Not-so-Sharp Jesse

Jesse W. Sharp, a 28 year old bachelor from Ocoee, Tennessee attempted to ride over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in a 3.6m long plastic kayak on June 5, 1990.

Jesse’s kayak before

Sharp, unemployed at the time, was an experienced white water kayaker. Three people who accompanied Sharp to Niagara Falls to video-tape his trip told police that Mr. Sharp had been planning the trip for years. They also told police that Sharp was attempting to go over the Falls in the kayak to advance his career in stunting.

Sharp’s idea was to gain enough speed in his kayak to project himself over the falls and the pummeling water that would surely claim his life. He would then traverse the rapids below the falls, ending up four miles downstream in Lewiston. So confident was Jesse about making the trip that he parked his car at Artpark in Lewiston and made dinner reservations for that evening.

Powerhouse operators, noticing what was about to unfold, diverted water from the river in an attempt to ground the kayaker.

But to no avail, Jesse Sharp was determined, and simply skirted around the rocks in his kayak. Just as Sharp reached the brink of the falls he raised his paddle above his head and then, at 1:45 pm, the kayak plummeted over the brink and vanished into the raging waters below.

Sharp did not wear a protective helmet so his face would be visible on film. He also didn’t wish to wear a life jacket, believing it would interfere with his ability to escape in the event that he was caught underneath the Falls. After “shooting the falls”, he intended to continue down river through the rapids to Lewiston, New York to the restaurant where he’d made his dinner reservation. His body has never been recovered.

Oh well, I’m sure this at least qualified Jesse for a Darwin Award! Especially as he was a bachelor, presumably leaving none of his genes behind.

Umzimkulu Ambition

Rippleby the Kirb was desperate. He had a boat with two holes in it and only one body to fill one of the holes. He needed another body and he was at the stage when any body would do.

It was the South African K2 Champs and this time Rip was not going for a top spot, he just wanted to be there on the lovely Umzimkulu River with its fascinating and unusual features: Clean water and running water. We’d had a few seasons with neither in our other rivers.

He obviously didn’t ask me, as I was a bit handicapped. Firstly, I had a firm ‘one man, one boat’ policy; secondly, I had never paddled a double, so although that made me an unknown factor, it was not widely thought that I’d be an asset in the engine room. Thirdly, when once I tried to join his group he called has-beens he put me firmly in my place with ‘Swanie, you can’t be a has-been if you never was.’

Eventually he did ask me – I told you he was desperate – and I accepted on condition I did not have to take a paddle along. I would sit in the back and provide company and good cheer. And some heckling. No, he insisted, I had to take a paddle – even though he knew it would be mainly for ornamentation.

We compromised: I took a paddle and a carry-pack of beer.

We decided to come last, so when the gun went off, nothing happened. This was my usual start but for Rip a novelty. Only when shouted at from the bank to ‘Get A Move On!’ did we mosey off downstream.

It soon became apparent that our plan was in danger. We passed a lot of people. People swimming, people looking for their paddles, people trying to lift up their boats filled with water and wrapped around rocks.

But we were prepared. We stopped below the first big rapid and had a beer each and helped people in need. Then we moseyed off again once everyone had left the scene. But once again we started passing hordes of boats. Flotillas! It was a problem. We stopped twice more for the same reason and refreshment.

Eventually there was nothing we could do, the finish line arrived and we crossed it burping pleasant beer breath. We kept an eye on the line over a couple more beers at the finish and about ten boats finished after us.

Mission unaccomplished. But a lot of fun was had.

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K2 – double kayak, or two-man kayak (also called double canoe)

Umzimkulu canoe marathon – now called the Drak Challenge

Ohio Honeymoon

Honeymoon OhioOn our honeymoon in 1988 we visited good friend Larry Wingert. He’d been a Rotary exchange student to Harrismith in South Africa back in 1969-1970.

We flew out of Lawton Oklahoma to Dallas/Fort Worth, on to Little Rock Arkansas, to Cincinatti and on to our destination: Akron, Ohio. on Friday 8 April. Larry’s friend Dave “Zee” picked us up at the airport, took us to his condominium and fed us. Later, Larry fetched us in his Subaru and took us to his beautiful old home on North Portage Path.

I love the canoeing connection with his home: North Portage Path is an 8000 year old path along which native Americans portaged their canoes from the Cuyahoga river out of lake Erie, across a mere eight miles to the Tuscarawas River from where it flows into the Muskingum river, then into the Ohio and on to the Mississippi. Thus they could paddle from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Of Mexico with only an eight mile portage, something any Dusi paddler would do without a second thought! The amazing thing: You can still paddle from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico today, unbroken except for one short section – and along that you could pop in to Larry’s place for tea! America’s waterways are astonishing.

Larry indulged us lavishly. On our arrival in the States some weeks before, we received a letter saying “Please accept these portraits of old American Presidents and USE this plastic card!” Various big denomination dollar bills and a credit card for gas (or petrol)! How’s that!?

He then indulged Aitch’s joy in shopping, especially deli shopping at the best places.

Followed by a big cook-up at home . .

When a man is cooking you a steak you can pretend to love his cat . .

. . and music with the two of them on the piano, shoving me aside and asking me to please stop singing!

Then he took us to parks and nature resorts for me to indulge in my birding passion. When he wasn’t able to join us, he handed over the keys to his Subaru. Above and beyond . .

One morning we visited Cuyahoga River State Park quarry area.

Afterwards we went shopping at another rather special deli – its obvious Larry is GOOD at this! For supper Larry cooked us some great steaks on his portable barbeque outside his kitchen door. We ate like kings.

A visit to Kendall Lake; Later to Cleveland’s Old Arcade Centre and a look at Lake Erie. Supper at a French restaurant on Larry; He had already spoiled us generously, now this.

Suitably fortified, we moved back home to liquers and piano and song! They shoved me aside and asked me to please stop singing. To bed 2am, rise 5.30am; off to Boston 13 April 1988. Cape Cod is next . .

Oddballs, Then and Now

Its gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge is still a wonderful, more affordable way to see the Okavango Delta and this post must be taken with a pinch of salt; My tongue is in my cheek;

This is classic “The Good Old Days Was Better” bulldust. As my friend Greg says, ‘The older we get the better we were.’

When WE went ca. 1990 we had to take our own food! But because there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s and because one naturally has to take binoculars, a telescope, a tripod, a sleeping bag and books:

Jess Zululand Course Books

I exaggerate, these were Jessie’s books for her field guide course last year, but still: weight. So we took very little food. At Oddballs we bought their last potatoes and onions and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! We were like this:

OddballsOkavango (14 small)
Good Old Oddballs

Communal showers:

Yes, actually, Oddballs IS a luxury lodge!

Nowadays New Oddballs is soft and squishy:

New Oddballs
New Oddballs

Here’s Aitch in the Old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge – and the wimpish new arrangement!

Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mekoro with a guide who really knows his patch:

OddballsOkavango makoro

You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:

OddballsOkavango Squirrel Camp

And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddball really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:

Oddballs (5)

There’s a bar, there’s ice and cold beer, gin and tonic. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!

Go there (or here) NOW!!

The Flat Paddle Society

I am a paid-up member of the Flat Paddle Society. Owner and boat-maker at Pope’s Canoe Centre, Owen Hemingway was alarmed that I even existed in the year 2016 and earnestly (more of ‘earnest’ later) explained to me how much more efficient a wing paddle is than a flat blade, demonstrating with a teaspoon under a flowing tap. It was remarkable. I could see clearly that the spoon shape exerts much more force on the water with less wasted energy.

The reason he was concerned for my well-being was I had bought a plastic boat from him, a lovely Detox, second-hand but like new. I now wanted him to make me a left feather flat-blade paddle and Owen assumed I wanted it for forward motion. He didn’t let me explain that I rely entirely on the current for forward motion and my paddle is only for balance and – occasionally – to roll back up into the sunlight again if I’ve flopped over.

This is why I never entered any sprint races. They’re held on flat water and if the wind had been against me I’d have drifted backwards at the gun.

** Ernest Hemingway – NOT **

Speaking of Hemingways, famous Ernest could write,

Hemingway On Safari

but Owen didn’t inherit any of his genes. My pleas for Umko stories always elicited an enthusiastic yes! but nothing forthcame. Only when I visited him in person did the excited stories and anecdotes, gossip and insider skinner as only a 30-times Umko paddler could know it, pour forth enthusiastically. But in writing? Not so much.

All of this reminds me I still haven’t fetched my left feather flat paddle from him.

 

R.I.P Herve de Rauville

fourDammit, Hervie died!

Me, Herve, Dave Jones, Jurie, Steve - The Lincoln loaded

Me, Herve in red, Dave Jones, Jurie the cameraman and Steve, Chris Greeff’s buddy. Greeff took the pic, cutting off the nose of the Lincoln to make sure got my elbow in. The Lincoln is loaded and ready to take us to paddle the Ocoee River in Tennessee after a night at Dave Jones’ house in Atlanta. Dave is a military man, a dentist and an international paddler. We were there cos Chris Greeff is a military man, a dentist and an international paddler. Weirdos like that tend to stick together.

Here’s Herve on all fours studying the map of the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Willem van Riet left of Herve with the ducktail is telling us about the moerse rapids he went through that day.

1984 Grand Canyon (3)

Here is Hervie again, red cap left back, in the Swim Team, much as he tried to earnestly explain why his swim didn’t actually count as a swim! Competitive swine, our Herve!

Canyon 1984

and here he stands dead centre with the faded red cap at the end of our 480km trip through the Canyon:

1984 Grand Canyon (4)

My last supper with Herve was positively biblical: He arrived in a cloud of holy blue smoke in a hundred year old chariot – a faded yellow Merc diesel with four million miles on the clock. Nice car, Herve, I said. “Hey! Think of the money I save”, said he. He brought four quarts of beer and six bottles of ‘communion wine’ which he called his ‘quota wine’. I thought, ‘quota for the night!?’ but it turned out he owned shares in a Western Cape wine farm and – just like they did with their workers – you get some of your pay in liquid form. Suddenly I thought I understood ‘liquidity’.

We had gathered together, dearly beloved, to write down Herve’s tales of the Umkomaas. As the evening progressed I would say ‘but Herve, wasn’t that the Dusi?’ Oh, Yes! We’re talking Umko, hey? But Herve, wasn’t that the Berg? Oh, Yes! We’re talking Umko, hey? But Herve, wasn’t that the Breede? Oh, Yes! The Crocodile? Oh, Yes! But you didn’t saw your boat in half to get it on a plane to go to Umko, did you, Herve? Oh, Yes! We’re talking Umko, hey?

We laughed for seven and a half hours. Then he left after midnight in a cloud of holy blue smoke in a hundred year old chariot – a faded yellow Merc diesel with four million miles on the clock.

Too soon. Go well, Herve.

R.I.P Linda Grewar

Linda Grewar was a Kingfisher paddler from back around 1990. She and Bernie Garcin paddled really well – a number of mixed doubles podium finishes on the Dusi, Fish and Umzimkulu. Then she buzzed off ‘overseas’.

In May 2016 Bernie gave me Linda’s address, so I wrote  to her:

Hey Linda!
LONG time no hear!
Meantime I have freely been using your name in vain in the Umko book we put together for this year’s 50th running of the marathon and for a story on an Umko trip Bernie and I did where you helped us out with driving. MOONS ago!

Last I heard you were out East teaching English, now I hear you’re in England. IMO a lot of them could do with being taught English proper there too!

Me I’m raising kids at my age, they’re 18 and 14 now.

Haven’t paddled for ages, but bought a new boat (no logic involved). Be careful when you look at the pics of me n Bernie with my new boat – you may get a fright!

bernie_detox1.jpg

 

Saw Greg Bennett yesterday. He’s well. Thanks to the book I have seen or spoken to a lot of the old paddling guys in the last year that I hadn’t seen for ages.

Allie Peter, Mike Frizelle, Ernie Alder and various other maniacs are currently walking the whole Wild Coast. Three to four weeks heading South from Natal and ending in East London or Kei River or somewhere near there.

Fill me in on your movements since – when? – about 1990!?

Cheers now – Love to you – Pete Swanie

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On 2016/05/23 01:17 PM, linda grewar wrote:

Hi Pete

So good to hear from you after so long.

Yes, I was out East, in Taiwan. I then also taught English in Slovakia and Czech Republic before ending up here in the UK. I live in Esher, Surrey and was teaching fairly close by, in Surbiton.

As Karen probably told you, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in January- one hell of a surprise, as you can imagine. So far, I have had a course of radiotherapy and have had four sessions of chemo. Obviously I have not been able to work since I have been ill and things are quite hard financially.

Is it possible to buy hard copies of the Umko book? My brother is keen to get one and he can buy me one at the same time! Those days are but a distant memory now….

All the best – Love – Linda

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Dammit. Dammit! What a bliksem! Bloody cancer!

Good luck with your treatment. Hope it goes well.

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** May 2018 – Bernie contacted me to tell me Linda had passed away. Dammit. Bloody cancer.  **