Lake St Lucia and Dukandlovu

Dukandlovu rustic camp was underutilised. Parks Board wanted to increase its use and were looking for new ideas. It was a walk-in or cycle-in camp and they were reluctant to open it up to drive-in access, so wanted to try other ideas first.

Rustic, but splendid, it’s a four hut, eight bed camp with basic kitchen facilities and cold water showers. The widows were openings with roll-down reed blinds which would keep about half the wind out. The beds had mattresses, but bring your own bedding. It was doomed, so few people want to rough it! Not long after this they actually did open it to vehicle access.

Dukandlovu (3).jpg

But first they tried us: “Let’s test the feasibility of adding canoeing-in to the access menu!” they said. So Robbie Stewart, Bernie Garcin and I (and others – who?) took our kayaks to False Bay, launched and headed south towards the mouth of the Hluhluwe river on the Western Shores. Right from the outset we could see this wasn’t promising: We touched bottom often. Our draft was mere inches, but the lake was that shallow in places. Great for small worms and other marine creatures and wading birds, but not good for paddling. Oh well, we had tried.

After staying a night the rest of the guys went home Sunday and I stayed over with Parks Board Rangers Dick Nash and Trevor Strydom. Monday morning I woke, eagerly looking forward to my day of ‘rangering’. What derring-do would we get up to as ‘ranger-for-a-day’?

Paperwork at a desk, that’s what. As head ranger, Dick first had a whole bunch of admin to sort out! Not what I’d imagined.

But later we got going on their regular bird count in the wilderness area in the north-east arm of the lake. We set off in their spacious craft with a Hamilton jet propulsion system (an impellor rather than a propellor, it sucked water in the underbelly and spat it out the back). This was fine in clear water, but when we nosed up the Mkhuze river we soon sucked up waterweeds and came to a halt. Dick pulled rank and ordered Trevor to jump overboard and remove the weed from under the boat. On the bird count we had seen at least fifty thousand and ten Nile crocodiles, so the thought of jumping overboard was not inviting! Anyway, before Trevor could remove his shirt Dick was already under the boat doing it himself. A bit disconcerting when you looked at his hand as he chucked the weed away: He only had two fingers and a thumb. Did a croc take the other fingers?

We got going again in fits and starts and after a few more stops to clear, we turned back to the lake and continued to count birds. And crocodiles.

Lake St Lucia

So go to Dukandlovu. You can drive there now. Wimp.

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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 said, 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.

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 one tied to the rudder cable in my boat, or 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. 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.

specs

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 said. 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).


belangrike dominee – important churchman

swaer – bro

my broer se bril – my brother’s spectacles

mansplain – when a man laboriously explains something you already know (usually inflicted on women)

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.

?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

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!

The Mainstay SAA Team from SA; At the usual take-out before Lake Mead; Paddling is over (for most of us!)
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.

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 Peter. 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 Crawley 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 as his technicolor yawn started. Just then I heard HURGH! from Fluffy so I grabbed the little wastepaper bin from the bathroom and stuck it under his chin. It was a lumpy laughter 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, actually “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.

Fluffy remembers: “The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or by-passing the rapids. We made it in one day, no overnight stop. Your Dad picked us up in town.”

railway bridge wilge river

 

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

Mine with Fluffy Crawley would be Walkin’ and Crawlin’.

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