50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 28

changed a fair bit. The starting point has alternated between Hella Hella and Josephine’s. Kingfisher Canoe Club race organisers have taken all decisions to change things very seriously. Valid criticisms have been listened to and paddlers’ input actively sought. Early efforts to increase numbers were spectacularly successful. Was this 1982 entry form perhaps part of the reason? (Thank you Toekoe!) As the race’s popularity and reputation grew it led to a new ‘main concern’ - as recorded in the 1982 race program: finding an acceptable solution to the problem of growing numbers versus “losing the unique character of this grand marathon”! They had tried simply limiting entries before but unhappily this led to recriminations and placed undue pressure on the organisers and particularly on those handling the entries. Also the Natal Canoe Union was against an arbitrary limiting of numbers, so urged KCC to seek other solutions. The solution in fact lay in one well-known word, but the time to announce it clearly was not yet. Practical challenges that KCC also had to consider, were inaccessible roads after heavy rains, difficulties with overnight stop venues and what to do about known stone-throwing “trouble spots”. These very real challenges were of course unknown to, or not appreciated, by the average paddler over the race days, but they loomed large in organisers’ lives, planning meetings, preparations and negotiations. The biggest on-the-water consideration (often unspoken) was - dare we say it? - the Hella Hella Laxative Effect (see Charlie’s Law) where some paddlers would have preferred not to race the more dangerous and boatbreaking section through the awe-inspiring Numbered Rapids. At one Natal Canoe Union meeting “a delegation of paddlers asked KCC to consider taking the race start back to Josephine’s Bridge.” Here the KCC committee has been mostly firm over the years, believing steadfastly that the Umko should remain a true ‘Iron Man’ event and that by keeping it as a long, tough and challenging race entries would naturally reduce to an acceptable and manageable level. So once again KCC committee considered the request but decided that the race would go on - from Hella Hella! As a compromise (so they announced) the finish was moved upstream to Goodenough’s Weir, cutting 15km off the race distance. For a few years then, Goodenough’s Weir was a popular, spectacular finish line, adding to Umko folklore with suitably embellished tales of dramatic final metres after 130km or 98km of hard paddling, depending on a Hella Hella or Josephine’s start. Needless to say, all changes will please at least someone! Here’s André Hawarden’s graphic description of the end of the first race in 1966: “The last UMKO 50 Years memory of that race is the incredible grind from Goodenough’s weir round that huge cursed bend past the factory, over sand banks against the wind. It was never-ending and I was knackered to start with. A real downer to finish with. It was much better in later years when they laughed off the flat section and just finished at Goodenough’s.” Competency and qualifying standards were debated. This led to an interesting late night discussion lying on the ground in the big tent at an overnight stop ca.1983 between Geoff Caruth and Allister Peter: “Yes, we said, The race would have to be restricted to only the best paddlers. But then we realised that in time that might exclude us! I want to paddle this event till I’m old and grey, Geoff! Me too, Allie!” went the conversation. Well, some thirty years later they’ve had part of that wish come true: We can say with complete confidence that at the time of writing both of these geezers are old and grey. Discussion continued on the race format. In 1995 Dave Biggs wrote to KCC chairman Allie Peter suggesting a shorter race to avoid the lower section because of the stone throwing from the cliffs and to eliminate what he called the “least interesting section”. Dave suggested a first day to Josephine’s and a second day to Riverside. The Worrying Years Numbers had dwindled, sponsors were scarce and the Josephine’s overnight stop being comparatively quite near a tar road brought a new challenge: Pressure on KCC to not make the overnight stop at Josephine’s compulsory. It seems once the campsite was close to a main road the call of home comforts was strong. One fellow in particular who had snagged himself a young girlfriend was desperate to spend the weekend with her and whined incessantly enough to drive KCC officials to overindulge in the sponsor’s product! The traditional compulsory overnight stop was then abandoned in 1992. An overnight camp at the Richmond Country Club was not well supported so eventually it was left up to paddlers to make their own arrangements, whether camping, finding a hotel or going home. The Umko started dying a slow death. Sponsorship was hard to come by. For a few years KCC paddlers themselves came to the rescue to keep the Umko going. Stalwarts like Hugh Bland, Graeme Pope-Ellis and Jannie Classens came forward. Then two PMB paddlers, Yann LeClezio and Cameron Mackenzie came to KCC’s rescue with some welcome sponsorship and input. These gentleman were instrumental in formulating a new strategy to get the Umko back on its feet. A Solution Found This was the start of the new format in 2009, with the days switched around - the downstream section paddled first, the Hella Hella section second and prize-giving at Richmond Country Club. And a new overnight venue, fittingly right in view of the iconic Hella Hella buttress. Dave Edwards was the land owner at Hella Hella in those days and he went out of his way to accommodate the race. Hella Hella Outdoor Centre was then taken over by Craig and Denis Drennan. The good relationship between them and the Umko has flourished. Ownership of the property has since reverted to the local clan through land claims, but Craig and Denis lease the land from the new owners and continue to run the Hella Hella Outdoor Centre. This arrangement seems to be working well as it generates employment for a few of the local women and income for the Centre and thus also the new land 28