5. The Nineteen Nighty Days

Neither Neil nor I lined up for the 1990 Dusi; I still hadn’t recovered from my nightmare of coming last and then bailing at Burma in 1985, but I am not sure what his excuse was. In February Dee and I went on holiday to Victoria Falls, but I made an error in our timing. The season had ended and we didn’t get to raft the Zambesi. While there I thought it would be cool to buy a mokoro but we didn’t have the money plus it weighed a tonne and would have crushed my car, so we just took a photo.

For the 1990 Umko a girl asked me to paddle with her. How could I say no Liefie Schulze? I do remember that she was very popular at the overnight stop and I believe there may have been some river crossings in the dark. That year Pop’s diary read: “16 hopefuls descend on me for the Umko, including the parents of Perrow and Herreveld. My bedroom a birds dorm.” He also noted that Liefie and I made the podium as the 3rd Mixed Double and won a repair kit. Grant Woollaston and Ken Reynolds won.

Looking through the old photo albums, Pops really was very good in opening up his house so often to so many over his years in Howick. He enjoyed the company and always grumbled about the mess we would leave him, but was always quick to ask when we were all coming back. For some reason, one of his favourite guests was a young Nick (Skid) Warren. Copper’s bad banter about this and all of Pops’ squatters was “Bring me another boy.” Pops however was well aware of this and his response was to call Copper “Simpleton.” Indeed, Pops always had an eye for the girls – both the paddlers girlfriends and the paddling girls, but it was some 20 years after our mom had passed before he finally got a ‘girlfriend’.  For a year or two while Pops was seeing Jan, Dee and Lo really enjoyed staying with her in Shongweni, particularly for the jacuzzi bubble bath overlooking the sugarcane fields.

As a Zimbo, Easter of 1990 was the first time I witnessed the fun of a surfski doing ‘ins and outs’ and it was the first time I tried to surf. A large contingent of Wits paddlers including Neil an Lo, Rod and Jac’s plus Dee and I descended on the Cooke’s holiday home at St Michaels in KZN; they had all the toys and we played hard. I didn’t get to paddle the ski, but I spent a lot of time on various surf boards and although I could barely stand up, I had loads of fun. The surfing bug had its first bite…

Later in 1990 Dee and I decided to take a long circular drive to the Fish River Canoe Marathon. We first went Sodwana Bay where we camped in the tent from my 10th birthday. Not having a surf-ski, I had borrowed Neil’s old Perception to play in the sea; the dive-boat masters thought I was mad when I paddled out to them at their dive sites. From there we went to stay in huts on St Lucia. In the mornings I would paddle on the lake in my K1 for an hour or two as training for the race – the local rangers there also said I was mad, the lake was full of hippo and crocodiles, but I never saw any while out on the water.

We then drove through to the Craddock Spa and again put up the old tent in the Wits Kibbutz. That year I paddled my ‘Winston’ boat. Prior to this, I had tried to get some sponsorship for myself from that brand. While smoking and paddling might sound like a bad fit, Texan had previously sponsored the PE2EL Challenge and many of the old salty sea dogs still call it the Texan Challenge, plus the Camel Man did paddling adventures; so with this in mind I put in my application to the RJ Reynolds marketing team who were a client. Unfortunately, I had no winning credentials to share and was rejected. Not deterred, proud of the fact that I stopped for smoke breaks during races and still wanting to look like a sponsored athlete, I boldly stencilled the Winston logo across the back deck of my red boat.

I can still remember parts of their radio ad, it became a mantra by which I like to think I lived: “I don’t give a damn, I’m a Winston man, they can do anything they like. But if they don’t choose to make it right, you best expect a fight. For me it’s the Winston taste or nothing.” I really thought I was quite cool; paddling, drinking and smoking. Silly me. (Regards the smoking that is.) But I did love my ‘sponsored look’ boat.

Neil had partnered with Robbie Herreveld (who was then just 18 years old and took over the driving) to win his second Fish which was then serving as the Eastern Province K2 Championship. They won simply because they were fitter than Colin Simpkins and Shaun Rice; at least that is what Copper said in the TV interview.

Robbie and Neil win the Fish. Sean and Copper. When endo’s below Keiths were common

For the 50 Miler in 1990 I went down with Neil, Lo and Sue Penaluna. We stayed at Jan’s place in Shongweni where her daughter Kate and her husband Doug were building a 12m steel mono hull yacht’ the Freedom Song; it was fascinating and to this day I still want to do a crossing as a deck hand. Anyway, I was paddling in a single again; in that way I could train if and when I wanted to and then I could also stop for rest and smoke breaks as I wished. The racing snakes were also in singles as the 1991 Dusi was to be a K1 year. At the end of day 1 Neil was lying 4th some 10 minutes off the pace. Pops’ diary reported he was following me on day 2, so he missed the finish and was amazed to hear that “Neil had won.” I had come 150th out of 700 boats, which according to his diary was “not too bad.”

Neil wins the 50 Miler. The Freedom Song. Kate and Doug

1990 marked the year that John (Hairy) Oliver became canoeing’s official time keeper and administrator, with the assistance of his wife Margie. John was an accomplished paddler in his youth. In one of my early Umko’s I had paddled with him when he too was in a whitewater boat; and I remember thinking he had so much beard he must have been one of the ZZ Top guys, but he knew all the rapids by name and had good lines so I happily sat back and followed him. Some 30 years later John remains faithful to canoeing and the timekeeping cause and today John and his family are icons of South African canoeing. He did the 1989 Dusi with his eldest daughter Lorna when she was just 13 years old and to her credit in 2021 she completed her 33rd consecutive Dusi, a truly incredible achievement. Kirsten took a long break to focus on sprints, but she has 22 Dusi’s to her name, while John has 15 – a total of 70 between father and daughters. Proof that once you have done one or two, the Dusi gets you. Sadly, Margie has passed as has Neil Powel who looked to be ‘the next official keeper.’ I love how there’s no difference between John dressed up for a photo shoot and John at work. 30 years later he is still making races happen and keeping times.

Having vowed never to go back to the deplorable, dirty Dusi, I sat on the side lines for 5 years and then ‘tried again’ in 1991. By my standards I had a good one; in that I finished. According to Pops diary I came 162nd and “Rod bailed having crippled himself.” He also reported that “Neil pressed the Natal men hard to come 3rd. A singular achievement for a Transvaaler. Very proud.”

The picture below right says +/- Umzinyathi, but I am pretty sure this was at the top of Tops Needle, a very naughty rapid formed by tons of rubble from the construction of the dam wall. The recommended line is to stay well left all the way down as towards the centre there are some really big holes and two or three very large boulders where danger awaits; as one of our club members would later learn…

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Day 3 of Dusi is one of the best pieces of river in SA
Dusi Canoe Marathon
My first race with winged blades

This was John Edmonds third K1 win, again unseating the Pope. They both ran Burma Road, Neil paddled around gambling on the high water getting him ahead but he came unstuck at Island proving Burma to be the faster and safer racing option that year – such is the challenge if you are competing to win.

This was also the year when the legend (we know he is a legend because he constantly tells us so) Anthony (Waldi) Wald won the K2 section with Mark Perrow. Waldi, you are a legend, in your own mind, and to your family; well done my boy. Interestingly, at the start of day 1 protestors tried to have the race stopped because we were “Paddling in Poo” – I wonder what those people would think now, given that it has gotten way way worse.

For the 1991 Umkomaas (then sponsored by No Limits) I teamed up with a Witsie by the name of Rhett Kessler. We started out really well but went into a hole in the bottom of No2 and popped an endo, but when we were sucked back in, the back of the boat folded in half. We joined likes of Gavin Tarr and Ken Reynolds as-well-as Niels Verkerk and Brian Longley who also had very naughty swims in the same hole. I know this because we all got TopSport TV coverage here. The fact that when interviewed I laughed and put it down to “bad driving” was probably more about relief that we weren’t still stuck in the hole. It was scary, but worse was still to come in later years, first at 5&6 on the Umko and then at Washing Machine on the Dusi. After wrapping we then had a long walk back to Hella Hella only to find that everyone had gone, but eventually some kind soul gave us a lift to Durban.

That year was a very long one; 141km over 3 days from Hella Hella to the sea. Neil and Robbie won their first Umkomaas, beating the likes of Copper and Sean, Mark and Monty. Neil, a mere Vaalie, also won the Grand Slam for best overall result in the 50Miler, Dusi and Umko, upstaging the Natal heroes.

I get TV coverage
Neil & Robbie win the Umko
Fiona Freiman, Neil, Dee, Graham, Miya, Mark, Stanley, Tracey, Rhett, Andrew, Me, Tweet

Talking about Robbie, after Umko he went to the Berg River Canoe Marathon where he beat the likes of Monty and Mark becoming the youngest ever winner at just 19. As a Fish ‘n Chip and a ‘fair weather’ paddler, the Berg never did appeal to me. Starting in Paarl and ending at the West Coast town of Velddrif, it is the longest canoe marathon in South Africa. 240km of mostly flat water over 4 days was not my idea of excitement or enjoyment. To make matters worse, the race is run in July meaning freezing cold, wet weather; so I always stayed well away. Who wants to spend their hard earnt money and precious leave days on something that won’t be fun was my question. When Robbie won in 1991 he wrote his name into paddling history, and then he continued to do so as he went on to win the Berg for 6 consecutive years through to 1996. In recent years I have thought I should attempt this race; then sanity prevails, but who knows.

One trip that I was sad to have I missed was when the Wits Kibbutz went to tour Spain in 1991. They did 4 or 5 races on a paddling circuit in the Northern Region of Asturias, winning 2 or 3, but the big one was when Neil and Mark won the Sella Descent. This is a 20km race famous for its chaotic Le Mans type mass start with over 2000 paddlers battling to get on the water first and it is also famous for the train that follows the river and race with hundreds of spectators busy partying.   

Given that these were Apartheid years, South Africans weren’t welcome so the Witsies entered as Swiss paddlers, the theory being that this would position them as ‘neutrals.’ At the Sella the annual tradition is that the winners names are carved into the stonework of the Ribadesella Bridge where the race finishes, so Neil and Mark’s names are there along with those of Paul Chalupsky and Kevin Culverwell who won in 1969, Herman and Oscar Chalupsky who won in 1986 and Daniel Conradie and Moray Wilson who won in 1997.

The mass start. Neil and Mark win. The infamous train and the Witsies with the trophy: Raz, Puc, Vetkook, Hop, Hennie, Speedy, Noo, Laurence, Speedy, Tweet

Gavin (Vetkook) Cooke and Graham (Tweet) Bird came second that day; Rory (Puc) Attridge and Mark (Schnapps) Shuter would have been competitive and then there was also the likes of Derek (Speedy) Levin, Laurence Cooke, Russell (Raz) Fraser and Henry (Hennie) Spradbury; paddlers who were there mainly for the party. I would have loved to have partied with them all. Vetkook, Hennie and Hop are now gone. Raz did 2 tours to Spain and the Avon Descent in Australia, but then gave up on paddling, Schnaps and Puc went to the dark side, while Tweet went to adventure racing. It’s time to come back boys.

In October of 1991 I passed on going to the Fish and told Dee that it I thought it would be better for us to go and spend the time with her mom at the farm, her dad Rocky having passed tragically a few months earlier. My real reason for wanting to go to the farm was to bend my knee and ask Dee’s mother Di, if I could marry her daughter. Fortunately she yes and kept the secret at dinner that night. The next day Dee and I drove over Naude’s Neck to Rhodes where I proposed in the old hotel with a ring I had designed. I thought I was very romantic. Fortunately, she too said yes. The bar tender also thought it was quite romantic and gave us a bottle of Champagne. From the farm we then all drove to Howick and picked up Pops to go to the South Coast for her brother, John Green’s 21st. What a party that was, but any party that included John was a proper party – especially if it was his.

Meanwhile, down at the Fish, Robbie and Neil won again – making it 2 wins in a row for Robbie and 3 for Neil. Where Neil and Monty won Fish in 1989 because they successfully shot Keith’s, this year Robbie and Neil portaged Keith’s which gave them the lead over Mark and Monty, who were ahead but then had a swim. Mark fell out in the bottom of Keith’s, Monty did a rock roll and snapped his paddle in the process and that was the end of their race. Sometimes the brave get lucky, sometimes not.

Robbie and Neil win the Fish

In early December of 1991, we all again descended on Pops in Howick for the 50 Miler. Neil and Mark were paddling together in preparation for the ’92 doubles Dusi, I was paddling on my own. That became my thing, to paddle in a single regardless of whether or not a race was a singles or doubles year so that I didn’t have to train if I didn’t want to, and I could stop for a smoke break as and when I wanted. Pops’ diary reported that “N & M cracked their boat early in day 2 but Ken Reynolds strapped it up for them and they finished 4th.”  I was very happy with 153rd while Paul Burne was happier still as 1st junior.

For the 1992 Dusi we again all went to Pops place. On the evening before the race Pops reversed his car over the tail of Neil and Marks brand new, R4500 race boat. Hop was not fazed, they drove to Eric’s Canoe Shoppe outside of Durban where he rebuilt the back of the boat much to Pops’ relief.

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Dusi Canoe Marathon
Dusi Canoe Marathon

I had a 3 fun days and finished my second Dusi. For me, just finishing was a victory in itself. Neil and Mark did somewhat better and made Dusi history when they beat Tim Cornish and Gavin Tarr by just 8 seconds, having stolen the lead on day 2 with what the commentators called “A display of pure padding power” to win in a record time of 8hours 1minute. Kevin White and Pope Ellis were third, 90seconds back – then it was the closest race in Dusi history, and 28 years since Transvaaler’s (Harry Fisher and Gordon Rowe) last won. In truth they were fortunate in that their main contenders the Edmonds brothers, the Pope and Kevin as-well-as Cornish and Tarr all swam at Hippo Rocks, but Neil and Mark didn’t and then they cracked on the pace to close a 4 minute gap, crossed the Inanda Dam and overtook the leaders to win the stage and with this, win the race. Pop’s was very proud of “A great victory.”

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Mark and Neil win the Dusi – and pave the way forward in terms of personal sponsorship

Mark had organised a sponsorship from Telkor, so everyone and everything was boldly branded. At the end of the race there was a complaint regards an infringement of the personal sponsorship rules and with this they were nearly disqualified. Luckily, in the end they were fined R5 000, a large sum back then which Telkor happily paid, as all the fuss only served to create additional publicity for the brand.

In February, Witsie Gavin Cooke tragically died while participating in the Olympic sprint selection trials at Roodepoort Dam. Gavin was one of the most promising paddlers in Transvaal at the time and had his sights set on going to Barcelona after his success in Spain. He was always a happy, friendly guy and one of Neil and Hops ‘super seconds’ in their Dusi win.

My excuse for missing Umko in 1992 was that I had got married and then went away on honeymoon; it was a good excuse. Pops diary said “I never saw a bride so alluring and radiant. We all thought we had never seen a better wedding.” While Dee and I were in the Comoros, Neil and Robbie won the Umkomaas Marathon with “little competition and 11 minutes to spare.”

Shortly after winning the Umko, Neil and Robbie flew to the UK to compete in the British Marathon Championships, which they won. Two months later Mark Perrow, Oscar Chalupsky, Bennie Reynders, Hermann Kotze, Barry Hayward and Willem van Riet went to Barcelona with Lesley Carstens and Dene Simpson for the Sprints, while Corran Addison and Alex Rennie went for Slalom, but no Olympic medals came home with our paddlers. In truth our guys mostly came from long distance backgrounds; the Sprint and Slalom disciplines were almost foreign to us then, so medals were never expected. Sadly, Olympic canoeing never did include the Marathon format, where South Africa would have excelled.

Neither Neil nor I went to Fish in 1992. Neil and Robbie had won Breede by a boat nose and then lost the SA Marathon Champs at Midmar to Tweet and Grant but still made the South African Marathon team that went to Australia; instead of going to Fish. They didn’t have a great race but were happy with 5th. My excuse for not going to Fish was that work got in the way, but I can’t say that I was overly upset as the ‘work’ issue was a conference in Sodwana Bay. Work paid for us to get dive licenses and we spent 4 nights there, after which they asked us to never come back, despite all the money they had made at their pub. What a party. The diving wasn’t bad either.

Nic, Alix, Me, Phil
Who needs a mask?
Gerrie, Di, Christel

Talking parties, the messiest party I ever went to in my life happened in October of 1992 at the Dabs/Wits Canoe Club, where Neil then lived. The occasion was a double Batchelors for both Neil and Mark Shuter, attended in the main by paddlers – and it was wild. I believe there may have been some shenanigans with the strippers that night. Dave Tattam and I decided it would be fun to try break a door off its hinges by running at it – like you see in the movies. We needed about 20 attempts but eventually it came down. It was the door to Scatters room and he wasn’t happy. Neil woke up with his arm in a plaster of paris cast and believed it was broken. I had to replace a broken door. Tony Lightfoot had been left hanging, hand-cuffed to the burglar bars and had dislocated a shoulder. That bar area and digs would never be the same again; fortunately for Neil and Scatter they left not too long after this.

In November I decided to do the Vaal Marathon in a K1 as training for 50Miler and Dusi. The river was low and bony on day 1 and day 2 we had a headwind the whole way so it was just a long hard slog – this scared me away from that race for the next 9 years.

For the 50 Miler in ’92 Pops was relieved when only 2 carloads arrived to stay over. On the start of day 1 there was no water so we had to run the first 15km – it was according to my diary “a terrible day”, but apparently I had a good second day below the dam and even beat Schnapps. Neil was then known as ‘Zims’ by the Wits Kibbutz, and took this to heart – so much so that his boat colours were a copy of Air Zimbabwe planes (below right) and he even had a personalised ‘Zims’ number plate. Thankfully he soon gave up on that.

Talking Zim, in January 1993 Dee and I went to Zimbabwe for Glen and Inky Roelofsz’s wedding. Dee had not seen much of Zim before so we first went to stay at Lake Kyle and visit the Ruins of Great Zimbabwe. The country had been through a 3year drought and the dam was basically empty, there were just small pools of water at the foot of the massive dam wall; it was very sad. From there we went on to Mutare to see my old high school. Ten years after leaving it was literally in ruins, so that was sadder still, nature would in time fix the dam levels, but there was little hope for the neglected and damaged school properties.

From Mutare we went to Harare where we stayed with Scrunge for Glen and Inky’s wedding. That was a great party and a good catch up with many old school friends, but the highlight of the was staying 3 nights at the Elephant Hills hotel and spending a day rafting the mighty Zambesi.

Zambesi River Rafting
Zambesi River Rafting
Zambesi River Rafting

Dee and I did the run from the Boiling Pot and No1 down to No 25. This is a 27km stretch which means that there is a rapid worthy of naming almost every kilometre. Zimbabwe was in a brutal drought so that was a low year, meaning more bedrock was exposed which made the rapids bigger rather than smaller. Apart from the oarsman, I was the only guy on the raft, and boy, the girls we were with could scream! We fared quite well and only had one swim when we flipped in No5, Highway to Heaven; it was awesome. Although the Zambesi looks big and terrifying; in truth it is a relatively safe “warm pool drop river”. What this means is that there isn’t the shock of swimming in a glacial type river and the rapids generally empty out into relatively calm pools meaning that a flip and a swim isn’t really a big deal; at least not when you are used to rivers, capsizing and swimming. Hence the commercial success of rafting the Zambesi both from the Zim and Zambian sides. But it is still big water and be warned, the walk out of the gorge is not easy. That is a another river in Zimbabwe that I would love to go back to.

One week later Dee and I went down to the Dusi which started off much like 50 Miler with precious little water. We ran (I walked) over 25km on day 1; it was dismal. Neil had been eyeing another podium but hurt his heel and limped home in 86th place at the end of day 1. Water wise, day 2 wasn’t much better but they released water from Inanda to make day 3 a lot of fun and I ended up 154th overall which I was quite proud of, given that I was a smoker and hated running.

Nowadays, day 2 starts just above Dusi Bridge, but as the pics above show back then Dusi Bridge was still part of day 1, plus we used to shoot the Dusi Bridge Weir; but this became a compulsory portage when John Edmonds had a naughty swim here, lost a 6minute lead and nearly lost his life. Lifejackets however were still optional on day 1, even with weirs like this – but I clearly I thought that I didn’t need one, or a shirt, or a hat.

1993 was the year that Kevin White, the Popes apprentice beat John Edmonds as well as the year that Perrow was disqualified for (again) breaching personal sponsorship rules. That said, it was also the year that Hansa pulled its title sponsorship. 1993 was also a defining year in that it saw the revitalisation of the Dusi Valley Assistance Program; first instituted in 1982, it had lost traction with unrest in the valley but with the revival this initiative has since resulted in dozens of schools being built in the valley.

Notably, Marlene Lowenstein won her 9th women’s title in a row before the ‘new’ guard of Manfroni, Manton/White and Whitton put an end to her run of victories. Marlene won a then unmatched 5 single titles plus 4 double titles with her twin sister Jenny Bentel. They were both attractive, tall, athletic blondes and as such great adverts for our sport, but while their names are forever etched in Dusi history (Marlene as the first ladies K1 winner in 1985, Marlene and Jenny as the first K2 winners being the only women to complete the race in a double in 1986, and as the first sisters and as the first twins to win any class), I never thought they were the most skilful of river paddlers (sorry, but they were often seen swimming) and in truth, there were very few lady paddlers in those days. Having said this (with all due respect) about the ladies, I also need to say that the level of competition would also ramp up dramatically within the men’s section in later years with an ever increasing number of Black names amongst the Top 50 and with the advent of full time, professional paddlers – but we still need to get to all of that… 

For Umko in 1993 I partnered with another Witsie; Martin Freiman. We arrived at Pop’s house in Howick at 10.30pm, Neil and Robbie had arrived much earlier, but Perrow only got in at 2.30am on the Saturday morning after his roof-racks had sheared off the top of his car. Amazingly the two double boats strapped on top were unscathed and fortunately the roads were empty so no one was hurt. Umko in ‘93 was a particularly low year and many did not even bother to start. Our day 1 took us 8 hours, and day 2 was equally long, even though the race was now considerably shorter and we then finished well upstream at Mpompomani. Pops diary that year read: “Hats off to M and C for completing in their crippled craft – and to N&R who win.” That was their third Umko win a row. Martins brother Stanley had partnered with Antje Manfroni, a Wits student and former German sprint marathon paddler – they were the first Mixed Double to make the Top 10 at Umko, coming 7th over all. Antje would go on to win most of the big river races in South Africa, including 3 Dusi’s. Antje along with the likes of Neil, Mark, Robbie etc winning the Dusi and Umko made the Natal people unhappy; these were their races.

Robbie then won the Umkomaas in ‘95 and ‘96 with Mark Perrow and then in ‘97, ‘98, ‘99 and 2000 with Graham Monteith, racking up 9 wins in 10 years. Robbie is I believe, the best paddler we ever had at Emmarentia; sorry Hop, better than you, but then he gave up competitive paddling. He did return to Umko and shot the lights out, bettering Stan and Antje’s Mixed Double performance with a relatively unknown girl; showing he should never have left, although the did start to make a comeback for the 60th Berg, but that’s still to come…

When Robbie left racing the Umkomaas he opened the door for likes of Deon Bruss and Ant Stott (Deon collected 6 Umko wins between 2002 and 2008) and then Hank McGregor who partnered with the likes of Grant and Brandon Van der Walt, Andy Birkett, Jasper Mocke and Wayne Jacobs, and also racking up 9 Umko wins as at 2021. I believe that Hank, undisputedly the GOAT, (Greatest Of All Time – in a river, on flat water marathons, or on the sea) wants to get to 10 or more; this being the biggest test of all river races – but again I am getting way ahead of myself…

In September 1993 Neil and Graham (Tweet) Bird came 3rd at the World Marathon Champs in Denmark, Robbie and Monty were 4th. Ten days later I paddled with Neil at the Dabs time trial. We won in 49minutes 40. That was the first time I ever went under 50 minutes and the only time trial I would ever win. As I write this some 28 years later, Graham (Washy) Neate are talking about breaking 50minutes, which we should do, but that would only place us in the top 20.

For Fish 1993 Dee and I drove to Barkly East on the Wednesday and then through to Cradock on the Thursday. Our tent, then nearly 20 years old was back in use; I am happy to say that I still have it. My diary reported that I had no swims, came 97th and that we then went back to Barkly East for the night.

Fish River
Fish River
Fish River

In December I went to 50 Miler with Neil and Hop, they came second, eyeing another Dusi win. As usual I did my own thing in a K1. In those years Dee was very busy with her painting and got me to try. My subject matter was paddling but my attempt was in vain as it never did get to grace a wall. Here I need to point out that our home is full of Dee and Jordi’s fine works, but alas Tim too, is inept at art.

Over Christmas I went on a paddling / tubing trip on the Kraai river with Dee’s extended family. Unfortunately the river was very low and the distance way too long for people with tubes busy drinking beers, so it wasn’t that enjoyable and they never went again. A day later there was a massive storm, the little farm stream became a raging river and I then had some excitement avoiding the dangers of farm fences and low hanging trees in fast flowing flood waters.

Canoeing at Kenmure

In January of 1994, Dee and I drove down to Dusi with Neil, Hop and Tweet who was seconding them. I had a fun 3 days, finishing in a time of 13 hours 25 minutes. Hop was struck with Dusi guts and they ended up 33rd after  day 1, 14th at the end of day 2 and eventually 9th at the end of the race – a great recovery but not what they wanted. John Edmonds and Kevin White, adversaries in the ’93 K1 year, combined well to easily beat Mark Hutson and Les Keay.

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Overnight stop at end day 1
Dusi Canoe Marathon

Three weeks later Dee and I, Neil and Lo, Sue and Puc, Rob and Colleen Monteith and Puc’s sister Sandy Attridge, flew to Munich and then caught trains and busses to Hopfgarten, Austria. Most memorable was the day we skied to Brixten in an icy blizzard. We were like Vaalie’s at the seaside; not going to pass on the fun regardless of the conditions, and they were bad, but this made for great snow. Two other memories stuck; one being how Dee and I couldn’t get bum lifts right, had we been on honeymoon it would have been disastrous; the other being that Rod Penaluna squatted in our room for a few nights (not sure why we got him, but we did) and he had the smelliest socks and gloves ever.

For Umko of ‘94, given that my track record in a double wasn’t great, I decided to go back to paddling on my own went there with a Tomcat. At 5 foot plus I thought I was in for some fun until I had a swim in No5 and got pushed up against the big rock in No6. I was terrified, and although I was soon washed through; 5&6 then became a compulsory portage for me. We like to laugh about our big swims but this was way more scary than the suck back into No2 some years before, and worse was still to come. By now the Umko was 27kms shorter and we finished at Mpompomani instead of Goodenough’s, so my times got better, as did my placings, because the entry numbers continued to dwindle. Only 120 boats started that year, 85 of us got to the end of day 1 and just 80 finished. I came 53rd overall and wrote that it was “epic.” Neil was in a K2 with Graham (Tweet) Bird and they came second to Roy Pepper and Rob Oliario; their excuse being “not enough training.” That was always my line.

In August the World Marathon Championships were held in Amsterdam where Neil and Tweet came 7th in the K2’s while Robbie was 3rd in the K1’s. On tour with them was a youngster by the name of Hank Mc Gregor but he would have to wait till 1996 and Sweden for his first Junior Gold. Neil and Tweet then went to Ireland for the Liffey Descent where they came 2nd, some two minutes off the pace. Pop’s went over to support, and enjoy the sponsors product, Jamieson whisky.

For Fish in 1994 I was in a K1, Neil was in a double with Tweet and Robbie paddled with Monty. I swam at the bottom of Soutspans and below Cradock weir, but eventually got to the end – not having trained at all. Neil and Tweet were 2nd to Robbie and Monty who won. After the race Pops, Neil and Lo, Rod, Jackie and young Matt, Sue and Puc all went to Kenmure for a very happy stay with Dee’s mom, Wynne, Dawn and baby Jake Green. It still seems strange to me that we used to go home via the farm, but what was different about that trip to Kenmure was that Dee wasn’t with us as she was away at a SAMRA Convention in Durban.

Fish River
Fish River
Fish River
Farm Barkly East
Fish River to the Farm
Kenmure Farm Barkly East
Wynne, Dawn and Jake
Kenmure Farm Barkly East
Pops, Wynne, Jacks, Di, Noo, Lo, Mat

When I got home, this is what I wrote in my diary: “Tragic news. Scatters car went off the road on the way back from Fish. Hennie and his brother die. Scatter and Dorne are in hospital”. The service that Friday was beyond words. This was a very sad and dark time for many and for me it’s impossible to drive that stretch of road or go on a trip to the Fish without remembering. I never knew Scatters brother Gavin Slater, a man whose passion was flying, but most paddlers knew Henry (Hennie) Spradbury. He was the founder member of the ‘Hillbillies,’ a bunch of Potch High old boys that included Scatter, Raz (not from Potch) and Donald Morrison, who terrorised the social side of Jo’burg paddling. They used to arrive at the local Croc races in the Winsome Valley straight from a Saturday night party and were generally unplayable. At Dusi in 1991 I found Hennie somewhere on day 2 with a very tired looking old flat bladed paddle. He told me that he had swum and lost his paddle and then thought he was about to be slaughtered when a few locals had arrived with assegais and told him not to move until their comrade returned. He waited as told and a young man returned with an old paddle they had found some years before – with that Hennie’s fear turned to friendship as he was able to finish the day and his second Dusi. I always loved that tale. RIP boys.

For 50 Miler in 1994 Dee and I, Neil and Lo drove down to Pops’ in Howick. Day 1 was another low year meaning we had to run most of it but day 2 below the dam was fantastic fun. I believe that this stretch of water is one of the most enjoyable pieces of river in SA. I came 79th on no training. Pop’s diary reported that “Neil won.”

At the 1995 Dusi I had a good day 1 and day 2 (by my standards) but then on the 3rd day I holed at Side Shoot and after uMzinyathi I knew the boat wasn’t strong enough to make it through the fun sections below and so ‘95 marked my first Burma portage. I then learnt how hard it is to walk this, let alone run like the racing snakes; but I finished my 5th Dusi in a reasonable time of 12 hours and 29 minutes.

Dusi

Kevin White won his first K1 title, Neil once again came 3rd, this time behind Gavin Tarr. That year Antje Manfroni won the K1 women’s title after she chose not to portage Burma and wrote her name in the history books by paddling around and ousting the Natal family favourites who opted to run. Antje was in my opinion the best female river paddler we ever had at Emmarentia, if not in all of South Africa, and I believe she could have challenged many of today’s girls, but she left our shores and no longer paddles.

In March of 1995 work got in the way of my ambitions to going to Umko, but (again) I can’t say that I was overly upset as this time the ‘work’ issue was a conference in Mombasa, Kenya. While we did do some conference type stuff it was more about a ‘spoil’ as we had beaten all our sales targets. Every day started with a dive; every evening ended with lots of drinking. On one day we sailed out to sea in a dhow and a small coral and sand island called Kisite literally appeared in front of our eyes as the tide dropped. The snorkelling around this was better than any dive I have ever done – it was amazing. We then sailed to Wasini Island for a late lunch, this was a place where time stood still. There were no cars, carts or even bicycles there at all. We ate massive crabs; timber boards served as plates while wooden mallets were our eating utensils. It was a truly incredible experience. We played and drank hard; I believe I returned home with alcohol poisoning. It was worth missing Umko for.

Mombasa Hotel
Mombassa
Mombasa Conference ACNielsen
Peter, Phil, Kathy, Quinton
Mombasa Kenya Conference ACNielsen
Phil, Leandra, Di, Rayner
ACNielsen Conference in Mombasa
Back: Hoss Tabrizi. Kathy Rautenbach. Christel Barret. Adam Scott. Lorraine Walton. Clive Venketsamy. Di Johnstone. Denry Biddlecombe. Michele Rouillard. Peter Prinsloo. Philip Paphitis. Judy Gordon. Quinton Miller. Andrew Frodsham. Clive Evans. Nikki Quinn. Rick Joubert. Lucy Loots. Nic Scheijde. ?? Andre Phiel. Lee Anderson ?? Middle: Rae McGraw. Leandra Wiid. Front: Fiona Bloxam. ??  Elaine.  Ailsa Birch. Marylee Townsend. Sally Rothman. Bev Paton. Rayner Pote. Cindy. Ian Hobson. Gordon Pasley. Out of picture next to Gordon is Patrick Mc Harry, the CEO who made it happen.

Three months later South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup and we had a core supporter team of about 10 of us. We watched a couple of matches at Ellis Park including South Africa vs Samoa in the quarter final or otherwise we went to one-another’s homes to watch the games on TV.

When South Africa was playing Canada in Port Elizabeth everyone came to our house to braai and then to watch the game. Somewhere along the line someone noticed I didn’t have an MNet decoder and we wouldn’t be able to see the game – so we had to rush off to the local pub to watch what would be known as the Battle of Boet Erasmus. Needless to say I was abused for a long time; after that I splashed out and got a dish and a decoder. We watched the iconic nation building final at Helen Davis’ house in Melville and had a huge party where I got paralytically drunk, as did most the people we were with; except for Dee who wasn’t drinking as she was about 6 months pregnant.

But let’s get back to paddling. That year, 1995 was when Jack Herreveld opened Robbie’s Canoe & Kayak World for his son, and then in 1999 Kayak Racing was relaunched creating much competition in Jo’burg, so I guess now would be a good time to share some history about some of the paddling manufacturers and retailers.

Roamer Rand, founded in 1965, was the first boat manufacturer and canoeing shop in Johannesburg and when I started paddling all Transvaal boats had the iconic Roamer Rand sticker above their licence number, I still have some of these. Anyhow, they were situated in the East and served Johannesburg Canoe Club (JCC, Jo’burg’s first canoe club) who were based at Wemmer Pan. The business was way bigger than just canoes – but the canoeing side was run by Peter Wise. The other paddling shops were Neville Turan’s Kayak Racing shop in Kensington and Henry’s Canvas on Rissik Street in downtown Jo’burg, run by Lionel Gaddin. Dabulamanzi, Jo’burg’s second canoe club was founded in 1979 (more on this later) and situated north of the city centre at Emmarentia Dam, accordingly neither Henry’s canvas nor Kayak Racing were convenient for those from the north, so in 1989 Colin Simpkins and Shaun Rice opened up Canoe Concepts on Gleneagles road in Greenside; a stone throw from the Emmarentia. The Jamieson family were also shareholders but Shaun and Copper bought them out, then Shaun immigrated to Australia leaving Copper as Mr Canoe Concepts, and his shop soon became the ‘preferred supplier’ for 1000 odd Dabs and Wits ‘river paddlers’. In time other faces would become synonymous with Canoe Concepts including Chad (Chucky) Andrews and Sandile Hlongwane, but in 1995 Canoe Concepts ‘owned’ Emmarentia’s paddlers, who were mostly Dusi and Fish River type paddlers.

Robbie’s Canoe and Kayak World then opened in the Hillfox Centre in 1995. The shop was massive and bought with it an almost ‘European’ feel and a new perspective to paddling. I say this because although they carried all the gear we found at Canoe Concepts they also had vast ranges of imported plastic kayaks, touring canoes and international brands such as HellyHansen and Prijon, much of which was targeting a more recreational type of paddler; a different customer to the Wits/Dabulamanzi/Emmarentia crowd.  

In 1999 Roamer Rand sold their racing boat manufacturing business (and the Kayak Racing brand name which they had bought from Neville Turan) to Warren Stead who had partnered with Malcolm (Belkie) Stothard and they also sold their recreational boat manufacturing business to Canoe and Kayak World. Copper was bleak when he heard this because he sold but never actually manufactured boats and would have loved to have bought the boat making side of the Roamer Rand business. The ‘new’ Kayak Racing then started making and selling all things in river racing including Set Paddles and what is most probably the most popular K2 river boat today; the Zeus. At the suggestion of Bruce Clark, they named their boats after the Gods and hence they had the likes of the Apollo and Zeus; whereas Roamer Rand used to have boats named after wind themes such as the Hurricane and Mistral. 

Canoe Shop Logos

The Canoe Concepts website currently proclaims that “canoeing is one of the fastest growing sports in South Africa” and that they have been “instrumental in transforming paddling from an esoteric specialty to a mainstream activity with thousands of participants every year” but this is marketing at its worst. In truth, back then (and more recently) they focused primarily on the river paddlers from Emmarentia, they did not do ‘it’ alone, paddling today is still nowhere near a mainstream activity and most sadly, participation in our sport as we know it is actually declining, but again I am getting ahead of myself.

Someone who I believe really did help to grow paddling beyond what we at Emmarentia Dam knew it as, was Celliers Kruger who started Fluid Kayaks in 2003 and then Vagabond Kayaks in 2018. Celliers came onto the paddling scene in the mid 1990’s working as a river guide on the Vaal River below Parys, learning his craft from and with the likes of Graeme Addison (widely considered to be the initiator of commercial rafting in South Africa), Hugh du Preez and Andrew Kellett. With Fluid, Kruger started out making high performance play boats for what was a very niche group of proper paddling people but then he branched out into the far larger recreational paddling space and now produces more in the way of super-stable sit-on-top kayaks for all to enjoy the fun of a river. This really did help to include and involve a whole new tier of leisure paddling participants; as did Ark with their inflatables, as did all the commercial river rafting companies.

There were of course other canoe shops in Natal, and more in places like Cape Town, but at this stage in my life, Cape Town was totally foreign to me. These were some of the KZN brands from back in the day:

Canoe Shop Logos

Here it would be remiss of me not to mention the Surfski guys and their brands who have also done much to help grow paddling. In 1988 Keith Fenn started crafting and selling surfski’s in East London; today his Fenn brand is a household name in the world of ocean ski racing. Nowadays, Keith is well liked at Dabulamanzi Canoe Club not just because he builds great boats but because he supports what we believe to be the world’s biggest inland surfski race, but we still need to get to that. In later years we would start going on our annual Christmas holiday with family and friends to a remote seaside spot near East London and have the pleasure of getting to know him and his family; seeing his 3 little boys grow up into big strong men, thanks to large doses of fresh air and many hours out on and in the sea.

Oscar Chalupsky, Olympian and 12 time World Surfski Champion founded Epic Kayaks with Greg Barton (an American sprint specialist who competed in 3 summer Olympics, winning 4 medals, including 2 Golds) in the late 1990’s before joining Nelo Kayaks in Portugal in 2015. Oscar, household name that he is has been a fantastic advert and advocate for our sport, both on the sea and in rivers. I have never owned an Epic boat or paddle, but I think that their original wing with the elliptical shaft is the best paddle I ever tried. Unfortunately they are too expensive for me to ruin on the rocks in a river, so I have settled for a Set Endorphin which I believe is a similar blade, but without the beautiful shaft. 

The other local brand in surfski brand helping to build paddling in South Africa is Carbonology Sport. I don’t know too much about them, but you can’t miss the awesome bright honeycomb colours they put on some of their boats. Beautiful to look at but also fantastic for safety purposes. I believe they were the first guys to build an S3 but I can’t see that it will ever achieve the same success as the K3.

Surfski logos

Back to 1995. Timothy Milton Evans was born on September 4th and so began our lives as proud parents, I do remember someone told me I now needed to grow up, but I decided not to heed that advice. What I did however do was stop smoking. First it was in sympathy and support of Dee when she discovered she was pregnant, then it was about me when I realised that hangovers were way worse as a result of smoking but ultimately it was about our little Tim. The pictures below are carefully chosen: A happy family on the first day home, Pops taught him about Hansa and I taught him about water – or something like that. I see that back then, most of my casual shirts were from races; as they still are today.

Baby and parents
Baby and old man
Learning to swim

For Fish in 1995, when Tim was just 3 weeks old we drove to the farm, I dropped Dee and Tim off with her mom and then I continued on through to Cradock. Pops’ sister Peggy and David were out from Australia and being farmers they were fascinated by Kenmure and even more fascinated by our strange sport. Neil and Lo had flown to PE and then joined me to camp at the Craddock Spa. It was a cold and wet weekend. My diary reported that I swam in the bottom of Soutspans and so did Neil. He came 11th, I came 220th. Fish 1995 was the K1 Marathon Championships, Graham (Tweet) Bird won.

The picture below left is of Marlow Chute, first raced in 1995 after the race organisers raised funds to build it on the massive Marlow weir as part of their drive to eliminate portages. As the picture suggests, it’s a lot faster and way more fun than portaging. In 2000 a chute was added to Soutpans weir, making for a much safer passage, the Double Trouble Chute was added to Collett’s Weir in 2010 and a chute to the big Knutsford weir at the start of the second day was added in 2015. Credit to the organisers, a lot has been done over the years, but many of these man made obstacles can be quite tricky too.

Fish Marathon

As with 50 Miler, for Fish that year Neil and Lo lost their lift with me (I was still on the Ibis/Nielsen payroll and all travel was covered) to Tim, his car seat and all the baby stuff we now needed to travel with. Just as I had said I would never live in Jo’burg, I had also said I was never going to join the ‘Venters’ but for such trips we realised that we needed a trailer. Like my school and varsity trunks, my Venter trailer became the next place holder for many of my race stickers over the years. Today all 4 sides and the lid are covered, although race stickers now seem to be being phased out.

After Fish, I did 50 Miler (we did the old format of half of Dusi day 1 and half of Dusi day 2) and finished as the 25th single and 89th overall – but most the racing snakes were in doubles preparing for the Dusi which was to be another K2 race.

For the 1996 Dusi I drove to Pops’ with Dee and Tim where we joined Neil and Lo, Hop and Tracey, Rod and Jacks, Andrew and Tweet. Day one was a very overcast and wet day, and while rain cools the valley down, it also makes for very difficult portaging if you are a Fish ‘n Chips or back marker because by the time several hundred people have tried to climb a narrow path before you get there it becomes a quagmire and a nightmare. The rains were heavy in Howick too and we all had to go see the falls in flood, plus Pops never did get over how we had ruined his garden with all our ‘bloody cars’.

While Neil and Mark were racing to win the race I was having my own little race with some of the Wits paddlers also in K1’s. Neil and Hop won day 1 in the K2 racing section, Schnapps was the second K1 home followed closely by Rod and then me. At the end of day 2 Neil and Hop had won again and built up a comfortable 5 minute lead, while I was pleased to be ahead of Rod. Dee was anything but pleased, temperatures in the valley were nearly 40degrees and she had baby Tim to look after. After a wet day 1 and then a scorching day 2, day 3 was so cold that I had to buy a wind-cheater to paddle in. There was a lot of water and I had a glorious time below Burma. My diary noted that I had a faultless day shooting everything and that I passed Robbie and Andrew Bonamore who had wrapped. I was the 20th K1 home, in a time of 12 hours 45, one place behind Schnapps, who won our little race.

Neil and Mark’s day 3 wasn’t faultless as they almost took the nose off their boat at Tops Needle and had to stop for repairs before chasing down the leaders – so they came in 6th on the day but still won overall (confusing all the spectators) and claimed their second Dusi victory. That win was credited to their paddling prowess, the batch start (the race organisers had changed the start rules for the leaders for second two days from an elapsed time to a top ten batch) and the subsequent wave of Oscar Chalupsky and Les Keay who pulled them through to the finish. After that the organisers went back to the elapsed start format for the race leaders.

Dusi Canoe History
Mark and Neil en-route to another win

For Umko in 1996 I was back with the Tomcat and was very proud to record no swims on day 1 or 2. But I did portage 5&6. That year my diary read: “Good water. Good fun. This is a race I don’t want to miss.” Pops diary noted that he had very few guests, only Clive and Family, Neil and Allan van Coller; that he had to come into the valley to collect us at the end and that while there were no podiums, Neil did claim his 5th Grand Slam for the best overall result at the 50Miler, Dusi and Umko. Mark and claimed his second win with Robbie who was then on his fifth win. Dee was still coming to races with me but she and Tim had gone to stay with her cousin Leebun Green in Durban and then came through to the club in Richmond to pick me up at prize giving. That always was and still is the big negative about paddling – it’s an ‘admin sport’ and without the help of family and friends to get us to the start and find us at the finish, we would not get to do what we love. In today’s politically correct world we really should not use the phrase ‘seconds’ because those who help us are (almost) all first class people to whom we paddlers are deeply indebted; their the support really is appreciated.

In June of 1996 Tim got a cousin to play with when Neil and Lo had a son, Luke. We all imagined our boys growing up as paddlers, but that part of the tale is still to follow. I paddled Fish that year in a single; the photos suggest that I tried to make Tim ‘boat ready’ from a very a young age, and that Steve Jourdan must have been involved in the sponsorship because it was the Kahlua Fish River Marathon, and he was Mr Kahlua.  Neil paddled with Alan Van Coller and they came 2nd to Daniel Conradie and Moray Wilson who beat them by 2 seconds. This was the last proper podium place for Neil at the Fish. Ant Stott and Jason Callister won the junior section; names we would hear a lot more of. 

Fish Marathon

For the Lowveld Croc we stayed at the Lindealu Lodge with Sue and Puc. Dee and Sue spent time with boys, Puc and I both had a good two days on the river, so that was a good weekend. A week later we were at the Vaal and Puc invited some novice friends of his to trip the 15km stretch from the Dam Wall to Groenoewers with us. On the way there Puc had an accident but was fine, then on the river one of his friends had a swim and got a really bad cut above his eye, so that wasn’t such a good weekend.

50 Miler was another manic drive down on Friday evening and back on Sunday night. I had a good first day paddling with Rod but then went to a pub to watch SA play France with John. It was a late night, I missed my start and then had to battle a headwind into Durban before battling on the roads back to Jo’burg. It’s tough being a Fish ‘n Chip.

The 1997 Dusi was a K1 year, I started day 1 in B batch with Rod Penaluna, and managed to remain in B batch for the start of day 2 which was amazing for me. But then I had a bad swim in Tombi and the back deck of my boat wrapped under the water pressure, making that a long 5hr 30 day. It was also cold and wet so Pops, Dee and Tim all got soaked while I tried to fix my boat in the rain at the Inanda Dam overnight stop. That year we stayed with Dee’s brother’s fiancé Anthea (Shorts) Crookes who had a flat near Hillcrest which was very convenient for day3. She was a lovely girl (and a Godmother of Jordi’s) but their engagement didn’t survive.  Fortunately my repairs held and I had a good day 3, but with my swim in Tombi I ended up coming 267th in a time of 12 hours 47 minutes.

Dusi

Mark Perrow won in 8hrs and 26 minutes, comprehensively beating John Edmonds and further breaking the Natal dominance. He was the first K1 winner from Gauteng in the 46 year history of the race. Neil had competed in the Celebrity Challenge, partnering with a Wits old boy and elite long distance runner Bruce Fordyce whom he thought would be perfect for the portaging sections. They easily beat Oscar Chalupsky who was with the rugby legend Naas Botha. Bruce however wasn’t great on the running sections; his Comrades background was road, not cross-country where one has to watch their footsteps; plus he now had to help bear the weight of a boat, but he was clearly better than Naas, or perhaps Oscar had a bad year; they were caught on camera swimming.  

Dusi
Neil with Bruce Fordyce, Naas Botha and Oscar Chalupsky

It was through this that I got to meet Bruce, when he stayed with Pops and the rest of us in Howick. Some years later when I had become a Comrades runner and he had become somewhat more unhealthy and slower, he would often pull a ‘9 hour bus’ (slow for him, too fast for me) so when I saw him I loved to say “Oh look, it’s that famous paddler, Ford Brudyce” – much to his annoyance and the bewilderment of all the runners around him. Bruce really earnt my respect in that while he was never a strong paddler he played the celebrity game really well and went on to complete 10 Dusi’s, earning River Rat status and a Dusi Green Number. And then beyond respect I am in total awe of his 30 Comrades finishes, 9 wins; 11 Golds and 5 Silvers. On the ultra-marathon road he was a truly an incredible athlete; one without match.

Umko 1997 was another K1 year for me. Neil wasn’t paddling, and I went down with Rob Shuter in his Nissan Sani. The overnight camp was now a thing of the past meaning that without the Saturday night party the Vaalie’s from Wits, Dabs, JCC etc got together on the Friday night. The place to be was the Hebron Haven, a boutique hotel in the Dargyle owned by a Dabs paddler, Tony Rowney (the Silver Fox), who sadly was murdered a year later. We drank way too much, and Rob’s driving skills were put to the test when he nearly overshot the T-Junction on the way back to Howick. Then the Umko tested our driving skills a little more as we took turns to lead each other into each of the big 8; but we both got to the end of day 1 and then day 2 without a swim, although we did walk No5 and 6. I then drove us home while Rob sat on his computer, putting together some or other big banking deal.

Robbie won with Graham Monteith that year, this was Monty’s first Umko win (of 4 with Robbie) to add to the likes of his Berg, Fish and Vaal titles before he hung up his boats and took to cycling; as many others would too. Monty (like Neil) was to my mind, always the antithesis of a Fish ‘n Chips  person; I believe he did all his paddling with a view to winning, until he no longer could and then lost interest in the sport. Like Robbie Herreveld, he too recently made a return to Emmarentia with aspirations of doing the 60th Berg and I hope that both of them will continue paddling, regardless of what might come of Berg.

For Fish 1997 Dee and I made a little holiday of it and first went to Cintsa East where we stayed in the Xanadu Chalets. While there we visited Crawford Cabins and Cefani, places we would see many times again. That year Fish was serving as the K1 Marathon Champs, Neil wasn’t competing and instead was paddling with me – but try as I could to get him to adopt the Fish ‘n Chips approach (start slowly, then taper off; go calmly and enjoy the trip), he couldn’t stop himself from racing.

We went out hard and (by my standards) actually did well finishing as the 4th K2 and 15th overall until we were disqualified for not portaging Marlow Causeway. A certain influential local lady official said we had paddled straight over, which was not true. However, what we did do was both wrong and dangerous; we had paddled up to the low-level bridge, gone broadside, took out, then put back in on the other side, as did the crew that was in front of us. We tried to get the DQ decision changed, asking for a time penalty but the local EP officials wouldn’t listen, despite the fact that it was actually a K1 race. Adding insult to injury, they did not DQ the EP K2 that we had followed and named. Rod Penaluna loves to remind me of our ‘family disgrace’, but this meant we didn’t get credited with a finish which made me sad with deaf and biased administrators because I was busy collecting finishes; Green Numbers and Coelacanth type awards are what people like me who can’t win races place much value in.

Fish Marathon

Fish officialdom also upset me in later years when we were told where we could and could not shoot the Cradock Weir. I understood the safety rules of ‘one at a time’ for us Fish ‘n Chips trippers but when they said we couldn’t shoot the left-hand drop as I had learnt to do with Neil, this to me was just confused; it was the fastest and safest approach (in that one simply paddles in a straight line, pops over and continues on) and as such it was used by most of the race winners from the late 1980’s onwards. Now I go where we are told to – and often end up swimming, so I am very grateful they now have lifeguards waiting to help us – because back then we simply paddled and hoped for the best. What is missing these days is the orange buoy (above right) that marked the apex of the weir; this was very useful. Fish 1997 was again the SA K1 Champs and was won by the late, legendary Daniel Conradie.

In October of 1997 I did my first ever mini triathlon, entering the Energade 5FM Series, a cluster of short course races of 600m swims, 20km bikes and 5km runs. I didn’t own a bicycle and had to borrow one from Puc. After this I bought myself a bike and then entered the inaugural 94.7 Highveld Cycle Challenge, a race or ride around Johannesburg modelled on the well-established and world-renowned Cape Argus that was predominantly supported by cyclists from Johannesburg and Pretoria.

For the Lowveld Croc in 1997 we stayed at Eric’s Chalets near Nelspruit. I didn’t paddle day 1, instead we took Tim to Sudwala Caves, the Dinosaur Park and the Mac Mac Falls. I then did day 2 for the fun of it, many questioned this decision, but I had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. 

Learner Paddlers

Apparently, I was really into my triathlons as I did one at Ruimsig, one at Roodeplaat, one in Pretoria and one at Sun City in October and then on 10th November then Jordan Mary Evans was born – a beautiful, healthy 3.6kg, 53cm baby girl. Dee and I were very happy to have a pigeon pair. I guess we were quite old fashioned in that we never knew what we were getting with either Tim or Jordi until they arrived. We were really hoping on girl and had somehow arrived at the name Jordan if we had a girl, but we didn’t have a boy’s name. Dee’s grandmother Mary was terribly upset that we had named our daughter after a Middle Eastern country and a colleague of mine joked that we had named her after one of my Clients brands, Jordan toothbrushes. It neither a classical nor biblical name like Timothy, but Jordan was the name we liked.

It appears as though I didn’t spend too much time at home helping Dee with our kids, or at least I didn’t let them stop me doing what I did, as the weekend that Jordi arrived, I rode the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, the next weekend I ran the RAC Tough One, the following weekend I went to another 5FM triathlon at the Vaal River and two weekends later I ran the Soweto Marathon. In my defence however, I do think I was quite a good father, when I was at home.

Baby Christening
Tim and Jordan. Dawn, Rev Michael from St Stevens with Jords, John and Shorts at her christening. Baby Jordi

I didn’t go down to 50 Miler that year (I guess it was easier to stay home and run the Soweto Marathon) but at the end of December we went to Howick for Pops’ 70th birthday which was a long weekend with the Day of Reconciliation. I did the Crash and Dash on the Saturday before drinking way too much at Pops’ party and sleeping in on the Sunday leaving Neil and Hop to go do a local race. They also tripped on the Monday and Tuesday, but that was too much like hard work for me, plus we had babies to take to the beach in Durban. From there we then went to the farm for Jordan’s Christening and Christmas.

Because I knew I’d have my K1 with me I had planned to trip the Kraai River from ‘Bridge to Bridge’ and had bought 1:50 0000 topographical maps which suggested that there weren’t too many dangers or drops, but it seemed like it would be a good adventure. Dee dropped me off at the old Loch Bridge (built from sandstone in 1893 for the sum of £15 000 and named after the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Henry Loch) on the dirt road into town and then picked me up 4 hours later at the new(er) concrete Bridge on the R58 into Barkly East. Paddling alone and not knowing what was around the corner was always interesting, but along the way I discovered that while the 39km stretch had many bubblies there were just 3 little rapids where a splash cover was necessary; so in the end it was all a bit of  an anti-climax; but it was quite beautiful, and I did feel a bit like a pioneering explorer.

For the 1998 Panasonic Dusi, Dee stayed at home with our babies Tim and Jordi, and I drove down to Pops’ with Neil, Tweet and Lara. I had a faultless day 1 finishing in 4hours which I was very happy with. Neil and Mark finished in 3rd place; which they too were happy with, knowing that day 1 was more of a running day, but that from there on it was more of a paddling race and that was their strength. On day 2 it was to be 40degrees in the valley and the river was very full so I thought I was in for some good fun until I got to Washing Machine, where I very nearly drowned.

There were no marshals or lifeguards in those days, you simply paddled and took your chances. I had shot this rapid successfully over a dozen times before, so I knew where I was and where I wanted to go, but the river was swollen and I swam; then the Washing Machine did its thing; it pulled me in and thrashed me around and around. And around again and again and again. I don’t know how long I was in there or how many spins I had but it was terrifying; going down, coming up, going down, coming up; looking for help and seeing none. Panic struck, I fought to swim out but the river sucked me back down, again and again. I fought until I couldn’t fight any longer. The panic was then replaced by a warm calm. Either it was very dark in there or my eyes were tightly shut. There was no sense of smell, taste or touch. In that strange state I had time to think and had flashes of my little family back at home; a beautiful daughter I hardly knew, a baby son, a loving wife. Too weak to fight my way to the surface the river pulled me down once more and then (I believe because I stayed down instead of fighting to go up) it finally released me. I got to the rocks on the side and balled my eyes out; filling my lungs with air like a new-born baby; knowing full well that I had just been spared. Lance Wyly and Ian Benson also got the fright of their lives when they too took spins in the ’98 Washing Machine.

They were luckier than me, their boats were fine, mine was wrapped, but I strapped it together with duct tape and continued on. When I eventually got to the headwaters of the Inanda with 10km’s to go, John Oliver was there in a Rubber Duck and I asked him what the cut off time was. He looked at my wreck and told me if I could get it to the other end of the dam I could do anything I pleased. Day 2 alone took me 9hours and 19minutes, more than an hour longer than Neil and Mark needed for the entire race. I then had to patch my battered boat and am eternally grateful to Craig Johnson who did most the work for me and Pops who had been following Neil and Mark, seen them come in 2nd overall and then had to wait, not just for me to come in several hours later, but also for me to ‘recover’ and then ‘repair’ the boat. On the way back to Howick that night he said that he had been worried about me. I cried again as I told him my story.

I went over Burma on day 3, in part because my boat was too weak to risk going around and in part because I was scared of another swim – my ‘spin’ had been that terrifying. I eventually finished in 17hours and 44minutes. When I got to Blue Lagoon, Neil put my boat on the car and we drove back to Jo’burg. Utterly exhausted, both physically and emotionally, I slept the entire way home, and to this day I count my blessings. Ironically, after my ‘spin’ I should have been washed clean, but a tick had latched onto me and a week later I had an awful 5 day fever. That was the first time I ever took sick leave.

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Me in Mission on Day 1 and Umzinyathi on Day 3. Neil and Mark about to swim at Island One – back when SuperSport followed and filmed the Dusi from helicopters

19 Year old Ant Stott paddled with Kelby Murray to win in 8hours and 3minutes. Neil and Mark followed them in paddling around Burma, but they swam at Island One and had to settle for second, some 5 minutes behind. This was the last ‘proper’ podium place for Neil at the Dusi and in his paddling career.

In March I flew to Cape Town to cycle the Argus and stayed with a friend, Quinton Miller. He took me on my first ever Millers Run (a 12km downwind ocean paddle from Millers Point to Fish Hoek) on the Saturday afternoon, it was a fantastic experience. The next day I rode the Argus which was also a fantastic but somewhat different experience. I never did do another Argus but I have done several Millers since as paddling continued to trump cycling in my life.

In May of 1998, having just been given a new lease on life, I took a new path in my working life. After almost 10 years at IBIS/ACNielsen I moved out of Marketing Research and into Advertising. Berry Bush BBDO was a Cape Town Agency that had opened a Jo’burg office and they needed a Strategic Planner. Quinton Miller was the Planner in the Cape Town office and he suggested to them that I would be good; thanks Q. I knew nothing about Advertising or what a Strategic Planner did, but knew I could learn, wanted a challenge and said as much to the Cape Town boss, Rob Berry. He was an ex Zimbo who had also been to Godfrey Huggins, so I got the job. In the next two years I learnt much about my trade from two fine men; Mike Ellman Brown (RIP) the Creative Director in Jo’burg and Victor Bennett the Head of Planning in Cape Town. And of course Quinton who was just a phone call away.

Despite our dispute and disappointment with the race officials decision in ‘97 we went back to the Fish where they seeded us in A batch. We had a faultless day 1, but I was not very strong and we finished the day in 48th position. My diary reported that I hadn’t been well for the week before, to the extent that I hadn’t had a beer in over 10 days and had considered not going to race, so I was happy just to be there. On the second day I felt stronger and we picked up 10 places to finish 38th overall.  We made 3 places simply by successfully shooting Cradock Weir on the left-hand face while others swam on the right.   

Fish Marathon

This was the fifth year in a row that Fish was awarded the SA Championships, that being a K2 year which was won by Graham (Tweet) Bird and Alan (Van) Coller from Dabulamanzi.

In October and November I did the 5FM Energade Triathlon Series again and my second 94.7 Cycle Challenge in a time of 3hours 33 mins. In early December I went to Emmarentia to paddle and when I took my boat out the racks I discovered that it had been wrapped. I couldn’t believe it but someone had taken it, broken it and then put it back. I spent a couple of days asking questions before a fellow Witsie owned up and replaced it with another Tomcat. What he had done was not acceptable and I should have smudged his name but I was glad to see the back of the boat that I had used when I had almost drowned and was very happy to have a far healthier one for the 1999 Dusi.

Neil And Lo, Jenny and Brian, Dee and I and all our kids spent Christmas at Pops place that year and the highlight was when we went to the Underberg to visit Mark Perrow and his family. He had just bought a place on the uMzimkhulu River where he had all the toys including an Ark inflatable and lots of tyre-tubes, so we had a wonderful afternoon playing on the calm stretches. That was Tim and Jordi’s first ever river trip. Despite having lived in Pietermaritzburg and all my trips to KZN to paddle over the years, I am yet to do the Drakensberg Challenge, but it is on my ‘to do’ list.

Umzimkulu River

The 1999 Dusi was a K1 year, but up till then every Dusi had been a K1 year for me. I came 201st in a time of 12hours 17minutes, my best time so far. Neil sat this year out having done 10, won two in K2 years with Mark, got a 2nd place with Mark and two 3rd places in K1 years. Five podiums in ten years would not be good enough to make him a Dusi Great; he needed a K1 win for that status but was done with racing at the sharp end. Talking great, Mark Perrow always was great with the wives and children of the paddling circle and our kids were very proud to wear the Vereguard Dusi Kids Team T-shirts that he produced for them at Dusi time. Pops was equally proud to wear his Vereguard shirts too. Indeed, he had never worn nor owned a T-shirt until he moved to South Africa and got pulled into the Wits Kibbutz circle.

Dusi

Oscar Chalupsky was once again doing his ‘Celebrity Challenge’ thing and this time was taking Bafana Bafana coach Clive Barker ‘down the Dusi.’ Oscar paddled with many celebs including former Springbok rugby player Naas Botha, boxer Baby Jake, soccer star Doctor Khumalo, former Miss SA Peggy Sue Khumalo, ultra-marathon runner Bruce Fordyce, adventurer Sibusiso Vilane and Idols Judge Unathi, but that year he was with Clive Barker. Anyways, Pops was out and about following me, and all the local kids were very excited and loudly chanting “Clive, Clive, Clive; here comes Clive!” Apparently, there was absolute euphoria as they all rushed along the riverbanks following the Bafana legend; eventually Pops worked out it wasn’t me that the boys and girls were excited to see…

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