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.

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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.

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

Let’s Save Us Some Souls!

The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?

A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a ‘ten gallon’ stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters at their house, the church ‘manse’ or ‘vicarage’.

there’s the house next to the church

Ron was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.

The actor Mountie in the movie had to be shorter than John Wayne!

Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!

So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county  – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving along with the wind in our hair like Thelma and Louise.

Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men and boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them in the background who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawrd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:

“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫

We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.

We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?

We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n pulsating organs this eighteen year old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.

I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.

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footnote:

Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.

Rhodesia in a Vauxhall Victor

Sometime back in the fifties uncle and family lawyer Bunty Bland needed to go up to Rhodesia – ‘up north’ – to sort out the sale of his sister’s property. His Rhodesian brother-in-law drove down to Harrismith to fetch him. As ever, the finer details of my story should be checked out . . . pinch of salt. The car is probably right, the country – now Zimbabwe – is almost certainly right, and two of the people – Dad and Bunty – are right, that’s all I know. At first Dad said they drove up in Bunty’s Rover, but I couldn’t find a Rover station wagon. Seems they left ‘that sort of thing’ to Land Rover. I found this Vauxhall Victor station wagon and then Dad remembered it was the bro-in-law’s car and yes, it was a Vauxhall! Memories! Dodgy things.

The reason they took young Pieter Swanepoel, husband of favourite niece Mary, along was to share the driving. He says he ended up driving all the way there and back.

With him he had his new Eumig 8mm cine camera! He took footage of the ruins of the magnificent Great Zimbabwe. Bunty features in his trademark ‘fairisle’ sleeveless jersey . .

Other footage featured the Vauxhall, Bunty again and some fountains . .

Scotland the Brave 2

Scottish doctors. A delightful lot. The female of the species that is; I prefer them female. The guys with their kilts, beards and medical sporrans full of scalpels and aspirins, not so much. I mean, how do they scrub up with all those areas to disinfect? No thank you, give me the ladies. A few years before I had fallen deeply in love with a Scottish doctor and now I was told as I got onto the Pilatus ‘flying doctor’ aircraft something like the one above to fly to Charles Johnson Hospital in rural Nquthu that a Scottish doctor – actually medical student, same as the topless surfing ‘doctor’ in Durbs – would be shadowing me to learn about eyes. I was the volunteer optometrist on this ‘flying doctor’ type trip.

Before we landed we flew low over a small ragged-looking airstrip with an old Dakota parked near a big double-story homestead. Our pilot told of a famous inyanga or sangoma who got so well known and in such demand that he had to travel all over. Like house calls. Eventually road travel was no longer feasible, so he got a Dakota and a pilot to extend his reach. I’ve searched for him now, but can’t find anything about him on the ‘net! I’ll keep searching, his sounds like a fascinating story. Meantime, I’ll fantasize:

As I was settling in and unpacking my equipment in the Charles Johnson hospital outpatients department . . .

. . a whirlwind blew in! My Scottish doctor student! She was six foot tall, her smile was six foot wide and she demanded in a broad Scottish accent: “Teach me about eyes!” She was like this:

What a lovely day. We tested plenty eyes, talked non-stop, had lunch together and once again I fell in love with a Scottish doctor! Sadly she decreed dreadlocks would not suit me. To this day I think she was mistaken. They could have provided much-needed cover-up.

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  • The pic is not my second Scottish doc, just as the numbis in the last post weren’t that Scottish doc’s. It’s of a Scottish student who reminds me of my doc who, like her, was born in Edinburgh of Nigerian parents.

sangoma – a practitioner of ngoma, a philosophy based on a belief in the amadlozi – the ancestral spirits;

inyanga – concerned mainly with medicines made from plants and animals;

numbis – breasts

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While I search for ‘my’ sangoma, read about this one that Hugh Raw reminded me about; from the fascinating village of Lusikisiki, home of the Shy Stallion:

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So pleased to confirm again that I ain’t imagining this shit! My mind is strong. My mate Hugh Bland, photographic historian and fifth cousin tells me thus: Your info on the Nyanga at Nqutu is correct, but I can’t add any more info than you have. His house or mansion is on the right about two kms outside Nqutu coming from Dundee.

Charles Johnson?

Charles F. Marquart Johnson was a transport rider who became a teacher who became a priest who became a bush dentist. Opportunist, perhaps? After the the Anglo-Zulu wars he decided to stay on in Zululand, having apparently been asked by one of the chieftains, Hlubi, to be a teacher. He became a priest, then archdeacon of the area. With the nearest medical facility being at Dundee, a difficult 52 km journey away, he also involved his mission station at Masotsheni in helping the local people with their medical problems. He was, by Anthony & Margaret Barker‘s account – they ran the hospital for years – a formidable holy tooth puller.

Anthony & Margaret Barker

Anthony Barker had a lovely isiZulu nickname: ‘Umhlekehlatini’ -‘He laughs in the forest’ – referencing his frequent laughter and his bushy beard.

The Barker’s mobile clinic 1960

Home-made Bound

Three Norwegians in Witsieshoek were homesick and probably horny. They longed to go home to Norway, so they rode their horses to Port Natal, bought a ticket on a sailing ship and off they went, right? Actually not.

They decided they would build their own ship in the veld on their farm Bluegumsbosch in the shadow of Qwa Qwa mountain, load it onto an ossewa, trundle it to the coast and then sail themselves to England, seeking – and finding – huge publicity all the way. The huge publicity was because everyone knew it couldn’t be done. They were going to drown in a watery grave and everybody TOLD them so.

As always: pinch-of-salt alert. This is me talking about history I have read a bit about. A little bit of knowledge . . . you know. For actual facts and a lot more fascinating detail, including how their boat amused the Laughing Queen (Victoria herself, who actually ended up buying it), rather read Harrismithian Leon Strachan’s highly entertaining book Bergburgers which illustrates clearly that Harrismithans are amazing and wonderful people. Amazingly, some people apparently are unaware of that fact.

For starters, hello! what do you build a ship of when you’re living on the vlaktes un-surrounded by trees, just grass? Grass is no good, mielies are no good and ferro-cement has not been invented yet. The few trees you have are the bluegums the farm is named after and some small poplars you planted yourself on the bottom end of your werf ; and poplar wood is no good for keeping water out for long enough to do the Atlantic. And these okes want to do the Atlantic. Now I’ve no doubt they were drunk. I mean, join the dots: Three males, tick; Norwegians, tick; in the Vrystaat, tick; lonely, tick. They were drinking alright. They were a bit like ignoring the perfectly good bus that runs from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and running there instead; Wait! Some fools did do that some thirty years later and called it the Comrades Marathon.

Turns out there are trees in the Vrystaat if you know where to look: In the shady, damp south-facing kloofs there were some big old yellowwoods, excellent wood for ship-building if you’re inclined to build ships. So they didn’t use those. They ordered wood from America. I know! Mail order! But apparently this is true. Somewhere in America a pile of pitch pine beams and planks got addressed to c/o Ingvald Nilsen, farm Bluegumsbosch, foot of Qwa Qwa, Witsieshoek, near Harrismith, Oranje Vrijstaat and put on a wooden ship. Which crossed the Atlantic, got loaded onto an oxwagon in Port Natal and schlepped across Natal, up the Drakensberg, turned left at the bustling regional centre, transport hub and rooinek metropolis of Harrismith and were delivered: ‘There you go, sir. Please sign here that you received in good order.’

Up the Drakensberg to Harrismith village; Left to near Qwa Qwa mountain

So how big do you build a boat you want to sail 10 000km in, knowing the sea can get lumpy at times? Are you asking me? 362m long, 23 stories high, 228 000 tons, sixteen cocktail bars, a massage parlour and better airtight compartments than the Titanic had, please. No, but seriously, this is twenty seven years before the Titanic set sail, and you’re building it in your farmyard in the Free State. Like this:

Now hey! Don’t laugh. Read on to see how the Harrismith-built boat fared, and read up how the Belfast-built Titanic fared! Both were trying to cross the Atlantic – just wait and see who did it better!

The Nilsen-Olsen craft was 6,7m long and weighed about two tons. They called it Homeward Bound, though they were actually aiming for England. Seems Nilsen had become very British. He had signed up with Baker’s Horse and fought for Britain in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. He knew all the hoopla would be in English language newspapers in Harrismith where the Chronicle was already chronicling, Pietermaritzburg where the Witness was witnessing, Port Natal / Durban and in England, so shrewdly, he capitalised on that publicity.

All along the route people would look in amazement and offer advice (‘You’re never gonna make it’) but whenever he could – in Harrismith, Estcourt, PMB and in Durban – Nilsen isolated the boat and charged people a fee to view it and offer their opinion (‘You’re never gonna make it’). He raised so much money this way that in PMB he wrote: ‘. . had not the weather been unfavourable, we should very nearly have cleared our expenses, so general was the interest in the boat.’

In Port Natal the coastal people really REALLY knew these inland bumpkins were never going to make it and made it so plain that it gave Nilsen great pleasure some months later to enter in his log: ‘ . . sighted Ascension; this we found, in spite of what people said in Durban, without the least trouble and without a chronometer.’

Long story short – we won’t bother about details like navigating, surviving, hunger, etc now that the Harrismith part is over – they made it to Dover in March 1887 after eleven months, a journey that took passenger ships of the day around two to three months*. Nilsen sold the boat to the queen, who displayed it in the new Crystal Palace exhibition hall; he wrote a book with the natty title, ‘Leaves from the Log of the Homeward Bound – or Eleven Months at Sea in an Open Boat’, went on speaking tours where he was greeted with great enthusiasm, married a Pom, became a Pom citizen and lived happily ever after. I think.

Greeted with great enthusiasm, yes, but this was after all, England, so not all were totally enamoured. One commentator harumphed: ‘ . . Their achievement is a magnificent testament to their pluck and endurance, and one can only regret that such qualities have not found some more useful outlet than the making of a totally unnecessary voyage.’

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What’s 362m long, 23 stories high and weighs 228 000 tons? – That’s the Symphony of the Seas, biggest passenger ship afloat as at Feb 2019

veld – savanna; no place for a sea-going shiplet

bergburgers – citizens of the mountain; Harrismithians

ossewa – ox wagon.

vlaktes – plains; not where you’d sail a 2-ton wooden boat

mielies – maize; corn

werf – farmyard

Oranje Vrijstaat – Orange Free State, independent sovereign state; President at the time was Sir Johannes Henricus Brand, Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, abbreviated GCMG ***

Sources:

  1. Bergburgers by Leon Strachan; Tartan Boeke 2017 – ISBN 978-0-620-75393-7

2. Martin Hedges’ blog actonbooks

3. A Spanish blog with pages from the book dealing with their tribulations in Spain – a month on land which was arguably the toughest part of their journey!

4. Nilsen’s book ‘Leaves from the Log of the Homeward Bound, or Eleven Months at Sea in an Open Boat’. Here’s a reprint with a snappier title:

The book sold well; a later edition had a shorter title

Two pages from the book: Arriving in Spain and walking in Spain looking for food or money or any help!

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*** Enlightenment from the satirical British television program ‘Yes Minister’ season 2, episode 2, ‘Doing the Honours’:

Woolley: In the civil service, CMG stands for “Call Me God”. And KCMG for “Kindly Call Me God”.
Hacker: What does GCMG stand for?
Woolley (deadpan): “God Calls Me God”.

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* The Lady Bruce, one of the twenty ships that brought Byrne settlers from the UK to Natal, arrived on 8 May 1850. The record says ‘their passage was a speedy one of 70 days.’ – Natal Settler-Agent by Dr John Clarke, A. A. Balkema, 1972. By 1887 the average time may have been shorter?

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Amazingly, ferrocement boats had been invented forty years earlier, in France!

A bateau built by Lambot in 1848

A Yacht on the Vlaktes

One day I went for a drive with Dad out to a farm in the Swinburne district, Rensburgs Kop in the background. We stopped outside a big tin shed and walked inside. To my amazement there was a huge skeleton iron structure in there. I knew immediately what it was: It was an aviary. I grew up with aviaries, I knew aviaries. It would be just like Dad to visit a farmer with an aviary.

Except this one was in the graceful shape of an ocean-going yacht! It was a yacht. An ocean-going yacht. Or so Ronnie Mostert told us. He and his wife Mel were building it with the help of their farmworkers! But it would sink, I said. Made of steel and full of holes, it would definitely sink. No, said Ronnie. He told us he was going to fill all the holes with cement. Then he would take it to Durban and then sail around the world.

Now I knew he was mad. It would sink. Cement also sinks. The mafia use this fact to their advantage when they give a guy cement boots. Cement full of hidden steel will sink even faster. Everybody knows that. Also, Ronnie was a character, maybe he was pulling our legs? Maybe it actually was an aviary and he was going to put an aasvoël in it? I listened carefully, but it seemed he was serious and it seemed Dad believed him. Bliksem!

And that was the last I saw of it. I heard tell later that he actually had schlepped it to Durban and plonked it in the salty water of that big dam that you-cannot-see-the-other-side-of. And it floated! This seemed a real case where one could say, Wonderlik wat die blerrie Engelse kan doen! 

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Now it’s years later – I mean 47 years later if that was 1972 – and I’m reading all about Ronnie Mostert’s yacht in Leon Strachan’s wonderful book ‘Bergburgers’. Ronnie and Mel welded miles of vertical and horizontal steel bars in a shape according to a New Zealand plan they got in a magazine. Talk about faith that could move concrete! Imagine trusting your life to an unseen person sending his plans to you in a book!

Then they plastered it with cement, with Harrismith builders Koos van Graan and Ben Crawley, both of whom I think I have personally seen drinking beer, just like Ronnie, gooi’ing plaster on it and wiping it with the trowels they usually built solid houses with – and they expected it to float. And blow me down, it did.

How amazing to see pictures of that remembered glimpse from all those years ago and to reinforce my conviction that I’m not imagining all these things running round in my head. I tell my friends: Hey! I’m the sane one around here, but will they listen? Hmph.

Thanks, Leon!

Mel Mostert builds a boat
It’s a steel boat full of holes, so lets fill them with cement!

They christened it Mossie, trucked it down to Durbs in 1983, launched it and sailed and lived on it with their son Gary for eleven years.

the moment of truth is about to be cemented. Ferro-cemented

Cape Town, St Helena, Brasil, the Caribbean, the USA, the Azores and back down south. They didn’t truck it back up to the Free State, though, they settled in Cape Town-on-sea. Isn’t that just a stunning achievement! Hats off!

Leon’s book tells of another – even crazier – saga of fools building a boat on the Harrismith vlaktes and thinking that it would float. I’ll post that next.

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vlaktes – not a place you’d sail a yacht; flats; veld; savannah

bliksem – blow me down!

aasvoël – vulture

Wonderlik wat die blerrie Engelse kan doen! – blow me down!

gooi’ing – slapping

blow me down – bliksem!

‘Bergburgers’ – ‘citizens of the mountain’, meaning Platberg, thus: Harrismithians; us; also a book by Leon Strachan, Harrismithian extraordinaire!

Mossie – sparrow; many Mosterts are called Mossie but I never heard Ronnie called that; Lovely name for the boat!

Bergburgers by Leon Strachan; Tartan Boeke 2017 – ISBN 978-0-620-75393-7

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Before the Kiwis start calling themselves the Ferrocement All Blacks, note that Les Bleus invented the stuff and built the first ferrocement boat back in 1848.

Ferrocement Frog bateau 1848

Chaka’s Rock Luxury Beach Cottage

Back around 1962 we joined the du Plessis on a beach and fishing holiday on the Natal north coast – Chaka’s Rock! They were beach regulars, this was one of our two beach holidays that I can remember.  It was amazing! The cottage on a hill above the beach, the rocks and seaside cliffs, narrow walkways along the cliffs that the waves would drench at high tide; magic swimming pools set in the rocks. The men were there to fish:

We baljaar’d on the beach and sometimes even ventured into the shallows – just up to safe vrystaat depth. A swimmer I was not and I still vividly remember a near-death experience I had in the rock pool: a metre-high wave knocked me out of Mom’s arms and I was washed away out of her safe grasp! I must have been torn away by up to half a metre from her outstretched hands; little asthmatic me on my own in the vast Indian Ocean for what must have been a long one and a half seconds. Traumatised. To this day I am wary of the big-dam-that-you-can’t-see-the-other-side-of.

baljaar – frolic

vrystaat depth – about ankle deep

postscript: I tried to keep up the luxury cottage theme but Barbara talked about the big spiders on the walls and yesterday even Dad, who was talking about Joe Geyser, mentioned ‘that ramshackle cottage we stayed in at Chaka’s Rock’.

Dad was saying Joe hardly ever caught a fish. He would be so busy with this his pipe, relighting it, refilling it, winding the reel with one hand while fiddling with his pipe with the other. My theory is the fish could smell the tobacco and turned their nose up at his bait. Dad reckons tobacco was never a health hazard to old Joe. Although he was never without his pipe, it was mainly preparation and cleaning, and the amount of actual puffing he did was minimal.

Once he caught a wahoo and brought it back to Harrismith. Griet took one look at it as he walked into her kitchen and bade him sally forth, so he brought it to Dad and they cut it up and cooked it in our kitchen.