Friday, 25 April 2008

Extra-Vehicular Operations

The inevitable delays in our arrangements for shipping meant we had time for even more cleaning and preparation of the vehicle for its long awaited debut on the Australian scene. The shipping industry is big, and moves thousands of containers around the world every week, but when you are just two people trying to transport one vehicle in one container you are only a tiny part of a very big picture. Suffice to say that our hopes to have the Camel in a container by the end of last week were in vain. We had spent the first part of the week furiously trying to complete the last minute jobs that needed doing.

As Catkin had mentioned, I had been concerned about the leak from our power steering box which had slowly become worse over the previous weeks. Our visit to Schalk Burger (the highly recommended mechanic, not the Springbok) the previous week hadn’t been completely in vain, for although he wouldn’t have been able to look at the box for us for another week and a half, he did suggest a couple of other places who might be able to look at it sooner. He was also very interested in our journey, and has a huge map of Africa on the wall of his workshop, presumably so all his customers can show him where they had been, where they had got stuck, where they had smashed their suspension that he would be about to repair, etc.

We tried both places Schalk had suggested for the repair. The first quoted quite a high price, but for the work involved it wasn’t really that unreasonable. The second said that they don’t really fix the boxes, they just replace them with new ones, which are about three times the price we had been quoted for the repair previously. The workshop manager then told me that it might be possible for me to replace the existing seals without doing a full rebuild, if I was keen to give it a go. Actually, I was keen for someone else to give it a go, but it was the cheapest option, so obviously the one for us. The guy was really helpful, photocopying the exploded drawing of the box showing all the parts and giving me quite a few handy hints from the last time he had done the same job.

I tackled the job the next day, and it took the whole day to get the box out, replace the seals and get it all back together again. It would have been much quicker, but in true Land Rover fashion, most bolts or fittings were in inaccessible places, and when you finally got to them they wouldn’t undo anyway. Catkin’s smaller hands were called upon to reach through small gaps between other parts, and she spent another afternoon traipsing around the local industrial area looking for a circlip to replace one that had broken. Nobody had the right size, so the broken one has ended up going back in. By the time everything was back together it was well and truly dark.

All of our scrubbing, and the use of a water blaster, over the previous weeks had finally got rid of most of the caked on lime we had picked up in the Etosha National Park in Namibia nearly three months earlier. It had also removed a good deal of the protective coating on the chassis and underbody as well. We had already decided that a new coating would not only help protect the steel chassis, but would hopefully also serious impress the Australian quarantine official we he or she inspected the vehicle for cleanliness in Fremantle. We found a paint factory nearby, and they sold us a can of their special black chassis and underbody sealer. Another full day was spent wriggling around underneath the Land Rover reaching into every nook and cranny with different shapes and sizes of paintbrush. It was a pretty messy job (I still have paint on me in places I can’t even see) but worth it, as it came up really well. Hopefully it impresses those Aussies…

Throughout our long and tortuous travels we had managed to accumulate not an inconsiderable amount of extra ‘stuff’. Pamphlets, maps, books and souvenirs were all taking up valuable space, along with some items we had brought from England but barely or never used. We wanted to streamline our operation, but more importantly needed to make room for all the wine we had bought in South Africa. We had made enquiries with a few shifting companies but none bothered to reply, so we have ended up sending two rather large boxes to New Zealand by post. We can now fit almost everything into our eight crates in the back, so it’s much more organised. A place for everything and everything in its place. I love it. I’m sure my sisters won’t love it so much when they have to go and pick up two 30 kilogramme boxes from the post office.

We even went out for dinner one night last week. A friend and former colleague of mine, Albert, and his wife Aggie were in Cape Town. We had last seen them when they had been at our leaving do at the pub on Clapham Common. It was good to see them both again and hear their news.

By now we had all but confirmed that we would be loading the Camel into a container at the port on Wednesday 23 April. To celebrate our third to last night camping in Africa, and our final African full moon, we decided a special dinner was in order. We had been on the continent for seven months. Roast lamb is one of our favourites, and it was delicious. Catkin has honed her potje technique to perfection. My getting charcoal to burn using turps is coming along nicely, too, thanks.

Later that night we had the most excitement we had seen for a very long time. We had been camping in the same campsite in Cape Town for almost two weeks, which is the longest we have stayed at one place since leaving the UK last June. There were a few permanent and long term residents, people came and went, some guy practises his driving around the campsite everyday, but really nothing much happens. Probably the most interesting thing was for the other campers watching us do our almost daily ritual of unpacking everything from the back of the Land rover and spreading it all over to grass around the vehicle before packing it all in again at the end of the day. A few days before, an overland tour truck had arrived at the campsite, but we didn’t think much of it. On this night, however, the police suddenly swooped on it, set up flood lights and proceeded to spend a few hours searching around in the back of the truck. We were coming up with all sorts of murder and espionage theories. Later the customs officers arrived – it turned out the driver had been smuggling goods into the country.

Finally, the day we have all been waiting for arrived – “containerisation day.” We had spent the previous night packing our bags with what we would need for the few weeks the Land Rover would be at sea. The vehicle was clean inside and out, and we had managed to stop all the oil leaks. Well, nearly anyway. We had been told that we could not ship with any more than a quarter full tank of fuel, so had made sure that it was showing just under a quarter (the small tank – if they had checked the big one it was just over a quarter full…). At the container depot the customs agent checked registration, engine and chassis numbers and signed off our carnet.

My major concern was fitting the vehicle into the container with the roofrack on. I was pretty sure that the tent would be too high and would have to come off, but was hoping that provided we dropped the sand ladders down a notch and laid all the jerry cans flat, that we could leave the roof rack on. The highest point would be the two rails on the jerry can rack, but I had measured the height against what I had been informed was the clear door height of a standard 20ft container and was certain that if we let the back tyres down to a third of their normal pressure, we would be okay. It worked, because we just sneaked it in. The port workers proceeded to nail chocks to the container floor and strap the Camel securely into the container so that it wouldn’t rock around too much on the high seas. The final task, again in preparation for Australia, was fumigation. The container was closed and Methyl Bromide was pumped in. We stood clear (me especially). The container was sealed, and for good measure I put two of our own padlocks on the doors. All going well we will see it again in Fremantle in just under a month. The vehicle was containerised; we were now officially on EVO.

In the meantime, in the absence of finding any sea passage between South Africa and Australia, we have booked ourselves flights to Perth, with a stopover to kill some time. Details of our mystery destination will follow in due course.

We have another week in Cape Town, and are hoping to go diving, despite the cooler water temperatures. Our last dive was in Dahab, Egypt, so it has been, well, seven months. How time flies. We are still at the same campground, but have moved into a cabin. It is extremely strange, though, not having the vehicle and all our gear, and a list of jobs to attend to. I have had to go and buy the latest Land Rover magazine to compensate.

Finally, today is Anzac day, which for me now is even more solemn, having been privileged to be able to visit Anzac Cove when we were in Turkey in August, walking on the beach and climbing the hills to Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair. It was mostly deserted when we were there, which I understand is a far cry from what is normally like at this time of year. What surprised us was the numbers of Turkish there, which stands to reason, as it is one of their great victories under the future leader Ataturk. The other special memory we have of our visit there is the genuine friendliness and hospitality of the Turkish people. It was one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Anyway, enough rambling from me. More news soon, and maybe even a special bumper issue in the not too distant future.

Monday, 21 April 2008


Happy birthday Danielle. Hope you remembered to buy cakes for everyone at work... Whoops, perhaps I shouldn't have said anything!

We are still in possession of the Camel - arranging shipping is a slow process. It's as clean now as it has ever been though. Hopefully into its little box on Wednesday.

More from us in a few days.