“Skipper” Albert Ryan
Albert Ryan served in the unit in the late ‘70s and later returned to the unit in 1984. I remember him as a neat, dapper little man with glossy boots and neatly ironed clothes. A real sharp corporal and an extremely pleasant fellow to work with. I really learned a lot from him, as he was not a heavy and did not try to impress anyone. After he left the unit in the ‘70s, he tried various options, trying to make his fortune. The last one, before coming back to the unit, was trying to farm with Angora rabbits. Now, contrary to popular belief, they unfortunately do not breed as fast as we are led to believe, and their fur is not worth as much either. So, Albert got rid of the remaining lettuce eaters and came back to where he felt he belonged.
In the late ‘70s, when Albert was a Cpl. and major EV the base commander, they had a General Staff visit. The high brass from Pretoria and Windhoek were very fond of visiting Buffalo, as it was usually a very pleasant and memorable stay. They would go game viewing; fishing and especially a booze cruise on the Charlie Spillar. Everybody who served at Buffalo will remember the Charlie Spillar. The Charlie Spillar was a cruising (almost) boathouse, named after the tiffie that build it, Charlie Spillar. Although it was called a boat, it more resembled a floating fortress. It was a huge metal structure, with an elevated skipper’s house at the rear, and above the skipper, an upper deck.
But the best part of the boat was the retractable ramp in the nose of the boat, similar to those used in the beach landing crafts, used in WW II (Saving Private Ryan? – ‘scuse the pun!)
The ramp would be a meter or two in front of the boat, just inches above the water. If you stood on the ramp, you would actually feel detached from the boat, as if you are standing on the water. All visitors were very fond of the ramp, and this particular group was no exception. Albert was appointed as the skipper on this particular trip, and he took it very seriously, knowing that any unwanted beach landings could end up with him (Albert) winning an unwanted skull fracture or neck brace from EV!
While the brass were merrily doing biceps curls on the ramp, with cans displaying pictures of huge ancient stone structures, or that of a very large vicious feline cat, our Albert had full control over his floating fortress. Unfortunately, there was a press group, accompanying the brass, who took pity on poor Albert, who stood there alone like a lost soul at the wheel.
The Okavango is mostly a very deep and wide river, going downstream from Buffalo towards the Botswana border. Unfortunately, there are a few shallow sand banks and rock formations en route, just below the surface of the dark and fast flowing water. Their whereabouts are probably the most important factors for any skipper to know, going on a cruise on the river.
So, as they were happily chugging along downstream, the press group felt that Albert was desperately in need of something cold and refreshing, in order to avoid possible dehydration! Albert, being a very conscious, polite and responsible young man, could not agree more, as one cannot take any chances in the blistering Caprivi sun! So he gratefully accepted their one, two or twenty-three drip replacements.
Unfortunately, all these generous, life saving cans of re-hydration did cloud his judgment slightly and fogged his memory. Although two huge powerful Evinrude engines propelled the Spillar, it was not a fast boat. It was simply too big and too heavy, and its shape resembled a bathtub. But what it did have was momentum (due to its weight) and lots of it!
So, when the Spillar suddenly came to a grinding halt on a rock formation, the brass on the ramp got jet propelled (like a fart out of a bath) downstream, to surface some ten meters away. The first thing that must have gone through their heads must have been the statistics of the amount of crocodiles in the Okavango, especially after they have seen numerous of the monsters, laying with their gaping jaws on the sandbanks a few minutes ago!
Albert was standing like a salt pillar at the rear, when this very unwanted and unplanned offload took place, but became supercharged when EV turned around!
Within 2 steps, he was off the boat and making his way towards the riverbank, barely touching water! With EV’s booming voice urging him on, he must have out swam the hungriest crocodile in the Okavango. He later told me that he was willing to face the entire croc population of the Okavango, instead of the wrath of EV at the time!
Fortunately, nobody drowned, got eaten or bitten and the only injuries were dented egos and pride. Albert however, had to do some serious escape and evasion for at least a week, until EV’s facial colour returned to his normal tanned self.
Albert died in a car crash, while on leave, in 1984. I recall this story, as Albert told it to me personally in 1984. We miss you amigo.
Sgt. H.J. Stander
1982 – Dec 1986