As a fully fledged kayaker I continue to look for positives in my new sport.
The best that I can come up with thus far is that it allows to walk around making bold truth statements like mine is six-inches longer than Mark Johnson’s.
I paddled out of Milibizi harbour and out into the vast expanse of Lake Kariba at 08.30 with heart in mouth, full of fear and trepidation. Water as far as the eye could see, and then some, and full of crocodiles and hippos. The sign at the harbour entrance set the tone for my voyage to come. It read DEAD SLOW. At least it didn’t read DEAD AND SLOW.
We paddled out in single file with point man Greg Hall tap tapping his boat with his paddle every few minutes to bring up the hippos. Hippos are very inquisitive apparently and will surface to investigate strange sounds.
We were lead out by one of the support catamarans the Biriwiri with John Stanton manning the binoculars at the Crow’s nest on look out for crocs and hippos. At our final briefing, we had worked out hand signal warnings for crocodiles and hippos left or right, rocks or rough water ahead, etcetera, etcetera. I kept eyes on John. Sitting at water level, you can’t see anything in front of you, unless it is right upon you.
John signaled emphatically. “What does that sign mean?” Mark Johnson asked from his kayak behind. “I don’t remember that sign from the briefing.”
I guessed, “I think John’s either having violent back spasms , or he can see a hippo or a croc.” It turns out John is really crap at charades and I made a big mental note to self to avoid being on the same team as him. It turns out it was a hippo. I never saw that one but went on to see thousands of others, and crocodiles. Every log, every stick, every rock, all of them were crocodiles and hippos. The lake was lousy with them.
Once out in open water, Andy Lowe Evans moved us into a box peloton formation, two abreast, with the right hand marker setting the pace for 30 minutes, then he would drop back and everyone would shuffle one position. The lake was like glass and with Greg Hall setting the pace, we fairly flew along, at 7 k.p.h. Since my life I had never paddled that fast. But I couldn’t keep up and I started dropping back further and further. It felt I was dragging sea weed but I wasn’t.
Mark Johnson pulled level with me. He told me there was something horribly wrong with my paddle technique. Apparently, from behind I was frothing the water like I had a 150 h.p.Suzuki outboard, with a hugely high cadence taking two strokes for his every one, but I was moving more like I had a Seagull engine on board. He said that I was holding my paddle at the wrong angle and my blades weren’t biting the water, they were just skimming the top of it.
I was in a quandary. Was I going to listen to Mark a self-confessed novice, or stick to the advice received from my expert coach, the very pretty slip-of-a-girl on YouTube who can even make fitting new tubeless tyres on Mountain bikes look easy? I thanked Mark for his input but decided to stick with my YouTube expert, and fell further behind. Next to pull up alongside with the same advice as Mark was Billy, followed by Greg.
Eventually, and only because my arms were looking to fall off, I tried holding my paddles at their recommended forty- five degrees, and unfortunately it worked. I am gutted that YouTube allow pretty pfalse prophets to post falsehoods and lies.
We stopped for a snack break next to a dead hippo with four legs up in the air bobbing in the water. We thought we’d find crocs snacking on the hippo, but there weren’t any. Which hopefully meant the crocs weren’t hungry.
Others clambered out onto the yacht to stretch their legs and have a wee, but I deployed Big Blue my en-suite urinal and enjoyed a wee in my armchair with a smug smile on my face. I have told the other paddlers they can rent Big Blue for $5 a wee.
Day One was supposed to be an orientation day with a reduced target of just 17 km, so we could get used to paddling in our formations and with our support yachts, But because the Sengwa basin looms large, Andy Lowe Evans decided we should press on and bank as many extra kilometers as we can, in anticipation of big waves and wind in the Sengwa.
On their voyage down from Kariba, Andy described the water in the Sengwa as impossible to paddle, and worse case scenario, we’d have to park off on shore and wait for a break in the weather. So we decided to paddle on and take advantage of the near perfect conditions.
Hah. We paddled out of our lunch bay straight into the very gale force waves that we were paddling to avoid. It was like paddling in washing machine. But I was too happy with my boat’s seaworthiness. It bobbed merrily on the waves. But I was less than happy with my boat’s engine. It was stuttering alarmingly. It felt like I was paddling in thick porridge, thick uphill porridge. I have never worked that hard on a bicycle.
One of the things that sustained us in the heavy water was Norma van den Burgh. Norma came to meet us in Bulawayo to thank the Old Legs for helping pay for her husband Andrés no longer overdue fistula operation. She was crying and so were we. I told her I would paddle to Cairo for Andre. But I sincerely hope that she does not take me up on that.
Please help us help those pensioners in need.
Until my next blog, enjoy – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong
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