50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 42

Skullduggery near the front It was Dave’s fault Herve paddled an Umko once in a single and Dave Biggs said “Hey, Herve, let’s pull over there. Those people have some juice. Let’s have a drink and then paddle on.” So he did. (As he tells it, he was of course a saintly, innocent new paddler). As his boat beached, Dave (who was on the river side of him) roared off and tried to lose him. But (hey, he’s telling the story) he caught the villain and passed him just before Goodenough’s, finishing second single that year! It was Herve’s fault Old K1 nerves and getting bigger and more fun as the day wore on. You couldn’t design a better intro to big water paddling if you had all afternoon with a paper and pencil. The decision to switch the days around was genius. This easing-into-it business rather than a baptism of fire was for me. I was feeling solid by the time we reached the end, even digging in for a little end sprint to win our batch. “Despite the success of the day, there was still some residual anxiety around the dinner table that night regarding The Approaches and No.1. The drive down to the river for day two was a sombre one. There was a bit of tension in the car and my father dilly-dallying and spilling his coffee all over the place didn’t really calm the paddlers. I have never been on a quieter start line for any event, running, cycling, paddling, you name it, than day two of the Umko. The only sound, other than yawns and the odd digestive squeak, was the rumbling of rocks and crashing of water coming from around the corner. I heard a back paddler friend of mine say to his driver, “I’m not sure of your line, let’s follow Andre”. I think a few other crews overheard this sage decision, because I turned around as we were about to drop into No.1 to see who was following and there was a veritable crocodile behind us, by which I don’t mean a savage oversized lizard, but a queue of boats following our line. Which was indeed a good one, we emerged with much a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ out the other side. I didn’t see much to be honest. I wish I could remember more. The back paddlers’ view of No.1 is to see his driver disappearing into the maw of the wave train and then it all goes brown for quite a while. “The roughly five hours in total we took for the race were the most fun I’ve had on a river. And one other thing: In amongst the excitement of the endless rapids, remember too ho w spectacular the Umko valley is. The tall red cliffs, the remoteness, the bird calls - It’s a fabulous place and instead of desperately thinking about a wors roll and a beer in the last kilometer of the race I was instead thinking, “I’m so sad this is over.” UMKO 50 Years We had just shot Goodenough’s Weir and faced a hot 15km flat water paddle to the finish at the sea. As old-timers know, there are not many emptying spots on this section with non-stop reeds and steep banks. When we saw a suitable small sandy spot I suggested we empty our boats. Herve was paddling against the bank and must have had ‘dead-leg’ (or perhaps he was thinking how he could convert his next Merc into a mini?) and left me no space to reach the bank! I then decided to paddle on hoping to find another emptying spot but was unsuccessful and had to paddle to the end with a boat full of water and no pump! The Course and its Changes over 50 Years - Geoff Caruth As this mighty event celebrates its 50th anniversary it is worth remembering that the race format has changed many times over half a century - changes sometimes planned but often wrought by Nature! The highest point at which the event has started lies a few hundred metres upstream of the Hella Hella Bridge and the lowest point at which it has finished is a few metres short of the Indian Ocean at the old Umkomaas Skiboat Club. The race has varied in length from approximately 150km (in the days when men were men!) to just over 60km and has been run over two and three days with many permutations. Overnight stops including Josephine’s Bridge, three sites from Josephine’s to St. Elmo’s, Riverside Store, Old Campsite, Mpompomani, Bad Rapid corner and nowadays Hella Hella (in the current ‘back to front’ format)! The food at these venues has varied from barely edible flatulence-inducing to almost Cordon Bleu. The booze has always been good. But I digress - let us take an imaginary trip down the Umkomaas from the extremities . . . From the bridge at Hella Hella in the old days before the 1987 floods, six foot at the marker or water over the old iron bridge below meant a hairy river! Above that level the river cut the corner after the first pool and in one race we all followed the Pope down this “sneak” to witness The Master taking a big goof in the Approaches! Old No.1 had its biggest waves in the second drop until the massive flood of ’87 moved the rapid one stop upstream to its present location. No.2 was a fast foofie slide where things happened so quickly you didn’t get a second chance. Again after 1987 the channel widened considerably. No.5&6 - essentially one rapid despite the name - could be snuck most of the way well on the right under full conditions until said flood scoured the main channel and silted up this dry water course leaving it well and truly dry even in big water. The other major change was at No.8 where the river moved a hundred metres to the right. Old No.8 was a humdinger where the single main drop started off gently and steadily increased in gradient finishing in a series of giant stoppers. The pool below sucked many a canoe to a watery grave never to be seen again. The legendary Charlie Mason lost a boat here in the only time in forty nine starts that he failed to finish the marathon! 42