50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 40

“the Approaches”, “No’s. 1 through 8”, “No Name”, “the Waterfall” and of course “Goodenough’s Weir”. They set off in the same batch as Debbie’s parents Ric and Colleen Whitton who were racing for the mixed double title, whereas Pete & Debbie were just there “to complete the race”. After a swim below No.1 “to settle the butterflies in my stomach” they stopped for Pete to put his spare contact lenses in and try to fix his sunglasses. And who should they bump into on the bank but Mom & Dad! They had come short in No.3 with Colleen enjoying a massive swim with their now buckled boat while “my father found that running down the bank shouting instructions to my mother was far easier then swimming down the rapid with her!” This story of their “No.3” swim would turn into family Umko folklore in the coming years. Their boat was a wreck, folded in numerous places. “My father was searching in the bushes for sticks to use as splints, my mother wasn’t saying much. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. We offered to help, but could see we were standing in the middle of a battlefield. Once my captain’s vision was restored, we gave them our roll of duct tape and tube of Genkem and left the scene.” Debbie ends modestly, “The rest of our race was uneventful and I completed my first ever Umko. What a sense of accomplishment I felt when I reached the finish line”. Debbie’s just too polite to trumpet “I beat my Dad!” or “We won the mixed doubles!” so it had to be added in here without her permission. A puzzling note on safety precautions: Once personal flotation devices (PFD’s, or simply “lifejackets”) and helmets became compulsory paddlers took comfort in wearing them and many believe they have been helped by them at some stage or another, if only for warmth and protection against water hitting them in the chest. Which makes you wonder: They were never BANNED, so why didn’t paddlers wear them voluntarily? Some did, but most “couldn’t” or “wouldn’t dare” - fearing peer pressure more than drowning! It must also be noted however (Charles Mason reminded us) that the few commercially available lifejackets back in the day were uncomfortable and ineffectual, one puncture from a thorn bush and they went all soggy! Boats For a long time in SA modified flatwater racing craft have been used on river races. In the Umko they are probably used on the biggest and most technical rapids anywhere. Usually, racing on rough swift-current waters is done in whitewater boats over much shorter distances. Among the first boats used on the Umko were Accords and Limfjordens - originally Olympic sprint boats, they were designed by Jørgen Samson for Struer of Denmark - as that Viking Rowan Rasmussen will be quick to remind us! Nowadays the craft used are still sleek racing craft, though they may have higher-volume decks and re-inforced hulls. Ironically, as boats have got more and more anorexic over time, Limfys and Accords are now seen as slow and well-suited to big water, but still only because paddlers are racing not tripping on the river. The reason for the drive for ever-faster craft is the flat sections between rapids - true bigwater boats are slow on flat water and river races in South Africa are first and foremost races for the very competitive canoeing fraternity. So the idea is to get to the next rapid (the one that Big B Longley says is the only rapid on the Umko that he fears!) as quickly as possible. Then to sneak it, bomb it, survive it and (admit it), sometimes even to portage around it, but one way or another to get past it unscathed ahead of your rivals. Rescued by a sweep just below No.1 - 1987 Rowan Rasmussen tells Ali Maynard “You are right about lifejackets Ali. I think the first time we were required to use them was after the very full Umko year. And don’t talk about helmets or sweeps! I think we approached races with a fatalistic sense of acceptance - a bit like the gunners below decks at Trafalgar - Nihilistic idiots! Nothing like the modern destroyers with drones, missiles, and fighter cover to protect them (today’s Umko helicopter?).” Charles Mason had scurried around just before the ‘72 race and found “possibly the last lifejacket in Durban.” Robbie Stewart said “Those were the days! I don’t remember ever being Lifejackets were known well before the Titanic sank in 1912. In fact, a Frenchman made one out of cork in 1757 and an Englishman patented his idea in 1765. In 1852 the US Congress passed a law that passenger steamboats on the nation’s placid rivers carry a life preserver for every passenger. In 1875 a Scot demonstrated in Aberdeen that they work. And in 1973, thanks to Charles Mason and Robbie Stewart being spotted wearing them on that raging, roaring 1972 Umko, they gained a glimmer of “perhapsness”. But only a glimmer. Nowadays they’re standar d fare, compulsory along with helmets (and of course proper boat buoyancy) and we can only scratch our heads at what took us so long? Still, cricketers only started using helmets 100 years after inventing ball-boxes. Testosterone is a strange juice! UMKO 50 Years ©Jon Ivins On Safety 40