50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 82

©Jon Ivins meters down the Umko I cannot tell horror stories of large rapids and boateating holes but I can recount the power of a seemingly docile river. Our line was not regulation but hardly bizarre. The rock seemed innocuous enough but the consequences . . . well, I was lucky! “There were many stories doing the rounds involving kevlar decks and carbon weaves but our boat was an old, standard glass veteran, already bashed from four previous races. This was, quite simply, a freak accident. Many thanks to NAC Helicopters, Greg Frizelle, Brad Nicholson, Bryan Slater, Joe Torlage, Bruce Jacobs and Colin Roets for their help.” As Travis was wafted up in the helicopter he looked down misty-eyed at his rescuers (who weren’t looking up or waving, they were busy) and thought again “Shit, this is a beautiful valley!” Bryan Slater - Entrapment and rescue “I would like to make special mention of the day I was trapped underwater in a wrapped boat in No.7 while tripping on a high river. Malcolm Belkie Stothard (with scant regard for his own safety), dived into the raging brown beast and managed to dislodge me and without doubt save my life. It is informative that we as big river paddlers don’t make a big fuss of things like this.” The worst possible adverse result happened in 1989. A drowning - Peter Marlin of East London - at Gully, scarcely 5km from the finish of a 98km race. Robbie Stewart has vivid recollections of events that sad day: “I got a call from John Woods saying “Robbie we have a problem - Pete did not pitch at the airport to fly home with us”. So we borrowed Geoff Caruth’s 4x4 and Allie Peter, Pete Mountford and I set off to meet the police and Peter’s brother. The police had heard that a taxi had given a guy a lift from the Gully area to Umkomaas. We set off up the South bank towards Gully stopping at every taxi owner’s house along the way. Eventually one of the drivers said that he had seen or spoken to one of his colleagues who had a paddler with him. The guy we were looking for lived very near Gully on top of the hill. We got there at about 3am and knocked on the door. “The policeman said keep talking – he won’t open his door unless he hears us speaking English. Sure enough this guy opens the door to his rondavel and it was just like a scene from an old black and white movie: There was his wife sitting up in a four poster bed in the middle of the room UMKO 50 Years with the bedclothes pulled up under her chin with a frilly nightcap on her head. A very nice guy, he said No, the paddler he had given a lift to was from Johannesburg. “It was then that I had the terrible task of saying to Peter’s brother, “That is not good news. I think we have to expect the worst”. “It turned out that SABC TV cameraman Robin Rabec had filmed Peter going down Gully towards the cliff at the bottom, falling out and hitting his head. He actually swam to the shore on the right bank – anoth er paddler saw him. He probably then got back into his boat and lost consciousness. In the meantime Robin had turned back upstream to carry on filming and didn’t know of the drama unfolding just downstream. He got picked up by the TV helicopter and went off soon after.” A lifejacket was found but the name on it was not Peter Marlin’s. However it turned out he had borrowed a lifejacket. When organisers and friends returned to Gully the next morning in the SABC TV helicopter they found his body and the tragic outcome was confirmed. Allie Peter, Peter Mountford and Robbie Stewart were the officials with the sad task of coordinating the search, speaking to Peter’s family and then informing the press of the tragedy. Pete Mountford organised a trip into the valley with volunteers a week later to search for his boat, paddle or anything else that might help piece the puzzle together. A commission of inquiry was set up under an advocate. It found that Marlin “had drowned as a result of a gradual loss of consciousness after originally striking his head on a rock causing a subdural haemorrhage after his canoe had capsized at Gully rapid”. Great care is taken to reduce the odds of a recurrence, although paddlers are aware of the dangers inherent in our sport even to relatively experienced paddlers such as Peter Marlin. A positive outcome of this tragedy was an appeal in the April KCC newsletter for all paddlers to start wearing helmets. Helmets have since been made compulsory kit. Dan Bing Crosby’s fibreglass surgery In The Approaches Dan Crosby, sitting behind Ron Moir, was sliced by a paddle from another kayak (the paddler probably didn’t even know it had happened due to the general confusion in these rapids at the start of the race). Dan put his hand up to wipe his nose and it wasn’t there. It had been moved to the side of his face and the blood was pouring. The River Doctor (he went by ‘Dr Sir Rodney Ingles’) washed Dan’s nose in the pristine waters of the Umko, placed him on a bakkie tailgate, doused him in disinfectant and 82