Writing A Book

I think people should write down their stories. In particular I thought Charles Mason should write his as he has paddled one particular crazy-ass canoe marathon every summer for fifty years in a row! Insanity like that should be noted and recorded for posterity. Psychologists should be looking into it.

I mean he won the Dusi twice, paddled one Berg – and coined the now well-known law “Anyone Doing The Berg More Than Once Is Certifiable”; Started, then won the very first Umko; Paddled all the other races and multi-day marathons, sailed to Seychelles and wrecked the yacht on the beach, got a 1st-class degree, married a lovely lady and raised two sons. And some other stuff. But notably, amazingly and astonishingly, he made the Umkomaas River Canoe Marathon – the most feared of all South Africa’s river races – his own.

Here he is doing what some paddlers call ‘Taming the Umko.’ He’s in front wearing the yellow helmet:

Umko Dutton pics 2005 (594)

Ah! There it is, a pale yellow helmet:

Charlie Geoff.gif

So I said ‘Listen, you should write your story. Your kids may not read it but your grandkids will.’ So Charles said/asked ‘Ja?’ in that quizzical, half-serious half-amused way of his and suggested we meet for tea at Rosie’s Tearoom. Which made me think it was actually now quite urgent that his story get written. Charles Mason thinking ‘meet for a drink’ meant ‘meet at Rosie’s Tearoom’ got me worried. He was obviously getting old. The project had taken on some real urgency.

At Rosie’s doiley-covered tea table his very first sentence was ‘You Know Peter, this is Quite Opportune. Next Year is the Fiftieth Umko,’ and promptly turned the focus away from himself and on to the iconic race which he had been instrumental in reconnoitering, starting, winning, keeping going and participating in. Did I mention every single one of them for fifty one years IN-A-ROW? He broke his boat and walked out in one of them, so fifty finishes in fifty one starts.

So the book title changed from Charlie Mason Fuckin WildWater Endurance SuperHero to ‘UMKO 50 years‘ and he became the font of Umko knowledge and wisdom and proofreader extraordinaire. So although I am responsible for all mistakes, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so we should actually blame him. Except we can’t – he didn’t get to proofread everything. Damn.

So we wrote a book, me and Charlie. Charles in longhand! On paper made from gumtrees by both Sappi and Mondi. He made a copy typist out of me. No wonder I made some mistakes. I took typing as a matric subject in Apache Oklahoma in 1973 and peaked at a blistering nineteen words a minute with ten mistakes. Also, while Charles has done fifty, and ten other okes have done over thirty, with 42 and 39 finishes being the next craziest after Charles, this half of the author-duo had done one. ONE. One Umko. So I did need some help in knowing what I was on about.

In my defence, I wrote the bloody thing cos it NEEDED DOING. Somebody had to do this! Anyway, between Charles and I we’ve done 51 Umkos and experience like that is not to be sneezed at.

The way we did it was to ask all paddlers who have ever paddled the Umko to send in their stories. Then we asked them again. And again. The emptiness of my inbox was deafening. An American paddling scribe – and paddling scribes are, in Charlie’s own description of rarity, As Rare As Rocking Horse Shit – wrote ‘paddlers are notoriously lax at recording their adventures.’ Correct. Bill Barron used to say ‘ka-rreck.’

So I had to go out like a roving reporter and fetch the stories that were not being sent in.

With Paul Chalupsky it was coffee in Durban North. After a wary start and quite a few questions, the floodgates opened. Five hours later I left with notes scribbled in my notebook, on the till slip, and on my phone. When I wrote him seeking clarity I got the usual ‘I’m not-so-email’ response. Thank goodness his new wife jumped in and sent clarifications and some lovely new tales.

With Herve de Rauville it was two quarts of beer and two bottles of quota red wine from his estate in the winelands. He’s not anti-quotas, our Herve. Seven hours later we had done the Umko plenty times with much steering back away from the inevitable topic if you’re talking to SA paddlers: The Dusi!

I nailed down Pete Peacock by going to PMB and meeting him at Owen Hemingway’s Pope’s Canoe Centre. Owen himself was a fountain of info and scandal! At that stage I was relieved to meet a paddler with verbal diarrhoea, instead of the communicative constipation I had been experiencing! While I pumped him for Umko info he sold me a boat. A beautiful orange plastic Fluid Detox. I must paddle it one day.

Like many, Kenny Reynolds agreed absolutely that he would write. Every time I saw him at KCC he would FOR SURE be sending me some stories. Soon. But it was only when I was with him scribbling in longhand that I got any scandal. Same with Ballie Roets and Tony Botes. I had to go to Crusaders – the drinking club with a canoeing problem – clubhouse for their tales. It looked like a bowling club. No?

I began to think this was a multi-year project for a patient, persistent saint, of which I am none of the above. Then a breakthrough! Some ancient pre-rinderpest okes had been forced to learn email from being in Australia. So Robbie Stewart and Rory Lynsky sent stirring tales. Their endeavours were re-doubled when a Viking character entered the fray and goaded them into having to defend their honour. Now we were cooking thanks to Rowan Rasmussen! Ally Maynard had to set the record straight, Porky Paul got his secretary to write, Rob Bourne-Lange had Leslye fire off his missives. Geoff Caruth was slow, but he has written a lot about the Umko over many years, so I could plunder his early writings, scanning the old Umko programs, then editing the OCR errors, then copy and paste.

Now the accusations started flying thick and fast. Especially thick. Everyone was the hero of their story and the furious howls of ‘That’s MY story you’re telling!‘ got the creative juices flowing. The introduction now needed the caution ‘Please take all the stories with a hefty pinch of iodised cerebos.’ The reason for the hyperbole, of course, is the river itself. The palpable fear before a race causes great excitement and nervousness – and garrulous relief afterwards. Charles summed it up pithily many years ago with another famous truth: ‘There’s No Better Laxative Than A Full Umkomaas!

Kingfisher heavies contributed aplenty. From the outset the project had the backing of the club. Travis Wilkinson, Terry Drummond and Ross Poacher helped out. Rob Davey actually saw that the idea became a reality. We all spoke and wrote; Rob brought the money in. Ernie Alder didn’t say no, but fokol forthcame until I met him at Circus Circus for a lengthy meal when his floodgates opened. He was no typist, our Ernie.

Rumblings from behind the boerewors curtain erupted and colourful lava spewed forth once Bruce Clarke, Brian Longley, Meyer Steyn and Colin Wilson started lying singing. These interlopers regard the Umko as their own and some Umkos there have actually been more Vaalies than modest, well-behaved paddlers! We may in fact need to look at the Donald Trump solution to keeping them out with a wall at van Reenen. Spoiling a good story with the truth is not their style. Swims which had been Natal-long became epic swims lasting ‘months underwater,’ and even this was topped by ‘eons holding my breath.’ Nicknames are a big thing in the hinterland, so I liked that and tried to get nicknames for as many paddlers as I could. Hopefully a few guys were annoyed at seeing their worst, most forgettable name in print. I decided from the outset not to censor any submissions. Customary Paddling Language was used as spoken, but even I chose not to put some unsavoury nicknames in the book!

I wanted recognition for the ladies who have quietly and without fuss done what us okes did. Much serious shaking of male heads kept the ladies out for years, in the sure knowledge that no woman could – and then, OK, should – ever do a race as challenging as ‘our Umko’ and anyway, out of the kindness of our hearts we shouldn’t let them into our remote valley. For their own good. Also, how would they possibly handle having to sleep in the big marquee with all the guys? By telling better fart jokes than the guys, it turned out. As far as I could tell, Colleen Whitton was the first lady to paddle in an Umko and Marlene Boshoff and sis Jenny were the first to finish one without a male in the boat. They were followed in random order by Antje Manfroni, Patricia Stannard, Lorna Oliver, Debbie Whitton-Germiquet, Diana Rietz. What’s more they wrote good stories and sent them in on time and electronically. Thanks ladies!

The breakthrough with the ladies came via Hugh Raw. His terrific MCP stories (he wrote of paddling with TWO ladies and making them carry the boat) needed responding to and challenging. And the ladies did just that.

PROCESS

Back and forth, checking and re-checking. Re-writing causes layout headaches, all well handled by Rob Davey and Jon Ivins, paddler, photographer and book putter-together-er. All the while badgering okes to send in their stories, with mixed success. To their credit every one of the paddlers I phoned cheerfully agreed to send their tale. Then they didn’t. Amazingly, some okes can win the race multiple times but writing a story defeats them. If I had a story about them, especially if controversial, I would send that to them and that often elicited a response, but not always. At least Robbie Herreveld was a great help with the results. He kept records and helped us complete the list of winners.

AT LAST!

The proofs arrived! We checked through half-size black-and-white proofs then the full-size, full-colour proofs:

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Then the books themselves arrived, happy day! Just in time for the race, where Rob Davey handed them out to paddlers in 2016’s goodie bags! They were pretty well received, I thought, warts and all!

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– Nigel Briggs also wrote for the book – he wrote a book of his own on That Other Race –

The UMKO 50 years – The Story Of A River Race And The People Who Made It Happen can be read here. Don’t tell me of any errors, thank you! Actually, do. We’ll build your bulldust into UMKO 60 years.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Bumbling Down the Grand Canyon

(early draft needs work – and being worked on as I find stuff)

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 had pushed it past the point where golf courses and old-age homes are draining it of all its water and it reached the beautiful estuary at Baja California into the Sea of Cortez ! Unknown to many, this also made it the first-ever time Mexico would have been able to taste Mainstay and river water. Well, recycled Mainstay and river water. 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 – and some Mainstay cane spirits – which we decanted into 2litre 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 and JoJo Erdman on a trip down the Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to the take-out on Lake Mead 270 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 (2) GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (6) GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (8) GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (26) GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (28) GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (30)

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 Graeme Pope-Ellis was winning the first of his eventual fifteen Dusi wins. Both Willem and Graeme were with us on this trip. More: 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, 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 to this one, 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 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, 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 2litre bottles filled with a suspect-looking amber liquid. THIS we said, was that famous stuff!

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (65)

1984Grand Canyon (1)

The little Colorado was flooding and massively silt-laden. At the confluence we stopped and had mud fights and mud rolls. I fell out just downstream and got some of that ‘water’ up my snout. A month later I had to have an emergency sinus washout!

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff Confluence (1)

Lunch on a small sandbank, Colorado River, Grand Canyon - Five rafts, seventeen kayaks
Lunch on a small sandbank, Colorado River, Grand Canyon – Five rafts, seventeen kayaks

Grand Canyon Chris 2 Grand Canyon Chris Crystal-001

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. 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!

 

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

?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.

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.

Lava Falls
Lava Falls – *click on pic* spot the blue helmet

Dave Walker led the 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 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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I recently had a letter returned to me that I wrote to my folks in August ’84, the month after this trip. So now I know the extra section of river we paddled an extra 21 miles after the diamond creek take-out point was washed away; plus the trip across Lake Mead sitting back drinking beer while a motorboat towed out the four rafts (one of which had 14 kayaks lashed onto it) was ‘about 50 miles’). Three kayaks weren’t on board, Crazy Chris Greeff, Wendy Walwyn and someone else paddled the flat water too!

BUT NOWADAYS: We check such statements. I’m going to check how far it actually was. Aha! The total distance from Diamond Creek to Pierce Ferry is 54 miles. So no exaggeration happened in the telling by our boatmen and trip guides, who would’ve known. The planned trip was 225 miles, Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, plus this extra leg. So in the end, something over 400km.

A snapshot of the level in 1984 from google earth.

– the unplanned extra leg – bottom right to top left – where the river pours into Lake Mead and tragically! – stops flowing –

google earth will fly you through the canyon here.

~~~oo0oo~~~

An Idea Was Born

From: pete swanepoel home
Sent: 16 December 2014
To: Allie Peter
; Greg Bennett; Doug Retief;
Subject: Deepdale – Hella Hella

Hey Allie, Greg & Doug
I just posted this story about an Umko trip with Bernie Jamludi The Jet.
Thought you might like to check it out:

Cheers – Pete
PS: I’m licenced to scribble:

poetic bullshit licence.jpg

~~~oo0oo~~~

Hi Pete

Great, and a very personal story to be shared with the “old boys”.

Pete, I have now worked out what you MUST do and that is start putting together an anecdotal account of the famous canoe stories from way back then. We would have to do a chapter on the Tarka Canoe Club and some of the other trips, the Whisky canyon episode etc. etc.

You will have to be the scribe and we can then get the fellows together with a small supply of cold tea in order to refresh memories — remember ‘n man praat altyd die waarheid na ‘n paar doppe !!

Allie

~~~oo0oo~~~

Well, ex-Chairman Allie Peter started a small seed growing; in March 2015 ex-Chairman Charles Mason and I sat down to write the Umko 50 years book. We finished it just before the fiftieth Umko in March 2016, where Rob Davey handed out 300 copies to all who took part in that memorable race.

~~~oo0oo~~~