50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 39

annoyed as (on flat water) there is usually no way to catch up such a backlog, but Stan was not perturbed and told me about the ‘clean lines’ we could take down the rapids when all the swimmers were out of the way. Didn’t make sense to me. And so we set off on our own somewhere between batches and indeed had the most fantastic race ever! We passed plenty of swimmers and boat-fixers whom Stan riled while he gracefully negotiated our K2 down the rapids. We came seventh overall and first mixed doubles and I walked away with the idea that if Umko wasn’t exactly ‘easy’, it was great fun and very manageable. In my second or third Umko Stan and I went down 5&6 backwards in a K2 with me insisting loudly with bad German accent, “We must go forward!” I only realised much later what a feat it was to get us down in one piece backwards. My one and only K1 Umko was in 2005, during a proper flood. Stan Freiman loaded his old Sabre on the Jo’burg trailer for me to use as he wasn’t paddling. I guess he didn’t check the weather forecast either, because there was a good chance he’d not see it again. I arrived at Hella Hella to find “my” single the only single on the trailer and the river raging. Deciding that I hadn’t come all the way to spectate, I scrounged and borrowed buoyancy and got ready, noting that some other paddlers were reloading their boats onto their cars. The race was the most fantastic, most memorable, and most exciting paddle I’ve ever had in my life. Made it through No.1 and after that only two swims, one short and one veeery long (after No.7). Luckily a kind paddler caught my boat and deposited it on the opposite side of the river, exhorting some local boys to look after it until I could get across. That meant a 1km trek upstream to swim across and get to the boat. It all worked out. The wave trains were mountainous, I screeched and hollered my way down to the finish and was on a high for the entire next week. As one of only a few women in the race I always found the guys very helpful and supportive, forever giving advice, lending fixing material and giving me tips about how and where to shoot rapids. Earplugs are needed if you want an early night at overnight camps though! Umko is my favourite race on the calendar . . . Patricia Stannard Occasionally the Umko reminds us why we never actually win when paddling on that river, just get released with a reprieve . . Patricia’s first Umko was with Herve de Rauville in 2004. “Not sure why he ever agreed to do it with me as it was number 20 for him. He muttered something about the fact that I’d done a few Fish Marathon’s being an acceptable qualifier. In the Hella Hella race (first time I’d seen the river) we decided to go LEFT of the pinnacle rock at No.5&6. The holes in the middle of 5&6 are BIG ... we swam, and it was dark for a long time down there.” Herve lost his paddle - a conventional one - and as Herve Caveman de Rauville is a founder member of the Flat Paddle Society he was desperate. Spying a young lad on the bank with a paddle he pulled over and wheedled the paddle from him, handing Patricia hers back. No ways she said and gave her wings to the umfaan, changing Herve’s summary confiscation into a fairer swop arrangement. No ways said Herve, ever-parsimonious, the wings are worth two grand the flat paddle two rand, so he swopped back and paddled with the wings, grumbling all the way to Josephine’s. Herve only started paddling in 1977 and he fell out of his boat. Then he fell out again. And again. In fact, doing slalom that year the race judges asked him if he could put his race number on the bottom of his boat so they 39 knew who was floating past. This happened too often, so he invented a new paddling style: ‘Just go as hard as you can’, which led to less falling out and in his very first Umko that year finishing second single! Herve reckons he uses that same simple method to this day. Colleen Whitton - The Early Days! ‘those were the “REAL” Umkomaas Marathons!’ The entry fee for the early (ca.1982) Umkos was the huge amount of . . . R10 a paddle! For this princely sum you got to paddle down the rugged, demanding stretch of natural beauty from Hella Hella to Riverside on day one, with accommodation and three meals thrown in! Once at camp you collected your luggage and bedding from the support vehicle and selected a spot in the huge marquee between the hordes of other stretchers and bedrolls laid out within centimetres of one another. You helped yourself to an awesome burger lunch, fruit and juice. You checked your boat out and got whatever materials and equipment were needed from the repair station as well as assistance and the use of generator driven power tools if the damage was severe enough. Then you lay around exchanging war stories, sipping beverages mainly of the alcoholic variety that you could buy from the pub and in between had a fantastic and filling hot supper. Those of us who were trying to race would retire as early as possible pretending to sleep whilst all around us the more social paddlers would go on long into the night, most forgetting there were now the brand new addition of lady paddlers in their midst. The beverages consumed made the language ever-more descriptive and embellished by words best left out of print. (Would-be sleepers were unaware that the noise was due to The Dance of the Rare and Endangered Umko sub-species of the African Elephant of which more later). On eventually retiring in the early hours, stumbling and falling over recumbent paddlers with much noise and colourful expletives, these same imbibers proceeded to fill the night air with a totally unharmonious whistle and hoot of snoring, and bodily noises best kept to the privacy of the bathroom. At daybreak you packed up your meagre allotment of belongings and stowed them back in the support vehicles, breakfasted like there was no tomorrow and set off to enjoy all this majestic powerful river would throw at you until finally you reached the finish at the mouth of the mighty Umkomaas, feeling like a hero with an achievement shared by only this select handful . . After the finish al l paddlers proceeded to ”The Lido” where we lounged in the pool trying to ease our stinging legs and keeping them out the sun. There was a never-to-be-discovered source of severe skin irritation either in the bank vegetation at the finish or the waste water pumped from the factories in the area which was as predictable as clockwork, it had us all competing for relief! We and our drivers were treated to a free lunch at prizegiving before proceeding home, after sharing war stories and a sense of belonging to an elite bunch of like-minded spirits. Those were the “REAL” Umkomaas Marathons! Not racing Dad Debbie Germiquet, nee Whitton, did her first Umkomaas Canoe Marathon at the tender age of 16 in the back of a K2 with her uncle - none other than Peter Zietsman. “I felt very privileged that my talented uncle would be taking me down this mighty river (the scene of all the Umko “war stories” I had grown up listening to). I would now be shown the infamous rapids: UMKO 50 Years