50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 79

During the pre-race preparations one of the heavies approached and asked if I had ever paddled this section of river before. “No, but I finished the Duzi last month” was my reply, conveniently omitting the fact that my partner and I had come last, scraping home some twenty minutes before the cut-off time. “Well, you’ll find the Umkomaas a little different” was all he added pointedly as he walked off. And indeed it was just that! Four swims in the Approaches and a prolonged attempt at underwater breathing in No.1 convinced me that I was not yet ready for the Umkomaas. Arriving back defeated at the start at Hella Hella Bridge I was joined by Barry Willan and Dave Cobbledick who had made a similar decision after their double had sunk three times in as many kilometres. (Spray covers were unheard of in those days, so you can imagine the amount of water you shipped and the number of times you would have to pull into the bank to empty whilst negotiating big water). The river was probably running at a medium level of somewhere around 5ft at Hella Hella Bridge. Fortunately I had left my Mom’s 1950s-vintage Opel Rekord at the bridge to be collected later (drivers being unheard-of luxuries, as rare as spray covers) and while Barry proceeded to demonstrate an art acquired in his early Puntan’s Hill days of opening a locked motor vehicle with a length of fencing wire, Dave employed one of his nefarious tricks under the bonnet with another piece of wire and we were shortly on our way. None of us knew the road to No.8 but by trial and error we eventually got there. Not many of the twenty-odd starters finished the race which was won by Don Cobbledick. He and Derek Antrobus had apparently paddled neck-andneck most of the way until Derek lost his canoe, swept from his hands while emptying halfway down one of the rapids en route. The Dragons had long departed and we were quietly punishing the last of the frosties when through the bushes burst a bedraggled youngster in the familiar and despised Dragon Canoe Club gear. All he had of his boat was about half a metre of the nose which he had retrieved from the river below No.5&6 rapid. He had walked from there. The Chalupskys had tired of waiting for their clubmate and departed, assuming that if he arrived, the enemy could take him home. “What’s your name, lightweight?” snapped Henry Dudley, who had endured a similar walk punctuated by a stop at one of the local kraals where - he maintained - he had been “held down and had hard liquor poured down his throat”. “Robbie Stewart” came the reply from the 15yr-old. After rescuing him and taking him home his rescuers quietly suggested to him that he should perhaps consider finding a more hospitable home in a club with black T-shirts. No.5&6 there I was set to walk about 10km over the hills with one shoe. Luckily about a kilometre downstream an umfaan on the bank was wearing my other shoe and very kindly gave it back to me. One of my enduring memories of the Umkomaas in those days was how friendly the locals were despite all that was going on in South Africa at the time. We ended up later that afternoon drinking home-brewed beer with a Zulu guy called Mackenzie and his mates in the typical manner – all seated on the ground in a circle passing the clay pot around. I only lost / broke one other kayak at No.5&6 but I did swim it a few times! The second time I broke my boat I was paddling with Paul Chalupsky although I was still a schoolboy. We had to race in pairs in those days. He left me to make my own way to No.8 and when I got to the end I discovered that he and Poppa had gone, presuming I could get a lift home with Charlie Mason. The Umkomaas after that was my first race as a KCC member. I had in the years prior to that (I think in the year before the first Marathon) done trips down the Umkomaas with the KCC guys who were always good to me and as the Duzi was what I really wanted to do I swapped to KCC. I think the last race I did with Paul was the catalyst for my move to KCC from Dragons. As these stories were told around I started hearing people starting to call 5&6 “Robbie’s Special”. Robbie Stewart - “drinking home-brewed beer with a Zulu guy called Mackenzie” I was about 14 when I lost my first boat in rapid No.5&6 – the silly thing was Paul had said: “Whatever you do don’t shoot 5&6 – wait for me”. So being a well-behaved, obedient young chap I came round this corner and realised “Oh shit! That looks like a real rapid” so I tried to get out on a sloping rock on the left hand side, but when I jumped out onto the sloping rock and tried to lift my kayak I slid into the water and had a swim of all swims down the main drop of rapid 5&6. My brand new kayak got wedged under the big rock in the middle – one of the very first but not the last – never to be seen again! Luckily one of the KCC guys had also come to grief somewhere nearby – it was either Peter Gladwin or Dereck Antrobus – and he and I set off downstream carrying what was left of his kayak. I had lost one shoe – so 79 Robbie Stewart in 5&6 UMKO 50 Years