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

Duzi 1972

(another re-post from earlier)

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:

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

Well, Charlie now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just 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? Charlie made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle (how was I to know at the time he was making me a ‘Left Feather’?) and was so generous with his time. Both in paddling and with Harrismith’s first Boy Scouts troop, which he helped establish.

I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, Leon Blignaut, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles  to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden, or Limfy, 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 around Christmas time with only a couple of weeks to go before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi. 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, no seconds, nothing!

Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We were going to do the Duzi! All except the part where you used a boat.

We got to Pietermaritzburg, and early the next morning to the start in Alexander Park. Milling around among the competitors and their helpers, we watched the start and as the last boats paddled off downstream Alxendra Park started emptying, everyone seemed in a big hurry to leave. We asked Wassup? and someone said, We’re Following Our Paddler! so we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. They let us continue with them the next day to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.

I continued the search for my missing Limfy 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, the wooden 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, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Except! I recently (2020) cleared out my garage under lockdown and discovered this: My notes preparing for the Duzi! I was less disorganised than I remember. I may not have DONE, but at least I did do a bit of planning! Check “Phone Mr Pearce” and “Buy canoe?” – uh, maybe not so very well organised!

Graeme Pope-Ellis won his first Duzi that year.

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

Talk about Chalk and . .

. . double strength gorgonzola!

In 1971 I decided I wanted to do the Dusi. Charlie Ryder (who gave me his boat, a fibreglass Limfy K1 with nylon deck and his left-feather paddle) told me it was tough, I’d better train.

So I did.
Every morning a few of us (Louis Wessels, Tuffy, Leon Crawley, who else?) got up at 5am, cycled a mile to the boys hostel and then ran the X-country course. About 3km up a hill past the jail, across, down through a donga/stream bed and back. Probably a 20 minute run. After school I would cycle to the mighty Vulgar River and paddle Charles’ boat (which I left “hidden” under a willow tree) for about a km or two. The cycle back home was uphill.

I’m not even sure I told anyone I was I was aiming to paddle the Dusi! I must have, surely? They knew about the boat anyway.

I have never been as fit in my life, before or since. Running I felt like I could fly. I would run hard, then even harder and still think “I could just carry on like this!”

Today I re-read Graeme Pope-Ellis’ book. The part about his training in 1971.

He ran at 4.30 am for two to two-and-a-half hours; He ran hard.
In the afternoon he paddled for two to two-and-a-half hours; He paddled hard.
Plus he did half an hour of hard, targeted gym work.

My total training was an hour a day and only parts of the running was done hard. The cycling and paddling were leisurely. No pain; No pain!

I didn’t have a clue what “train hard” meant! Talk about chalk and cheese! Quite an eye-opener.

I didn’t do that race in 1972. My boat was stolen shortly before – around New Year. I hitch-hiked to the race and followed it down through the Dusi and Umgeni valleys (with friend Jean Roux), sleeping in the open and bumming rides with paddlers’ seconds. Graeme won the race. His first win. He went on to win it 15 times.

Later I got to know Graeme and many of the guys who dedicated their lives to winning the Dusi. They trained like demons. Some of them did beat Graeme. Occasionally. But usually Graeme did the winning.

Me, I became a tripper! One of the trips was with Graeme and other fast paddlers who geared down and bumbled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in leisurely fashion. My style!

~~~oo0oo~~~

In my first Dusi in 1983 I politely waited for the okes in a hurry to move on over the flat water in Alexander Park and when I go to the weir I paused to tie a shoelace. Jerome Truran (world-class whitewater paddler) was spectating that year. He spotted me and said “Hey Swanie, you do realise this is a race, right?”

~~~oo0oo~~~