Categories
8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Pulling a Fa(s)t One

Greg Bennett told me about his latest Yamaha outboard motor over coffee the other morning – a 425hp beast. “Stands taller than me with my hand stretched skywards” he said.

– big mama –

This reminded me of the time we went out to Hazelmere to test his then-biggest outboard motor: I think it was 225hp.

I was slalom skiing behind the beast when I felt a twinge in my hamstring and immediately let go, faithful to my exercise mantra of No Pain, No Pain.

Greg whipped the boat around and roared up to me. “What’s up, Swanie?”, bellowed his big boet Roland.

I think I pulled a muscle, I said.

Roley roared with laughter. “NO! Swanie, can’t be! You couldn’t have pulled a muscle. You must have pulled a fat!”

~~~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
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia school sport

Volkskool – Primary School

Mom went to this school, as did all three of us kids. Annie, Mom’s Mom, would not have, as it seems it was established in 1915, see below, and Annie was 22yrs old by then.

Before us, Etienne Joubert went, and he remembers:

Playing ‘Hasie’ under the Bluegums near the old Golf club house; Eating ‘Manna’ under the Bluegums; Playing ‘Bok-bok’ behind the bottom class rooms; Playing marbles in the main playground.

Also he remembers the woodwork teacher Giel du Toit – his mother Joyce had a hilarious ‘heilige’ nickname for Onse Giel – Heilige Giel, I think it was; and he remembers the smell of the old fashioned wood glue; And the wood vice where ‘we tied a guy’s tie in & walloped his behind. I’ve forgotten his name, but not his face … I can see it now!

He then confesses – I do not remember much about plays & music . . .’ – No worries, sister Barbara does:

– the separate woodwork classroom was to the right, just out of picture –
– some of these windows were Ou Eier Meyer and Ou Vis Alberts classrooms –

Sister Barbara was a year or two later – she finished Std 5 in 1965. She definitely remembers about plays and music, you Philistine, Etienne! She remembers that year was the school’s Golden Jubilee year – so established 1915, I guess? – and an exciting concert was planned and held on the 28th and 29th of October 1965, with all the classes in the Kleinspan School and Primary School – Volkskool – participating.

How could she remember in such detail? Well, she had her program carefully stored away in a shoe-box! She remembers the play her class put on: ‘TO  BE  OR  NOT  TO  BE’  –  by  B.J.J. (Bruce) Humphries with Pierre du Plessis and Llewellyn Mileham – or was it Kevin Crawley? – as the smart guys, and Timothy Brockett as Mr. van Snoggery-Boggery, the drunk guy – Pierre remembered this name – and herself – Barbara Swanepoel – as the unnamed lady on the railway station platform.

Interludes between plays were filled by music by the ‘Harrismith Volkskool Orkes / Primary School Band.’ Band members were Rina Minny en Estelle Meyer on trekklaviere – pull pianos – piano accordions; Sylvia Doman on piano; Barbara Swanepoel on melodica; Pierre du Plessis on drums; Willie du Plessis on electric guitar; So much of du Plessis!; Theuns Bam en Bertus Hattingh on acoustic guitars; Almost like The Village People – it was Die Dorps Mense:

Then came the Primary School Boys Choir – Die Seunskoor. Under the charming direction of Miss L. Fourie and that delectable redhead Miss Ethel Cronje. I was a soprano in this lot, warbling away merrily before my balls dropped. We sang (according to that program which won’t lie) Wiegeliedjie van Mozart; Drummer Boy; and Dominique; I still remember – and can still sing majestically – the second and third of these liedjies. My kids dispute this fact, unreasonably.

– Ethel Cronje looking strict or smug, her boys looking glum – it was her seunskoor, no doubt about that –

Barbara asks: ‘Now wasn’t there a record produced for this choir? I think so – our own famous ‘Platberg Boys Choir.’ Indeed there were two records cut. Vinyl. The Vienna Boys Sausages were nervous. Especially when we launched a smash hit successful sold-out tour of Zululand. If it wasn’t for rugby and puberty, we’d have usurped those Austrian suckers. We’d have parum pu pum pum’d them out of business . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia Family sport

Scottish Pith & Our Annie, Linguist

Steve Reed wrote:

Gotta love the Scots . .

… and their humour. Met up with Sam, an excellent Scotsman who came in for some glasses today. We were chatting about some of the female news anchors you see on TV. One of them, Virginia Trioli, we agreed is opinionated, superior, demanding and – from all accounts – a piece of work.

He sums her up:

“Ya woodn’t want ta be coming hoome to her wi’ only a half week’s pay packet.”

Later, I am handing him over to Ioannis who has the job of telling him how much his new multifocal glasses are going to cost (cringe) with some light banter … Sam replies:

“Well I am a Scotsman ye know. Every penny a prisoner.”

I packed up – had not heard that one before.

Probably comes up a lot in the local pub.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Me: So right! Gotta love the Scots!! 😉 – I must remember those pearls!

My gran Annie’s father came to Harrismith straight from the freezing far north of Scotland – a fishing village called Sarclet, south of Wick – but she sadly became heeltemal Engels – the queen, the empire, and all that.

The only Scottish she ever spoke to me was her oft-repeated tale of once on the golf course, waiting to tee off. The oke in front of them sliced off into the bush and said,

‘Och, its gone off in the boooshes,’ to which Annie quipped,

‘That’s betterrr than doon in the wutterrr,’ – upon which she says he spun around and said,

‘Begorrah’ (or whatever a Scotsman would say on an occasion like this), ‘Yer one of oos!’

‘Aye,’ said Annie semi-truthfully.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Which takes me to her THIRD language: Afrikaans.

Of her ninety years on Earth, Annie spent about eighty seven in Harrismith. She was born there, she went to school there (half her schooling) and she sold Caltex petrol to her Vrystaat customers there.

The only few years she was away from Harrismith she spent ‘down in George.’ She went to stay with her sister Jessie Bell when Jessie’s daughter died.

When she got there there was great excitement as they just knew she’d be very useful in dealing with the kleurlinjeez, who spoke their own Afrikaans and hardly any Engels.

‘Annie speaks Afrikaans, she’ll be able to speak to them and understand them,’ was the buzz.

So the first day the gardener needs instructions and Annie confidently demonstrates her skill to the assembled rooineks:

‘Tata lo potgieter and water lo flowers’ she told the poor man who must have scratched his head at the Zulu-Engels mix in which the only word approximating Off-The-Krans was ‘potgieter’ instead of ‘gieter’ for watering can.

~~~~o00o~~~~

One more Harrismith Scots joke I’ve told you before, but I’ll add it to this collection:
Jock Grant arrives from Scotland full of bravado, bulldust, enterprise and vigour.

He’s a plumber – a plooomerr – but soon he’s bought the stone quarry, bought the Montrose Motel in Swinburne, bought the Shell garage, bought a big white Mk 10 Jag and smokes fat cigars.

In the pub at the golf club he removes the cigar from his lips, waves it around and tells the guys he’s started Afrikaans lessons – he’s going to learn to speak Afrikaans.

Jannie du Plessis looked concerned. ‘Jock,’ he says, ‘We think you should rather learn to speak English first.’

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

heeltemal – completely

kleurlinjeez – a vague racial classification in apartheid times – and still in use today! Not black, not white, therefore ‘coloured’; actual word: kleurlinge

rooineks – people congenitally unable to speak Afrikaans, try as they might; actually, try as they don’t

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Categories
sport Wildlife, Game Reserves

Ode to a Commode

I wrote poetry in high school once.

We were doing Engels and had to read ‘ode to a something’ and so I wrote my Ode to a Commode, which was way better than John Keats’ effort. Hey, I was an immature, scatological teenager easily amused. In some ways . . . .

I searched for which ode it was and it was ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ – ode ON an urn! Now I remember: That’s what set me off giggling. I imagined him sitting on the ‘urn’ see? No? Well, ask a teenager.

I was thinking about my telescopes and how much joy I’ve had from them; and decided to write an ode to my ‘scope, which reminded me of the above ancient memory.

So: ‘Scopes:

– salt marshes near Walvis Bay, Namibia in 1986 –
  • top two: Mfolosi wilderness walk; above: Tsavo East, Kenya –
– showed the crowd a Piet-My-Vrou cuckoo in Mbona, KZN Midlands –
– see, Jessie? – Super-Jessie peers – resting her Super-vision to amuse Dad –
– the whole old family with two new additions at Mangeni Falls near Isandlwana –
– insets: Robbie peering into my scope twice, fifteen years apart –

With a scope you can delight novices; With binocs it’s often, ‘Where? Which tree? Oh hell, it flucked! It flocked off!’ with a scope you can say ‘Look’ and they say ‘Wow!’ I love that.

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
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Conquering of the Boers, 2018

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

See this report – reproduced below – of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament last year.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Conquering of the Boers

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace

London, England

4th June 2018

Our dearest and beloved Queen,

After the marriage of Prince Harry to Ms Megan Markle, I wish to convey further good news to you, and to the rest of your Royal family.

As your military attaché in Africa, it gives me great pleasure to advise that the Boers have been conquered at the battle of Harrismith which took place on the 2nd & 3rd June 2018. The white flag of surrender was raised by General Hamman, at 13h00 on this historical day for your universal British Empire.

During my lengthy military career I have never witnessed a display of such loyalty and courage, as shown by your troops in this bloody battle. Your forces received only a few minor scratches and bruises, while the Boer field hospital has called for additional nursing staff, surgeons and even psychiatrists to treat their mentally scarred soldiers. There were no fatalities.

Your Majesty will also be most pleased to hear that during the cease-fire period, as declared by Chief Justice Lord George Galloway, the British and Boer troops were treated to an elaborate Royal Banquet. At this very grand occasion, the soldiers from both sides mingled and socialized well. In some cases, too well! This developing inter-continental relationship seems to be getting stronger, despite the humiliating defeat dealt out to the Boers.

On a personal note, please pass on my fondest greetings to my old friend Prince Phillip. I trust he is enjoying his retirement.

I await your instructions regarding any further military operations required .

Your loyal Military Attaché,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

– The Field Marshal tall, left of middle – Venning in jacket and tie next to his ossewa –
– Jelliman in the mid-background, most of his hair on his upper lip –

After the 2017 tournament Field Marshall Russell VC’s report to Her Majesty, Mev Queen had been far more tragic . . . and despondent.

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

lekker – romantic

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; lager, ale, bitters

boerewors – sausage; and like laws, you may not want to know how it’s made – based on a quote by: John Godfrey Saxe American poet

moer-en-soek – golf as prescribed by the Royal and Ancient, which only frowned on women membership for the first 260 years, kindly allowing them in after that cooling-down period

boere musiek – noise emitted by farm implements called ‘constant screamers’ and ‘pull pianos’

volkspele – dance in which you can grip your meisie in a dominee-approved manner

meisie – lass

dominee – veld pope; village vicar

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 8_Nostalgia sport

Conquered by the Boers, 2017

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

Here’s a dispatch to Mev Queen on the result of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament in 2017. It did not go well.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

“Boer War” Defeat – 2017 – Letter to the Queen

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace,  London, England

5th June, 2017

Our Dearest & Beloved Queen,

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your courageous soldiers have been severely defeated, at the hands of the Boers, at the battle of Harrismith on 3rd & 4th June 2017.

Although there were no fatalities, the Boer Commando, led by General Wessel Hamman, showed immense bravery, superior marksmanship, and deft field skills in the heat of battle. Your loyal soldiers raised the white flag of surrender at 12 noon on this bloody Sunday.

The Royal Medical team of nurses, led by Sister Mandy Pollock on Spionkop, are still very busy treating your loyal and wounded troops. The most severe and common treatments, were for the after effects of the toxic Boer medicine ‘Mampoer’. All your troops are showing signs of making a full recovery. I would recommend that our soldiers be shipped back to London, and returned to Her Majesty’s Military Academy, Sandhurst, for further instruction in the skills of warfare.

Apart from this humiliating defeat, I have pleasure in advising Her Majesty, that your troops have been well treated by the Boer Commandos, and have enhanced the tattered relationship that existed between the Boer Republic and the British Empire. Our soldiers and their spouses were treated to a Royal Gala dinner, featuring a clash of British & Boer cuisine, expertly prepared by Afrikaner chefs, Anel Bekker & Lizet Du Plessis. Your troops were further entertained by guest speakers. Nick Leslie spoke eloquently about previous battles, and the bravery of both the Boer and British forces. Dr Braam Joubert, from The Orange Free State, added a good deal of humour to this illustrious occasion. It was a grand banquet indeed!

There was a fly-past, performed by a Royal Airforce squadron of fighter aircraft, led by Flight Commander Sir Gareth Pollock (MBE). The Boers entertained our troops with “Boere Musiek” and “Volkspele” dancers and singers. Our own Captain Venning (OBE), joined in to demonstrate the British version of these Boer dance moves.

In order to commemorate this battle, and to remind future generations to further develop Anglo Boer relationships in Harrismith, Captain Venning (OBE) has donated a perfectly “in-scale” model of an ox-wagon. I wish to appeal to you to consider rewarding Capt. Venning at Your Majesty’s Birthday Honours ceremony. (with some more alphabets?)

Other candidates to receive your Majesty’s recognition at this ceremony should include Major Gert van Tonder, who chose to enlist in Her Majesty’s Army, and then donated the battle dress to all the foot soldiers. There were others who have not only enlisted in your forces, but have made considerable contributions to this historical battle. These include Private George Galloway and the Scottish piper, Dr. Martin Reeve, who certainly stirred up the patriotic emotions of your troops. I respectfully recommend that the following be granted British citizenship with immediate effect, Dries Lategan, Steve Niewoudt, Justin van Tonder, and Quintin König. I was going to request that Kobus Bester should also be granted British citizenship, but on second thoughts, your Empire could do without this rascal.

Many of your troops traveled from the Last Outpost of your Empire (Natal Colony), as well as from the Transvaal Goldfields, in order to fight this battle. They too, should receive your recognition. These include Craig Surmon, Gary Bellars, Andrew Miller, Reggie Jelliman, Richard Butcher, Wayne Warburton, Gavin Scholefield and Chris Smith. I would sincerely appreciate your kind consideration of the above. Mark Bebington also answered your call to take up arms, and should be given Royal recognition.

I am under the impression that your troops are enjoying the warm sun in Africa, and may wish not to return to your United Kingdom. Perhaps Your Majesty could tempt them to return, with the lure of a “danger-pay” bonus, of a few Pounds Sterling.

I await your further instructions.

Your humble military servant,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

lekker – respectable

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; last to leave the pub

boerewors – secret sausage; used in hide-the-sausage games in bedrooms in the colonies

moer-en-soek – pointless game administered by the ancient Scots and Americans, proving that it’s pointless

‘Mampoer’ – moonshine liquor; anything distilled illegally; high octane rating

Mev Queen – that small tannie who wears the funny hats; the one with the rude Greek husband who crashes cars

tannie – auntie

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 townhouse (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 hooligan 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.

– comparatively, this is a mild day on Grassridge Dam –

The river was plain sailing and the rest of the day a pleasure.

– higher water than we enjoyed –

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 9_KwaZuluNatal 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 Kingfisher Canoe Club 12-hour enduro. I think we were raising funds for the new clubhouse.

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. Rude bastids.

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 our 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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

– the scene of the action years later –