After our trip by boat up the Boro River, John Riley, Andy Dry and I decided that we had to have boats of our own. We plumped for fourteen-foot aluminium swamp boats built locally by Aliboats, a successful enterprise started by ex-Rhodesians, Mike Bullock and Drew Allport who, by this time were building boats for many purposes including the Botswana Defence Force. We selected the 30hp Yamaha outboards to go with them.
Mine, given the registration number OK878, was the last one to be completed. It was launched into the Thamalakane River in the late afternoon of 28th August, 1992. I was shown how to start the outboard, and left to my own devices, with only Mack, my staffy, for company. Never in my life had I ever used such a motor, so when I opened the throttle too wide, the bows rose in the air like a rearing horse! Darkness was not far away, and the river with all its kinks and blind backwaters was strange to me. I needed to get home before dark, so had to maintain some speed. The boat was empty, so I devised the plan of sending Mack to stand in the bows by pointing and giving him the command “Wazzatting!” – what’s that thing, the command to look for rats. He stayed there staring excitedly into the gloom. This provided just enough weight to keep the bows down. Insects hit me in the face as we sped along.
The hairiest part was shooting through under the Old Bridge where the water was very shallow over a concrete weir. It had to be done at speed to get it up on the plane to minimise the draught. That safely negotiated, it was with some relief to get home just beyond the bridge, to be greeted by Sheila and my old Kiwi friend, Kevin O’Connell, over for a visit. (Following the All Blacks on their tour to South Africa.)
The following morning we loaded our camping kit and plenty of beer into the boat and waited for Andy Dry in his new craft to join us to head up the Boro River to the same island we had camped on before, but Andy was delayed until 14h00. He got ahead of me as I had not trimmed my motor well and we lost contact. The delay found us well short of our destination, both camping that night on separate islands. Ours turned out to be a hippos’ bedroom, so they surrounded us all night, complaining, and we surrounded ourselves by fires which we got up periodically to refuel.
Sheila said that she had heard that hippos were supposed to get so enraged by fire that they would stamp them out! I said nonsense, that was rhinos! But I really didn’t know what I was talking about. Poor Kevin hardly slept a wink and spent most of the night on a mound with one foot on the lower branch of a tree up which he hoped to escape if the hippos came ashore. Daylight revealed that the mound was a hippo toilet. There were hippo footprints in the mud right next to the boat that showed that at least one had come to inspect it.
On our way that morning, we found the way blocked by hippos so while I wanted to bypass them, Kevin and Sheila voted to turn back. Thankfully, at that moment, John Riley and family arrived aboard their own new boat, and the hippos gave us a gap. Soon we met up with Andy at the right island where we pitched our tents, then went fishing. After someone showed me how to trim the motor, my craft ran much more smoothly.
The following day, we went fishing again and caught enough bream for breakfast. Then we headed back to Maun, seeing some elephant on the way, arriving in time to put Kevin on his flight back to Johannesburg, and home to New Zealand. We pictured him getting many a free round in his local pub as he regaled listeners with tales of his visit to Botswana!