After a long gap from paddling I decided to relaunch my river paddling career, striking fear into the heart of all contenders.
I would need a boat. Being a cheapskate I searched far and wide, high and low and I found one far and low. In PMB dorp. A certain gentleman in fibreglass, Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw had one for sale at a bargain price. His glowing description of the craft made me know this was the boat with which to relaunch – OK, launch – my competitive career in river paddling.
At Hugh’s place he showed me the boat and it did indeed look pristine. I went to pick it up and load it on my kombi’s roofrack, but Hugh held me back with a firm, ‘NO. Let me have that done for you!’ Customer service, I thought. User-friendly. So I watched as he got his two biggest workers to load the boat for me, which they did with ease. Big, strapping lads.
On the way back to Durban the kombi seemed to be struggling. I had to gear down on the hills, never had that before. Strong headwind, I thought.
The boat stayed there till Thursday, the big day. The first day of my relaunched paddling life. The dice on the Umgeni river outside my Club, Kingfisher. And then I understood. Getting the boat down off my roofrack took a Herculean effort. When I plopped it into the water the Umgeni rose two inches.
I can say this: Rands-per-Kg I got the best bargain from Hugh ‘user-friendly’ Raw of that century.
While I was contemplating thus, Ernie yelled at me through his megaphone and the water exploded around me. What the hell!? All these fools around me suddenly went berserk, water was flying everywhere. It took a few minutes before calm returned and I was sitting bobbing on the disturbed surface. This tranquility was again ruined by Ernie yelling through that same damned megaphone: ‘Swanie what are you waiting for!?’
Jeesh! I headed off after the flotilla disappearing in the distance and after twenty or thirty strokes it suddenly came to back to me in a blinding flash of realisation: I knew why I had stopped paddling. It’s damned hard work.
I said the book was coming. Now it’s here! I’m on page 121 236 and I’ll report back soon.
I finished and will have to write a summary. What a saga! Twenty years of telling people one simple fact: What these developers are proposing will completely ruin Vetch’s Pier and Vetch’s Beach! And very few people listening. Eventually Johnny managed to get some people to listen. The result is he managed to SAVE VETCH’s BEACH!! – an amazing feat for one man, his two-man legal team – who did the work Pro Deo – and the people he managed to get to support these three principled people against huge evil rich crooked corrupt private and government adversaries. But Vetch’s Pier is gone forever.
My copy was hand-delivered by the author himself! Johnny Vassilaros met me in the PnP parking lot near my home – he had penned a lovely inscription -:
If you’re interested in Durban; if you’re interested in good governance; if you’re interested in skullduggery and corruption and thieving; if courage and principle is important to you; and if you’re interested in reading the Wonderful Prose of Johnny – get this book! – write to firstname.lastname@example.org –
Johnny Vassilaros is a courageous mensch. And an author. And I can’t wait! If you love Durban, get your copy. Write to – email@example.com –
Foreward by Advocate Peter Rowan I have known Johnny since 2003. I have spent many long hours with him, in meetings, in consultations, in Court proceedings, in open debate and in argument (even between us). He is a man of the utmost integrity. He is a man of high intelligence, a man of conviction and undeniably strong character. He has values and standards to be admired, a man of good, fair and even judgement, a family man, a music lover, a historian and environmentalist. A spade is a spade, and he calls it that way. Nothing in the civic domain is done for his own ego, or his own pocket. What he does is motivated by distinguishing between principles of right and wrong, and then, resolutely pursuing what is good for the situation that lies before him. He is disciplined, tough and unrelenting in pursuing his goals.
The nucleus of this book is the story of the Durban Paddle Ski Club, of which Johnny found himself as chairman, during the most taxing period in its history, and which was to have a profound effect on the plight of a most valuable public asset – Vetch’s Beach. This book has many interesting stories to tell. It brings colourful characters back to life by their amazing and often insane deeds in their pursuit of big fish on their little boats. And then, the anecdotes, historical facts about Durban, the pioneers of this city, shipping, the once dreaded “Bar” and shipping disasters off our coast, only a few life spans ago. For the fishing fanatics – just read it!
But this book is more than that. It also covers a most serious topic, that being the biggest and most expensive and controversial coastal development in the history of this city – the Point waterfront development. Having read the book, all I can say is “Wow!” The meticulous attention to detail and irrefutable accuracy on the facts is immaculate. Yes, some 250 pages are devoted to the tragedy of Vetch’s, where those who would like to know what truly happened, should read and read again. Johnny does not mince his words. He slaughters politicians, prominent municipal officials and powerful businessmen, decimates major role players from certain water sports clubs, all so justifiably, through their unethical deeds committed throughout the long Point waterfront years. If you don’t know who these individuals are, read about them in this book.
But the author doesn’t go at people simply for the sake of doing it. He acknowledges good and good people and good deeds. He despises bad or useless incompetent people, and most of all, reveals the wrongdoings, the corruption and skulduggery, all of which, we see aplenty in his book. He also provides more irrefutable facts, explaining how all this has led to the loss of the watersports clubs’ premises and the cost to the ecosystem at Vetch’s.
Johnny writes both from the head and from the heart. He adds comment which is well founded, and where he castigates the unfortunates and criticises others, he does so because it is relevant to the story he unfolds. His words amount to fair and justifiable comment and criticism, made for the public good, all within his constitutional rights and freedom of speech. The events that he describes involved matters that could so easily have been laid to rest around a table with sportsmen and women, as we were all meant to be, acting reasonably, in the interests of all our wants and needs of our respective sports. That’s what reasonable and civilised people with any sense of decency and good sportsmanship would have done.
But that was not to be. Not this bunch with whom we had to deal. Six individuals, who, as a committee, snuck off and formed a “Point Watersports Club”, with a “constitution” not remotely relevant to the aims and objectives of the water sports clubs, and, most importantly, in total contradiction to a legally-binding agreement they had all previously signed. And, staggeringly, with no mandate from their members and without any of them having any inkling that this was going on. And yet, this continued for years and the members still say nothing to this day.
How much in litigation costs did all of this amount to for the clubs, and ultimately the members? Johnny raises this in his book. I would conservatively estimate that between this “PWC”, whoever they may be, the DUC and the Durban Ski Boat Club, must have paid in the region of R5 million if not more. Look at what it cost the Paddle Ski Club and Save Vetch’s Association to save the beach, whilst others stood by – millions. What a waste! And how much irredeemable human and tangible destruction took place whilst all of this was going on?
And for me, one of the most dramatic standout points. How and why and on whose mandate did Hall, Kidger and Donald come to give away, in 2015, all the clubs’ rights to invaluable freehold property, to arguably own the highly valued land on which they were to build their clubhouse? Were these self-appointed directors simply dancing to the tune of the developer, giving away land that was worth millions, without a murmur? One can only be left wondering whether anyone was ever rewarded, for this act of “high treason”. No matter how one looks at this, it stinks. Rotten to the core. Should we not all be digging deeper into this? If we do, some people might just land up in jail. Johnny’s book lays this bare. Read it with care.
There is one last thing that needs to be published. The man I chose, during difficult times to put my money on, ahead of a multitude of erstwhile friends, the Geriatskis, and all of those who paddle with them. When I teamed up with the Geriatskis, paddling and socialising with them at DUC, it became one of the most motivating factors in my life. It was pure fun and pleasure. What camaraderie, banter amongst, what I imagined true friends to be! But when crunch time came, when it was clear that Hall was leading them down the garden path, and I started to ask questions and take a strong stance, where were these people? It seemed easier for them to step back and drift with the tide or blow with the wind.
Taking a strong value judgment call or a moral stance, or simply for the stark ecological sake of saving the beach, was not for these folk. But they paddle across that stretch of water, saved by others making huge sacrifices, day in and day out – conscience free, having done nothing to save the reef they so guilelessly now use. They went along with Hall because it was convenient and expedient. As tough and as sad as it has been breaking away and being excised from a strong group of wonderful erstwhile friends, and sad as the lonely situation is that I have now found myself in, I would suppose a gregarious fellow by nature, I wouldn’t swap Johnny Vassilaros and his solid principled fishing ski guys as friends for any one of these fickle souls – in my view, may they forever hang their heads in shame every time they paddle across the Vetch’s basin. Read about it.
I associate myself with all the facts set out in this book and with the words of the author, having been part of the action and privy to the multitude of documents and the voluminous court papers, which I still have in my possession. I am in the privileged position of being able to support or refute either the content of the book or any further comments that may arise. I challenge those who disagree with the content to revert, by way of constructive written exchanges, and back their views with adequate proof. I also challenge any one of you to take us to Court on whatever cause of action you may wish to rely upon.
I salute this man, Johnny Vassilaros, for his tenacity and his courage in disclosing the truth. He is a man who I would want alongside me if ever we were to go to war.
It was a sad fact. The Umgeni was going to be dammed. Again. The fourth big dam on its course from the Dargle to the sea. Many people love dams. I hate them. They ruin the valleys and change nature for ever. Dams wipe out species – many before we even discover them; they flood huge areas of wetlands, riverine forest and grasslands; they displace people and affect everything living downstream. Large dams hold back not just water, but silt and nutrients that replenish farmlands and build protective wetlands and beaches. If you love rivers, dams are the enemy – the disease that kills. Dams don’t just change the river valleys in our waterways, they obliterate them. Yet people love them.
So the Umgeni was going to be dammed and damned; and I wanted a last paddle on that part of the river which was destined to be for ever gone.
So I rounded up some boats and some non-paddling friends in August 1988. Come and paddle a part of the famous Duzi Canoe Marathon course, I said. And the suckers fell for it! Geoff Kay, Mike and Yvonne Lello, Pete Stoute, sister Sheila; and wife Trish joined me in the valley. Some brought some kids, and some valley kids joined us.
We launched the boats with fanfare, breaking a bottle of champagne on each one’s hull (OK, not really) – AND:
They didn’t float! The river was so shallow they hit the bottom, even thought their draft was like two inches!
Oh well, it turned out to be not a paddle but a trudge. And – literally – a drag. But fun nonetheless!
I stared at the banks and the valley walls as I trudged. Soon yahoos would be racing outboard motors here. Soon this life and interesting variety all around us would be drowned forever.
First we went to Swinburne, to Jenny (Mapp) and Steve Cleverley’s Hound and Hare on the far bank of the Wilge River, across the old 1884 sandstone toll bridge where we had launched a canoe journey many years before; There we watched a bunch of large blokes with odd-shaped balls shove each other around, playing ‘If someone gives you the ball, give it to the other blokes.’ Lovely to see Jenny’s smile again – I hadn’t seen her for ages.
We were almost outnumbered by the Welsh contingent there (that being Steve himself, being noisy), but we managed to see him off and send his team to play for bronze against that tongue-pulling outfit that play a bit of rugby in black outfits.
More importantly – and fittingly for our Hysterically-Minded gang – the result sets up a 2019 re-enactment of the Anglo-Boer War. Let’s hope the Poms play fair this time.
After a lovely lunch of roasted hound or hare we fell in line under Field Marshall Lello RSVP’s orders and listened to our knowledgeable local guide Leon Strachan in the hall kindly made available to us by Steve the Welsh rarebit. Leon told us the true story of the pioneer de Heer family, led by patriarch Pieter de Heer.
Then we drove to the farm Keerom on the edge of the Lost Valley on the Drakensberg escarpment; the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The story Leon told was of a family that lived a good, self-supported, independent life, sent their kids to school, used local services such as post office, shops and lawyers; sold their goods in the towns of Swinburne and Harrismith; married locally (and NOT incestuously!).
Just like many normal families, some of their children and grandchildren spread all over (one great-grandson becoming a neurosurgeon) and some remained – the farm is still owned by their descendants. People who didn’t understand them, nor know them, nor bother to get to know them, wrote inaccurate stories about them which must have caused the family a lot of heartache over many decades.
What a spectacular valley. It had burnt recently, but already flowers were popping up in the grassland.
Heather and Elize spotted a Solifuge scurrying about. They must have disturbed him, as Sun Spiders often hide by day and hunt by night.
Next we drove off to Nesshurst, Leon’s farm where he grows cattle and msobo, to look at his etchings. Well, his fossils. He has 150 million year old Lystrosaurus fossils on his farm and some in his museum, along with a Cape Cart he bought when he was in matric back in 1971! He has restored it beautifully. A catalogue of his ‘stuff’ would take pages, but I saw farm implements, military paraphenalia, miniature trains, hand-made red combines made by his childhood Zulu playmate; riems and the stones that brei and stretch them; yob-yob-ting cream separators; a Harrismith Mountain Race badge; photos of old British and Boer generals and leaders; a spectacular photo of Platberg and the concentration camp where women and children were sent to die by the invading British forces; a lovely collage made by Biebie de Vos of Harrismith Town Square, old prominent buildings and older prominent citizens, including my great-granpa, ‘Oupa’ Stewart Bain, owner of the Royal Hotel and mayor of the town; Also a Spilsbury and a Putterill. And Harrismith se Hoer School rugby jerseys.
We then repaired to The Green Lantern roadside inn in the village of Van Reenen for drinks and a lovely dinner. I had a delicious mutton curry which actually had some heat; I didn’t have to call for extra chillies – maybe as Van Reenen is in KZN, not in the Vrystaat.
Tomorrow we would head off west to climb Platberg the easy way: 4X4 vehicles driving up Flat Rock Pass (or Donkey Pass).
Leon grows cattle and msobo – and he also writes books! Nine so far. Four on the mense of Harrismith; One on the Harrismith Commando; One on the Anglo-Boer War concentrating on the area around Harrismith; one on his Grandad who was a Son of England; and more.
Why Swinburne? After Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 – 1909), the English poet? He was alcoholic and wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, cannibalism, sado-masochism and anti-theism. He liked to be flogged and hated travel. So probably not him.
Some other Swinburne? I must ask Leon Strachan . .
Ah! I knew he’d know . .
Gold was ‘discovered’ in Matabeleland! Bullshitters bullshitted and people got excited! Such was the excitement around the discovery and hope in the new goldfield’s prospects that new companies were floated in London to take advantage of the rush. The most prominent of these companies was the London & Limpopo Mining Company, formed in late 1868. Such was the serious intent of the company that it sent its principal manager, Sir John Swinburne, with a team of experts and miners and a fleet of mining machinery, to Tati to establish the first large-scale gold mining operation in Southern Africa. The party arrived at Tati in April 1869, erected Southern Africa’s first mechanically operated appliance to crush gold-bearing ores and started work at once.
Ah! But BEFORE Swinburne arrived in Matabeleland, he had an adventure on the way. Leon describes it in his book BLAFBOOM:
Sir John Swinburne landed at Port Natal in 1868 and hurried ashore. He bought five wagons and six teams of trained oxen, unloaded his mining equipment off the ship, loaded it onto his wagons and set off post-haste, heading of course, for Harrismith, where everything happens.
Unfortunately for him and his hurry, it was a wet year, making the going difficult. His destination was Tati, on the present Botswana / Zimbabwe border, and as everyone knows, the route is Harrismith – Potchefstroom – Tati. He had concessions from King Lobengula of Matabeleland which would prove worthless, but he didn’t know that as he encouraged his oxen to move their arses. It went fairly well through Natal to the Drakensberg and even up van Reenens Pass, past Moorddraai mountain, but the marshy ground at Bosch Hoek farm trapped him. All his wagons sank to the axles.
After a week of trying – and, I imagine, some foul language – he was still stuck and his oxen were buggered. Disheartened, he swapped the wagons and oxen for a farm! The farm Albertina on a drift across the Wilge River became his property. He then hired a transport rider to take all his goods to Potch for him. He himself couldn’t wait. He hopped onto the post cart and off he went, ahead, things to do! He would never return to Albertina.
Years later the farm was sold by a local agent. In 1892 the Natal railroad reached the drift. A station and a bridge across the river were built. The station was named Albertina. About a decade later a station on the Riversdale to Mossel Bay line down in the Cape Colony was also named Albertina and chaos ensued. Parcels and letters for one Albertina were sent to the other and hearts were broken (I’m guessing here).
Something had to be done. The Railway high-ups rose to the occasion, re-naming the Free State station after a prominent previous owner of the farm it was situated on: Sir John Swinburne (1831-1914), the 7th Baronet of Capheaton; quite an adventurer, he was also Sheriff of Northumberland. He served in the Burmese War of 1852, in China and in the Baltic in 1854. In 1885 he was elected Labour MP for Lichfield, Staffordshire.
At the turn of the century the farm was bought by Abraham Sparks, father of the Texan tie Abe we knew. This started a long association with Swinburne village by the Sparks family which lasts to this day. Watching rugby in the Hound and Hare with us was Christopher Sparks, great-great-great grandson of Abraham.
Looking at the 2016 Dusi results I see the first finisher who, if I bumped into him, would say ‘Howzit Swanie’ or ‘Howzit Pete’ came in 93rd !!
Getting old! Gone are the days when I knew most of the top ten!
Another observation – 13 of the top 20 had African surnames. Wonder how the anti-Affirmative-Action boys would explain that away? I would bet good money if they (we!) were asked beforehand ‘What sports are Africans likely to do well in if given a chance?’ few would have suggested Dusi paddling!
Also: The first lady finisher came in 30th! Shades of Frith vd Merwe in the Comrades! And in both those events we used to ban them from even participating – ‘to protect them’ – to protect ourselves from getting our arses whipped, it turns out!
Yesterday a past Dusi and Umko winner phoned me about his eyes. I asked him if he was planning to do anything stupid in March.
He is. He is about to do his 51st consecutive Umko canoe marathon, the most exciting of all the river marathons! The reason? He has done 50 but he has only finished 49. He broke his boat back in 1970 and didn’t finish that one.
Fukkit!! So he wants to do his 50th finish.
He said to me ‘You should do it too, you know’. I said no ways, I’m too slow. He said ‘We paddle quite slowly these days you know’ (he won the very first Umko back in 1966).
I said you don’t understand. My slow includes frequent stops, and a lot of resting on my paddle and checking the scenery. He understood that was slower even than him and other 70yr-olds.
He’s going off to have his intra-ocular lens implants laser-‘polished’. All the better to read the rapids. Those Umko Cataracts need clear Ocular Cataracts.
James Chapman (1831-1872) – our first South African-born explorer, hunter, trader and photographer. Enough Swedes, Scots and Frogs, here’s a homeboy! Again, if you want really accurate history, you’ve stumbled on the wrong place – but check the sources!
A son of James Chapman and Elizabeth Greeff of Malmesbury, he was educated in Cape Town and left for Durban when 14 years old. He was appointed as chief clerk in the Native Affairs Department in 1848. Liewe blksem, Native Affairs even then! 124 years later when I matriculated you could still work for the Native Affairs Dept! We’re lucky the ANC didn’t institute a Dept of Umlungu Affairs in 1994.
A year later he settled in Potchefstroom, where he became one of the first storekeepers. Shortly after, in 1852, he ventured across the mighty Limpopo River and into Bamangwato country, where one of the sons of the Bamangwato chief guided him to the (truly mighty) Chobe River. Early the following year they took him to the Zambezi River to within 70 miles of the Big Falls – the one with the Smoke that Thunders. He would have beaten David Livingstone to their discovery. But closies don’t count. He turned back.
By 1854 he had teamed up with Samuel H. Edwards and launched an expedition to Lake Ngami (we once paddled into Ngami), after which he trekked through the territory between Northern Bechuanaland and the Zambesi. An easygoing man, he was able to get on with the Bushman / San hunters of the semi-desert interior and spent long periods in their company, obtaining valuable help from them. Like I always say, our ‘intrepid explorers’ were actually just tourists being shown around by local guides! Returning to Ngami, he traveled north to the Okavango River, crossing Damaraland and reaching Walvis Bay. Here he busied himself with cattle-trading in Damaraland, before setting out on a long expedition with his brother Henry and Thomas Baines. He traveled from December 1860 to September 1864. Now THAT’S an expedition-length trip!
Their aim was to explore the Zambesi from the Victoria Falls down to its delta, with a view to testing its navigability. However, these plans were bedeviled by sickness and misfortune. They did reach the Zambesi, but did not get to explore the mouth. On 23 July 1862 they reached the Falls – Mosi oa Tunya. Yes, Mosi-oa-Tunya, not another English queen’s name! Hell, even Harrismith OFS had a ‘Lake Victoria’ – gimme a break!
Chapman’s attempt at exploring the Zambesi ruined his health and exhausted his finances. He returned to Cape Town in 1864, dispirited and fever-stricken. The expedition was notable since it was the first time that a stereoscopic camera had been used to record its progress. Chapman’s photos did not come out well though, even according to Chapman himself. The negatives were of a rather poor quality, and when they reached the famous waterfall he failed to get any photos at all. This reminded me of one Jonathan Taylor, a more recent ‘photographic explorer’ and his failure to capture a key moment on an expedition.
Chapman describes the Falls: ‘. . . immediately before you, a large body of water, stealing at first with rapid and snake-like undulations over the hard and slippery rock, at length leaping at an angle of thirty degrees, then forty-five degrees, for more than one hundred yards, and then, with the impetus its rapid descent has given it, bounding bodily fifteen or twenty feet clear of the rock, and falling with thundering report into the dark and boiling chasm beneath, seeming, by it’s velocity, so to entrance the nervous spectator that he fancies himself being involuntarily drawn into the stream, and by some invisible spell tempted to fling himself headlong into it and join in its gambols;‘ Wow! and Bliksem! ‘ . . but anon he recovers himself with a nervous start and draws back a pace or two, gazing in awe and wonder upon the stream as it goes leaping wildly and with delirious bound over huge rocks. It is a scene of wild sublimity.’
As they clambered about the Falls on the wet cliff edges, Chapman wrote: ‘It was necessary to proceed farther to obtain a more extended view. One look for me is enough, but my nerves are sorely tired by Baines, who finding everywhere new beauties for his pencil, must needs drags me along to the very edge, he gazing with delight, I with terror, down into the lowest depths of the chasm.’
Baines painted, his brush and easel working where Chapman’s camera didn’t:
Sir George Grey had commissioned Chapman to capture live animals and to compile glossaries of the Bantu languages. He kept diaries throughout his journeys, but his Travels in the Interior of South Africa appeared only in 1868, shortly before his death. Chapman also traveled at times with Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton and Swede CJ Andersson.
He tried farming on the banks of the Swakop river around 1864, but he says the Nama-Ovaherero War interfered with that venture – a timeline says a treaty was signed in 1870 between the Nama and the Herero after a prolonged period of war between the two communities. He then lived at various places in South Africa, later returned as a trader and hunter to old South West Africa after that treaty, then died at Du Toit’s Pan near Kimberley in 1872, aged 40 years.
(John) Thomas Baines (1820–1875) – was an English artist and explorer of British colonial southern Africa and Australia. He was most famous for his beautiful paintings – especially of ‘Baines Baobabs’ and the mighty Falls, Mosi oa Tunya.
Apprenticed to a coach painter at an early age, he left England aged 22 for South Africa aboard the ‘Olivia,’ captained by a family friend. He worked for a while in Cape Town as a scenic and portrait artist, then as an official war artist for the British Army during the so-called Eighth Frontier War against the Xhosas.
In 1858 Baines accompanied the maniac David Livingstone on a disastrous trip along the Zambezi River, from which he was dismissed by the irrational Livingstone after a disagreement with Livingstone’s brother.
From 1861 to 1862 Baines and ivory trader James Chapman undertook an epic expedition to South West Africa. Starting in ‘Walvisch Bay,’ they crossed the Namib Desert, then the Kalahari to Lake Ngami, over the Boteti and Tamalakhane rivers, and then on eastwards to the Zambezi river, on which they were paddled downstream by local boatman to where they could view the falls. If you tried that with even the best 4X4 today without using any roads you would have an epic journey and it would be an amazing achievement. As always – and as still – they were guided by locals:
This was the first expedition during which extensive use was made of both photography and painting, and in addition both men kept journals in which, amongst other things, they commented on their own and each other’s practice. This makes their accounts, Chapman’s Travels in the Interior of South Africa(1868) and Baines’ Explorations in South-West Africa. Being an account of a journey in the years 1861 and 1862 from Walvisch bay, on the western coast, to lake Ngami and the Victoria falls (1864), especially interesting. They provide a rare account of different perspectives on the same trip.
On the way they camped under the now famous ‘Baines Baobabs’ on Nxai Pan in Botswana:
Baines gives a delightful description of the tribulations of the artist at his easel in Africa: ‘Another hindrance is the annoyance caused to the painter by the incessant persecutions of the tsetse (fly). At the moment perhaps when one requires the utmost steadiness and delicacy of hand, a dozen of these little pests take advantage of his stillness, and simultaneously plunge their predatory lancets into the neck, wrists and the tenderest parts of the body.’
In 1869 Baines led one of the first gold prospecting expeditions to Mashonaland between the Gweru and Hunyani rivers. He was given permission by King Lobengula, leader of the Matabele nation in what became Rhodesia, then Zimbabwe. He later traveled in Natal and witnessed the coronation of Cetshwayo.
Thomas Baines never achieved financial security. He died in poverty in Durban in 1875 of dysentery, at the age of 55 while writing up his latest expeditions. He is buried in West Street Cemetery. A generous eulogy was read in London at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society by its President, Sir Henry Rawlinson.
Baines wrote another book in 1871: Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life, Travel & Exploration by Baines and Lord. My kind of book! I’ll blog about it separately, as I’m pleased to see he acknowledges a prior book which I could not resist buying: Galton’s book – 1st edition 1855
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.
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.
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.
K2 – double kayak, or two-man kayak (also called double canoe)
The sixth week of our honeymoon in 1988 was an eagerly awaited visit to 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, to Cincinatti and on to our destination: Akron, Ohio. Friday 8 April. Larry’s friend Dave “Zee” picked us up at the airport, took us to his condominium and fed us. The first meal of what turned out to be a major good food week! Later, Larry fetched us in his Subaru – our third all-wheel drive vehicle this trip, and this one free! – and took us to his beautiful old home on North Portage Path. At home it was all wine, one woman and song, with Aitch and Larry bashing the piano and asking me to please stop singing.
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 denomination dollar bills and a credit card for gas (or petrol)! How’s that for a wedding present!? In Larry We Trusted!
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 one 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 while trudging along that section you could pop in to Larry’s place for tea. Or ‘tea’! America’s waterways are astonishing.
Larry indulged us lavishly. There was no tea. Only the good stuff. He indulged Aitch’s joy in shopping, especially deli shopping at the best places. And Larry knows his delis!
Followed by a big cook-up at home . .
. . 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 all-wheel-drive Subaru. Above and beyond . . One morning we visited Cuyahoga River State Park quarry area. Our favourite bird in Ohio was probably the Northern Flicker.
Afterwards we went shopping at another rather special deli – its obvious Larry is GOOD at this! For supper he cooked us some great steaks on his portable barbeque outside his kitchen door. We ate like kings. After supper there was music with the two of them on the piano, shoving me aside and asking me to please stop singing!
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! No tea. By this time my good friend and my good wife had formed an excellent working and jolling relationship. They shoved me aside and asked me to please stop singing. To bed at 2am, rising at 5.30am;
Off to Boston 13 April 1988. In consultation with Larry, we decided Cape Cod was next . . .