50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 36

tell all who would listen to him about the massive rapids he and his partner had just journeyed down. It was only years later that I realised that was the legendary Paul Chalupsky, winning the Umko for the first time.” Paul won for the seventh time the year Rob did his first Umko - 1977. Rob has since paddled 37 Umkos himself and is now hugely involved in running the race! He reminisces: “I entered my first Umko in 1977 (entry fee was less than R5), a very full river with the route taking us from Josephine’s to the beach. My first of many swims came a few hundred meters down the river when I hit the first bend. Then somewhere towards Riverside I broke my paddle. Brian Moore gave me a spare paddle, a broomstick with two planks nailed onto it. Not the greatest, but it did get me going again.“ “After a big swim through Gully where I had both my shoes sucked off I finally made it to the beach about twenty minutes after cut-off time. Don Southey, one of the organisers, could see me way up the river so he waited for me in true Umko style and then took me up to the Lido Hotel to join in the festivities.“ Tripping continued - and continues - even once the race was wellestablished. Not so much to find out where the rapids were any more, but to suss out the best lines and to train. Schoolboys are always keen Umko paddlers and veterans take them to show them the way - and other things! Tim Biggs recalls how in preparation for their first Umko marathon ‘ou man’ Roly Alborough took him, brother David, Rory Pennefather, Clive Curson and Hubby Sandberg for a 3-day trip to the sea from Josephine’s. “Our first night at Riverside was unforgettable. Roly decided to teach us how he thought ‘the manne’ should behave on a trip. We paddled across the river and climbed up a steep slope to a Zulu kraal where we all got very drunk on utshwala. We virtually rolled back down the hill. Roly couldn’t stop and crashed through a thorn bush and into the river. That night we got really cold and huddled around the fire in our sleeping bags. In the middle of the night we were woken by loud shouts of alarm from David. His sleeping bag was on fire and belching out clouds of black smoke.” Exhausted and sunburnt they eventually paddled onto the beach at Umkomaas in the pitch dark of the last day. Shorter races provide thrills and fun too. At the 1978 Rosemarie Dairy’s tube race the sponsor Mr Gemmel finished on his tube “among the riff-raff singing halleluias” and the host at Staebraes Dr Biggs (Dave, Tim and Dan’s uncle) provided impala to braai, Ernie provided ‘beers for Africa’ and ‘diehards Graeme Pope-Ellis and Hubby Sandberg were on top form, while Arthur Egerton’s strip show was a sizzler - say no more!’ Getting to the start old-style Cellphone calls and messages on the morning of a race connect people and share last-minute info. What did they do in the old days? A month before the race the January 1977 Canews had this advice on a Waterfall to sea race: ‘It is an advantage to meet at the first bridge after the Umgababa Holiday Resort. It is preceded by a long downward slope (from Durban) with African fruit and basket sellers on the left.’ A very slow paper tweet? Colin Wilson* “My first-ever Umko was with twin brother Dave Peck (from “henpecked”). Wet behind the ears, just done one Dusi and not that stable in a Foxbat. We thought we were legends of the river, although we’d never been on it and didn’t have a clue what was in store. UMKO 50 Years “Two swims in the Approaches, no damage but by now we’re very scared. Take No.1 main drop approaching from the top pool. See the biggest hole and disappear into it with the obvious result, long swim underwater, swallow half the Umko but get to the bank with the boat a kay downstream. Shaken, we get back into the boat. At the top of No.2 I brace and break a paddle. We swim. Peck is with the boat. I get to shore near the top, and run down the bank with Peck yodelling every time he hits a rock. Peck goes over the main drop and cracks two ribs, loses interest in the boat and the race. I have to dive in to rescue the boat from an eddy, get it back to the bank, empty it and inspect the damage. I deem it fit to continue. “Peck however, mutinies. Refuses to get back in the boat citing pain, mental anguish and poor navigation from the skipper. Harsh words are spoken regarding the colour of his backbone but he will not budge, so our first Umko is over. “We hike back to the start and catch a lift to Richmond Club to dro wn our sorrows (me) and deaden our pain (Peck).” *Not to be confused with the Colin Wilson from the 60s pioneer trips of chapter one, Woodrow is but a youngster. Born in the 60s he has ‘only’ done seven Umkos! Twin Peck got married, swiftly had 4 kids and earned his nickname Peck as his paddling was equally swiftly curtailed! He is, however, back in a canoe at Umzinyathi trying to get fit and redeem himself…hopefully Umko 2016 to bury his demons. Others also paddled “blind” On his first Umko the second day was unknown to Brian Whiteford, as he had not paddled that section before. A couple of mates were trying to scare this novice with a story of a “waterfall”, but he just put it down to them having a laugh at his expense. At the last moment, though, he decided to approach Graeme Pope-Ellis thinking a man of his standing would tell him if there really was a waterfall. “I wandered over, greeted him and casually asked him if there was anything I should look out for on the day. Imagine my horror when he casually said “Yes, the waterfall”. Now my mind was racing – was he in on the joke? But he doesn’t know me from a bar of soap. I decided to probe a bit further and asked “So how will I know where it is?” Graeme said “Easy. You will see the spray from the falls. Take out on the left about 100 meters above it”. “To this day I wonder what would have happened if I had not asked him . . .” Dusi champ skriks Sbonela Eric Khwela has won the Dusi once and the non-stop Dusi four times, but the Umko was different! He paddled with Marc Germiquet. “I was so scared because of the stories they were telling about the big water and the rapids. The water was pumping as we lined up on the start line. I was shaking in the boat and my eyes were wide open - haha. We started up there with the front batch. We got to No.1 and I couldn’t believe it. We smashed our boat in two pieces. Early in the morning our race was over and we had to go back to the start to catch the cars before they left to take us to the finish. Even today I’m still scared when I think about that day.” Here’s Chris Wade’s excuse for not winning: “My main memory of the Umkomaas is the sheer beauty of the valleys we paddled through and in particular the cliff faces overhanging the river. Very early in my Umko paddling career, Brian Grant and I were passing below a cliff face in the St. Elmo’s area when there was a sudden loss of power from the rear of the 36