Tag Archives: tugela river

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)

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

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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.

Geronimo-o no!!

When modern man decided to pinch water from the Tugela river and pump it uphill to satisfy the Vaalies’ thirst, our area around Harrismith and Bergville saw a flurry of activity and an influx of new people. A bus arrived at school and a flock of new kids tumbled out. They were christened Die Dam Paddas by us parochials.
Sterkfontein dam, TuVa township (Tugela/Vaalies, geddit?), a vertical tunnel in the Drakensberg for the hydro-electric turbines, canals and smaller dams all had to be built. One of the latter was Driel Barrage on the Tugela on Kai’s farm The Bend, so once we’d had sufficient beer one fine day we drove down on Kai’s big Chevy pickup to look at the construction.

A very high wall had been built starting out from dry land until its highest point in the middle of the river. Very interesting, but we don’t have to . . . . Oh, we do? So we climbed up it and inched our way on our bums along the 30cm wide wall to its highest point. Some walked, but they were just being foolish, right? OK, so we’ve seen it, can we go now?

The muddy brown water way below us was completely opaque, no way you could see even 1cm into it. It could have been knee deep or ten metres deep, who knows, so we definitely won’t be . . . . Mandy ARE YOU MAD?! She’s jumped! Holy shee-yit!! Ah neely dahd, she took forever to plummet as I watched in slow motion, and then she entered with a big splash and disappeared, which I spose was better than if she hadn’t.

Eventually she surfaced with a huge grin on her face and now I knew I was stuffed. I’d have to jump. Unless the others chickened out, but no, there went Sheila and so before long I had to stand up, cancel the panic and plummet meself.

Unbelievable what a fierce hold brave women have over us cowardly um, circumspect men . . .