accelerator to get us home quicker, which meant the breeze inside the car was now adequate. With Brauer’s departure the average IQ in the car had also risen appreciably.
Outside meantime, Brauer started undoing the paddle possibly thinking he could speed up matters if he also paddled through the air. My warnings that the rope tying the paddle on was also the rope holding the boat on just spurred him to loosen it more. You know how he is.
Which caused Terry to press harder on the accelerator thinking if I go really fast maybe the cops won’t notice there’s a carbuncle on my roof and now we were FLYING! This was not good . . .
Brauer’s ass was saved by a red light where we managed to haul him down and explain gravity, wind resistance, speed, impact, abrasions, contusions and broken bones to him.

He did seem to understand, as he poured some stiff drinks when we got home to the Gramadoelas in Tshwane (ancestral home of the original Tshwanepoels – to which we have land claim rights, but that’s a story for another barmy evening).


*HKK = Hier Kom Kak = Here Comes Trouble

Thanks, Charlie Ryder!

I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess, to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:

First Duzi. Dad seconds in my Cortina 2,0l GL

I asked:
What’s that?
It’s a canoe
What’s a canoe?
You do the Dusi in it
What’s the Dusi?

Well, he eventually made me wiser and got me going and I decided I HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charles made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of.
I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about 2 miles  to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.

Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day about ten days before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, but to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi – but hitch-hiked down to Natal to watch it.

I continued the search after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.

So no Dusi for me. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, nothing! We ended up hitch-hiking to the race – me and my mate Jean Roux – and going to the start in Alexander Park in PMB. There we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi bridge where we slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. On to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on to Blue Lagoon, following the race.

That was January 1972. In 1976 I entered the race and traveled down from Jo’burg with a friend Louis van Reenen, newly introduced to canoeing. He had said “What’s that?” pointing at my Limfy on my car in Doornfontein and so his paddling career started. We knew only one of us could paddle, the other had to drive his VW beetle to second. At the start in PMB we tossed a coin. I lost. In that high water he swam the Dusi! He was in a Hai white water boat with a closed cockpit that he’d bought from Neville Truran which he had only paddled on Emmerentia Dam! He swam and drank half the water, and evenings he had to hang his bum out the tent door, wracked with ‘Dusi Guts’, but he finished. He was a tough character, Louis!

I drove his VW in the thick mud of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Us seconds took turns getting stuck and helping each other and we all got though.

Here’s my orange pup tent and Louis’ red Hai at Blue Lagoon:

Blue Lagoon at last! Louis van Reenen finishes a swollen Dusi in his Hai!

When I eventually got round to paddling again in 1983 I did the Dusi:

dusi

the Umko:

umko_no1

the Berg:

berg_hermon

the Fish:

fish

and the Lowveld Croc:

lowveld-croc_1

All in quick succession, and all at my hippy pace, staring at the scenery, which was good practice for kayaking the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in 1984. When I got back from America I thought I must get hold of Charles and tell him what his enthusiasm had led to.

But I didn’t do it then – procrastination – and then I was too late.

His heart had attacked him, he was no more. Thank you Charlie. You changed my life. Enhanced it. Wish I coulda told you.

River Trip Swinburne – Walton

Down the Mighty Vulgar River (Wilge really) in a borrowed canoe ca 1970. An Accord double kayak borrowed from the ‘Voortrekkers’ thanks to Ou Lip’s kindness. He had a good heart, Ou Lip Snyman, and I’m sure he thought he looked dashing in his Voortrekkerleier uniform. I’m with my mate Claudio Bellato. We embark in Swinburne.

The water’s high, it flows up in the willow branches making some sections very tricky. A branch whips off Claudio’s specs – down into the swirling muddy waters go his 5D cyls (optometrists will know that’s no mean amount of astigmatism). He wants to go after them, knowing that Dad Luigi will take a dim view of the loss. I say “Are you mad!? You’ll drown!”

Later I lose my specs after an unscheduled swim and I go out on a precarious willow limb sticking out over the current looking ‘just in case’. “Oh!” says Claudio, “I’m mad to think of looking for mine, but its OK for you to look for yours?!” Well, mine are 4D spheres I mumble, illogically.

We paddle on in the blur, the myopic leading the astigmatic. I’m wearing my PlusFours. We decide we should camp while there’s still daylight. That night we share one damp sleeping bag (mine’s sopping wet) – little knowing that for decades ever after Claudio would introduce me: “Meet my mate Peter. I’ve slept with him”.

The next day we sally forth, the river forks to go round an island, there’s a treeblock, we wrap the boat around the semi-submerged treetrunk. This is new to Claudio, but it’s the second time I’ve now wrapped a borrowed boat on a flooded Wilge River. Fording the rushing current, I only just make the bank and signal above the roaring water for Claudio to SIT! STAY! on the island and run off to the beautiful old sandstone house under the oaks of Mrs and the Misses Jakobs’ farm Walton to phone Charlie Ryder.

He comes roaring out in his pale green Volvo 122S with a long rope. We pull Claudio off the island, but we only rescue the Voortrekker’s boat two weeks later when the water has subsided.

The Voortrekkers take a dim view of my treatment of their flatwater craft and rush me R50 – keep the wreckage.

I’m hooked on kayaking! I can do this! I think . . .

Jock with the Swanie/Bellato Vulgar River Expedition Voortrekkers’ canoe
Back home, Jock shuns the broken boat

River Trip Swinburne – Harrismith

Fluffy Crawley and I were dropped off in Swinburne on the banks of the Mighty Vulgar in the grounds of the Montrose Motel with our open red and blue fibreglass canoe. We were aiming to head off downstream, camp overnight and finish in Harrismith the next day. This was ca1970.

But we bumped into Ian Grant who persuaded us to spend the night at Montrose. His folks Jock & Brenda agreed to let us sleep in one of the rondawels.

Swinburne, Montrose Motel
What was left of the motel in 2012

As evening fell Ian was up to mischief as always, and soon after dark one of the petrol attendants snuck up and slipped us a litre bottle of brandy. Ian organised a bottle of cream soda and we were set for nonsense. After a couple of quick shots I suggested we hang around and let the alcohol take effect and let the laughing begin, but as I was in the bathroom taking a leak I overheard Ian mutter “Fuck him, I’m drinking the lot!” so I  came out and said “Pour!”

Well Ian was first and I stuck a bucket under his chin as his technicolor yawn started. Just then I heard HURGH! from Fluffy so I grabbed the little wastepaper bin from the bathroom and stuck it under his chin. It was a lumpy laughter duet.

Early the next morning I woke Fluffy and said “Come!” and we carried the boat to the river and launched it onto the muddy waters. Well, actually “launched” it because it touched bottom.

Swinburne-bridge-1
We launched under the old sandstone road bridge

The river was so low we didn’t even get our shoelaces wet! A long spell of carrying the boat on our shoulders, stopping for a hurl, carrying a while till another stop for a chunder ensued till we found deeper water and a settled stomach and could paddle home.

Fluffy remembers: “The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or by-passing the rapids. We made it in one day, no overnight stop. Your Dad picked us up in town under the old ‘ysterbrug’.

Harrismith-Hamilton-bridge
We finished under the old Hamilton bridge in Harrismith

 

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Dave Walker tells of a Tugela trip or race with Clive Curson when they broke and had to carry their boat for miles. They christened their trip Walkin’ an Cursin’.

Mine with Fluffy Crawley would then be Walkin’ and Crawlin’.

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I’m fifteen?

The mighty Vulgar river had risen! It was flowing way higher than usual, and had overflown its banks. We needed to get onto it!
So Pierre and I dusted off the open blue and red fibreglass canoe the old man had bought us and headed off downstream early one summer morning from below the weir in the park.

By the time we started the river had dropped a lot. Still flowing well, but below the heights of the previous days. This left a muddy verge metres high where the banks were vertical, and up to 100m wide where the banks were sloped and the river was wide.

When we got to Swiss Valley past the confluence of the Nuwejaar spruit, we had a wide wet floodplain to slip and slide across before we reached dry land, leaving us muddy from head to toe. Dragging the boat along we headed for the farmhouse where Lel Venning looked at us in astonishment. I don’t think she even recognised us.

No, You haven’t! You can’t fool me! APRIL FOOL! she exclaimed when we said we’d paddled out from town.

Pierre and I looked at each other and he said “Happy birthday!”