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Old 01-24-2014   #1
Nashville, Tennessee
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 3
Need help with a rafting scenario for a novel

Hello everyone, my name is Nathan, and I've come to you for help. I'm currently writing a novel that features a whitewater rafting scene (on the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls in Africa), but as I've never been rafting before, I need some advice on how to make it authentic. (Side note: I lived in Livingstone, Zambia for a while, so I know enough about the town and river to make that part authentic -- it's just the rafting experience I'm not that familiar with.)

Basically, I need to know what an experienced rafting guide would say and do in a certain situation, which is this: he and five 12-year-olds are escaping the villain, and they've been forced to hop in a raft on the Zambezi. The catch is there is only one paddle and none of them have life vests. Also, this all takes place at night with no other rafters on the river. I'm trying to put them in the most dangerous scenario possible (and am open to making it more dangerous if you have suggestions). What I'm looking to do is have them raft from the Boiling Pot (the put-in spot) to the first possible exit point. Obviously this will be dangerous since the kids don't have life vests (and one of them isn't a good swimmer in the first place).

So these are my questions:
--Assuming the scenario, what would the guide tell the kids to do in the raft since they don't have paddles?
--I'm guessing that the weight of five 12-year-olds would affect a commercial raft differently than the weight of eight adults. What would be some of the dangers they would face, and how would the guide try to negate those dangers?

I realize the obvious solution to all of this would be to simply pull the raft out of the water and walk around the rapids. Since the Zambezi is in a gorge, they would have to follow the river for a bit before coming to an exit point. I need to do some research, but if it turns out that all rapids on the Zambezi can be walked around during the low-water season, then I'll probably fudge the truth a bit and say that there's one that can't be just so they'll have to raft it, thus creating action/excitement/etc.

I'm going to do some Googling here in a minute, but if anyone knows of a website that explains some basic commercial rafting technique for guides, I'd definitely appreciate you passing it along to me. While I want to make this scene as exciting as possible, I also want to be as realistic as possible.

Sorry for my long-windedness. I'm grateful for any help and tips y'all can provide. I couldn't find any rafters in my groups of friends to ask, so I'm coming to you all for guidance.

Thanks so much!

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Old 01-24-2014   #2
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 428
Chapter 1:

Guide stumbles up with a three month old beard and a bottle of 10 high whiskey in his PFD. "Get in the F'n raft he groans curmudgeonly"
The Texan/ Iowan/ Nebraskan tourists' day turns from a pleasant, scenic float in the colorado backcountry to an ego trip from hell, led by none other than a man who's cologne is that of wet, moldy, neoprene. "Why the F are these custies so damn small. Whatever, fun's over back in the raft" (may want to check for plagiarism from the movie Damned river here, in fact, you may just want to watch that movie. There is an awkward rapey vibe in there, but that seems to happen with all river movies anyway)

The Scene ends with the guide puking off the raft and saying that he accidently swallowed a rocky mountain tetzi fly. Where are the boyscouts??? Guess we'll have to wait for chapter 2.

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Old 01-24-2014   #3
GoodTimes's Avatar
Eagle, Idaho
Paddling Since: '78
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 794
Although I have not run the Zambezi...I've watched enough video of each and every rapid to feel like I have a decent idea of its character.

You said you want to make it as exciting and "realistic" as possible....I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's impossible to navigate the entire length with one paddle without flipping...I don't care who the guide is. One paddle in a raft with six people is pretty much worthless in a river with that much power.

Make it two paddles....and you have a more believable scenario...and in this case the "guide" would be yelling quite frantically at the youngster to "dig it in you little shit!!!" Or something like that....
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Old 01-24-2014   #4
Rainy Northwest, Washington
Paddling Since: 1980
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 460

As tempting and easy as a smart-ass answer would be, I'll offer this. I rafted the Zambezi in buckets boats (Avon Pros) in 1989. If I recall correctly, there are was a good canyon to hike out on the Zimbabwe side just above rapid 5. If the raft was a non self-bailer and I had a bucket, i'd fill the raft thigh deep with water, put the kids in the bow, and try to keep it straight with the one paddle until I could hit the right bank. If the raft was a self bailer I'd probably do the same, I suppose. However, the very thought scares the crap out of me.
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Old 01-24-2014   #5
frisco, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 64
I smell Kevin Bacon
full yellow life jacket
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Old 01-25-2014   #6
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portland, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1991
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its always effed up when you lose a passenger and you can't spot them anywhere. Or the group gets split up.

taking the rapids upside down holding the sides of the raft is pretty messed up too. Plus someone could be under the boat or struggling to get out from under it ...
Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it "guaranteed", I will. I got spare time.
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Old 01-25-2014   #7
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 883

Don't forget to work crocodiles in there somewhere. And maybe hippos if you have them on any of the flat stretches.


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Old 01-25-2014   #8
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Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1995
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,727
I think you may be looking for events as simple as getting worked in holes, pinned on rocks and yelling for the kids to "high-side" either while pinned against a rock or getting surfed in a ledge hole. Losing a couple kids here and there, and pulling them back in could be scary. Maybe you could flip the raft, but unless it happened right above a super flat stretch, finding all the kids would be pretty hard to believe.

Waves breaking overhead that swamped the boat for a time could be worked in easily.

Weird diagonal features that felt like they almost flipped the boat, but didn't, could be very real.

Croc or hippo sightings, even without any blatant attack, would certainly raise the stakes.

A couple failed efforts at landing the boat would be pretty believable.

Good luck with your novel.

(seven two 0)-298-2242
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Old 01-26-2014   #9
Nashville, Tennessee
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 3

Hey everyone, thanks for all the feedback. It's been incredibly helpful.

For those wondering, the plan is definitely to flip the boat at some point. I don't want anyone to die, but one kid, who is a good swimmer, will have to go and save his step-brother, who isn't a good swimmer. I suppose I can make it towards the end of a rapid so the survival is a bit more realistic.

Let me ask this: I'm under the impression that in a typical commercial, self-bailing raft, the guide would be in the back without a paddle while everyone else is in front of him with paddles. And the guide would shout instructions to them, right? If so, given the scenario of only having one or two paddles, would the guide probably take it upon himself to move farther up in the raft and do the paddling himself? If so, what would he tell the kids to do? Would he try to position them in the raft to keep it balanced or something? Or would he tell them all to get into one place and just hang on?

Dave Frank nailed what I'm looking for: yelling at them to "high-side" and such. It's a kid's adventure story, so it's being told from the point-of-view of the main 12-year-old. So I'm trying to figure out what the guide would be instructing him and the other kids to do as he tries to get them safely through this part of the river.

And I'm guessing there are parts of the river that would be easier to manage that he could aim for, right? I know under normal circumstances, with adults and everyone having life vests and paddles, you'd aim for the more "fun" parts; but in this situation, I'm guessing he'd probably want to find the easiest way through.

Like I said before, I'm not necessarily looking for him to actually pull off getting them through the river without flipping. I wouldn't think that's possible at all. I think what I'm really looking for is figuring out what he'd at least try to do. I can probably have him succeed a couple of times before finally flipping.

Thanks again!
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Old 01-26-2014   #10
Salida, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1986
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Originally Posted by Avatard View Post
Plus someone could be under the boat or struggling to get out from under it ...
Rather than struggling, they might be in the air space of an upside boat hiding from the bad guy?

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