50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 91

easier in fuller conditions. So with the now silent girls in the back we set off as planned, right at the back of the batch, giving the racing snakes lots of space because the boat picks up speed in the Approaches like a KTM 500 through a dip. Clinging to the inside line we eased through to the bottom of the approaches and euphoria set in. After telling the crew we would take a middle line at No.1 as we arrowed down the small stuff my legs suddenly turned to jelly and I called back: ”We’re going left”. MISTAKE #1 So with no real plan, going at a comfortable 25 knots like a destroyer trying to ram a U-boat we arrived at the lip of No. 1. MISTAKE #2. About now MISTAKES #’s 3 to 5 kinda blurred together because a K2 was aiming to take out but left me no room in the narrow channel and so I jammed on left brake and got my nose inside of them but with the impetus of a cruise liner. With our nose on the bank, tail in the current, the boat swung around, we all fell out, to the oohs and aahs of the admiring groupies on the rocks. (Patricia Stannard very flatteringly - and erroneously - described this as “no small amount of skill of the part of her driver”!). Save The Boat was uppermost in my mind - with the cockpits facing upstream a wrap was imminent. It was a strong boat and no wrap happened because it was half out the water conveniently resting on the K2 which was making failing fibreglass noises. I needed help to lift but my crew had deserted me. I saw Di clinging to a rock in the middle of the drop with her knuckles turning white, then slipping off and following Patricia down into the big hole at the bottom. (Maybe this was where Di heard Patricia “uttering various four letter words at intervals“?). With the help of Guy Collyer, Nick Burden and another we fought the boat onto the bank and I ruefully surveyed the damage. Several breaks on hull and deck looked bad but so blinded by pride was I that we prepared to tape her up when a glassfibre patch or two would have been better. The sun was hot, the boat dried in minutes and the last batch had rattled by so I looked around for a knife to do a good job of taping. My two river-babes each fished out a vicious-looking flick knife with a serrated edge designed to cut through cockpit lips when trapped. I took a mental two steps back and had eyes in the back of my head for the rest of the trip. And so I should as I continued to treat my crew very badly. We set off from No.1 on three wings and a prayer for the finish. At Rapid No.2 MISTAKE #6 occurred as I tried to sneak the holes in our wounded boat (Patricia now reduced to shouting to the boat “go girl, good girl”), overlooking the danger of eddies snatching the nose and so we spun out, rammed the rocks on the side and cracked the deck some more. A bit more tape and off we went again. As P said in her description of events there were times when she was on top of the world and times when she was in the depths. As rear gunner in a wildly flexing boat she was being thrashed up and down in the wave trains like a yo-yo. But there I was sitting sublimely up front, just missing the holes and having a lovely time and ignoring the yells from the back. The boat got us through everything (walking No.5&6 - P loyally records that Hugh - briefly - helped carry the boat) until that bony little rapid just above No.7 where I dumped us in the water AGAIN. It was here I discovered something startling about Di. As we pushed the wreck to the bank she carelessly tried to knee a rock out the way and I discovered that she sinks. As I pried her little white clutching hand off the boat down she went into the depths. Only a quick grab on her PFD by Patricia saved her! Later when I politely asked if maybe she should enhance her personal buoyancy she just looked at me with eyes like black holes. (According to Di she had bravely placed herself between the boat and a large rock and thus saved the day!). 91 So with Patricia being whipped up and down and Diana passing damage reports like, “Water has reached my waist, now it’s reached my er....neck” and me paddling blithely on (my end was OK) we got to our nemesis: Rapid No.8. The top drop had a serious wave train of vicious curling monsters and as we punched through the biggest of them the nose snatched the slack water and we went up the bank like a large crocodile after a wildebeest. I was so high up the bank that I stepped onto dry land. The boat was hanging together - only just - and so we decided to float down to the cars at the picnic spot. The second drop at No.8 is a test even for a whole boat and with a despairing cry from P as she floated out of her seat it was end-of-story. The K3 was held together by cables only. (Or as Patricia put it: Here everything fell apart - quite literally as our brave K3 decided that she would fare considerably better as a K2 and a K1). We dragged ourselves ashore like drowned rats and a very kind Gary Clarke drove us out the valley. Di and P were thus the first to learn one of the Golden Rules when paddling the Umko: D.F.H - Don’t Follow Hugh! (um,hadn’t Dickie learnt that before them, Hugh?). Mom & Daughter Whitton Paddle a “String of Sausages” Approaching the top of No.4 Debbie Germiquet and Kim Eksteen wrapped their K2 in three places, the foremost right at the pedals so there was absolutely no steering. Colleen and son Clive Whitton saw them and pulled over. They decided that Colleen and daughter Debbie would nurse the stricken boat down to No.8 where hopefully they could find some fibreglass and do make-shift repairs to get to the overnight stop at the Orange grove on the left bank past Josephine’s where Dad Ric could do the necessary. Clive and Kim took the intact boat down. Colleen tells it: “Once taped up the boat was like a string of sausages but it was still holding together. For Debbie and I it was possibly the hardest thing we had ever done. We had absolutely no steering and very little boat control with it writhing in the water beneath us so we were also forced to take lines down the river which we would never had contemplated normally. The biggest epic was No.8 where we should have entered 8a on the right and crossed over the wave train to exit down the left at 8c . This just was not going to be possible so we made an off-the-cuff decision and just rode the centre of the wave train all the way down, mind-blowing stuff! I think Debbie took the brunt of the strain on this epic as she was having to keep the momentum going while I spent most of the time keeping the boat as straight as possible to the current with bow rudder strokes. “By good fortune” (she says! Skill, we say!) “not only did we get the boat down to below No.8 without any swims or incidents, Umzinyathis Henry Pretorius and Kevin Walsh were at the bottom with enough repair materials to do a fantastic job of repairing it - so good that only minor tweaks needed to be done at the overnight stop.” All four of them finished the race! Race tactics Jerome Truran and Rory Pennefather held off the big guns and won the 1978 Umko like this: “I was always a thin, skraal kid, but in races I was committed and thorough and this paid off for Rory and me when we won the Umko and the SA K2 Champs that year. We held off the big guns Robbie Stewart and Tony Scott (who, together with Peter Peacock, were my paddling heroes). The second day we were leading but could see the bigger, heavier Robbie and Scotty team coming for us. It just happened to be above a place where the river splits, with a shallower, but slower option, which we had scouted before. I said to Rory, (hold my beer, watch this!) and took the slower option, knowing that these two busy quantity surveyors with wives and UMKO 50 Years