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4_Optometry Johannesburg 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Duzi 1976

1976 Duzi – In 1976 I dusted off my old repaired Limfy and entered the race, ready to finally ‘Do the Dusi.’

(BTW: ‘The Duzi’ or ‘Dusi’ is the Duzi Canoe Marathon, a 120km downstream river race from Pietermaritzburg to the sea in Durban, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Next year should see the 70th annual running of this crazy biathlon, COVID-permitting).

Like I had asked Charlie Ryder about six years earlier, Louis van Reenen, a fellow student in Doornfontein, asked me, ‘What’s that?’ when I said I was going to ‘Do the Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Or brainwashing? He decided to join me. I was happy, as he had a car! I headed off to Harrismith for the December holidays, leaving him with wise counsel: Buy a boat and paddle in it a bit.’

A month later in January, he arrived in Harrismith in his light blue VW Beetle with a new roofrack and a brand new boat – a red Hai white-water boat with a ‘closed’ (smaller) cockpit. He had bought it from Neville Truran at his Kensington shop, and had paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that could sort-of qualify you for Dusi!

We now had to tackle the dilemma we had left unspoken: Two of us, two boats and one car. Who would paddle, who would drive as the ‘second’ or supporter, taking food and kit to the overnight stops? So we tossed a coin. I lost. DAMN!

We headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack. A great pity for me, as I had done a lot of canoeing, also in flood-level rivers, and had broken two boats in half and repaired one. But – a coin toss is a coin toss. And it was his car!

For Louis, the coin toss won him a first-ever trip down a river. And what a river! Here’s how two-times Duzi winner Charles Mason described it. I have paraphrased excerpts from his memoirs Bakgat:

Charles: The 1976 Duzi was arguably the fullest level ever. The record 420 starters on the first day on the uMsunduzi River were greeted with a very full river, resulting in many casualties.

I helped Louis get onto the water at Alexandra Park and he was relaxed. Although it was moving, the water looked similar to Emmerentia dam as it was flat, so he should be fine, right?

– Louis’ red Hai in the foreground –

That night at the first overnight stop at Dusi Bridge, Louis’ eyes were a lot bigger. He told of big water, scary rapids and numerous swims. I had pitched my little orange puptent and made him supper. He slept with his rear end out of the tent, ready to sprint off yet again – the dreaded ‘Dusi Guts’ diarrhoea had got him!

Charles again: That night the Kingfisher marquee was abuzz with speculation regarding the river conditions for the next two days on the much larger Umgeni. Our first day’s paddle on the much smaller and narrower Duzi River had been enjoyable and exhilarating. I remember being told many years before that the word ‘uMsunduzi’ is isiZulu for ‘the one that pushes and travels very fast when in flood.’ It had really been pushing that day. I was relaxing in a corner of the Kingfisher marquee, listening to the excited banter and anxious anticipation of the largely novice competitors in the tent, regarding the prospects for the next day’s paddle. Few of them had experienced such conditions previously.

Blissfully unaware, utter novices Louis and I were in my little orange pup tent nearby.

Charles: Around 9pm race organiser and ‘Duzi Boss’ Ernie Pearce came to see me:- Ernie said: “I have just had a visit from the engineer at Nagle Dam. He came to warn us that they have opened all the sluices of the dam to reduce water levels in preparation for a massive plug of flood water making it’s way down the Umgeni. The river will be in full flood below the dam by tomorrow morning!” Very early the next morning, I went to inspect the river downstream for Ernie and then reported back to anxiously-waiting paddlers and officials: “The Umgeni is pumping – it’s bloody big – and I am wearing a life jacket!” Life jackets were optional in those days and in any event, very few paddlers possessed them. I overheard one paddler remarking, “That’s enough for me.” He left to tie his boat onto his car. A few others followed suit. The second and third days were big and exciting.

Louis van Reenen, Duzi novice, first time ever on a river, carried on bravely. Paddling some, swimming some, and portaging – a lot! A lot of portaging was done by a lot of paddlers to avoid the big water.

New watercourses and new islands opened up:

The weather cleared up enough for the welcome newspaper drop by Frank Smith in his light plane at the second overnight stop at diptank:

Us seconds and supporters were kept busy rescuing cars stuck in the mud, including our own Volksie. We’d all be stopped in a long line; We’d get out, walk to the front, push the front car, push the next car, and so on.

Never-Say-Die Louis got to Durban, to the Blue Lagoon, to the salty water of a high-tide Indian Ocean. Hours before him Graeme Pope-Ellis had equalled the best, winning his fifth Duzi, paddling with Pete Peacock.

That night we slept right there at Blue Lagoon, at the finish. Here’s a satisfied and relieved Louis with his Hai and his paddle, and me at the driver’s door of the pale blue Volksie:

Seven years later I FINALLY got round to doing my first Duzi. Sitting in my boat at Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg waiting for the starter’s gun, I thought I saw a familiar face and paddled over. Louis! It IS you! He had come back seven years later to do his second Duzi! Never-say-Die!

That 1983 Duzi was the opposite of his first. A low river, lots of portaging because of NO water, not because of high water!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia sport

A Fine Spectacle

This story will be fuzzy in parts because of the long passage of time. But although some details may be slightly different, ‘strue. So I must tell the tale before those last few grey cells that hold the memory get blitzed by the box wine.

It was on the Berg River Canoe Marathon that Christof Heyns came to tell me was pulling out of the race. Why!? I asked, dismayed. He’d fallen out in the frigid flooded Berg river and lost his glasses. Couldn’t see past his nose, so it was way too dangerous to carry on in the mid-winter Cape cold and the flooding brown water in the gale-force wind that was the 1983 second day.

Hell, no, I said, I’ve got a spare pair, you can use mine.

He rolled his eyes and smiled sadly at my ignorance. His eyes were very special, his glasses were very thick and there was no way just any ‘arb’ specs would do, he mansplained patiently. In his defence, he didn’t know I was an optometrist, that I was wearing contact lenses, that I had a spare pair of specs in my luggage and another tied to the rudder cable in my boat; nor could he know that I had a very good idea of what his prescription was from seeing his glasses on his nose both on this race and on a Tugela trip we had been on together earlier. I knew about his eyes better than he knew about my soul (he might have known a bit about that, as his Dad was a very belangrike dominee in the Much Deformed Church – top dog, in fact).

So I said, trust me swaer and went and fetched my spares. He put them on and was amazed. I can see! he shouted like I was Jesus who had just restored his sight. I know, I said.

So he wore the glasses and finished the race and I said keep them till we next meet.

Many months later I saw an article in the SA Canews, the paddling magazine, titled: “My Broer se Bril”. Christof wrote the story of how he had lost hope when some arb oke said “Here, try mine” and he could see! And he could finish the race.

He ended off by saying “Actually they were so good I’m wearing them to this day”. Ja, you bugger, I know, I thought. I could have written an article “How a dominee’s son appropriated my bril,” but I didn’t. I’m way too kind! In his defence, we haven’t seen each other since that race.

Berg marathon

. . and today – April 2021 – I heard he died, aged only 62. Damn!

~~~oo0oo~~~

belangrike dominee – important churchman; flock leader; the lord is my shepherd, I am a sheep;

swaer – bro;

my broer se bril – my brother’s spectacles;

mansplain – when a man laboriously, carefully and ‘kindly’ explains something to you that you already know; usually inflicted on women;

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia sport

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’ – Afrikaner Propaganda Volks Brainwashing Outfit – 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.

– Claudio figlio Bellato –

I’m with my mate Claudio Bellato. He’s not a Voortrekker, even though his Afrikaans is bedonderd good. For an Italian. 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 cylinders (optometrists will know that’s no mean amount of astigmatism). His view of the world has changed from clear to er, interesting. 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 only 4D spheres I didn’t mumble, illogically. I must have muttered something, though. Optometrists will know that even with all my foresight, my view of the world was now also not pin-sharp. Rocks in the river would now be navigated by sound.

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, as mine’s sopping wet. Little did I know that for decades ever after Claudio would introduce me: “Meet my mate Peter. I’ve slept with him.”

The next day we sally forth, peering ahead and paddling tentatively, which we later learn is not the way to negotiate a swift current. The river forks to go round an island, there’s a treeblock, and we wrap the boat around the semi-submerged treetrunk. Our downriver expedition has ended and we’re marooned on the island.

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 right bank and I signal above the roaring water for Claudio to SIT! STAY! on the island. DON’T try and cross this stream, its DANGEROUS! I semaphore in my best sign language. Then I turn and run off to the beautiful old sandstone house under the splendid oaks of Mrs Girlie and the Misses Marie and Bettie Jacobsz’ farm Walton to phone Charlie Ryder.

Not long after, says me, ‘A hundred years later,’ says Claudio – he comes roaring out in his pale green Volvo 122S in a plume of dust with a long rope. We pull Claudio off the island, but the boat is pinned to the semi-submerged tree. We only rescue the Voortrekkers’ green and white boat two weeks later when the water has subsided.

– Jock shuns the Swanie / Bellato Vulgar River Expedition ex-Voortrekker canoe –

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

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

..

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

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!”