11. The CooNoo Tales Continued

But wait, there’s more! After doing the Berg River Marathon I had decided to wrap-up my writing and share my tales, but a year later I have a few more to tell and want to share again. I went to bucket list events I hadn’t done, did one that we probably shouldn’t have started, paddled my best river race ever, and even set a new personal best; so these and more along with stories of many other paddlers, runners and even cyclists are in this new chapter.

In September Dee and Andi Chemaly went to Cape Town to work and see the kids, and I joined them for a weekend. We were staying in Kommetjie, so I visited Carlo Natali and he took me on an awesome Millers Run. The South Easter was blowing strong and when the guys on the shuttle to Millers Point heard we were Vaalies they weren’t sure we should be getting on, but we had washed the boat before they had beached at Fish Hoek. Catching runs and linking multiple waves together on a terrain that is constantly changing really is a fantastic experience, particularly when your driver knows what he is doing. Thanks Carlo!

For the 2021 Liebenbergsvlei the race committee decided that format would be from the Reitz Waterwork to Zorgvliet Farm for both day 1 and day 2. I drove down on my own early on the Saturday and met up with Giles and Jen, Chris and Garinda and Kallie and Hester van Biljon who I was staying with.  I had a good day 1 but didn’t feel strong on the Sunday morning, so I passed on paddling the whole stretch again and got on the river just above the bridge to enjoy the short 4km paddle to the farm, which has the best rapids of the day. It’s easy to get lazy when you paddle on your own, but I was happy to just enjoy the fun bit of the river.

Fish was a K2 race, but once again I was doing my own thing in a K1. Giles and I drove down in the Volvo, which really didn’t enjoy the dirt roads there. On the Thursday afternoon we were on our way to look at Soutpans rapid when I got a flat. After getting out the car we discovered we had not one, but two flat tyres. Fortunately, Kallie and Hester were also there in their Landcruiser, and they lent us a heavy-duty compressor for the weekend. We got the tyres fixed in Cradock but at the start of day 1 we had another flat and after the fourth flat I had to buy new tyres. That was a very costly exercise. Fortunately, I had less admin on the paddling side, and although I did walk Keiths and swim Cradock Weir I got home comfortably. Giles however hurt his shoulder while swimming below Marlow and 10 months later he is still wounded; now it seems that his paddling days may be over, as he is talking about seconding.

Tim arrived from Cape Town to paddle with Jono Adams and party and their UCT mates – and have fun they did. The Dabblers (Dabulamanzi’s band) were the main event at the Saturday night after-party, and many of the Dabs crew arrived in our two-tone pink and khaiki club shirts, but I didn’t last long there and ended up drinking at the Gentleman’s Club. On the racing front Andy Birkett and Nick Notten beat Jasper Mocke and Cyrille Carre, while in the ladies, Christie Mackenzie and Bridgitte Hartley edged out Jenna Nisbet and Saskia Hockly.

In November I finally made it to my first Pete Marlin, the Transvaal Navy’s favoured surfski race. Graham (Tex) Holme towed a trailer full of boats down while about 25 of us flew to East London on the Friday afternoon and then headed to the Lifesavers Club on Nahoon Beach to start carbo-loading (drinking). On the Saturday we paddled singles from Orient Beach (meaning there was hardly a wave to beat going out) to Yellow Sands, a place I know well, having paddled and surfed there often. I was soon near the back of the field and didn’t have too many boats to follow home, so I took a wide berth of the point and eventually finished safely. On the racing front the leaders took the tigers line and cut the corner of the Yellow Sands Point a little too fine. At the last minute they realised they were in trouble and tried to paddle out of the impact zone. Nic Notten just made it over the massive sets, but Hank McGregor got hammered and took a big swim which resulted in him looking for crayfish on the rocks and getting multiple sea-urchins in his feet. Notten happily took the win. Meanwhile, Mr. Flemmer senior had fired up a braai in the campsite and the Transvaal Navy then spent the afternoon there flattening many boerewors rolls and copious amounts of gin – before going back to the club on Nahoon beach for another braai and more drinks. The Sunday was a doubles race from Glen Eden to Nahoon. Scatter and I paddled together and managed to beat a couple of people who thought otherwise, while Hank and Josh Fenn took the win. Then, because we were back at the clubhouse on the beach, we stayed for prize giving and some refreshments before flying home that evening. What a fantastic way to spend a weekend.

Six weeks later we were back in East London, or up the road, at Cefani. Dee and I drove down via the farm, staying with her mom who then joined us at the sea-side. Jordan had started her salaried life and had to work in Cape Town till late December while Tim was also in Cape Town, busy finishing his Masters so he stayed on to paddle a race that is still on my bucket list; the Cape Point Challenge, in what can only be described as kak conditions.

This is billed as an iconic and challenging 52km paddle from Witsands on the Atlantic Ocean, around the Point and into False Bay to finish at Fish Hoek. It’s on my ‘to-do’ list as it must be truly spectacular to paddle around the towering stone cliffs of the Cape Point, but sadly this was the 5th year in a row where the race organisers looked at the (horrendous) conditions and changed the format to just paddle in False Bay. Tim partnered with his varsity mate Jonno Adams, and as with their river paddling, they did as little training as possible. The result was that they suffered major cramps and came second last in a time of 5 hours 15 minutes – but were elated just to finish; there were some that did not. Transvaal Navy paddlers Wayne Jacobs and Riccardo Talevi won the Doubles in 3 hours 39 minutes and 39 seconds while in the Singles Nic Notten won in 3 hours 39 minutes and 12 seconds, just ahead of Kenny Rice and Josh Fenn.

Tim and Jonno. Ricci rounding the point

The following day was almost breathless, and the sea was almost calm so it would have been a way better day to have held the race. Peter Cole and his organizing team have now introduced a ‘weather window day’ in an attempt (as one salty sea dog said) to make the Challenge “A little less Pointless and not another False Bay Lap Challenge.” Ricci Talevi, having travelled from Jo’burg went out again on the Sunday, simply to round the Point. Also there from our Navy were Joe Torlage and Carlo Natali who are now on 10 and 15 Challenges respectively. My thoughts of going this year were scuppered when Dee’s brother decided to organise a family reunion that same weekend, so perhaps another year…

Tim and Jordi then flew to East London to join us at Cefani. As usual we had a late lunch for Christmas Eve with our neighbours at the top of Cefani, aka ‘Larney Lane’, before our Christmas Day lunch with family down below, aka ‘Latrine Lane’. So, while we were having our Christmas Eve lunch one of our more accomplished Navy members decided to go for a short paddle to join his family for their lunch in Knysna. Accomplished in that amongst many other trips, he once spent 156 days paddling from Cape Town to Somalia; so he’s seen the good the bad and the ugly of the seas of South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia and is surely a very able seaman – and he really should share more about that adventure.

Anyway, this guy called Gerhard (Moolies) Moolman was staying in Buffelsbaai and thought it would be fun to paddle through the Heads, but when out there realised he had “made a mistake.” His post on social media was: “I joined an exclusive club of seamen that had to abandon ship in the Knysna Heads but lived to tell the tale.” The extended story is that he was very lucky that Sandy Marr, the station commander of the local NSRI, happened to be sailing there at the same time, saw that a paddler was in trouble, and knew exactly what to do. Someone filmed the whole rescue from the top of the Heads and the social media commentary then went along the lines of: “Never mind Moolies, rather save the ski.” Sadly, his boat didn’t survive the ordeal. On the same afternoon, Benji Cockram also contributed to our Navy’s bold statements of intent, when he went out at Hamburg in a 2.5m swell and his ski was smashed to smithereens. Both suffered only minor cuts and bruises; the real damage was to their boats and the muddying of the Navy’s name. But as the saying goes: “You have to risk it, if you want the biscuit.”

Broken Toys. No biscuits for those boys

Back at Cefani we did the normal stuff – lie on the beach and play in the sea by day, then braai and drink in the evenings. Sadly, I never surfed once, mainly because I don’t like Queensbury Bay, and that was the only place that seemed to work. Also, we only did one downwind from Yellow Sands to Cefani. Tim and I joined Keith Flemmer and Iain (Schumpie) Humme, Scatter, Rob Collier, and David Joyce (a mad man who once did the Empty Quarter Crossing; a 1200km unsupported desert walk) for what was a lovely downwind – although Tim did see a shark. For that trip we needed a driver. Dee hadn’t been behind the wheel for almost 6 months and was very happy to take a car back to Cefani, with both of us believing she was then in the clear; but the following evening while we were having a Pizza evening with 4 or 5 other families at the Livingstone’s, Dee suffered another seizure, then 2 more that night. Her doctor was uncontactable and our GP said she needed to be hospitalized, but that turned out to be a fiasco. The hospital in East London that admitted Dee shipped her to another hospital in the middle of the night, so when I went to pick Dee up the next day she was nowhere to be found, plus the doctor at the new hospital was clueless. In 2021 Dee got to stay at 7 different hospitals across 4 provinces. Ours was a quiet New Year’s Eve at Cefani, but I did go large on News Years Day when some Caravan people got hold of Scatter and I; it was bad.

Staying with the sea and surfski, a few weeks later two hardcore Durban paddlers, Quinton Rutherford and Brett Hadiaris set a Guinness World Record for the longest distance paddled on a double surfski in a 24 hour period when they completed a brutal 219 km paddle from St Lucia to Durban. This incredible achievement was run as fundraiser for young Farren Grace, who is suffering from B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and the paddling community wish her well.

In early January I made the call to go to the Drak Challenge and Umkomaas instead of doing the Dusi. With limited leave I figured that rather than taking 3 days off work for the Dusi, I would take 1 day for the Drak at the end of January, 1 day for an Umko trip in February and 1 day in March for the Umko race. Dee approved, saying I would not miss another dose of Dusi guts. With the Drak in mind we needed some river time, so Chris Englebrecht, Scatter and I did two trips on the Vaal from Sugar Bay Canyon down to Chris and Jen’s place near Parys. For the first trip the river was running at 450cumecs, so the 24.5km took us just 1 hour 46, even though we had a swimmer, and because the river was so strong, he swam for over 1km before he could get to the bank. The following weekend the river was running at just over 1000cumes and the same 24.5km took us only 1 hour 26. Typically, when we paddle the Vaal, we are lucky to get a release of 50cumecs, so it was fantastic to paddle it at 1000, but Chris grew up on this stretch of river and knew that the rapids would be flattened out into fast, fun wave trains. With Giles being injured he became a willing driver and braai master, thanks Giles.

Me, Chris Englebrecht, Kevin Middleton, Bryan Slater   Chris Englebrecht, Me, Bryan Slater, Kallie van Biljon

At the end of January, I did my first Drak Challenge. I went with Mick Joyce and John Barrow, and we stayed with Kevin Middleton and Sean Evans; it was good to tour with different people. Getting there was a long journey as the roads around Boston were closed due to protests and then our drive was further extended when a milk truck got stuck and blocked the detour. We eventually arrived to a very wet Underberg; fantastic for us paddlers, but horribly muddy for the runners and cyclists competing in the Multi-Sport weekend. Before the start of day one I got something in my one eye and ended up paddling most of the day with it closed. It was terribly uncomfortable and debilitating, that took a lot of fun out the morning, but I was grateful to have a clean run. For day two I had two eyes and with this a lot more fun. I also made up a lot of time but still got beaten by all the guys I was with, much to their delight; but I was chuffed just to have been there, it really is a great river, although I am told we were very lucky with the water levels. More stoked than me was Murray Collier, Drak was his first race in a K1. Nice one Murray! Murray’s dad, Rob left canoeing over 20 years ago and went to the dark lycra clad side otherwise known as cycling, but recently returned, bringing Murray, a mountain biker who had never paddled before, with him. Well done Rob!

In early February Pete O’Connor, Nic Roodt and I went to paddle the Elands River, just down the road from Waterval Onder. South Africa was very wet, all the rivers we crossed on the way seemed to be swollen, and although when we got there the Elands was higher than the usual race level, it was certainly not in flood. Anyway, the racing snakes went off in the first batch and just as the second batch of about a dozen boats was about to leave, a hippo popped up 100m in front of us. He (or she) was apparently as perturbed as we were, and soon submerged without showing itself again. A call was made to start quietly. Mo Patel has never raced off so fast in his life, and we soon had a group of 5 paddlers: Mo, Nic, Scatter, Rod, and me. Mo eventually picked a bad line and got stuck, Rod blew, Nic then tired too, and I ended up following Scatter for most of the race. I later sent a report to his mentor, Meyer Steyn (the guy Scatter sat behind for dozens of Umko’s and most of his Ithala’s) telling him he had done a good job and that I gave Scatter 9/10 for his lines, and Meyer reminded me that “He claimed some proper scalps on Drak.” I also posted this pic on Facebook and said: “Paddled a full and fast Elands River yesterday with old friends. Was lots of fun. There was no truth in the hippo story.” The retort from a mate of Tim’s was that I was “posing with two old hippos.”

Bryan Slater. Me. Rod Penaluna

Meantime, Jordan had moved back home. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown had taught many companies that they could function quite well without having to have their staff in the office, so Jordi was still working for Huble Digital who operate out of Cape Town but was living in with us (to save money) in Jo’burg. Anyway, a friend, Amy Kinghorn had started to frequent Dabulamanzi, more to see a boy (Ian Wilson) and for TT (Time Trial or Thirsty Thursday) evenings than for the canoeing, but she and Jordi did do a bit of paddling – mostly in the opposite direction to everyone else so they could bat their eyes at the boys. (More on this topic, and Brad Boule, coming up shortly.) Sadly, Ian went to the UK and Amy to Cape Town, so Jordi seldom goes there now, and our club continues to remain old and aged rather than getting younger.

Jordi and Amy

With all the rains, I was sad to miss what ended up being a full Dusi, but such is life when you must watch your leave days and pocket money. Andy Birkett won yet again, this time with a young David Evans (of no relation, but it would have amused Pops that there was an Evans on the podium 30 years after Neil won his first Dusi.) Andy now has 12 Dusi wins while Mbanji had to settle for a 5th second place. Siseko had been living in the valley to train on the river daily and seemed to have recovered well from his Berg incident to finish 5th. In the ladies Section Tamika Haw and Abby Solms took the win over Jordan Peek and Christie McKenzie.

A few weeks later Dee and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with Jordi and Tim, who having finished his Masters, had come back to Jo’burg to visit and to get a visa to go off on a solo surfing trip in Mexico.

In March, after a 15 year absence I went back to the Umko. Tim was away on his Mexico mission, so I had to represent for the family. I teamed up with Chris (Carnage) Carnegie who I knew to be a competent big water paddler that didn’t take training too seriously, so it seemed like we might be a good combination. In the months, weeks, and days before the race the whole country was drenched by torrential rains meaning we were going to be greeted by a full river. To say that I was nervous would be a gross understatement.  

I went down with Boet and Gill O’Connor and Nic Roodt and stayed with the Dabulamanzi crew at Nkonka Lodge which overlooks the river just down from Nyala Pans; the start of day one. What a privilege to be right there, what a pleasure to share the space with a bunch of like-minded people. Thanks to Jason Callister and Belkie for all the organizing. Chris and I had not done any time on a river before this, so on the Friday afternoon we tripped a short 4.6km stretch from below No7 to Nyala Pans, with Scatter and Mike Woodburn who had never paddled together before. The river was running high at about 2.6 metres. Chris clearly wanted to test my mettle and headed into the biggest waves and holes he could find. It was fun and I was surprised to learn that a no name rapid above No8 was bigger than 8 itself, and even more surprised when we got to Nyala Pans in just 14 minutes. The river was that strong and that fast, it was incredible! Chris was amped and wanted to go on to St Josephine’s, about another 10kms downriver; Scatter and Mike said no thanks, they were saving themselves for the race, and I said the same thing; but made a plan for Chris. Driving for us was young Abi Bohnsack who had done the Drak, the Dusi and 79.8km of the 81.8km Fish Marathon (ask her or her mom Son Bon about that) so I told her it would be the best trip she had ever done and gave her my paddling gear. That meant I then had to go all the way to St Josephine’s to pick them up, and the drive there took far longer than their paddle, but Abi was properly stoked when we found them waiting for us.

Jason Callister. Dean Burscough. Kevin Middleton. Kelvin Byres. Peter O’Connor. Nic Roodt. Bryan Slater. Chris Carnegie. Colin Simpkins (Peeping). Nick Warren. Michael Stewart. Mike Barry. Me. Michael Woodburn. Malcolm Stothard. Mark Garden. Ian Fennell.

At the start of day one there was a mini gala when several crews got the first rapid wrong, but Chris’s lines were good and we then ended up in a 4 ball, including Malcolm (Belkie) Stothard with Nick (Skid) Warren, Jason (JBay) Callister with Mike Barry, and Ryan (Tomo) Thompson with his cousin Crispin Thompson; all of whom I would normally be way behind. It was very special when we all put down our paddles and bowed our heads as we passed Mark Perrow’s memorial site. It was also a very welcome albeit brief respite for me, before we charged off again. Two kilometres from the end we lost concentration in one of the many rapids we had been tested by and swam, but we did the 45km day in 2hours 33 minutes at an average of 18kph! My heart rate averaged out at 152bpm; I had worked that hard. What a glorious rollercoaster stretch of river. Rapid after rapid after rapid, most made easier by the fact that the river was full and running at just over 2metres; some quite naughty, but nothing was overly daunting. Beyond the river, I had forgotten how raw and beautiful the Umkomaas valley is. The drive out (now on a solid concrete road) was quite something, as were the panoramic views.

Stihl concentrating
Stihl upright

My real apprehension was for day two, ‘the radical test’ with the infamous Approaches and No 1 to No 8, but I wasn’t alone. Driving in, with the knowledge that the river was still at about 2m, there was a very respectful hush in our vehicle compared to all the banter we had enjoyed when driving out the afternoon before. The first 3kms of the race were new to me in that the race now starts above Hella Hella at Mbanjwa’s Kraal; this stretch has some testing drops that are a good warm up. Carnage drove like a master and picked great lines the whole way down making the river look easy; except for at No4 when we pinned a hidden rock and had a swim.

No 4. JBay and Mike. Carnage and I
Perfect timing in rollercoaster stuff

Here I have to say that we did have a big strong Kronos – a sturdy and stable boat makes all the difference. Plus, Belkie had talked me into buying a neoprene spray deck which was worth every cent as they don’t ‘pop’ or pool with water like the normal plastic ones. The 26km’s of day 2 took us just 1 hour 42 and I can’t tell you how elated I felt as we neared the end, but as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Carnage had seen a photographer and we acted like we had just won the race; we were that stoked. We were also very happy when the race organisers chose to use our (Stihl Orange) pic below for their social media cover pages. Yeehaaa…. Champions!

Best feeling ever, best river ever, especially when full

Actually, the real champions were Hank McGregor and Wayne Jacobs who won for a third consecutive time. Hank now has 10 Umko wins, a feat that is unlikely to ever be matched. When interviewed, his words included; “incredible, what a rush, thoroughly enjoyable,” echoing what I think we all felt; and I so am very grateful to have been there. Thanks Carnage!

Sadly, only 60 boats started; with a Covid resurgence denting the entries, perhaps because it was a long weekend, plus the wedding of a former Umko winner on the same weekend also impacted numbers; but mainly I think because many believe this river is beyond them. So, here I need to ‘sell’ the Umko. I genuinely believe that if you are comfortable paddling in ‘big stuff’ at Dusi, Drak or Fish, then you are competent enough to do the Umko. But do it in a big, fat double and get a neoprene splashy. I don’t know why I did 7 on my own; it’s good to have company and extra stability. Some are concerned about getting into trouble and having to walk out, but there are guys following in Crocs who are there to help if necessary. The format of doing No 1 to No 8 on day 2 is fantastic, as you get to warm up on day 1, and if you aren’t feeling confident then it’s easy to walk No1 and No5, or if you battled on day 1 you are allowed to start day 2 below No7, so the organisers have done a lot to try and attract more paddlers. And you don’t have to be hugely experienced. Tim has done neither the Dusi nor the Drak and can only just do a Dabs time trial in under 60 minutes, but he got an A river rating from paddling the Fish and the Lowveld Croc and has done two Umko’s, the point being if he can, many more can. This year there was a tiny little Epworth School-girl, Amy Hulett who ticked off her first Umko (al-be-it with a very experienced Guy Haines) in style. Some might put this down to youthful bravado, but we also had a fine example of an elderly rookie. Kudos to the 72 year-old Giel van Deventer who was both abused and coerced by Colin Simpkins for having done 50 Bergs but never the Umko. Oom Giel drove down from Cape Town with a K3 to paddle with Copper Simpkins and Eric Hildebrandt – and loved the experience. He was 1 of just 4 paddlers from the Cape. 1 in 4 paddlers were from Gauteng; and why more people from Durban and Maritzburg don’t do the race is beyond me, because it’s so close for them, so beautiful, and so much fun. If you haven’t done an Umko yet, you really should make plan to go, or if like me you’ve stayed away, do yourself a favour and go back, it really is the best river ever, especially when full, and just an incredibly special place. 

What a fantastic way to spend a weekend, and a great reminder for me as to why kaking off at the Berg really isn’t necessary – unless you haven’t done one, or if you are mad, or a Capie.

March bought around yet another birthday, and it really was very special when ‘work’ gave me a birthday cake made up as a river with a canoe and paddles. Hopefully ‘work’ reads this and gets me the real things for Christmas, plus I think I should also write a letter to Santa; one can never have too many toys…

We then had the High Altitude Surfski Challenge at Emmarentia; unfortunately Neil was still recovering from falling off his bike, so he missed his annual paddle, although he did come to support. As usual the surf was good and lots of fun was had. SUP’ers like Anja Burger and the Pippy Long Stockings Girls had boys like Brad Boule literally drooling, while Lightening as usual was also keeping a close eye on the girls. But it wasn’t just fun and games as the racing snakes were there too. Wayne Jacobs and Ricci Talevi beat our celebrity imports, Hank and Pippa McGregor, and then Wayne having won the race also won the lucky draw of a new Fenn Surfski. It was a fine day for Wayne, and a great afterparty, with the Dabblers providing the entertainment. One day I will win the Fenn draw; and the Lotto too. You will know when I do, (or when Santa reads my letters) because I will arrive at the dam with an Epic paddle and a fancy Nelo, cocooned in a bright red bag; while at Cefani I will have the new Fenn Swordfish.

For Easter Dee decided that we were going to Kenton. Her Cousin Leebun was coming out from Switzerland and her extended Green family would be there, so instead of going to see her mom at the farm we went to the seaside, and Jordan joined us there. I liked the idea because it also meant that I could squeeze in a paddle or two and go to Port Alfred for a surf. Jim Davies, once a Vaalie and a proud paddler had become a ‘Kenton Permanent’ and a lycra clad wombat, so he was too busy on his bike to join his old mates for a short paddle (Oh Jim) up the Bushmans. Instead, he delegated this responsibility to his son’s friend Andrew Mason, but I was very grateful to get to borrow a boat, thanks Jim. And yes Jim, we expect to see you and Jam Jar Jamieson in a boat at the Fish, and then back at Umko. On the surfing side I joined Jordi’s friends, Ieuan, Jonno and Tanja at the East Beach Pier; if I got 3 waves I think they each got 30, but it was good to be out there, and great just to be in Kenton with family and friends.    

Jordi, Leebun, Tao.      Dee and Me.      Andrew Mason, Gavin Coetzer, Patrick Reeves, Me, Danny Hanf

While we were enjoying our Easter holiday, one of Tim’s former UCT digs mates, Michael Lavarack who now lives in London, paddled and won the Devizes to Westminster with Andrew Birkett. (No not Andy the Dusi hero, but yes, with Andy Birkett; each with dads called Dave.) The 125 mile race is billed as the world’s longest non-stop canoe race, and with 77 locks to be portaged there is much running too. What makes this race different is that there is no set start time, the guys who came second had started 30 minutes ahead of Mike and Andrew, who then had to play catch up. Mike was stoked with their 15 hour 12 minute win, as after day 2 of the Dusi they were in the top 30 but he then spent day 3 in hospital with a debilitating dose of Dusi guts rather than on the river. Not nice at all; worse still if you have travelled from the UK.

April of 2022 will be remembered in KwaZulu Natal for their most devastating floods since 1987. Back then, Dee and I were living in Pietermaritzburg, and it was both mesmerizing and terrifying watching the Dusi in flood, and now with social media we saw it happening again, but from our phones. The poor people of the Durban area carried the brunt of the riots and looting in 2021 then they had to contend with the floods, and just as the repairs started, so more rain and more floods came. It was hectic stuff…

With the river season over, I had planned to do the Gauteng Marathon Series in May, but the East Rand Kayak event was on Mother’s Day so I skipped that in favour of a family breakfast, then the Florida Lake event was a K2 race and I didn’t have a marathon partner because Washy had moved to Cape Town, so in the end I only supported the Dabulamanzi event and then the Gauteng Champs at Victoria Lake. That was a cold and windy day, some guys pulled out and there were a few swimmers, so in the end I came 3rd my age group, but I think there were only three of us who finished. Sadly, Marathons remain poorly supported at a Fish ‘n Chip level, and having events on family days like Mother’s Day doesn’t help.

In June I spent a fair amount of time ‘dot watching’, which is apparently now recognised as a sport within sports. Basically, it’s associated with ultra-distance events like running and cycling (plus a few paddling races) where you can track competitor performances over time, in real time. Race organisers use the system to check their athletes are safe and on the right course, while armchair warriors who can’t, don’t or won’t compete, watch for interest and entertainment. In November I had followed the SkyRun dots with a fair degree of FOMO as my nephew Jake and his rowing friends, Kyle, Brad and Nicole spent a long 27 hours 59 minutes out on the 100km trail to the Wartrail Country Club. Only one (ex) Dabs member was there; Piers Cruickshanks ran an amazing race to move steadily through the field and finish 5th (actually tie 4th) in a time of 16 hours 19 minutes. Watching the dot of the race leader was exciting; it really looked like the 12 hour mark would be beaten, but sadly Simon Tshabalala came home in 12 hours 9 minutes, some 50 minutes ahead of second place. More recently I followed the dot of another nephew who now lives in London. Luke ran the Mozart 100 in Austria (part of the UTMB World series); which a similarly tough but slightly longer trail run, although at a far lower altitude, in a time 14 hours 5 minutes where the winners time was 9 hours 36. I would love to see how Luke, and his love Emilie, would do at our SkyRun.

And then I once again dot watched the Race Across South Africa, aka the Freedom Challenge. Quite why they call this the Race Across… instead of the Ride Across…, I don’t know. Sure, someone is always racing to win the title, but for most (I would imagine, as dot watching suggests and as Hayden has told me) it’s more about the ‘Freedom’ of being out there and the ‘Challenge’ of getting to the end, which is not easy. This year out of 55 starters, there were 21 DNF’s. I was following several paddlers including John Barrow, Mike Patchitt, Rowan Matthews, Quinton (and Cindy) Rutherford and Ingrid Avidon; who is essentially a novice paddler, but was attempting to become only the second woman to compete the ultra-triathlon started by adventurer David Waddilove in 2004, which included the Comrades up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg (solo for Ingrid due to date changes) then cycling the Freedom Challenge from Pietermaritzburg to Wellington, before concluding with the Berg River canoe marathon from Paarl to Velddrif. Only for the insane few, and those with lots of spare time and money. Anyway, what was interesting for me is that Ingrid, who now has 4 RASA Finisher Blankets, is unique in that she only recently started canoeing, where typically it’s the other way round as paddlers move to cycling, and then give up on paddling. Cycling with Ingrid was Omphile Mothaung, who became the first woman of colour to earn a coveted RASA Blanket.

John Barrow. Paul Arnot. Mike Patchitt

While the winner of the RASA was still to be decided and the likes of John Barrow were still (dots) out on the trail due to staggered starts to spread the field, Ingrid who had just one rest day after 22 days in the saddle, started the Berg in an early and unofficial batch. When out on the RASA trail she had called David Waddilove (who had dreamt up the ultra-tri-challenge plus had done 5 Berg’s) and asked him to accompany her unofficially down the river. In Ingrid’s words: “Because I have not officially qualified for the Berg, I am not an official entrant, but the organisers have graciously allowed Dave and I to paddle.” She went on to say they would not be “on the start list or the tracking system” – clearly not realising there isn’t a tracking system, at least not a live one. So unfortunately, unlike with the Sky-Run or RASA, we had no dots to follow those doing the Berg, even though this event is run by professionals who said they were going to take us into the 21st Century. (In fairness, their marketing on social media is great). That said, Paul Moxley who had also ridden the RASA, kept his tracker on and we watched him paddle north to Velddrif, as one lonely little dot! Sadly, after day 2 of the Berg Ingrid posted a social media note saying that swimming in the icy cold river had “taken its toll” and she would not be going to finish the Berg, but that she would “train, prepare and return.” I sincerely hope that she does, that she enjoys doing it, (and other river races), and that she inspires Omphilie to start paddling too, because our little sport of canoeing could use their brave spirits. For now, Tatum Prins remains the only lady to have completed the Ultra, which she did back in 2011, but I do wonder if Tatum enjoyed the paddling; she clearly prefers adventure racing to river racing as she never went back to the Berg, nor has she done the likes of Fish or Dusi. I think a certain ex-paddler by the name of Tweet may be to blame. For me, competing is not just about the challenge, it’s also about enjoyment – as for us social Fish n Chip paddlers there is fun to be had before, during and after a race. Sure, you can tick things off, but if you really like and value doing something then you want more of it more often, and you end up going back. However, having said that I recently read the rather sobering (as we get older) philosophy of Graham Solomon: “I am grateful that I am able to still do this, and because I can, I must.” So, if you are unsure as to who you are or why you go to races, here’s a quick quiz: What is the one main reason why you attend events? A: To Compete to Win. B: For the Fun. C: For the Freedom of Being Out and About. D: For the Challenge. E: For the Camaraderie. F: To Tick it Off. G: Because I Can, I Must. G: H. To Earn my Beers. Ok, so not easy. Maybe rank your top 3.

On the topic of going back and Berg, Robbie Herreveld who last paddled the Berg in 2012, did go back. He was coming 5th after day 3 before he got sick and had to retire on day 4, so you won’t see his name in the results, but it looks like he’s back – and I know some competitive guys who would love to race the likes of Fish and Umko with him. At the other end of the field, a Dabulamanzi paddler who was an athlete in his youth, but now doesn’t resemble one at all, also went back, having last paddled the Berg in 2001. Matthew Cockram now has 13 Berg finishes – and a Cape Point win with his brother Benji, from back in the day! His son Ethan did the short course, and I love seeing paddlers getting their kids involved too, so respect to them both. And respect to Hank McGregor who pulled off his 12th win with so much confidence that he could wait for his mate Wayne Jacobs, and then go back up to the front again. To quote Copper Simpkins: “Finishing just one Berg is a massive accomplishment. Winning one is a phenomenal achievement. Winning 12 is absurd.” Hopefully we will also see people like Tweet go back, and better still youngsters like Jack de Swart who should have been back competing for a step on the podium rather than a seconding prize. But well done to Jack for both the seconding and for updating us ‘would be dot watchers.’

Matthew, Ethan and Moolies. Jack DeSwart. Uli Hart, Hank McGregor, Simon Van Gysen, Wayne Jacobs

Staying with the subject of live race coverage, we were literally spoiled a few weeks earlier by the organisers of the SA Marathon Champs, who served up live drone footage supported by excellent and educational commentary from Hayley Jo Nixon and Brad Boule. (Quick sidebar here regards Hayley Jo. I have never met her, but I like her because she keeps me warm when on the water in winter. Back in the day I was so proud to own a Helly Hansen, but the Vaikobi stuff she sells is way better, although not cheap. And I like her because she is so enthusiastic about paddling; this after almost 10 years of rowing or going backwards; she got hooked on some social surfski outings, then started racing competitively across all the disciplines and is now a passionate promoter. PS: I also like Brad; he is a lovely guy, plus in his own words he’s “Dabulamanzi’s best looking blonde” – so you might like him too?) Anyway, it was great to watch and listen (from the comfort of my couch) as one of our own Dabs paddlers, Clint Cook dominated and won the Men’s K2 title with Hamish Lovemore (sadly Clint didn’t get selected to represent SA in Portugal as Hamish opted to paddle K1 rather than K2) while another of our own, Christie Jo Mackenzie dominated the U23 Girls. Go Dabulamanzi! Thank you to the Marathon organisers!

Talking about clubs and organisers, in club life there are basically two types of people; the ‘selfless few’ who join the committees, organise stuff and make things happen, and then you get the ‘selfish majority’ who desperately try to avoid getting roped in, but want to enjoy the fruits of the labour of the organisers. I have always been part of the latter group; believing that I ‘helped’ by supporting or attending as many races as possible, but I recently got caught. After a cold winter morning time trial, a couple of ‘elder’ paddlers (Brad Fisher, Graham Holm, Peter O’Connor and ‘young’ Tony Lightfoot) were talking about the proud history of our club, a few thoughts were raised, and in a moment of weakness I got involved. Eventually we ended up with 5 ideas that we then tabled and shared with our Chairman Kelvin Byres to take to his committee, saying that if they liked any of the ideas, we were offering to make them happen. The error was that they liked them all and we now have some work to do, so we need to tackle them one at a time. Top of the list was Peter O’Connor’s idea (that he conceived almost 20 years ago) to recognise our ordinary members who travel around the countryside flying the Dabulamanzi flag at race after race, and if you are or were a club member you will have heard about a ‘Club 100’ concept; the other ideas will be progressed over time. So, this is a shout out and thank you to all organisers and committee people, your efforts really are appreciated.

Back with Marathons, we then had live coverage of the World Games, which are essentially the poor cousin of the Olympic Games, in that they serve to host events that are not on the programme of the Olympics. The World Games were started in 1981, Canoe Polo became an official sport of these games in 2005 but the Marathon discipline only made its official debut in 2022. I guess this highlights how small Marathon paddling is, although it also suggests that the International Canoeing Federation were rather slow in getting Marathons into the World Games, and are not keen to add Marathons to the Olympic line up when so many paddlers would like to see them ‘regain’ Olympic status. (There was a 10km Marathon event on the Olympic program from 1936 to 1956, but the ICF clearly prefered the idea of adding Extreme Slalom, along with Slalom and Sprints, to the 2024 Paris Games.) Anyway, the World’s best marathon paddlers assembled in Birmingham, Alabama to contest the World Games short (3.4km) and long (21km) course events, including South Africa’s Bridgitte Hartley and Andy Birkett; but all eyes and expectations were on Vanda Kiszli and Mads Pedersen who had dominated the marathon discipline for the past five years. Kiszli took Gold in the women’s short and long course races while Pedersen took Gold in the short course, and then in the main event it sounded like he was going to win another Gold. The commentators called it wrong, proclaiming it would only be a matter of time before he would blast off, but he couldn’t get rid of Birkett. With 100m to go the commentators were still putting their money on Pedersen when Andy put the hammer down, came from behind and won in style; in what they then called “one of the greatest upsets” and “one of the most magnificent performances ever.” Our social media groups lit up with praise, there were clearly lots of us watching and willing him on. Yes, live coverage of our sport is a wonderful thing, and it’s even better when a Saffa wins on the world stage. Awesome stuff, Athlete Andy Birkett. Andy was SA’s only medalist from a total of 23 athletes across 9 different sports, and if SASCOC or the local news agencies gave him or canoeing much in the way of accolades, then I missed them.

Andy Birkett dominating

A day later I joined several other Dabs paddlers at a local Bowls Club, for something that Giles convenes every year, to watch an epic mountain stage of the Tour de France. For a while it looked like we might have another Saffa winner, but in the end Louis Meintjes finished second in the brutal, iconic stage to L’Alpe d’Huez. We finished a few beers, for Andy and Louis. Neil didn’t join us – he was with his family in France to see the Tour for real.

Rewinding to the pop quiz, did any of you answer: ‘To earn my beers’? Well, one of the reasons why I paddle and run, is that doing a bit of exercise helps me believe I am earning my cooldrinks. I do need to admit that I also reward myself after a long day at work, or after a hot day, or even a cold day. What I am saying is that I drink at home, daily. Even if alone. Some years back I started a ritual, when I opened a beer, I dropped the lid into a milk churn that Dee had liberated from the farm. I did have some help in filling it when visitors came around, plus Tim and his mates also assisted, so I can’t take all the credit, but it recently overflowed, and I had to take my bottle tops to be recycled. It was a sad day saying good-bye to all those little things. For a while I thought I might try and count them, but I decided against that as I may then have tried to put a Rand value to them; and that would have been depressing, there were a lot of tops in that 26 litre milk can. So, yes one of my answers to the quiz is ‘To earn my beers’; I do like them.

Another answer of mine includes ‘For the freedom’, to escape the everyday ordinary. Most the paddlers I know are weekend warriors, we do short trips of our own and support events on a Saturday or a Sunday, sometimes we take off 3 or 4 days to do a big race, but some guys do all of this and much, much more; more than even the Freedom Challenge riders. I have mentioned mad Moolies Moolman, and then there is also Quinton Miller, the guy who I blame for getting me into advertising. In 2007, Q took 40 days off for his 40th birthday and paddled 2 300km on the Orange River from the Lesotho border to Alexander Bay. In 2009 he did a 3 100km trip over 30 days on the Yukon River from Whitehorse in Canada to Emmonak in Alaska, which is essentially from the source to the Bering Sea. Then he paddled another 600km over 14 days in an out and back from Wittier around the Prince William Sound. In 2014 Quinton went back to the Yukon River where he paddled 1 600km or the first half of his previous trip from Whitehorse in Canada to Fort Yukon over 14 days. In 2016 he did a short 8 day, 350km trip on the Stikine River in Canada from Telegraph to Wrangell. In 2018 Quinton changed things up and went down to Patagonia, Chile for a 30 day, 850km glacier exploration from Puerto Eden to Puerto Natales. Then in 2019 he went almost as far north as you can get in doing a 55 day, 1 700km trip from Melforden on the Arctic Circle up and around to Kjolleford, on the northern point of Norway. That’s 10 500 kilometres of paddling in 205 days, averaging about 50km per day, traveling from Cape Town to and from these far-flung places. He had company on the Orange River, down in Chile and on the Stikine River, the rest were solo expeditions; all were in very remote, almost uninhabited areas, so they were self-supported tours which meant he was paddling a kayak loaded with gear weighing 50 to 60 kilograms. As you can imagine, it might have been nice and warm on the Orange, sleeping out under the stars; but down around the glaciers of Chile, up north in Alaska and beyond the Arctic circle in Norway one wouldn’t get far without a drysuit and a whole lot of survival gear. Mind boggling stuff: I can’t imagine what his next adventure will be. Quinton clearly takes ‘For the Freedom’ and ‘The Challenge’ to another level and must have many proper tales to tell. Q it’s time to start sharing a little more…

Alaska 2014         Patagonia 2018                           Arctic 2019

Someone, who isn’t just anyone, and really does have big paddling tales to tell recently published his biography entitled: “No Retreat, No Surrender.” In 2019 Oscar Chalupsky was diagnosed with an incurable bone marrow cancer and told he had six months to live, but true to form and as the title suggests he is determined to emerge victorious. So, his book isn’t just about paddling; as his author, Graham Spence says: “it’s an uplifting account of grit, perseverance, talent and attitude, vividly capturing the determined mindset of an inspirational sporting legend.” Because it’s Oscar’s story, there’s  a lot of FIG-JAM stuff: ‘Frig I’m Good, Just Ask Me’ – or in this case, just read me. Oscar’s story is epic amplified; he doesn’t just win, he smashes records in the face of adversity, but there’s also some humble pie and fun stuff too. Every chapter ends with a few short paragraphs on ‘Lessons Learnt’ and there are 32 chapters, so read and learn. All royalties from South African sales go to fighting cancer with @campaign4cancer, so his book isn’t just a great read it’s also supporting a worthy cause. Personally, I hope to see Oscar with Herman and Andy Leith racing, or even just paddling the Fish, for at least the next two decades; although this year he won’t be there due to a calendar clash that will see many of SA’s top paddlers (and others like Oscar) racing in Portugal at the same time, but that’s someone else’s story.

Here I need to add my own little ‘Lesson Learnt’ regards biographies: First and foremost it’s about who you are, then the ‘subject matter’. One of the good things about being a legend like Oscar is that publishers see value in your name (plus the names you know) and hence in your story; they print it, and who knows, you might even make some money out of it. After I first shared the ‘Tales of a Fish ‘n Chips Tripper’ online I got lots of positive feedback, and some said I should get it published; so I tried, ‘dreaming’ of squashing some debt. Six months after approaching a leading local publisher I was thanked for my patience and told: “Unfortunately we will not be making you an offer to publish. In our experience, the subject matter of the book will limit it to too small an audience to make it financially viable for us to publish.” The polite lady who responded probably could have been a bit more honest and simply said: “Sorry, but we can’t make money from the diary of a nobody.” I guess that the subtext here is that small remains small but large begets larger. To be fair, I wasn’t surprised. As the title suggests it’s mostly ‘ordinary me stuff’, which is why I had put it out as a blog, free for anyone who might be interested. One good thing about a blog is that I can add on, like now, or even change bits, as and when I want. And because everything online can be measured I am happy to say that so far, the CooNoo Tales have had just over 1000 unique visitors with more than 3000 views from across 29 countries, and for me that’s amazing, so I’m happy with my writing.

Back to the Tales of a Fish ‘n Chip Tripper, or should I say, ‘Diary of a Nobody.’ While Dee and I were freezing in the Jo’burg winter and ‘enjoying’ level 6 load shedding (approximately 6 hours a day without electricity as Eskom shed 6,000MW per day to prevent the complete collapse of the national grid), our favourite daughter Jordan went on a month-long working holiday in Greece and Croatia. Knowing that I was writing another CooNoo chapter she put some paddling pics on our family WhatsApp group with the request or should I say instruction: “@Clive. Please put me in the book.”. It all looked so warm and so beautiful. We were very envious, and again asked ourselves why we still live in Jo’burg. Here we go Jords:

Jordi and Chris Canoeing in Croatia

Talking about cold Jo’burg winters, I have to say I really felt for this years Comrades entrants. After a two year hiatus due to Covid-19, the 95th running was back on the calendar, but at the end of August with the organisers hoping that by then the Covid numbers would have dropped enough for them to stage the race. As it turned out, they got it right. In mid-July we no longer had to wear masks (it was great see people’s smiles again) and a few weeks later the health department stopped its daily reporting; Covid was all but forgotten. The Russia-Ukraine war had looked to headline the news until petrol price and interest rate increases took over. Meanwhile, for the Comrades runners, the training still had to be done; and the toughest part about the Comrades is the training. The unwritten rule was that between January and the end of May you needed a minimum of 1000km if you were to run a so-called ‘comfortable Comrades’. For most this means getting up in the dark to pound the pavements before getting kids to school and then putting in a day’s work. This year there was more time to do more milage, but the guys from Gauteng (who make up towards 50% of the field) had to train through the whole of a long, cold winter to be fit and ready, making the training tougher still for them; to run in what will likely be hot and humid conditions. Good luck guys, enjoy the day!

In late July I made a last minute call to do the 9Miler at Rietvlei Dam. Before the start, one of our best paddlers played a prank on me and moved my seat backwards. While I was busy working out what was wrong, his girlfriend took pity on me, and got him to confess. Thanks CJ! I thought I was all sorted but had a really bad start and watched the field disappear, as I tried to work out what else was wrong. Some bugger had put a brick in my boat, which I could only ditch after the first lap; then I sat back and enjoyed the company of two Centurion girls, Anya Botes and Shelley Robertson; thanks girls. No one ever owned up for the brick trick, but saboteur number one and CJ won, I believe they are the first mixed double to claim that race. Afterwards Nic Warren posted on our paddling group, and I have to share this, because I totally agree: “Thanks to Centurion for a really well-organised 9-Miler (as always). Great value for all of R110. And the weather even played along this time. A minor rant, though. There were only 55 paddlers there. An underwhelming showing from Dabs, in my opinion. For a race where you get a decent shirt, free boerie rolls and pannekoek and proper coffee and you could be back home not long after 10am, there should really have been a lot more paddlers supporting the race. If local races vapourise because no-one wants to organise for a handful, we’ve only ourselves to blame. Rant over.” Thank you to the Centurion organisers, and respect to all those who give up their time for little or no return. Adding to this, either the selfless helpers will stop putting on events, or clubs will farm out races to professional organisers (as has happened in the Cape) who obviously want and need to make money, which will then make such races much more costly, possibly even prohibitively expensive; either way this will only serve to create a new downward spiral of our little sport.

After an almost leisurely 19km (no, not 9 miles) at Rietvlei I then set a personal best at our Sunday Time Trial, of 47minutes 27 seconds. To put this into perspective that was about 10 minutes faster than my normal K1 TT times. It was very different to be up towards the sharp end and even lap a whole lot of people who normally leave me in their wake. But I do need to confess that I was in a K3 with some proper paddlers; Roger Stubbs and Greg Mandy. Plus we had help in that we formed a 4 ball with 3 racing snakes in K1’s, including MJ Robb, Alex Roberts and Jack de Swart, although I think we did do our fair share of the pulling. Some 30 years ago Neil and I went sub 50 and even won the TT, but to go sub 48 was a first for me, and it felt really good to go hard and fast for a whole Time Trial – thanks guys!

Yep, it’s been a great 12 months since doing the Berg; from banking a PB on the Emmarentia whirlpool, to finally doing Drak and Pete Marlin, plus finishing my best Umko ever, so while on a high note, I think it’s time to end this chapter. There are plans for trips and races on different rivers, the sea and even on the Vaal Dam, along with dreams of getting to Brazil and what Oscar is touting as the paradise of paddling; in amongst family holidays that will no doubt include some water time, so there’s lots to look forward to in the way of fun and challenges and getting out and about. So in closing, having posed the question as to why we keep doing what we do, I thought I should pick my one main reason. It was easy to throw out ‘A: Compete to Win,’ but I battled in juggling the rest. Then I reread the ‘Tale End of…’ chapter and realised I had answered the question a year ago, and I haven’t changed my mind, so the last paragraph, my reason why, remains as it was. Thank you.

2 comments

  1. Thank you for the lekker read Clive. Thoroughly enjoyed it as most of the people in your writings have been part of my paddling life and Dabulamanzi will always be embedded in me.

    Liked by 1 person

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