2013 Diary of a Canning Walker

Introduction - A Fire Horse is Forged

A Fire Horse is born 09 09 1966.

I was not planned. Hinoeuma seldom are. In Japanese culture, birth in the Year of the Fire Horse is a serious practice of avoidance. Abortion and murder often follows the discovery of pregnancy. But my mother was not to know. My father, instinctively, was against my birth. A Fire Horse Daughter is destined to bring trouble to his hearth.



And he was right. The quiet, submissive role of dutiful daughter and supportive wife invariably forced upon us women, was not to be my destiny. The fire within smoulders hot and radiating, scorching the ill-advised who seek to tame it. Admired from a distance, like molten lava and hungry flames, a roused female fire horse is a terrifying creature to stand before.

As it turned out, my father took to me well enough, so long as I, like my sisters, were seen and not heard. As I grew older, approaching my teenage years, I was found useful and possibly even his favourite on occasion as we worked on motors and free dived together. But that was before menstruation. Not yet a woman.

Age eleven and twelve years (1978-1979) saw me sailing on the family built yacht, ‘Caribbean’, holding watches and handling carpentry tools on the sand banks of the Amazon, repairing our yacht whilst my father found work to pay for the materials. We were searching for another country in which to settle, my father predicting that South Africa had only 10 years left (before the black tribes destroyed the country). From South Africa to South America and the Caribbean, I learned in those years to rely closely on myself and my family and to work with whatever nature threw at us, including two hurricanes. Nature was far more powerful than us and our little yacht. We had to work with her. There was no-one around to help us in the middle of the ocean. A bit like the Australian desert I was to come to love as much as the sea.

Selling the yacht after almost two years on the sea, we campervanned across the USA and Canada for two months before returning to South Africa. We had not found The Promised Land.

At thirteen the mark of womanhood arrived with a vengeance. Not only did I bleed physically but emotionally as well. We did not call it depression, (it was neither understood nor in fashion in the 1980’s) but a violent rejection of people took hold of my mind. As far back as I can remember, certainly before my ninth birthday, I have always felt separate from society - the odd one out looking in, awkward, alien, disconnected. With the onset of teenage hormonal change, I felt everything acutely, rejecting family and society to such an extreme degree I almost stopped talking, hiding myself away. I took refuge in the silence of my books and bedroom, and for a time, I even refused to eat meals with my family. The Fire Horse female was emerging.

When I was age sixteen and seventeen, the family were off sailing again, this time from South Africa to the Mediterranean on another family built yacht, Wahini. The longest period at sea without sight of land was five weeks. We were visited by many storms, one tropical storm threatening to sink us. There was loss of life with a man overboard. I learned how easy life is lost when one simple mistake is compounded by the domino effect.

My father by now realised his teenage daughter’s currency and repeatedly attempted to pimp me out to men twice my age; men who were attracted to me and from whom he needed assistance in all things boating. Apparently I did not have to sleep with them (I was a virgin until 19 years of age) but I was being selfish if I did not use my feminine wiles to be ‘nice’ in order to manipulate them into doing my father’s bidding - for the good of the family, of course.

I rebelled. And I grew angry.

Selling the yacht after about a year and a half of sailing, mostly the Mediterranean, we again took to campervanning, this time across Europe.

With all the travelling, my schooling came to a halt prematurely at Std 7, and upon our return from Europe, at age eighteen, I was too old to return to government institution education. Instead I trained as a travel agent and worked as a junior consultant for two years. The main perk of this job was traveling to holiday destinations inside and outside South Africa in order to learn first-hand about the products. I loved the job, but gave it up when I realised I had to save for months to buy a pair of inexpensive shoes. Be nice to your travel agent.....

Realising that leaving home, paying rent, buying electricity, groceries and a car was not going to be easy on a travel consultant’s salary, I reluctantly joined the family business in Durban to become a yacht broker at age twenty. I say reluctantly because, even then, I had a deep yearning to find my own way in the world, and did not particularly like the way my parents treated their employees. I joined on one proviso: My parents, particularly my mother, could not treat me like she treated everyone else. I would not have it. The line was drawn and to my mother’s credit, she did abide by the agreement.

On my twenty first birthday, my first boyfriend proposed marriage and under pressure I accepted the ultimatum: ‘you either love me and we get engaged or you don’t and we break up right now’. We moved to Cape Town and opened a franchise of International Yacht Brokers, my parents’ business.

A year later I realised I was not living my own life, but rather the life my father and now my fiancé wanted me to live, and I broke free to travel solo for the first time. Realising I was about to fly the coop, leaving their business in the hands of my ex and an unpredictable future, my parents sought to keep control of the fast unravelling situation and suggested I fly to Greece, joining my 19 year old skipper sister on the family charter yacht, American Enterprise, a 76ft catamaran. This way they could keep tabs on me and coax me back into the fold and hopefully marriage. Having started the breaking free process however, their fears were realised when I discovered that I liked the taste of freedom: it was now more appealing to keep going than return to a life of domestication and servitude. Leaving the family yacht, my one month holiday flowed into eight months of solo hitchhiking on yachts across the Mediterranean from Greece to Gibraltar. My first venture out into the world on my own, taught me that I could take care of myself and, although I was sometimes anxious and there were times when food was scarce and sleeping in a railway station garbage dump was part of the package, I liked my independence.

Returning to South Africa at age 23, I joined the family business again, in Durban. My break from my fiancé in Cape Town was permanent. I toed the line just long enough to find out what alternatives I had to working for my parents. Earning a bit of money, I started a company of my own, first cleaning boats and then quickly, with encouragement from my father (who believes in going bigger and better), I progressed into spray painting and repairing yachts and motor craft, later expanding into boat building. The yacht repair and spray painting business was a good move; the boat building was my father’s vision and I was sucked in to that vortex. My father is a powerful presence and hard to resist, and having allowed me to pull away for a time and experience my independence, like a bungee cord reaching its end, he was now pulling me back into his vision of empire and the pursuit of money. I loathed boat building: working in one place in a claustrophobic, glass fibre dust and poisonous chemical environment was stifling and quickly I found a semblance of freedom in logistics, running around on the outside keeping the men supplied with materials and equipment. I did get my hands dirty from time to time - we all did - but it was not what I enjoyed.

After four years I was managing a team of men together with my father that grew to twenty three. It was during this time that I started martial arts training. My father introduced me to Judo but it was not to my liking and I chose Kickboxing instead. I soon had my sights set on becoming South Africa’s first female full contact fighter/kickboxer. Women were banned from fighting in South Africa until I campaigned and proved we could hold our own in the ring. I went on to become South African female champion and retired undefeated four years later in January 1995. My father was a South African judo champion for many years. Fighting is in our blood.

At age twenty four, my yacht skipper sister Ange and I backpacked through Argentina and Chile. We split up in Chile, she heading to the deserts in the north and I south to the ice and wind of Terra del Fuego. I went on to discover New Zealand and Australia for the first time, enjoying a typical young tourist adrenalin adventure theme along the eastern seaboard.

The seed was planted for my return…

At age 27 years life was full of promise and golden with achievement. I was at my prime in kickboxing, the reigning queen of the ring, the best in the boat spray painting business and primed to buy my own condo on the beach in Umdloti, Kwa Zulu Natal. I ran my own successful business, had bought a small half ton bakkie through the bank, upgrading soon after to a new Mazda double cab. Despite never missing a payment, and having a glowing record, the patriarchal banks still required my father’s signature of surety for the property. It was humiliating!

Just at that moment, before I sold my soul to the banking devils and becoming heavily in debt with a mortgage, Rwanda exploded onto our television screens. It was July 1994. Over three blood filled days the country emptied itself into neighbouring countries; the fastest exodus of people from any country in history. Watching the scenes on television, I could not sit by and do nothing. Making enquiries, I discovered that South Africa was not sending aid in the form of personnel and so I hitched a lift on a Russian Ilyushin military aircraft into Uganda in the first week of August, then with the USAAF in a Hercules C130 into Goma, Zaire. For two months I worked as volunteer in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

My survival strategy from day one was to secure a safe place to sleep and with that in mind I attached myself to UNHCR and used their compound as my base whilst working with NGO’s like the Irish Goal agency. My only foray into beautiful, bullet ridden Rwanda was when I hitched a ride with the Irish Army into Kigali, delivering water tankers. Most of my time was in Zaire where I helped rehydrating men, women and child skeletons in the refugee camps around Goma, assisting in burying the hundreds and thousands that died, and building new refugee camps in Kibumba. My last two weeks were spent with the UNHCR, moving refugees to new lava camps at Kahindo where water and health facilities had been established. It was here that I narrowly escaped being taken hostage in a riot. Friendly and concerned refugees bundled me into the 4x4, and my driver crashed through barricades to freedom. In that defining moment I decided that the refugees had shown themselves strong enough to take care of themselves and hitched a ride with the German Luftwaffe back to South Africa.

Whilst in Zaire, I did get to play for two days, climbing the active volcano of Nyrogongo, to sit within its warm bubbling crater. Nyrogongo blew three years later. I also sat with silverback gorillas in the Virunga National Park, and was humbled by these gentle, intelligent giants.

Upon my return to South Africa my life unravelled immediately. My authoritarian father punished me for disobeying him and taking leave to help the Rwandan Refugees, dissolving my third partnership in the boat building business we had started together. He had threatened to do this should I disobey him. He undermined my own company, Shipshape, in my absence and burgeoning labour unions stepped in. They were the final straw.

I was battling to process my experiences in the Rwandan Refugee Camps. Without family support, I had no one to sit down and talk out my darkest emotions. Depression was unacceptable in our family, something only weak people experienced. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder arrived with bang. I imploded, then exploded. Finally, secretly, I sought help from a psychologist, but it was too late. Within a few months of my return, I folded my company, sold everything including my double cab and went to Australia. I wanted out of that mad continent called Africa.

In 1995 I returned to South Africa and moved to Cape Town putting distance between me and my family. Sessions with a psychologist were ongoing for several years, sometimes three times a week. Sue Cornfield helped me to find the pause button before the destructive rages that exploded without warning, causing devastation to all in my vicinity. It took years to gain a semblance of control on my emotions, I had so much pain and rage within from family betrayal. Alone I struggled to earn a living, unable to handle pressure. Burnt by the labour unions and my men’s divided loyalty, I never wanted to employ black Africans ever again. I took on small spray painting jobs on boats during the day and worked as a waitress by night. I got by. Life showed me a rainbow. Then I tried to take my own life. But that is a story for another time.

By 1998 and I was finding my feet again. I had discovered the manic world of the film industry. I began at the bottom as a Runner, but soon realised there was a new job description just for me, one that no-one had filled professionally: that of Boat Co-ordinator to the Film Industry. Gaynor Boat Co-ordinators was born. I sourced and handled water craft from canoes to ships for Film, Commercial and Stills shoots.

The manic film industry suited me perfectly. I worked from home in Llandudno by the sea, starting with one person in my full time employ. Stephen De Lange answered the telephone, wrote up quotes, updated the stock listings and every day was different, every shoot was unique and stimulating. Film work is not routine or standard or even guaranteed which meant I could go surf skiing and paragliding during the week if the weather invited and nothing was scheduled. Life was good and there was plenty of money around. Film industry work was seasonal then, a summer job, which was a good thing in my books as it allowed me to travel overseas four months every year. I lived a life of never ending summers :-)

Towards the end of my eleven years in the Film Industry I started a second company, Gaynor Sports Talent, supplying sports people to the Film Industry for four years. I ran that in tandem with the boat company from upmarket offices in Cape Town. We were the best in both businesses, but the stress of running two companies burned me out.

In 2009 I sold up and have been travelling ever since, to over 50 countries, many of them multiple visits. Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia and Fiji are some of the most recent. The adventures that stand out for me are:

Two months solo mountain biking in northern Scotland, including Orkney Islands and Outer Hebrides. Scotland’s 'summer' was so cold, I took a holiday from my holiday and cycled the three Greek islands of Zankinthos, Kefalonia and The Peloponese in a heatwave of 50C for two weeks. Fully defrosted, I flew to Spitzbergen in the Arctic Circle, joining the Russian ship "Multanovski", sailing to Greenland and Iceland. I marvelled at icebergs, musk oxen, long eared white hares, polar bears, one foot thick moss, glaciers, rhyolite rainbow coloured mountains and other magnificent scenery. Never did see those huge colourfully plumed penguins that captured my attention in photographs. I guess they must have been elsewhere ;-)

A scuba diver since I was sixteen years old, there was diving in the Red Sea, Orkney Islands, Barrier Reef, Maldives and the South African coastline including Mozambique.

One winter break I sailed from Mozambique to Madagascar in a 43ft catamaran, hopping off on a beach at the village Belu sur Mer, famed for building sailing dugouts. For two weeks I negotiated with the locals to buy an 8.5m sailing dugout. No-one spoke English. Much of our communication was pantomime. With the deal eventually concluded I sailed up the west coast of Madagascar with two Vezu tribal sailors, sleeping on the beaches, on larger boats, in mangroves and villages, changing sailors as I progressed north and crossed traditional tribal boundaries.

In 2000 I started paragliding. Paragliding took me flying around the world for 12 years. I acquitted myself well enough in the XC Open World Series long distance competitions over six years and acquired an instructors rating to take passengers flying in 2011. Then I crashed whilst flying cross country solo in 2012. The crash left me with a broken spine, one vertebra burst and another compressed and chipped, all in the lumber region.

During my paragliding years I hitchhiked around Australia extensively for four years, including the Canning Stock Route, twice. In 2013, thirteen months after breaking my back, I was to walk it, alone and without a support vehicle, carrying a 30kg plus backpack.

This is that story, Every Step of the Way.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 February 2018 07:04

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