50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 46

we were tough in those days!). So I tackled the Umko in my Sella K1 with a way-too-high seat and promptly had a swim in the Approaches to No.1. Now I was the last paddler in my batch, paddling ‘blind’. Eventually I got to rapid 5&6 and saw everybody getting out to portage. With youthful courage or stupidity I said to myself: “Well let’s see why everybody is portaging,” and proceeded to shoot the rapid blind. Spun out above the pinnacle on river left - did a windgat high Telemark to get back into the current and promptly dropped into the massive hole next to the pinnacle. My safety equipment - a pair of Polly Shorts and a running vest - kicked in to help me. Well at least being barefoot was an advantage underwater (yes we were tough in those days - and stupid!). In any case I survived the swim and finished my race. 1988 was high! The rain before the 1987/1988 floods. A letter from Lyn Porter on the right bank at Hella Hella in October 1987 told how they were cut off from the outside world (their farms, Game Valley Estates and Highover plus her parents the Payn’s Hella Hella on the left ba nk are now collectively known as “Highover”). The letter had been hand-delivered to a neighbour at the top of the landslide-covered pass on the Donnybrook side by trudging up the pass on foot; the neighbour had driven right round via Josephine’s Bridge to Richmond, then posted it. Lyn wrote of both Hella Hella bridge ‘onramps’ being washed away, water right up to the big fig tree on the right bank, dead ostriches and warthogs. The A-frame camp, shower and loo on their Otto’s section below No.2 were completely missing, presumed to be enroute to Australia. 425mm of rain had fallen in five days - 250mm on the Monday and Tuesday alone! Jerome Truran, ace whitewater paddler remembers driving down into the valley: “The first thing anyone did arriving at the famous Hella Hella bridge, was leap out of the car to check the level. Then those little primate hearts started beating faster, as the powerful, surging mass of tantalising, surprisingly flat water at the start disappeared round the corner to No.1 - time for a number two, baba! (scientifically, could this be called Truran’s corollary to Charlie’s Law of laxative effect?). Paddlers showed up at Hella Hella more to do battle with the river than with each other. I think to this day that’s why there’s such fantastic camaraderie amongst SA paddlers and any other paddler who shows up there – paddlers united by the river!” No.5&6 underwater on 29 February 1988. The Hella Hella to Josephine’s section was not raced that year after Allie went up in a chopper to check the course. Again in 1988, as in 1969, much media attention was given to the high level of the Umko before the race. Panic and rumours abounded. Chairman Allie Peter kept his head, handled the press and the paddlers magnificently and the race went ahead - as the UMKO should always go ahead and has for forty nine years - quite rightly emphasising that it’s up to each paddler to put his boat in the water - OR NOT. Allie also patiently explained how “postponing” was a lot easier said than done. He made very good points but not all wanted to hear them. A two hour long-distance phone call from Stan The Water Buffalo Freiman cajoling and arguing for a postponement almost had our chairman christened Saint Allister Gordon Peter, Patron Saint of Patience with Paddlers! Canoeists forget that theirs is the ‘easy’ part of the Umko. The recreational part. For the farmers, officials, caterers and helpers the marathon is a serious and challenging operation that takes months to arrange and co-ordinate, all leading up to a specific weekend. Postponing would be almost like starting all over. It’s also important to remember that not a few of your race officials work right up to the start, then paddle the marathon, then start working again as soon as they finish the day’s leg - at the camp and then at the finish. But the rumour our officials are totally fearless is not true: Allie reports being more scared in the chopper hovering ABOVE No.1 than he ever felt in his kayak semi-submerged IN No.1! UMKO 50 Years Kingfisher Falls on 29 February 1988. Taken from the Alliecopter and clearly showing the river left channel. 1999 - “One to Remember” 1999 had the second-highest water in a race starting at Hella Hella. There had been other big water years, but they had started at Josephine’s where a wider river bed flattens and calms the water more than at Hella Hella. Rob Davey wrote: “To all who made it to Riverside, well done. Almost every paddler had a war story to outdo the one told before. How true this is I don’t know, but there’s a rumour doing the rounds that a boat was lost on the flat 46