Category Archives: Canoe & Kayak

Berg River Freeze

“Please tell him not to. He’ll never make it”.

That’s what Jacques de Rauville told my business partner when he heard I was going to do the Berg River Canoe Marathon. He had come across me one evening on the Bay and I’d asked which way to go, it being my first time out there and the lights and the reflections were confusing. “Follow me” said Jacques, and off he went, but within 50m I was 49m behind him. He waited and told me “Left at the third green buoy” or whatever he said. When he passed me again on his way back and I obviously hadn’t made enough headway, he thought whatever he thought that made him tell his optometrist Mike Lello “tell him not to attempt the Berg”.

Jacques was right, but luckily for me Chris Logan got hold of me and took me for a marathon training session on the ‘Toti lagoon one day which got my mind around sitting on a hard seat for hours on end. Chris was a great taskmaster. We stopped only once – for lunch (chocolate and a coke).

The night before the first day in Paarl they pointed out a shed where we could sleep. Cold hard concrete floor. Winter in the Cape. Luckily I had brought along a brand-new inflatable mattress and an electric pump that plugged into my white 2,0l GL Cortina’s cigarette lighter socket. So I plugged in and went for a beer. *BANG* I heard in the background as we stood around talking shit and wondered vaguely what that was. A few more beers later we retired to sleep and I thought “So that ‘s what that bang was” – a huge rip in my now-useless brand-new no-longer-inflatable mattress, so I slept on the concrete, good practice for a chill that was going to enter my bones and then my marrow over the next four days.

The first day was cold and miserable, but the second day on the ’83 Berg made it seem like a balmy breeze. That second day was one of the longest days of my life! As the vrou cries it was the shortest day, but a howling gale and horizontal freezing rain driving right into your teeth made it last forever. Icy waves continuously sloshing over the cockpit rim onto your splashcover. It was the day Gerrie died – the first paddler ever to drown on an official race day. I saw him, right near the back of the field where I was and looking even colder than me. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. It wasn’t macho to wear a life jacket and I admit that I wore my T-shirt over mine to make it less conspicuous and I told myself I was wearing it mainly as a windbreaker. Fools that we were. Kids: Never paddle without a life jacket.

1983 Berg Canoe (1)

I saw Gerrie’s boat nose-down with the rudder waving in the wind, caught in the flooded trees and I wondered where he was, as both banks were far away and not easy to reach being tree-lined and the trees underwater. Very worrying, but no way I could do anything heroic in that freezing strong current, so I paddled on to hear that night that he was missing. His body was only found days later.

Rested after sleeping in a farm loft and after devouring a whole chicken each, washed down with KWV wine and sherry supplied by the sponsors, we braced ourselves for the third – and longest – day . . . . Which turned into the easiest day as the wind had died and the sun shone brightly on us, making for a really pleasant day which seemed half as long, even though it was 70km compared to that LO-ONG second day’s 49km! At the start about ten Kingfisher paddlers bunched together in our black T-shirts: Alli Peter, Greg Bennett, Jacques de Rauville, Bernie Garcin, Dave Gillmer, who else? I hopped on to their wave and within 50m I was 49m behind. I watched the flock of black T-shirts disappear into the distance. I was used to that.

By the fourth day I was getting fit and could paddle for quite a while without resting on my paddle and admiring the scenery. I paddled with a lady paddler for a while, focused for once. Busting for a leak, I didn’t want to lose the tug, so eventually let go and relieved myself in my boat. Aah! Bliss! But never again! I had to stop to empty the boat before the finish anyway (the smell!) so no point in not stopping to have a leak rather. Not that there will be a next time! Charlie’s Rule of Certifiability states clearly “Doing the Berg more than once is certifiable”. And while Charles Mason may have done 50 Umkos he has done only one Berg.

Greyling Viljoen won the race in 16hrs 7mins; I took 24hrs 24mins; 225 maniacs finished the race (I spose I was about 224th?); I was cold deep into my marrow.

The Velddrift hotel bed that night was bliss with all my clothes on and the bedclothes from both beds piled on top of me. In Cape Town the next day I bought clothes I couldn’t wear again until I went skiing in Austria years later. Brrrr!! Yussis! Nooit!

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Some interesting stats and numbers for the Berg River Canoe Marathon.

241km from Paarl to Velddrif. Four days of 62, 46, 74 and 60km.
46 300 – The estimated number of paddle strokes required to complete the Berg

The river flow in cubic metres per second at the start of the lowest ever Berg in 1978 was 1,44. In 1983 it was 19 at Dal Josephat Bridge and seemed quite flood-like enough to me, thank you! But the highest ever was in the very first Berg in 1962 – 342 cumecs!

Only twice – in 1965 and 1967 – was the overall winning time more than 21 hours (I took 24hrs 24mins – but its OK, I didn’t win). Fastest time is 13hrs 20mins (or 12hrs 36mins if you remember there was once a “kort roete”).

Five paddlers have completed 40 or more Bergs. Giel van Deventer – Berg Historian – has finished the race 45 times! In one of the toughest years in 1971, only 49 % of starters finished – the lowest percentage so far. The oldest finisher of the Berg, Jannie Malherbe was 74 when he did that crazy thing in 2014.

1 401 – The number of paddlers who have completed one Berg only.
2 939 – The number of paddlers who came back for at least one more – maniacs!

Andy Birkett won the Berg in 2016. He makes no bones about the fact that the gruelling race takes its toll, even on well conditioned paddlers. “Flip it was tough!” he recalls. “It was cold, putting on beanies and two or three hallies and long pants when you are busy paddling. But that is all part of it”. He speaks of how one needs to discreetly tuck in behind the experienced local elite racers, particularly on the earlier sections of the course where local knowledge through the tree blocks and small channels is important.

Down the Grand Canyon

1984 was one of the very few years since 1960 that Colorado river water from the Grand Canyon actually reached the sea. High snow melt pushed it past the point where golf courses and old-age homes drain it of all its water and so – at last! – the waters of the Colorado reached the beautiful estuary at Baja California and flowed into the Sea of Cortez again!

Unknown to many, 1984 was also the ONLY year Mexico would have been able to taste Mainstay cane spirits (distilled from South African sugar cane) mixed with Colorado river water. Well, recycled Mainstay and river water, as the Mainstay had first passed through the kidneys of a mad bunch of South Africans that Chris Greeff had assembled to paddle through the famous American Canyon.

That’s because we were on the river sponsored by Mainstay Cane Spirits and South African Airways. The “Mainstay” we drank was actually an SAA Boeing 747’s supply of tot bottles of whisky, brandy, gin, vodka, rum – and Mainstay cane spirits. We decanted all the little bottles we could find into two-litre plastic bottles to help the stewardesses on board with their end-of-Atlantic-crossing stock-take. We had resolved to drink the plane dry but man, they carry a lot of hooch on those big babies (I spose in case they end up with all 350 passengers happening to be as thirsty as paddlers are?).

Fifteen paddlers from South Africa joined our guides Cully Erdman and his delightful partner JoJo on a trip down the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to the take-out on Lake Mead 300 or so miles downstream. We were accompanied by one other paddler, an Argentine José who was ticking off his bucket list, having climbed Everest. Five rubber inflatable rafts carried the food (and the Mainstay and a few hundred beers) and a motley assortment of rapid riders from America and SA. Talking of motley: Us paddlers ranged from capable rough water paddlers to flatwater sprinters to happy trippers to complete novices. Some had Springbok colours, others had a lot of cheek.

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (48)

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (8)
Cully shows us. He has done it before.
GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (30)
Herve, George & Jojo

Some twists in the tale: My boyhood kayaking heroes had been the van Riet brothers, Willem and Roelof, who won the Dusi three times just as I was first learning about the race ca 1970. As I started to participate in the race ca 1972 Graeme Pope-Ellis was winning the first of his eventual 15 Dusi wins. Both Willem and Graeme were with us on this trip.

Another twist: In the year I first saw the Colorado river (1973) by walking/running down the Bright Angel trail from the South Rim to the Colorado’s swiftly-flowing green water (see post), Willem had launched a boat at Lee’s Ferry, done an eskimo roll and come up with ice in his hair, causing him to postpone his trip. Now he was back, eleven years later – in the summer!

The trip was put together by yet another iconic paddler Chris Greeff, winner of more kayak races than I’d had breakfasts. One of the craziest races he won was the Arctic Canoe Race on the border between Finland and Sweden. About 500km of good pool and drop rapids in cold water. When he arrived at the start with his sleek flatwater racing kayak (the others had wider, slower, more stable canoes) the local organisers thought Ha! he intends portaging around all the rapids! (they’d heard of the Dusi and how mad South Africans run with kayaks on their heads) so they amended the rules: Every rapid avoided would incur a time penalty. Chris just smiled and agreed enthusiastically with their ruling: He was no Dusi runner and he had no intention of getting out of his boat!

Later:

On the trip our American kayak and raft guides kept asking us about our sponsors stickers we had attached to kayaks and rafts. SAA they understood, South African Airways, but what was this “Mainstay” stuff? Ooh. you’ll see! Was all we’d say.
At ___ rapid on Day __ around the camp fire we hauled out three or four two-litre bottles filled with a suspicious amber liquid. THIS we said, was that famous stuff! Hilarity and a bit of insanity ensued. I remember seeing Willem sprint past me, run nimbly across the pontoons of a raft and launch himself in the darkness into the swift current of the Colorado running at 50 000cfs!

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (65)
George, Allie, Swys & Toekoe

1984Grand Canyon (1)At the confluence, the Little Colorado was flooding and massively silt-laden. We stopped on a skinny sandbank and had mud fights and mud rolls. The muddy water from the flooding Little Colorado merged with the clear water coming out of Lake Powell and from here on we had traditionally red-coloured water – “colorado”. I fell out just downstream and got some of that muddy water up my snout. A month later I had to have an emergency sinus washout! As Saffeffricans say ‘Ah neely dahd!’

Foreground and background: Muddy Little Colorado. In the middle: Clear water from Lake Powell:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff Confluence (1)

Lunch on a small sandbank – Five rafts, seventeen kayaks

Lunch on a small sandbank, Colorado River, Grand Canyon - Five rafts, seventeen kayaksGrand Canyon Chris 2Grand Canyon Chris Crystal-001
Crystal Rapid Colorado.jpg
Here comes Crystal!
Jannie Claassen stands. Clockwise from front Left: Swys du Plessis (red shorts), Me just visible, Dave Walker back left, Willem van Riet, Herve de Rauville kneeling, Alli Peter lying down in back, Chris Greeff ponders, Bernie Garcin stands behind Chris, Wendy Walwyn, Cully Erdman (our guide) is front right. All poring over the map, plotting the next day!
Jannie Claassen stands left. Clockwise from front Left: Swys du Plessis (red shorts), Me just visible, Dave Walker back left, Willem van Riet, Herve de Rauville kneeling, Alli Peter lying down in back, Chris Greeff ponders, Bernie Garcin stands behind Chris, Wendy Walwyn, Cully Erdman (our guide) is front right with the peak cap. All poring over the map, plotting the next day! Willem telling us about the MOERSE rapids he went through.
The whole gang (or was this “The Swim Team”?):
The Mainstay SAA Team from SA; At the usual take-out before Lake Mead; Paddling is over (for most of us!)

At the usual take-out (Diamond Creek) before Lake Mead the high water had washed away the road. We had to keep going. Then we hit the calm waters of Lake Mead. Paddling was almost over (for most of us!). We lay on the rafts as they were tugged out by a motorboat to another take-out point on Lake Mead many miles downstream (‘cept there was no longer any ‘stream’ – we were on flat water now). Greeff and a few other crazies (including Wendy Walwyn) paddled the whole flat water way!

?Me and trip girlfriend Wendy in foreground

Bernie Garcin – great mate; – – and WHAT a campsite!

Bernie Garcin - great mate; - - and WHAT a campsite!!

Happy daze drifting in the current, lying back gazing up at the cliffs and watching the waterline as century after millenium of geological lines rose up out of the water and each day rose higher and higher above us. Willem the geologist would explain some of it to us.

Then you’d sit up and listen intently. Then peer ahead with a stretched neck and drift in a quickening current as the roar of the next rapid grew in the canyon air. The river was running at an estimated high 50 000cfs (about 1650 cumecs). Once you could see where it was, you pulled over and got out to scout it. Plot your way through it.

Here’s Lava Falls – *click on pic* Spot Ryan’s blue helmet. He got trashed.

Lava Falls
Singing:

The canyon burro is a mournful bloke
He very seldom gets a poke
But when he DOES . .
He LETS it soak
As he revels in the joys of forni- CATION!

and (to the tune of He Ain’t Heavy)

Hy’s nie Swaar nie

Hy’s my Swaer . a . a . aer

We went down the Canyon twice

I always say we did the Canyon twice. Once we would bomb down in our kayaks, crashing through the exhilirating big water; The second time was much hairier, with bigger rapids, higher water and far more danger: That was when Willem would regale us with tales of his day on the water around the campfire at night. “Raconteur” is too mild a word! The word MOERSE featured prominently in his stories.

Messing about in Boats

THIS IS A ROUGH DRAFT

The original quote is from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind In the Willows:
“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Motorboating
Dad built a wooden motorboat in our lounge ca 1959. Here’s what was left of the lounge around 50yrs years later (2007).

Speedboat built in the lounge

As far as I recall Dad used the boat just a few times on the Wilge River (“The Mighty Vulgar”) at Sunnymede.
Later he bought another – bigger – boat, it had a 50hp Mercury outboard. He soon sold that one to Harry Mandy for delivery to Richards Bay. I went along with Dad towing it behind the Morris Isis to Richards Bay. The Morris must have filled up at the back as at a re-fuelling stop Dad said “Come on! Hop in!” and I said, “But the boat isn’t hitched up” and he had to quickly hook up the trailer before we could go! I felt very important.I remember crossing an impressive high-arched bridge – probably this one across the Umhlatuze.

felixton-mill-nearbye-umhlatuze-bridge-3

pic: Hugh Bland kznpr.co.za

Sunnymede on the Wilge River, waterskiing behind Richard Scott’s boat.

Tabs’ Balmoral dam
His first little boat we fetched in Howick – On the way home a wheel came past us and we chuckled at “whoever it was”‘ misfortune. It was ours!

Battling to start the Johnson outboard in the Sarclet dam, we all took turns pulling the cord. EVENTUALLY it started, we all jumped aboard and promptly sank it!

Later Tabs got a bigger boat, ‘The Pheasant Plucker’ with a V6 inboard motor and a Hamilton jet – I embarrassingly beached it when the motor cut; Landed up high and dry next to the cars parked on the bank; There I met nursing sister miss sharp nipples.

Canoeing
The old weir on the Wilge river – shooting the old sandstone weir on tubes and our open red-and-blue canoe (didn’t realise then how dangerous that was!).
Pierre du Plessis and I paddled from town to Swiss Valley in our open red-and-blue canoe on my 15th birthday.

Swinburne to Harrismith down the Wilge River

– Once with Fluffy Crawley – very low level in our open red-and-blue canoe
– Once with Claudio Bellato – high level – both lost our spectacles – in an Accord K2 owned by the Voortrekkers, white fibreglass with green vinyl deck. We proceeded to wreck it in Island Rapid on Mrs and the Misses Jacobs’ farm. Had to pay for it. R50!

Charles Ryder arrives in Harrismith in a lime-green Volvo 122S. On his roofrack he had a  fibreglass Limfjorden 17’6″, glass cockpit, white vinyl deck, clear hull, wooden struts, crossbars and gunwales, brass handles.
I wrapped (‘wrecked’) it on the Wilge on the Jacobs’ farm Walton.
I then rebuilt it.
Trained for the ’72 Dusi on the mighty Wilge River. Then the boat disappeared! So I hitched to PMB to follow the Dusi. Later I found the boat submerged in the Kakspruit and reclaimed it.
One day I saw the late zoo warthog Justin floating feet-in-the-air downstream after the zoo closed down.

Before I knew the danger of creeks in flood, I took a short trip under the bridge on HS-Swinburne road N3, on the Swartspruit to test the Limfy (and me!) as it was running high – Mom took me in her car, trusting soul.

USA
1973 – Lake of the Woods near Quetico National Park, Ontario Canada in open ‘Canadian’ canoes. With Oklahomans Sherry Higgs, Dottie Moffett, Dale Moffett and Jonathan Kneebone from Aussie. The no-see-ems and mozzies drove us out after just one night!

Canoe Marathons
Dusi 1972 – My Limfy stolen in Harrismith, so no boat! Hitched to PMB with Jean Roux. Hitched a ride with someone’s second to 1st overnight stop at Dusi bridge; Hitched on to Diptank 2nd overnight stop; Slept in the open under the stars; On to Blue lagoon; Slept on the beach near Addington, then at Point Road police station (an eye- and ear-opener!).

Dusi 1976 – Drove down with Louis van Reenen in his blue VW Beetle. I had a white Limfy with a vinyl deck, he had a red all-glass Hai whitewater boat (small cockpit, rudderless) from Jerome Truran’s Dad in JHB! We tossed a coin and he won, so I seconded him driving his VW. We stayed in my orange puptent. It was a very high river – he swam and swam! But he finished, tough character that he was!

Dusi 1983 – at last I paddle the Dusi! White hulled Limfy with a red fibreglass deck. At the start I spied Louis, starting his second Dusi.

Umko 1983 – Hella Hella to Goodenough’s weir in my Limfy.

Berg 1983 in a Sabre – after (luckily!) training in ‘Toti with Chris Logan. Cold as hell! Freezing! Gail-force winds! Horizontal rain! Madness.

Fish 1983 (The second Fish) – In those days, the race was held on a much lower river (roughly half of the current level!) and it started with a very long first day (over 50km). The paddlers left the Grassridge Dam wall and paddled back around the island on the dam (the WORST part of the race for my hangover!!) before hitting the river, eventually finishing at the Baroda weir, 2,5 km below the current overnight stop. The paddlers all camped at Baroda overnight, before racing the shorter (33km) second stage into Cradock. “In those days the paddlers had to lift the fences, and the river mats (fences weighed down by reeds and flotsam and jetsam) took out quite a few paddlers”, said Stanford Slabbert (winner of the first Fish in 1982). “Getting under (or over) them was quite an art. I recall one double crew, 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 de Rauville stunned the 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 flyover, which was not that bad as the hole at the bottom wasn’t that big. Very few people shot Cradock weir in those days. I won the race without shooting Cradock”, he added.

At a medium level, the lines at Soutpansdrift were also different. The weir above Soutpans was always a problem, as there was no chute, and even the pipes that created a slide down the weir face were not there yet. At the bottom of the rapid, the only line was extreme left, underneath the willow tree, and then a sharp turn at the bottom to avoid hitting the rocks, where the spectators gathered in numbers hoping to see you come short..

Crocodile 1984 (lowveld croc) marathon to Nelspruit.

Ocoee River in Tennessee 1984

Colorado river in Arizona 1984

—————————————————–

Other boats – I got a Sella – white deck, clear hull new from Rick Whitton at Kayak Centre.
Later I bought a second hand Jaguar (I think) at the KCC club auction.

Now have plastics – my old Quest, a Fluid Flirt, an Epic ? (bit bigger) and a Fluid Detox. Gathering dust.

Tripping
Wilge Swinburne – Harrismith
Wilge Harrismith to Swiss Valley (Near Nieuwejaarspruit confluence)
Vaal near Parys
Orange above Augrabies falls

In 1983 or 84 I bought a Perception Quest plastic from Greg Bennett at Paddlers Paradise – in the first batch he imported – for R525.
Tugela – Colenso to Tugela Ferry;
Tugela – Ngubevu to Jamieson’s – with Doug Retief, Dave Walker, Bernie Garcin

Umko – Mpendle – Lundys Hill
Umko – Lundys Hill – Deepdale
Umko – Deepdale – Hella Hella
Umko – Hella Hella – No. 8

Umzimkulu Hatchery to Coleford bridge

Lake St Lucia – Dukandlovu – Robbie Stewart, Bernie Garcin, and –?

USA – rented a Quest-like plastic
Ocoee river in Tennessee
Colorado river in Arizona (480km through the Grand Canyon). Got wonderful wooden paddle made in Canada: Hollow oval shaft at right angles, laminated blade kevlar-clad and teflon-tipped. Left feather, of course. Beaut! Still got one, gave Greg Bennett the other.

Vaal near Parys

Orange above Augrabies with Aitch (with some local outfitter).
Trip: We paddled in the Umfula’s store area for the last time before the Inanda dam flooded the Umgeni valley. I borrowed extra boats for friends, but we ended up walking it was so low!

Botswana – in borrowed plastic expedition sit-in kayaks
Thamalekane river – outside Maun, Botswana
Nhabe river in flood – we paddled the last 5 to 8 km into Lake Ngami and then back upstream to our vehicle.

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 like this:

1966 Volvo 122s Charles Ryder

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 that?
You do the Dusi in it
What’s that?

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), cycling about 2 miles  to the park in the afternoons and paddling on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. 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 we went to watch it (see: https://bewilderbees.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/my-four-plus-2-dusis/ ).

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 (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 the pup tent we used –

  • pic here *

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

the Lowveld Croc

lowveld-croc_1

in quick succession, and when we got back from kayaking the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in 1984 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 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 mine 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 sphs 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 Pete/Koos. 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 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 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.

But we bumped into Ian Grant who persuaded us to spend the night at Montrose. Jock & Brenda agreed to let us sleep in one of the rondawels. 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 and just then heard HURGH! from Fluffy so I grabbed the little wastepaper bin from the bathroom and stuck it under his chin. It was a 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, “launched” it because it touched bottom. 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.

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