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.
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. I’m glad, as in my considered opinion, a lot of Englishmen could do with being taught English proper!
Me I’m raising kids at my age, they’re 18 and 14 now.
I haven’t paddled for ages, but I have bought a new boat (no logic involved; actually, keep it secret, I’m planning a big comeback). Be careful when you look at the pics of me and Bernie with my new boat – you may get a fright!
Saw Greg Bennett yesterday. He’s well. Thanks to the Umko book project 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 trudging south down the whole Wild Coast. Three to four weeks from the bottom end of Natal, ending in East London or Kei River or somewhere down there in Darkest Eastern Cape.
Fill me in on your movements since – when? – about 1990!?
Cheers now – Love to you – Pete Swanie
Linda replied: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 four 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
Me: Dammit. Dammit! What a bliksem! Bloody cancer! Good luck with your treatment. Hope it goes well.
May 2018 – Bernie contacted me to tell me Linda had passed away.
Dammit. Bloody cancer.
It’s bullshit. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t finished. He wasn’t even close to wrapping up all the things he still planned to do – even after doing so much.
Damn! Too soon.
A very special human being.
Ernie’s wake will be held in Ernie’s Pub in Kingfisher Canoe Club on the banks of the Umgeni River in Durban. You KNOW you have led a really wonderful life when you’re going to be saluted in a pub named after you while you were still in your prime by your mates!
Ernest Alder – 17/08/1942 – 21/01/2018
Also, that I know of:
He was involved in the Caister old age home while his Mom was there;
He owned a holiday home on a game farm up near Mkhuze; adjoining Mkhuze, I think.
It is with a heavy heart that I write of the passing of Ernie Alder! There are very few truly selfless individuals, those that give of their time beyond what could ever be expected without seeking reward or adulation! Ernie you will, for me, always be synonymous with KCC and there will never be a time, driving in to the car park, that I do not look for your vehicle, your welcoming smile or your loudhailer! Rest in peace my friend, you did so much to assist me in my time as chairman and for the numerous chairs before and those that came after. Your legacy will forever be intertwined with the history of KCC and you will be sorely missed at the club and along the many riverbanks and boat pounds across the country!
A gentleman, a gentle man! We will miss you – Elvis Kingfisher
I was an Umkomaas Canoe Marathon Official once. Kakhuis Field Marshall for the start of one Umko. Appointed by the uber-command of KCC, it was my job to reduce the toilet-paper-in-the-bush syndrome around the start near the Hella Hella bridge. I had relayed farmer Barry Porter’s unhappiness at the phenomenon to the heavies, they were of course aware of the issue, so they roped me in to help solve it!
Lines of green mobile flush toilets were stationed at the start, and for kilometres before the bridge, starting up at the bend that drops you down into the valley proper, I lined the road with large neat signs exhorting paddlers to “Go Now”, “Use the toilets as soon as you get to the start,” “Avoid the rush,” “Don’t do it in the bush,” and other thoughtful and helpful suggestions.
Mindful of Umko Master Charlie Mason’s wise and thoughtful maxim, “There’s no better laxative than a full Umkomaas” my signs got more urgent the nearer you got to the bridge.
But I was handicapped. – Firstly, my request for a suitable uniform and hat befitting my high station had been turned down. – Secondly, my request to have full access to the public address system was denied. Would Billie-Boy Barron hand me the microphone? No.
I was going to thoughtfully say: “Attention please! Aandag asseblief! Especially you Vaalies and Dabulamanzi ous: KAK NOU!!” I know for a fact that Meyer Steyn – most Umko finishes of anyone ever, while based inland – would have appreciated the reminder . .
Barry said to me later, he thought that year was the least mess he had seen in recent times! Making the local farmers happy is a big part of the success of river races, so I was very chuffed! Of course, if they’d given me free reign to wear the right uniform and exercise my full powers it would have been even better . .
As we were going to have a small wedding out in the sticks, we held a Pre-Nuptial-Party at Kingfisher Canoe Club back in 1988 to celebrate with friends who couldn’t make it or who hadn’t cracked the nod. Who to invite and who to discreetly ignore is one of the things that makes the lead-up to tying the knot vrot with danger as anyone who has gone singing to the gallows well knows.
I was reminded yesterday about that happy gathering by Barbara Mason, who I only occasionally see as she lives a normal and sane life, parallel to the madcap canoeing world that links me to her hubby Charles (him a legendary paddler, me a used-to-be wannabe).
She told me she quotes from my speech of that night to this day. I had forgotten that I’d even spoken, but she assures me I spake thus:
“Aitch and I gave careful consideration to the pros and cons of getting married, but we decided to go ahead and get married anyway.”
1972: I was obsessed with the Dusi Canoe Marathon and had been training for it. A lonely pursuit when you’re in the Free State and there’s no canoe club and few have even heard of such malligheid. Planning was more advanced that I’d remembered. here are my notes on things to do – written on about 30 November 1971! I even knew I must phone Ernie Pearce and ask ‘How does a Vrystater enter your race?’
Then my boat got stolen in December, so come January I hitch-hiked to PMB with schoolmate Jean Roux to watch the start. We then bummed a ride with some paddler’s second, sleeping in the open on the riverbank.
I had been following the van Riet brothers’ winning streak closely, but that year a fella named Graeme Pope-Ellis teamed up with Eric Clarke to win his first Dusi on a full river.
222 paddlers each paid R3,60 to enter the race.
In Durban we walked from the Blue Lagoon finish to South Beach, where we spent the night on the sand. The next night the cops kicked us off the beach and we spent a night on the red polish stoep of the Point Road police station. Noisy! Rough!
1976: I drove down from JHB with Louis van Reenen with two boats on his blue VW’s roofrack. We tossed a coin, he won, I took my white Limfy off the rack, and I drove in the mud, while he paddled his brand-new red Hai closed-cockpit white water boat, and often swam next to it! It First time he’d ever been on a river. Emmerentia Dam had been his only training ground. He swam miles and drank gallons of the river in the flood-level Dusi and Umgeni! But he was one tough character and he finished! Graeme Pope-Ellis and Peter Peacock won – their second win as a team, Pope’s fifth, equaling Gordie Rowe and Harry Fisher’s five wins..
I finally get into a new Limfy and do the race. I’m one of 1020 paddlers – the first time that the entry had broken through the 1000 barrier. I’m in a black Kingfisher Canoe Club T-shirt paddling a red and white Limfy from Gordie Rowe and Rick Whitton. Gordie made my boat “light but strong” – in-joke! On the water at the start I spot Louis – he’s back for more! His second Dusi, my first. A very low river. Louis swam his first; he was about to run his second.
— Mainstay cane spirits took over as the title sponsor. Pope-Ellis and Cornish beat the Biggs brothers to give “The Pope” his tenth win –
— Is the Pope a Canoeist?!
This time Greg Bennett’s brother Roland seconds us and we live in the lap of luxury the first night: Cold beer and hot food at Dusi Bridge. Then he loses focus. Then we look after ourselves.
For the first time paddlers were allowed to go home to their Mommies overnight. We thought that was a terrible development, so tried to drink for those who weren’t there. Apparently a new rule made paddling round Burma Road compulsory that year. A low river.
Sheila seconds me. In theory. I’m in a white Sabre, which reminds me how Arthur ‘Toekoe’ Egerton called his Sabre ‘Excalibur’ – “King Arthur” see?
I pitch the tent after finding Sheila in the beer tent, I cook the food and I pack the car! If she was ‘seconding’ me, I spose I was ‘firsting’ her? As always with Sheila though, she made it lots of fun and I met more people than I would have!
Pope-Ellis was beaten by John Edmonds on a low river. Women were allowed to race in K1’s for the first time – as long as they were accompanied by a male paddler! Marlene Boshoff was the first woman to finish the race in a single, accompanied by Martin Lowenstein, beating her twin sister Jenny Bentel.
Hansa sponsored 1987, bringing bigger media exposure and the entry numbers picked up again. Pope-Ellis broke the K1 record by beating John Edmonds to claim his 13th title. In a monstrous injustice and swindle we are not met by bikini-clad Hansa girls as we finish – they only came later! I paddled a white Sella.
A thought: All four my Dusis were booze-sponsored! *hic*
The official records show me having completed seven Dusis but I have only done four, and nogschlepped on two. The three phantom ones I probably paid and entered, meaning to do them, but life got in the way. Probably 1986, 1988 and 1989.
In my mind I imagine the NCC / Dusi boys asking ‘Did we lose Swanie under a rock?’ ‘Nah, he probably finished. Mark him down as finished, then we don’t have to go looking for him.’