For Dusi 2004 all the old Witsies were in Dabulamanzi Blue. In those days we took club colours very seriously and Neil and I wore our Blue Splashies, Vests and Caps proudly. Sadly, it now appears that the wearing of our Dabs colours is considered to be optional at races. However, I must say that some of the new guard; people like Rob Levick and Elandrie Zietsman have been particularly good at procuring everything from two tone farmer shirts for the Fish, to purple rash vests for Dusi, to personalised hoodies and caps, proudly branded Dabulamanzi, so the club pride is still alive and well.
Anyways, not having done enough qualifying races we were put in D Batch for the start – Neil was not amused; I was happy as it meant we wouldn’t have to sprint at the start against the proper racing snakes. We were 3rd over Camps Drift and 1st in our batch by Mussons, but then (as he predicted) we had to fight our way through the C and B batch back-markers. At the end of day 1 we were 75th overall and 4th Veterans. For the day 2 start we were in the elapsed time batch, we had great water and a faultless run, picking up 18 places to end the day at 57th. On day 3 there was good water, and we made no mistakes to end up 55th and the 3rd Veterans in a time of 9hours 33minutes. Once again, we didn’t stay for prize giving, we dropped Pops off in Howick and then rushed back to Jo’burg. That was our last river race together and the end of Neils canoeing days, having won 3 Umko’s, 3 Fish, 3 Fifty Milers, 3 SA Marathon Championships, 2 Dusi’s, the British Marathon Championships and the Sella. Sadly, he couldn’t and didn’t transition into Fish ‘n Chip type tripping.
I guess now would be a good time to share some history about my ‘new’ club. In life, legend has a way of becoming fact and so it is that we believe that ‘Dabulamanzi Canoe Club’ was named after Dabulamanzi kaMpande (the Commander in the Anglo-Zulu war most noted for having led the Zulus at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift) with Dabulamanzi meaning “The one who conquers the waters” or “the divider of waters.” The truth however was that our founders weren’t referencing Dabulamanzi himself, but that one of them (Alan Witherden) spoke some Zulu and interpreted ‘Dabula’ as ‘to shoot’ and ‘Manzi’ as ‘water’ and proposed the idea of the vernacular for those who “Shoot the waters” as our club name. At the time, some of these guys shared a commune in Saxonwold and for a while they thought of naming the club ‘The Saxonwolds’ or ‘Saxonwold Splashers’ but thankfully they went with ‘Dabulamanzi’. Overtime we simply assumed the association with the Zulu Commander, to the point where people like Nic (Skeg) Oldert and Nick (Skid) Warren procured original prints of Dabulamanzi himself from the Illustrated London News, dated 1879. Nic and Nick recently donated an enlarged copy of his portrait to the clubhouse and the Zulu warrior has now been cemented as the (adopted) name and face of our club, Dabulamanzi.
Anyway, the founder members, descendants of Anglo Saxons who lived in Saxonwold were tired of driving to Wemmer Pan and went to Emmarentia instead. So it was that Dabulamanzi was established in 1979 by a group that included Alan Witherden, Bill Pellew, Bram Wright, Dennis Opperman, Don Southey and James (Jimmy) Skews. Some say Brian Longley was a founder, others say simply an early member; which-ever it was, Brian did get the standout boat number: 1000. Other early member names that have been shared include the likes of Bruce Clark, Dave Fergusson, Dave Hodgkiss, John Rhynes, Jomo King, Geoff Mills, Murray Wright and Ralph Teulings; most of whom lived in the ‘northern suburbs’ but wanted somewhere more convenient to paddle and ‘defected’ from JCC. Then there were also people like Meyer Steyn who was at RAU but paddling at Emmarentia, Niels Verkerk who was paddling at Emmarentia but as a member of Wits, and Chris Murray who was still a schoolboy and paddling from the Greenside Scout Hall on the other side of the dam – all of whom enjoyed the proximity of the dam itself, so please allow me to quickly reference the dam.
Emmarentia Dam, situated on Louw Geldenhuys Drive, was built by Lourens (Louw) Geldenhuys who bought the surrounding lands in 1886 at first to mine and then to farm. In 1903 he then decided to help some landless, unemployed Second Boer War veterans and hired them to construct a dam with blocks of stone from the hills on the farm at a cost £12,000. The dam was built over the Westdene Spruit which is a tributary of the Braamfontein Spruit. He then named the dam after his wife, Emmarentia Botha. Lourens died in 1929 and Emmarentia then began to sell parts of the farm that became the suburbs Greenside in 1931, Emmarentia in 1937 and in 1941, Emmarentia Extension. In 1933, 13 hectares of the farm were donated to the City of Johannesburg for parks and recreation, and after further pieces of land were acquired, the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens were established in 1964. So thanks to Lourens, our founders had a dam to paddle on (and the lovely gardens to run around, thanks to Emmarentia selling it all off), but back then they had no club house.
The Emmarentia Sailing Club was established in 1956 and they put in the concrete coffer dam wall and slipway before building their current clubhouse in the mid 1970’s; while the Normalair Underwater Diving Club was founded in 1962 and they built the existing stone clubhouse in 1963.
Starting out in 1979 the founders and early members ‘borrowed’ the sailing club house for meetings and social purposes for 8 years, while struggling to get permission to build a clubhouse on the water’s edge. In 1983 John Smuts approached a Mrs Parks who lived on Louw Geldenhuys Drive just behind the dam and got permission to store his boat at her house. One boat soon became 20 or 30 boats being stored there and then in 1987 when she put her house up for sale, Chris Murray who was Chairman at the time, suggested to the committee that Dabulamanzi buy the house. A consortium of the clubs’ senior members including Alan Witherden, Brian Longley, John Rhynes and John Smuts (with Rhynes being the bean counter who did much of the work) formed a CC and the property was purchased on behalf of the club; because a: the committee had been battling to get permission from the local municipality to build on the dam, b: there was a need to integrate the club into the residential association group and c: it was a quick fix that was necessary to gain independence from the sailors, who never really liked nor wanted paddlers on their dam. The idea was to pay the house off through renting boat rack space to members as-well-as renting the rooms to paddlers while using the lounge area as a bar and communal space for club meetings and social gatherings after the Thursday evening Time Trial. Here it must be remembered that the Wits paddlers also made use of the Dab’s club facilities, and in later years so too would the SCARC paddlers, so it would appear that Dabulamanzi has always been supportive.
Over the years the number of paddlers steadily increased while the number of sailors and divers steadily declined and our membership grew to over 1000, making Dabulamanzi South Africa’s biggest canoe club; then after years of petitioning the local council for water frontage the club was eventually allowed to build on the dam in 2002/3 and Colin Simpkins bought the property which was then very run down. The house was old and tired, the garden was a shambles, the pool at the back was a dirty rubbish tip, the staff quarters that had been renovated as showers were beyond manky. It was awful. So Copper demolished and rebuilt the old clubhouse into the great big thing it is today; but we didn’t simply walk across the road into the new club house. Once again we ‘borrowed’ the sailing club house for several months and some of our boats ‘squatted’ at Coppers building site while the new ‘boat pound’ (a major source of income for the club) was completed.
The committee at the time got permission from the council to ‘annex’ what was then a bricked public parking lot behind the dam wall, fenced it off and put in fancy new boat racks. Chairmen, early members and contributors got the good racks (No’s 1 – 3) nearest the gate back then, while the poorer plebs and ‘jonny-come-late’ people like me got racks at the back. Over the years additional racks have been added and in 2015 when the then 103 year old dam wall was rehabilitated, Dave Hamilton Brown put in the current gate and metal ramp down to the sluices so we can walk below the Olifants Road rather than have to carry boats around and across the intersection as we had to when the road and dam wall was being repaired, which was incredibly dangerous. Other boat pound additions and improvements included the revamping of the caretaker, Sydwell Baloyi’s little house, plus the likes of the outside showers, lights and I believe cameras.
The architect of the new clubhouse was Micha’el (the Tank Driver) Frame who designed everything from the stone walls to the viewing deck to the wave-like roof feature. Tony Rowney who lived in Durban at the time was the quantity surveyor. SAB and Hansa got their logos on our doors and we got nice new beer fridges from them. Not only did we get a bar, we also got change rooms and showers with hot water. Luxury. Over the years the clubhouse too has been improved and upgraded by the various different chairpersons and their committees. Most significant was the new bar area (the bar used to be were the new fireplace is) and the Red Mahogany bar itself with the beautifully finished counter that was made in and imported from Zimbabwe; thanks to Colin Kent, Cliff Welsh, Pod McLoughlin and Jim Davies; and installed by Meyer Steyn. Other improvements and additions included the time trial clock, the spotlights, the outside braai-place and fire pit, the wooden deck onto the water and the addition of extra geysers so that slower paddlers (like me) could still enjoy a hot shower after the racing snakes were done. The floating dock/floating jetty was bought for canoe polo purposes while a carpeted bank section was put in for marathon portaging practice purposes. We even have a defibrillator now and there is talk of installing a Lightning Alarm to warn paddlers off the dam – although Tony Lightfoot won’t get off – I think Lightening wants lightning to take him.
There have been many changes, mostly all being good. But I was disappointed when I saw that the new committee had pulled down many (not all) photographs of the old guard (including an iconic Wits-Dabs rivalry one of Neil and Frank Sol) in favour of new pictures of themselves and their peers. I guess that’s what change is about, but if we accept this then we have to accept that some of their pictures will also be binned in time, by a newer new guard, and that history will constantly be lost. Here I must however note that I never did have a picture of myself on the club walls (I was Norman-Nobody) but the new guard have now put up a picture of me (all-be-it with two legends); so I was really stoked to finally see myself up there – thanks guys and gals – thanks Meyer and Scatter for posing with me!
Below; people who have helped make Dabulamanzi what it is today: “The Finest Canoe Club in the Whole Dam Universe” although I do need to add that several others also made crucial efforts and silent donations for no kudos.
Getting back to 2004. In March I missed Umko as Dee went to Spain for work and I needed to stay home with the kids, then she went to Cape Town and rode her second Argus in a time of 3hours 55minutes, so I guess Dee also got to enjoy some away games. We spent Easter weekend at the Vaal with Neil and Lo and did our first river trip with the boys. We had planned to go from the Dam Wall to the Chute, but then Luke broke his arm on the Easter Friday. Apparently, this wasn’t a problem as we still did the trip, Luke just went without a paddle. Neil said it reminded him of our Vaal Marathon in 1986 when he did most the work when we ‘inherited’ a paddle with only one blade. The boys loved the adventure of the rapids and I hoped that the bug would bite.
One week later we went on our third holiday to Umngazi. Neil and Lo were also there plus the Slater’s, Beal’s and the 3 Fieldgate families; Pete and Lee, BJ and Jenny, Bobby and Karen; This meant lots of drinking; either in the bar or down in the Green Room. On the one evening they sent the bar staff home and we literally took over the pub. Their bar bill exceeded their accommodation costs.
It was a very busy week with walks in the Mangrove Swamps, fishing at Flat Rock and Gulley, booze cruises up the river plus lots of running and lots of paddling. On the one day we thought we would take advantage of a strong Westerly and paddle from Umngazi to Port St Johns. Neil was in an S1 Hammerhead, Scatter and I in a double ski. The surf was big, Neil timed it well and was soon behind the back line, but we couldn’t find a gap. After 3 long swims we gave up. The next day Scatter and I tried again but we did a back endo and wrapped the ski. I did eventually get to Port St Johns when I did ‘my run.’ That year the 38kms took me 4hours and 15 minutes. My diary says we drove home on the Saturday because I wanted to do the RAC Long One on the Sunday. More madness. 10 days before Comrades I ran the RAC 10km in 43minutes and with this I really thought that I could go under 9hours.
In June I ran the first half of Comrades with Giles Walkey (once a Silver medallist) hoping to do even splits and getting to the halfway mark in 4hours 30, but my second half was way slower I ended up at 9hours 43minutes, confirming I was still a slow coach horse. Comrades 2004 was on a Wednesday; not wanting to waste leave days I flew back on the Thursday morning red eye and was well pleased that I could walk up the steps to the plane with ease while many of my ‘Comrades’ were hobbling.
That same month Dee got herself a fancy Colnago racing bike and I bought Tim an old Suzuki DR 80. Shortly after this Neil bought a 250 Kawasaki so I took over his old 200 KTM, and with that our riding days began. Tim started quite slowly, the bikes he had been on previously were automatics, teaching him to use a clutch and gears was a nightmare, plus he was more cautious than either Luke or Brandon, but eventually we got him going. In the following months we went to places like X16, Daytona and deWildt, riding moto-cross tracks and enduro trails. It was lots of fun, but it wasn’t paddling.
For the Olympic Games in Athens, South Africa sent just one paddler: Alan van Coller, aka Mr Nice Guy or Van. I had met Alan through his ‘river’ days when he had paddled Fish and Umko with Neil, but he then focused on sprints and went to the Millennium Games in Sydney where he came 8th in the K1 500m final while at Athens he only got as far as the semi-finals for both the K1 500m and 1000m sprints. But perhaps he was better than this – in later months and years several of the men’s competitors were banned for doping, and one certain Australian was even jailed for drug peddling. I raise this because up until then I had never really associated drugs and doping with our sport, not that I ever got close to sprinting, and by now there was a new-era group of guys standing on the long-distance podiums; but I was always oblivious and naïve…
Anyway, while out riding I got Dave Tattam to commit to coming back to do Dusi, for which he needed some qualifier races. As a Dusi Rat I now no longer needed to qualify to enter, but I did need races behind my name for seeding batch purposes, so we agreed to paddle the Klip and 50Miler together in our K1’s with the intent being to end up in the same batch at Dusi and then do the same thing. In November we did the Klip, where he showed me his swimming skills and in December, we went down to 50 Miler.
For some reason Mike Patchitt asked us to drive a bakkie of his down to Balgowan where he had a ‘Michaelhouse dads place’. We were following him when his Discovery had a blow-out and rolled. They were incredibly lucky in that no one was hurt, but the vehicle was totalled. It was a long day and we only got to Howick at midnight. On the river our game was to count the swims, for day 1 he lost with a score of 3 – 0. On day 2 were even at 0 – 0 but the whole day was spent on Inanda Dam, quite why we bothered with that I don’t know. On the way back the bakkie’s exhaust fell off and the noise for the next 450km was terrible. That was not a great trip, but the river paddling part of it was fun.
That Christmas we went back to Cefani, stopping on the way for just one night at the farm. On Boxing Day we did the usual Cefani Dash, I won a case of beer, Dee was 2nd lady home while Vic Penaluna was the last man home. We had a lovely day on the beach and were horrified to hear about a Tsunami off Sumatra that (when all the counting was done) took some 230 000 lives, making it one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. I later learnt that a friend and colleague, Gabi Baron lost her fiancé while on holiday in Thailand. The wave was so big that it was seen at Cefani, but at the time none of us knew what it was.
For Dusi 2005, Dave and I stayed with Pops, but he wasn’t well, so we had to hire a second. Dave found a young Australian, Jake Weiman who was traveling SA and he had the time of his life in that he saw places he would never have seen, got a lot of girls’ phone numbers and got well paid. Day 1 took us 4hours 35minutes and Dave lost with a score of 3 – 1. On day 2 neither of us had any swims and we got in in 4hours 48minutes while on day 3 we also had no swims (although we portaged Island One) and finished in 3hours 35minutes. In my diary I wrote of day 3: “Still one of the best stretches of river in South Africa.” That was 15 consecutive Dusi’s for me; I then had my eye on 20 and ‘King Rat’ status.
Dusi ‘05 was a K1 race and on the female front Abbey Miedema set new standards in that she won in 9hours 36 coming home 30th overall and thus became the first lady in a K1 to break 10hours and the first to make the top 50. Prior to 1985 and my first attempt at the Dusi, women weren’t allowed to paddle in K1’s so-as-to ‘protect them’ and many now say that these rules were put in place simply to protect men like me from having girls show them up.
On the men’s front, Hank McGregor, known more as a paddler than a runner, won in a time of 8hours 17, earning even more respect in the paddling circles. Here I have to tell tales again. At about this time our canoeing magazine SA CANEWS ran an article on Hank about the Dusi, the Non-Stop Dusi and somehow Comrades also come into the picture. He was (mis)quoted as saying that Comrades was “A Joke.” I took offence to this and wrote back to the magazine saying that as good as Hank was, he was young and arrogant, that he really needed to learn some lessons in humility, that he had no place to knock Comrades until he had tried it. I went on to share some facts about how some of the best Dusi paddlers had been found wanting by the big C, including Mark Perrow who in 2000, having run the London Marathon in 3hours and 3minutes thought he would cruise through for an easy Silver (7hours 30) but then couldn’t manage a sub 9hour. I was adamant that Comrades wasn’t to be labelled “A Joke.” For the next few years I was never quite sure where I stood with Hank and kept a wide berth if I saw him at a race. Hank was schooled by his father Lee (once South Africa’s top swimmer and had we not been banned from competing in the Olympics, would almost certainly have been a multiple Gold medallist) who taught him that only 1st position counted, anything else was failure. So, he learnt to win, it became his way of life. Hank was (and still is) professional about everything he did and when he trained or raced, he was always all in, but I do believe that he really enjoys his racing and now has the humility and ability to make jokes about the prospect of not winning, although incredibly; 16 years later he is still winning – but we still need to get to there.
After our Dusi together, Dave talked me into showing him the way down Umkomaas, but I had last paddled the Umko in 1997, so my knowledge of the river and confidence levels would have been low, making this a bad idea. We arrived at Hella Hella to find that a flash flood had taken the river to 2.4m. It looked fast and furious. I was terrified, but Dave (who had never been on the Umko before) was gung-ho and could not wait to start. I had a Tomcat and he had a Sabre, great for Dusi but not for an Umko in flood. Following a long delay the organizers gave us the option off starting at No8, and we went down to No1 to have a look. That frightened me even more so I got Pops to talk some sense into Tattam and off we went to No 8. Our truncated day 1 took us just one hour despite Tattam having 2 swims. We paddled day 2 to Riverside with Rob Shuter, they had 2 swims each but we all finished together in 2hours 36minutes. In my diary I wrote: “Will definitely go back next year, but also with a white water boat, just in-case.” Tattam still abuses me, saying that I was a “wuus” for taking that option, but the following year the river was not as high and he lost his Sabre in No1. Umko 2005 was my fastest and shortest ever, but having done some very long ones I didn’t feel too guilty for claiming a finish. The pic below left is Meyer, Fergie and Scatter in a fat K3 getting hammered in No1, Tattam and I in thin K1’s had little hope.
Dee then cycled another Argus in 3hours 50 on a day so windy that people literally got blown away; meanwhile I was busy training for another Comrades.
In April we went back to Umngazi for our 4th and final time, staying at the farm on the way down and then at Pops’ on the way home. On one day Neil and I paddled out the river mouth into the surf with the boys who were in Guppies. It was not very clever of us; Luke was smashed by a wave and his boat sank. Amazingly we later recovered it, full of sand, when the tide went out. On another day, I was sitting in the bar when a couple arrived by helicopter. Not long afterwards the helicopter guy sat down next to me and seeing me in a Dusi T-Shirt he started some small talk; “do you know this guy; do you know that guy…” then he asked me if I knew Stuie Newlands. Charles Stewart (Stuie) Newlands was a good paddler, all-round athlete and a Mr. Nice Guy who passed in October 2004 after falling off his mountain bike. I said something along the lines of “Ya, what a great guy, but shame the poor bugger was hardly cold before his wife moved in with someone else…” The helicopter guy smiled and said: “Yep, with me,” and in walked Shirley. That was awkward to say the least, plus theirs was the dining room table next to ours. Scatter, knowing everyone as he does smoothed things over a bit for me, for which I was very grateful, but I felt terrible and he has dined out on that story for years.
That said, I too have dined out for years on an Umngazi story about Scatter. That same year he was out playing on the waves on his surfski when he took a swim near the Gulley, where we were fishing with the kids. Actually, the kids were fishing with Gillies, Dee and I were observing. Anyway, he was in trouble in a rip current and shouted for me to save his boat and paddle so, idiot that I am; in I jumped. The boat washed in quite safely over the rocks, I got his paddle, but the waves put me on the rocks, which were all barnacle encrusted. I lost a lot of skin on the left-hand side of my stomach. It wasn’t pretty, there was lots of blood and although it looked way worse than it was, I still have the scars to show for that. Scatter on the other hand was unscathed.
For Comrades 2005 I once again went in search of quantity rather than quality and increased my training milage with four 21’s, four 32’s, four marathons and four ultras to get to just short of 1400km before I drove down to Pops leaving Dee and the kids to fly to Durban. That year I got home in 9hours and 22minutes. I was quite pleased with that.
Then for the August school holidays Neil and Lo and Sue and Puc joined us at the farm and we went up to Tiffendel twice – on the snow Tim seemed fearless yet on a motorbike he was cautious, something I never did work out. Luke was good at it all. Jordi, Megan, Julia and Rae were happiest bum boarding.
In September I drove alone to Mont-Aux-Sources, Pops joined me, and we stayed at the Mont-Aux-Sources Hotel. I got up and down in 7hours 32minutes, it was awesome to be up on top of the world, so I really was grateful to be out there, but it was strange running alone and not knowing any other participants on the day.
That year Dee cycled 94.7 with Hayden in 3hours 18minutes and a week later I did the second day of the 50 Miler. I had a work function on the Friday meaning I could only drive down to KZN on the Saturday, but always loved the river below Inanda Dam so after some pleading and begging I got ‘special permission’ to paddle just day 2. There was good water but despite having no swims it took me 3hours 50 because I had to start in the last batch so as not to upset those who were racing. The joke was that I actually felt quite good as I confidently worked my way through the hackers and swimmers.
For Christmas we were again with the usual crowd at Cefani, Neil and Lo, Sue and Puc, Bryan and Dorne. Rod and Jac’s had bought a spot in Plettenburg Bay and never came back. That year we spent over 30minutes paddling and swimming with a pod of 40 to 50 dolphins down towards Hagga Hagga. It was truly special. When Andrew Slater was just 2years old he wasn’t shy, didn’t like clothes and was very popular with the girls; I look forward to seeing how this movie will play out now that he is in his naughty teenage years. Meanwhile Luke, Tim and Sean were busy becoming hard core boogie boarders, and it was Luke who was then the ‘coolest kid’ with his long thick hair and puka-shell necklace.
In January 2006 Leo and Swannie came to visit and then decided that they wanted to see a sawmill near Pietermaritzburg, so I had company for the drive to Howick and Dusi. For Pops it was then like our old schooldays having them back in his home (albeit a different one), drinking his beer. That year we had great water for day 1 and day 2 but many paddlers ran out of water below Inanda Dam on day 3 after the officials ‘switched off the taps’ to save the life of Tim White.
I can vividly remember having to do the longer portage at Tops because a guy was stuck on a rock. It was impossible not to see. There was no shortage other paddlers or emergency service people busy helping him and we were asked to carry on, but when you see someone in trouble it sits badly. Tim and his partner Anthony Schroenn had put in at the top of Tops and then swum after which Tim got his leg jammed between two rocks from the knee down, the force of the water pushing his head down. Fortunately, Richard Wiggitt managed to get to Tim and hold him up against the pressure of the water. He, other paddlers, personnel from Netcare, the Police and the Fire-brigade then spent 90minutes in the water with Tim before his leg was freed with the help of suntan lotion that acted as a lubricant and because Ray de Vries managed to get hold of Dan Naidoo from the Umgeni Waterboard to shut the sluice gates in order to drop the water levels and reduce the pressure on Tim. And so it was that the banter became “Tim; the chop that ruined our day 3,” something that he is both well aware and appreciative of; such is the humour at Dabulamanzi. Kudos to Tim, he went back to Dusi in 2007 and is still paddling. As for my story, well I was with Leo and Swannie and we were all thirsty, so we spent prize giving at Joe Cools. Back at Blue Lagoon, Hank claimed his second Dusi title, with Martin Dreyer.
For Umkomaas 2006, I was going back in a single but was asked to make up a K3 with Messer’s James Creighton and Steve Jourdan. The drive down was a marathon in itself; Van Reenen’s pass was closed and we had to go via Newcastle. After massive storms and more detours we arrived at Highover after midnight where we were staying with Scatter, Meyer and Fergie, which meant that we drank into the early hours of the morning – listening to the rumble of a rising river; me fearing another flood year. Fortunately the river dropped overnight and was not as high as the 2005 start, plus I believed I would be fine, I was in a great big K3. When we swam in the Approaches I feared the worst; they were massive and they are the longest rapid in the race; but we were in a K3, I thought the things were supposed to be stable. We then swam at the bottom on No2 and twice more below No8; one was terrifying as Steve and James abandoned the boat and their paddles leaving me to be the salvage guy, but we got home in 2hours 46 with the boat and ourselves still in one piece. Day 2 was always less scary – all the big stuff was behind us so we confidently charged down the centre of everything, enjoying the stability of the K3, but we still managed another swim. James proved himself to be a reasonable driver and Steve a good back-seat driver (I was piggy in the middle) and we eventually completed day 2 in 2hours and 16. I was very glad to finally get to my 10th finish, but after that I swore that this, my first K3 race would be my last. Before the race started Tattam told me I was a ‘wuus’ for going in a K3 instead of a K1 with him, but he lost his Sabre in No1.
It took me 21 years and 12 starts to get to 10 Umko finishes. Four in a K1; three in a White Water boat, one in a Double, one in a Mixed Double and one in a K3. Some were epic highs, some hard core missions, some tales of woe, some painfully long, one embarrassingly short, but each was a proper adventure in itself, as were the 2 DNF’s. Here I have to say that for me the most fun, excitement and sense of achievement is tackling a river, especially one like the Umko, on your own. Most of my K2 days were in the back of the boat with Neil, where I felt the driver had more fun, picking the lines, taking the punch of the wave, and then to my mind it’s even worse in a K3 if you are one of the two back room boys, although in a single, you are then often alone for long stretches, without out anyone to share the experiences or war stories with. Anyway, back at the Richmond Country Club I was pleased as punch to finally get my Green Number: 145 and wore my 1986 Umko T-shirt very proudly at the prize giving. When called up for my 10, one of the organisers made me wait, referenced my shirt and told the younger paddlers that in those days, their 2006 race was just day 1, back then we still had 60kilometres and the likes of Mpompomani, Waterfall, Whirlpool, Gulley and Goodenough’s to go. That made me even more proud. Plus Pops was there, with his Hansa and booming voice, cheering for Coo. Although there is some truth in Tattam calling me a ‘wuus’ as I have not been back to race since then; I have swum most the rapids named in the write-ups and as Big B liked to say; “There is only one rapid to be scared of on the Umko, the one coming next.”
Talking about the Umkomaas, what makes it different is not just the awesome rapids and the raw, natural beauty of the valley but the fact that when raced, you get the conditions that nature serves up. The water level for many of our river races is actually influenced (either partially or totally) by what the organisers can arrange in terms of dam releases. This is true of the likes of the Fish, the Dusi, the Lowveld Croc, the Ithala and so the list goes on. The Fish has the most consistency in terms of race day water levels plus it has had the most human intervention with the likes man-made weirs and shoots, but the Umko has almost nothing that is manufactured to influence conditions; back in the day we had to paddle 130km before we got the first weir, so yes the Umkomaas really is a unique and special river.
In March Dee did her third Argus but had 2 punctures and a slow day of 4hours 20minutes. Tim and Luke had taken up diving, so we were constantly at competitions where they would come first and second, often because they were the only boys there in their age group. On one such day, South Africa were playing Australia who won the toss and scored 434 for 4 off their 50 overs breaking every cricket record. I had forgotten that the match was on but we caught the final overs on the radio while driving home; South Africa scored 438 for 9 with one ball to spare; it was unbelievably exciting. What a win.
Comrades 2006 was what I call my beer year, as I stopped for a ‘cooldrink’ at Polly Shorts and then had many more after the run. This was an Up year, and I had gone down alone, so I had driven to Maritzburg to register then gone to stay in Durban with the Tattam’s. I had purposefully decided not to run with a watch and simply went on how I felt. I was going well but then I saw Giles Walkey at Polly Shorts, with a cooler-box full of beer, and he talked me into some refreshment. Two beers later, I happily trotted the 8km’s home to finish in what was then my best time of 9hrs 13minutes. Pops picked me up and we went to dinner at the Yellowwood Café, where Giles and Ernie Alder (a veteran of the Dusi and Umko) joined us. I was exceptionally thirsty and didn’t stop ordering beers until they asked us to leave at midnight. Ernie had big eyes. The next day Giles took me (with a proper hangover) back to the Tattam’s in Durban – I still say he was to blame.
For the August school holidays we went back to the farm and Tiffendel, this time with the Austen Family. That year they had their best snow in over 30 years, meaning we could not go up from Bidstone and had to go up from Rhodes, but the snow was fantastic, so we did the long drive twice.
Still flying the colours of Dabulamanzi Canoe Club I did my third Mont-Aux-Sources in 2006 running with 2 other Dabs paddlers, starting with Ian Benson and finishing with Graham (Tweet) Bird in a time of 7 hours 17. Despite his success in canoeing, Graham is now dedicated to adventure racing rather than paddling, while Benson, an early member and long-standing chairman of Dabulamanzi no longer paddles and mostly runs. At Mont-Aux-Sources the unwritten rule was that due to the limited numbers allowed for each years run you were only supposed to do 3 and then bow out, to give others a chance, but Benson now has over 20 rocks (finishers get a piece of rock from the mountain), more than anyone else, to go alongside his 35 Comrades, 36 Two Oceans and who knows how many other medals.
For the weekend of Lowveld Croc, Puc and Sue invited us to stay with them at Verloerenkloof Estate, a working farm with beautiful free-standing stone and thatch crofts, perfectly located to do the race (being just 19 km from the start below Kwena Dam) and perfect for a family holiday. Four kilometres into day 1 both the flanges holding my pedals broke off; the Croc is a technical enough river as it is and without steering, I thought it was impossible to get to the end, so I walked back to the start. When I finally go there everyone was (unsurprisingly) gone. I left my boat and paddle there and ran over 15km before a kind farmer gave me a lift back to Verloerenkloof. Then I had to go back to the start to get my boat and fix it. Puc had a good day 1 but passed on paddling day 2 and instead took the boys fishing; I paddled with Dave Tattam and Giles Walkey, but we only did the last 12km’s of the day due to hippos. A few kilometres from the end we were sucked back into a hole to pop awesome endos – I got lucky.
I did my first Ithala Challenge in 2006, after Tattam told me to stop messing about on rivers I knew too well like the Dusi and the Fish; that there was this new race offering an experience somewhere between the Croc and Umko, that this was a must do. The website said this was a deep winding valley with vertical cliffs and approximately 60 rapids along the 43km route, the pictures confirmed there was lots of fun to be had, I was sold and entered.
We drove down to the Ithala on the Friday, Jordi’s 9th birthday; she was bleak that her party with her school friends had to wait. I put up our tents next to the Tattam’s and the Hardie’s, in the dark, under Acacia thorn trees. Our blowup mattresses lasted 10 minutes, Brandon and Tim let off a firework in their tent, the girls were not happy campers, William’s new baby cried lots; it was a long night. The next day Joy took the kids game viewing while Dee took Dave and I to the start. My diary said that the 33kilometres to the Confluence may have been the best stretch of river I had ever paddled, but that the last 9km’s on the Pongola were 9km’s too far. I spent the day with Tattam, I had 1 swim while he had 5 so he bought the beer that night. Russell Willis and Jonathan Nieman won that one. It really was fantastic to experience a new and testing river but as much as I loved the Ithala, I didn’t heed Tattam’s advice and also kept going back to the rivers I knew.
The following weekend I did the short 94.7 Mountain Bike ride with Tim and Luke, the next day Dee did the road race in 3hours 30 and the weekend after that Luke and Tim rode the Cradle to Cave, but truth be told I was happy when Tim said that Mountain Biking wasn’t really for him and he wanted to try swimming, so we swam the Emerald Casino 1km in 21minutes to qualify for the 2007 Midmar.
In December we missed our annual pilgrimage to Cefani and went to the farm for Christmas before going to Italy on a skiing holiday. That year I did more paddling than ever in the district as my Dusi training. On one day I paddled from Loch Bridge at Lyndale but missed the Lissoff road so had to walk out through the lands, that was a 4hour mission. Then I went from Loch Bridge to the R58 in another 4hour session and I also spent an afternoon with Joe and Matthew Sephton playing in plastics, paddling upstream into little rapids, doing seal drops off rocks, trying to teach them basic strokes and how to roll.
On December 31st we flew to Dubai and then Milan where we met Neil and Lo, Sue and Puc, Bruce and Liesl Allen, to catch a bus up to Madonna di Campiglio. The village was beautiful, the snow was great, and the skiing was fantastic, until I crossed my skis and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee while racing Tim. It was desperately painful getting back down and that was the end of my skiing. While we were there, so too were the Ferrari F1 Team including Massa and Raikkonen, who had just joined to replace Schumacher. On the eve of our departure, we got to see them race their 2007 Ferrari’s on the ice-rink in the village. Yes, F1’s on ice at an Alpine village! Then they put on an amazing firework display and kids and dads alike fought for giveaways. We scored a Ducati cap. The whole ice-rink experience was an unbelievable treat and a fairy tale end to our amazing holiday.
Back home I went to see 3 different specialists, all wanted to operate and reattach my ACL, all said that both the 2007 Dusi and Comrades were out of the question; all scared me away. Instead, I went into a 4-month physiotherapy program at the Centre for Sports Medicine in Rosebank. They too told me that my 2007 paddling and running ambitions should be written off, but I had different ideas.
At that stage I was on 16 consecutive Dusi’s and 8 consecutive Comrades and feared that if I stopped, cooldrinks might take over and I might never start again. Also, I knew that without an ACL I would still be able to walk and run, as long as it was in straight lines. Plus, I had already paid my entry fee and bought a new boat (new for me but a secondhand Slimline Mustang), so off I went to Dusi. At that time Slimline’s were what the racing snakes used, instead of a broad diamond shaped back-deck, these boats had as the name suggests, thin pencil like back-decks, so I guess I thought that there was some race in me. Anyway, I walked all the portages I had to (with a knee brace) but otherwise stayed in the river as much as possible and was very pleased to finish in 13hours 7minutes. That was the last year that Hansa produced Dusi cans; although no longer the title sponsor, they still did us proud.
After Dusi Tim and I swam Midmar together in 34 minutes. I claimed another Seal Iron Man and then tried to get him going in a K1 instead of a Guppie; those days didn’t last long as school sport took over.
My Comrades 2007 training was vastly different to that of previous years. After tearing my ACL and then walking the Dusi I didn’t go back into the same routine of striving to build distance, instead I hardly ran at all and spent my ‘sport time’ at the Centre in Rosebank on their toys or doing the rehab exercises at home. With just short of 400km’s behind me I was more nervous about getting to the end than I was for my first, but I guess I had quality rather than quantity behind me as that year, because despite being told by numerous knowledgeable people that Comrades was out of the question, I ran my best time ever: 9 hours 6minutes. With 5km to go I really thought I was on target to go under 9 hours, but I didn’t; I blew; perhaps because of the lack of training, perhaps the lack of genes, perhaps the lack of willpower; like I said upfront, it’s tough being born without such qualities, so I never did earn a Bill Rowan Medal.
During the August holidays the Tattam’s joined us at Kenmure and up at Tiffendel. I tried snowboarding (with my Moto-X knee braces) to favour my knee, but I never did get the hang of that and soon went back to using ski’s. Brandon and Tim were terrors on the slopes; skiing backwards, doing little jumps and tricks, all to try an impress a pretty little girl, Gina Bennett.
In September 2007 Gareth (Lentil) Peddie was representing South Africa at the World Marathon Championships in Hungary when he died of an aortic aneurism while watching the final event. His was the first of several moving services we would attend at Emmarentia Dam. His epitaph is poignant: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
Following our camping fiasco at the previous years’ Ithala, Dee and the kids told me I was on my own, they were never going back there again, as did Joy and her kids, although it must be said that without our families we then upgraded to stay in the huts. I caught a lift with Nic Roodt while Dave got a lift from Durban with Mark Perrow. Tattam and I did our thing again – paddling together in K1’s. We each had two swims and needed 5hours 6minutes to get to the end. By now Scatter had Meyer Steyn in his full time employment as his driver for both the Umko and Ithala, Meyer being a brilliant reader of rivers; although I think his brother Gerhard, who honed his river skills on the Lowveld Croc, above and below Montrose Falls, may be better. As testimony to this Meyer and Scatter came 10th overall while Gerhard in a K1 was 8th overall. Gerhard is currently on 9 Ithala finishes – all in a K1, 6 of which he placed in the top 3 K1’s and his worst overall position to date is 15th. Perrow didn’t do too badly paddling with his father-in-law Brian, they just missed the Top 20 while Ken Holden and Hank Mc Gregor won in a time of 3hours and 9 seconds.
In December we celebrated Pops 80th Birthday in Howick before we went to the farm for a few days and then on to Cefani. Pops went to spend Christmas with Jenny in Rustenburg where he took a fall and broke his hip. That was basically the start of the end for him. Cefani as always was beautiful and fun but that year was dampened by the thought of Pops in hospital with a broken hip.
Dusi 2008 was the first time in 18 consecutive years where I didn’t stay with Pops (who we had moved from Rustenburg to Sandton Clinic), instead I stayed with the Tattam’s and paddled day 1 and 2 with Dave. It was also the first time since my abortive attempt in 1995 when I got Dusi guts after day 2 and was violently ill. I had to make many a stop on day 3 but eventually got to the end in 13hours 28minutes and then slept from 6 in the evening to 6 the next morning before taking myself back to Jo’burg.
History was made that weekend when the “Dusi Duke”, Martin Dreyer teamed up with Michael (Mbanji) Mbanjwa who became the first black winner in the 57-year history of the event. They also set a new record time of 7hours 33minutes, as did the first ladies home; Abbey Miedema and Alexa Lombard. Mbanji was born in the Valley of a Thousand Hills meaning the race route was his home and this bought huge smiles to the locals. Seeing him win and hearing him talk about it bought hope and belief to many who would otherwise never have dreamt of paddling. Martin recognised this and made a real difference when he launched the Change a Life Academy later that year, which would literally change lives and the make-up of the Dusi Top 50. This was his last racing year, having achieved 7 wins in 10 years. In 2009 he was too busy with his protégés to paddle, although he did later race the Dusi with his wife Jeannie to set more records, as well as go on to set unbelievable Freedom Challenge times.
In February Tim and I swam our second Midmar. It was a cold and windy day, we had to swim ‘polo-style’ to contend with the waves and it took us 38 minutes. I claimed another Seals Ironman.
In March we went on a School ‘Dads and Lads’ trip, a paddling weekend on the Orange River, I thought this would be great. On the first day of the trip the river was low so when we got to Piet se Gat, the guides told us it was dangerous, they would paddle the Croc’s through and we should walk around. I said was a paddler and could help, but when taking my 4th boat through I took a swim and despite my lifejacket I bashed my ribs and battled to swim out. I could hardly breath let alone cough or laugh and thought every rib was broken. They took me to hospital in Hopetown and the X-rays said otherwise, but I lived in pain for 3 weeks. What should have been lots of fun became a fail for me – but the boys had a ball.
In April Dee did a lot of traveling to Cape Town and then in May she had a 5week working stint in Paris. Pops was still in Sandton Clinic and with his broken hip not mending he got progressively weaker. I was alone with him on an early Monday morning (May 26th) when he slipped away, peacefully. Dee came home for the service, then Neil and Lo hosted 50 or so people at their house for drinks. It was a special farewell, but I was disappointed in that Mark Perrow was the only good friend or family member who made the effort to come from outside Jo’burg, although in fairness to Di and Nev, they spent a week with me while Dee was away, and Di spent a lot of time with Pops then.
It is a privilege to stand here before you, our family and our friends, and for that friendship we thank you as we gather today to remember and celebrate the life of our dad, Roy Evans.
Dad was born in December 1927 in Litchfield England. He was born a twin with his other half being Peggy and had two older sisters Audrey and Joyce. Dad’s mother died when he was just 10. He and his 3 sisters grew up on a farm, and during World War II this became an Australian air base.
On finishing school (with a couple of distinctions) he studied architecture (without distinction) and following the War he started out on his adventures, heading first to Australia where he worked as an architect and a land surveyor. But Australia was not his cup of tea, so he headed for Africa and it was here that he found home.
Dad’s 30year service with Shell & BP started in Tanzania in the early 1950’s. His job was to show educational movies out of the back of a van, a mission and adventure which took him through most of the Southern African countries. It was whilst he was in what was then Southern Rhodesia that he met our mom, Jean Tucker. They married in Port Elizabeth in February 1958. Jenny was born in Salisbury in 1960, John died at birth in 1961 and Clive and Neil (that’s us) were born in Lusaka in 1964.
Dad was transferred to head office in Salisbury in 1969. In 1974 his wife Jean, our mother, passed away leaving him as a single parent to raise us. 12 Brechin Drive, Salisbury and Harare remained dad’s home for 19 years until he retired and moved to Howick in 1988. Pops was to spend the next 19 years in Howick until he moved up to Johannesburg in November of the year before last and in December, we celebrated his 80th birthday.
On Christmas Day Pops slipped and broke his hip, and this was the start of the end. The pain and discomfort he endured in his last five months were a tribute to his strength and courage. In the end, his passing was a blessing.
That’s a short story of his life, but we would like to remember and thank Pops for the man we knew and loved. Pops was not a high-flying businessman, nor a great sportsman. He lived a modest and humble life. But he was the best father we could have hoped or wished for. He spoilt us with his time, his support and his love. His interest and focus on life was us, his children....
We had the most wonderful holidays. We camped on the beaches of Beira, in the Inyanga forests and numerous game parks from Kariba to Mana Pools to the Zimbabwe ruins.
Our parents loved to explore ancient ruins and bushman paintings. A typical weekend was identifying a faint marking on a map, packing a picnic basket and then driving off to that Koppie and spending the day exploring and searching.
In his retirement years Pops loved to scour the battlefields of the Midlands from Rourke’s Drift to Spioenkop. He would often plan a trip that would take him to the most remote corners of South Africa from the Three Rivers confluence to the Tuli Block corner.
If he wasn’t out exploring, you would find him at home where his favourite pastimes were wood-work or an overly large jigsaw. Typical of his character Pops would not use the picture to help complete the puzzle.
And whilst these were his pleasures, his real interest and focus in life was us his children… Even though we bordered some 300km’s from home there were few sports matches that Pops did not attend. With his booming voice of support there were few in Umtali who did not know our Dad, much to Jenny’s embarrassment. As we all knew, Pops enjoyed a cold beer or two and at school the seniors used to tease us that if dad was coming to town for a match then there would be no beer left for them!
This support was a trait that he carried over into the paddling days that started in our school days when Pops gave us the CooNoo and then extended into our university days and it was here that ‘Mr Zims’ was born – as he made his presence felt.
Whilst Neil was competitive and Clive was not, it was Mr. Zims who won the hearts of the canoeing circle. He travelled from the Dusi to the Umko to the Berg to the Fish – year in and year out. If he wasn’t setting up camp for the Wits Kabbutz, then the Wits Kabbutz was descending on his home. The record was 19 of us crammed in for the night before one Umko.
At a race you would see him on the side of the river or on top of a bridge happily chatting away to literally anyone who was next to him, Hansa in hand. And if you didn’t see him, then you heard him. As in our school days he made it impossible for one not to know him or to enjoy his company. He was famous in his own right, and the number of people that befriended him bore testimony to his wonderful character. As many have said, he was truly legendary.
He did not just get to all the canoe races, but he was also there for us at the running races from Mont-aux-Sources to Comrades, at the cycling races like Sani2C and even at the Roof of Africa in Lesotho.
And that’s what we remember and thank Pops for – his wonderful support and that fact that he was always there for us… Pops, we will miss you dearly – but as you once said of an uncle of yours: “grieve not that he died but rejoice that he lived.” So, we would like to say thank-you for you and thank you for everything you did for us. Thank you from all of us – as family and as friends. May God bless you.
We would like to thank all of you for your support. We really are privileged to have such friendship. And we would also like to thank Gary (Rivas) for being the minister today. Thank you.
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Back to the tales… Comrades 2008 was my tenth consecutive attempt, and my first without Pops being there. I had done neither quality nor quantity training and had just short of 900km’s behind me. It was a very emotional day as I ran on memory and in memory of Pops to finish in a comfortable time of 9hours 32. I was proud to run with a yellow number, the sign that you are ‘Going for Green.’ I can’t tell you how many people, runners and supporters alike, urge you on and congratulate for your efforts and felt truly special when I was awarded my Green Number; 3473.
In August 2008 Niels (Captain) Verkerk died tragically while flying his plane. The service was moving and then we paddled an honourary time trial in Wits Yellow. Niels is remembered as the stalwart Captain of the Wits Canoe Club that was so dominant in its day and for winning both the Fish and Vaal River marathons. He was 49 when he passed; in those years he completed 34 Vaal River Marathons and we like to believe that Niels “stirred the teacup” (paddled around Emmarentia Dam) more times than anyone else ever would or could.
For the school holidays we again went to the farm, so the kids could spend time with their cousins and so they could play in the snow. Tim became quite good on ski’s and better still a few years later after he spent 4 winter months as an exchange student in Montreal, Canada. Before he went over, his hosts who had a ski-lodge in Mont Tremblant asked if he could ski, so we sent them the picture below left.
I was still on a break from Fish but 2008 was memorable in that Keith’s Flyover reminded us how dangerous it can be. Scatter was with Dave Ferguson and Andrew Torr in a K3. They got in trouble and wrapped below the bridge, worse still Fergie broke his leg in there. It must have been an awful experience as that was the last time that he paddled a river, having notched up 16 Fish and 12 Umko’s.
Before Ithala, Scatter and I first did day 1 of the Vaal Marathon as distance training and with that we felt prepared. That year I got a lift to the Game Park with him and Meyer but was once again paddling with Tattam, as we did, together, but in K1’s. He nearly rolled his bakkie while trying to park it at the start, much to the amusement of all around us. We each had two swims, but my boat folded in half on the second swim. Ithala was the first time I had carried Delta Cast and aluminium strips for such an eventuality; it was brilliant, without which I wouldn’t have finished, but finish we did. If you have never used it and want to do a race like this or Umko, don’t go without Delta Cast – or a spare paddle.
Christmas of 2008 was spent at Kenmure, for the Christening of Charlotte Green and to spend time with Dee’s brother Wynne and his family, Wynne having been diagnosed with cancer just 2months earlier. New Year was spent with the other half of our family at Cefani.
I went to Dusi 2009, Dave wasn’t paddling, my base at Howick was no longer so I stayed with John and Cath and paddled the race on my own in a slow 13hours 5mins.
This was a K1 year, many were hoping that Mbanji would claim his second win, but Ant Stott was too strong and Banji had to settle for second. Meanwhile Martin Dreyer had been busy with his Change a Life Academy. He had based himself at Nagle Dam where he had 20 passionate paddlers under his wing with the aim to have 10 of these young men in the Top 50. After four short months of training his goal was exceeded when 10 of his protégés romped home in the top 36, including 2 Gold (Top 10) Medals.
Martin has to be praised for his inspiration in helping to drive the transformation of our sport, but he was not alone. The Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) was founded in 2003 by a Dabulamanzi paddler, Brad Fisher after he noticed the absence of black paddlers in the sport, particularly in Gauteng and decided to do something about it. Brad, the CEO of Adreach built the Club as a social development initiative that aimed to uplift previously disadvantage communities, such as those in Soweto, through the power of sport, with a focus on canoeing. In 2009 the Soweto Canoe Club had 3 Top 50 finishers: Mbanji who came second, plus a youngish Ryno Armdorf and Nkosi Mzolo. The first Dabs paddler home that year was a young school teacher, Piers Cruickshanks in 4th place, who would also act against the racial divide and write his story about this, but we are still getting there.
Comrades 2009 was different in that the race was no longer run on June 16th; it was detracting from Youth Day so instead it was moved to May 24th. Wynne was not well, the doctors had told him that chemotherapy could not beat his cancer so he had gone home to his family and farm for his last few weeks. Dee and the kids went to spend time with him and his family, I went to run Comrades and the next day I went to their farm, Millard to join them. Wynne passed on May 26th, a year to the day after Pops. Wynne didn’t paddle but he loved to walk and fly-fish his rivers, he loved his guitar playing, rugby and a beer, he loved his farm and farming but most of all he loved his family, from which he was taken too soon.
The Ithala was now in my veins and in 2009 I went back, catching a lift with Rod who was paddling with Puc; and having moved up in life was now flying in a Porsche Cayenne. It was very fancy, but that was the only canoeing trip it went on, perhaps because it was a wet and muddy one. We travelled down toward Louwsburg in torrential rain, which could mean only one thing – a full and naughty river. There was a lot of nervous drinking at the lodges that night and it was clear to many that this was going to be more a test against the river than a race against each other, although I was again in a K1 and tripping with Tattam. The Ithala is actually raced on two rivers, the first 33km’s on the Bivane River, below the dam wall and although that river was swollen by many little tributaries, it was never as full as the Pongola which was heaving. I was in my little Tomcat and can’t believe I didn’t swim in holes that were big enough to bury a car, but those last 9km’s took me just 35 minutes; we were literally swept to the finish by torrents of muddy brown water to get home in a time of 4hours. My diary said “That was an epic high.” I was stoked when SA Paddler used a pic of me for its cover story on the race, despite the fact that only I knew it was me. Below right – and no, I didn’t swim.
That ‘flood year’ was won by Jacques Theron and Jen Hodgson in a record time of 2hours 55 and while one might think they must have made history for being the first Mixed Double to ever win a big river race, that honour actually goes to Malcolm Stothard and Carol Joyce who won the Ithala in 2004. Here I must note that Carol and Jen were no slouches, they came 7th in the A final of the 2008 Beijing Olympic K4 500m Sprints with Michelle Eray and Nicola Mocke – Belkie and Jacques had really good partners.
For Christmas that year we stayed at Millard to be with Dawn, Jake and Erryn. Friends we had made while on holiday in Mozambique; Kevin (Frenchie) Gesseau and his daughters came along too. While there we had a lovely picnic down by the river at Beddgelert with the Sephton’s; this would later become their home. Dawn, Jake and Erryn then joined us at Cefani for a few days and although Jake had a ball playing in the surf with Tim, my happy place and the sea held little appeal for Erryn or Dawn who preferred their mountain sanctuary. That year we made the kids do an early morning walk to Hagga Hagga with us, it was torture for them and the breakfast ‘reward’ at the local hotel was quite awful.
Dusi 2010 was my 20th consecutive finish. It was a big thing for me, I had committed two decades to fitting family and work around what had become an annual pilgrimage from Jo’burg to Maritzburg; at first with the added excuse to visit Pops and then without him there at all. After 11hrs 38mins I paddled into Blue Lagoon feeling fantastic; I had had a faultless 3 days and just completed 20 Dusi’s in a row; I was so proud. But on that day, there was no announcement or recognition as I came in and as I then learnt, no ‘Double Rat Badge’ as at Comrades, nor any mention at prize giving. “20 years is not that important, I need to push for 30”, was what I was told after I enquired and was fobbed off. My high was dashed, I felt wounded. I was of course being overly emotional, Pops was gone, I was there alone, plus I was about to be retrenched; but I was very unhappy with the Dusi people.
After that Dee suggested that it might be good for me to try something different, so I said goodbye to paddling the Dusi and off I went to become an Iron Man. From East London to Midmar to Port Elizabeth I was welcomed in like a hero, recognised by name, despite being a novice and absolute nobody. It took me 3 years to work out that the Iron Man crowd aren’t really my kind of people; I even tried mountain biking and Sani-to-Sea (Sani2c) and as fantastic as that experience was, I knew that canoeing and its people was my happy sport, so I never really left paddling, but yet again I am getting ahead of myself.
As a confession, after I incorrectly assumed that Dusi awarded a Double Green Number for 20 finishes ala Comrades, but discovered they don’t, I called Mary Millward (who has spent a lifetime administrating for NCC plus running after painful people such as myself) and asked her for another 447 Green Number.
I now have one for my first 10 and another for the following 10, beautifully framed and hanging proudly next to my other Green Numbers including Comrades, Umko, Tough One, Fish, and Mont-Aux-Sources. As I said earlier, for those of us who can’t win, we take great pride in simply finishing and then finishing again. Dee doesn’t get my pleasure here, so my numbers live in my playroom – the garage, but on a more serious note there is an important lesson in this saga of recognition. There are no shortages of distractions or alternative options in today’s day and age, and with the slippery slope that canoeing is on, the management of races need to recognise, reward and market to not just those who win, but also the arbitrary Fish ‘n Chippers and particularly the stalwarts who make up the race numbers, year after year, without which the winner’s purse would be lighter than it sadly is.
Back at the sharp end of Dusi 2010, Andy Birkett claimed his first win with Jason Graham; Mbanji had to settle for another second place, this time with Ant Stott, who beat him in into second place in 2009. Martin Dreyer’s Change a Life protégés, Eric Zondi and Thomas Ngidi came third before becoming the first black crew ever to win a major canoe race in South Africa, the Non-Stop Dusi, a gruelling one day event covering the same route as the three day marathon. They used their prize money to build homes for their families in the valley. Respect.
In February, after 10 years with a company I thought I had a life plan with, I left Net#work BBDO. I was a board member and shareholder and had believed that we all had each-others backs so it wasn’t pleasant at all when the founders chose to back a client rather than a colleague and partner and booted me out, but such is business, money talks loudest. That Client then ditched them a few years later.
I wasn’t at the Umko that year, but all who paddled heard about it. Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt were defending their 2009 title but were narrowly beaten on day 1 by Jacques Theron and Piers Cruickshank. On day 2 Hank and Grant were ahead shortly before the finish when Jacques boat collided with them resulting in Theron and Cruickshank’s winning. After the race Hank then started punching Jacques. Our sport hadn’t had such drama in years. Following a disciplinary hearing where Hank pleaded guilty, CSA banned him from all paddling for 12months, suspended for 6. Hank appealed the sentence and CSA slashed the ban to just 2months which then allowed him to race the Dunlop Surfski Champs, but he was rusty and Dawid Mocke won in a tight battle with Matt Bouman. Speaking to Jacques some years later about this, he just smiled and said he was glad he was wearing a helmet.
That Easter we went on one of my best family holidays ever – a 35km, 4-day rafting trip with Gravity Adventures from Onseepkaans on the Namibian Border with Neil and Lo, Sue and Puc, Rod, Dawn, Bruce and Liesl and all our kids. We floated down what was mostly a sedate river, enjoyed a few good rapids, ate like kings, (thanks to the river guides who did all the cooking,) had lots of cooldrinks and slept on the warm sand under the stars. It was like we were the only people on the planet, we relished the solitude and the beautiful wide-open spaces. If you haven’t been – this is bucket list stuff.
From the Orange River we drove back to Jo’burg and the very next day we flew to Shanghai. You could not imagine two more diametrically opposed experiences. Dee had been offered a fantastic position to manage the customer research for Unilever in China out of Shanghai. She had been asked twice before and this time they said they would pay for us to spend 10days there; to get a feel for the place, to look at schools for the kids and housing options. Previously I had not been interested in living in China at all; but having just been retrenched, I was then open to any opportunity.
We had only been there a few hours when Tim and Jordi told us if this was what we wanted, they didn’t, and would go to join their Green cousins at boarding school in Grahamstown. It took me a little longer to make up my mind, but I sided with the kids; putting lifestyle ahead of career ambitions (which it seems our now adult children are doing too) although this really wasn’t fair on Dee. But we were there and after looking at schools and houses we made the most of it. It really was an incredible and eye-opening experience. As big and distant as China is, it’s a small world, and while there we had dinner in a high-rise hotel on the Bund with a certain Bryan and Dorne Slater who were visiting family that were working there. They said we would love Shanghai; but we were never going to put our kids in boarding school and miss out on those years with them (Dee had been a boarder from the age of 6, me from 10) so our minds were made up and we chose to stay home. In the end it all worked out as Dee then ended up managing the customer research for Unilever across Africa and the Middle East, out of Johannesburg and Durban. I joined JWT; it wasn’t Net#work or BBDO, but I was grateful to be employed.
I didn’t know it then, but I ran my last Comrades in 2010. My time of 9hours and 35 minutes was the same as my overall average across 12 attempts which earned me 12 Bronze medals. I always wanted a Bill Rowan but never got there; equally I never wanted a Vic Clapham (11-12 hours) because being old school I believed that the cut-off should have been kept at 11hours, and thankfully never went there either. I see that they have since added another medal; the Robert Mtshali or Sub10 hour Medal; had they existed in my day I would have got 11 of those.
On June 17th, Graeme Pope-Ellis died tragically on his farm in Bishopstowe while out on his tractor. The Pope had grown up as a farmers son on the banks of the Msunduzi River and first competed in the Dusi Canoe Marathon at the age of 17. Between 1965 and 2010 he completed the race an incredible 46 consecutive times. As the “Dusi King” he holds the record for having won 15 times in just 18 years between 1972 and 1990 (12 in K2’s with Eric Clarke, Peter Peacock and Tim Cornish; 3 in a K1) and was the first person to win the Dusi in a single canoe, in 1981. The Pope will eternally be synonymous with the Dusi and who knows if his 15 wins will be eclipsed, although it seems that a certain Andy Birkett is trying very hard to do so…
In truth I didn’t give up on paddling altogether as I went back to the Ithala in 2010, this time with Giles Walkey and we joined Tattam to trip in our K1’s. While it’s great to have company and take turns in leading the charge into the many rapids, with more paddlers there are invariably more swims which means more waiting, but we were in no real hurry and got 5hours 8minutes of enjoyment out in the river. Rory Attridge and Mark Shuter were in a hurry, they made the podium as the 3rd double and first Veterans home, while Hank Mc Gregor and Ken Holden recorded their second win in 2hours 56. Hank has only done 2 Ithala’s to date and won both times.
The inaugural High Altitude Surf Ski Challenge (HASSC) was held in 2010; many enthusiastically threw in ideas, Brad Fisher was at the forefront, but it is seen as the baby of our Admiral; Pete (Boet) O’Connor, whose enthusiasm would go on to grow the event over the years. The Transvaal Navy had quietly evolved since the 1980’s, led at first by the likes of Boet, Tony Rowney and Dave Fergusson, and for a couple of years in the early 2000’s Dabulamanzi even held an unofficial surfski race down in Durban, the Tony Rowney Memorial. Anyway, someone had the bright idea that Dabulamanzi, “the best dam club in the universe” should host the only high altitude surfski race in the world, on our Emmarentia dam. Motorboats and jet skis were bought in to make waves and add to the fun and excitement for the paddlers; one year they even bought in tons of sand to make a beach for the spectators. It started small, but in time this would become a highlight on the Dabulamanzi Club calendar and it is perhaps the most fun event in the national calendar. Prior to this the fun event on the Dabs calendar was the Hanepoot 500 back in the 1980’s and 90’s where you basically paddled 500meters and played silly buggers trying to capsize each other in mid winter and then drank lots of Hanepoot to warm up, which was good humour, but the HASSC is a way better substitute.
In December John and Cath joined us at Cefani, and although they enjoyed it there, it was always going to be too basic for them. They did however like the other side of the river where the gentry and the wealthy from East London stay and for a while, we thought they might buy on that side, but Cefani and the sea held little interest for John. In the end it was Puc and Sue who bought a plot there, although they never did build and eventually off-loaded it, their family preferring the more rustic side and the company that came with it.
That holiday I did a ridiculous amount of training (as Neil and Puc, Luke and Sean and others always did on their mountain bikes) because I had entered the 70.3 Half Iron Man in East London and really didn’t know what I was in for. Someone had told me that Comrades was a warm-up for Iron Man and with Cefani being down the road from East London I used my 3 weeks holiday as a training camp. I swam in the sea and the lagoon at Cefani plus I even swam the course at Orient Beach. I rode up the N2 towards Berlin, got fined and taken back to town in a cop van for cycling on a national freeway, so instead I took to riding up the N6 to the Kei Road turnout or sitting on a training wheel, up on the Cefani Deck (and reading books) and I even ran the course around Beacon Bay. Plus, there was all the usual paddling on the sea or up the lagoon before closing off each day with a late braai and drinking with Scatter. It was a busy holiday, but I did take a lot of naps under our old green umbrella on the beach.