Thursday, 23 December 2010

Murzuq Airfield

This Blog will go a bit quiet over the festive season and right through January. I am heading off to Libya on 28th December with a group of Archaeologists - a trip I have now completed eight times! Quite by chance though, this year, one of the areas of study is around Murzuq. The LRDG raid on the Murzuq Airfield is judged to be their most daring and successful. Bagnold had enlisted the help and support of the Free French in Chad. The French drove north from Fort Lamy under the leadership of Colonel d’Ornano and Clayton and took an LRDG group comprising 76 men and 23 trucks, 1000 miles southwest from Cairo. The attack took the enemy completely by surprise and destroyed the airfield and all of the ‘planes there. I can see no evidence of the airfield on Google Earth, but will try and find whatever may be left.

Thanks to P. Mrazek for the photo of the old fort, downloaded from Google.
Other photos are Murzuq from Space - Google, and my Land Rover taken last year by Katja Schorle, heading out into the Ubari Sand Sea.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

If you go down to the woods today.

A little late, but here is the film we shot in Matt's Woodland last week. It was freezing, but both Jeeps performed well. The Willy's is now ready for an MOT test (after a wash), then it can be registered and used on the road up until our departure date

Delighted to confirm we now have two confirmed guests for our unique Desert Adventure.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

With a little help from our friends.

Fans of the Desert, and I mean real desert, living in the West are a small but very dedicated bunch. Always keen to help fellow travellers with snippets of information about shipping, waypoints, border crossings and that all important answer to the question, ‘How’s the going?’ Since launching this Blog and the main web site about our plans I am indebted to many and feel compelled to list them here.

From Jonathan and Roseann Hanson in Arizona, USA: This sounds a great trip. Good luck from both of us here at ConserVentures and Overland Expo.

From Lois Pryce in London. Ooh! That looks amazing. If you can cope with any more excitement after that it would be great to see you at our film festival in Devon Adventure Travel Film Festival.

From Robert Twigger in Cairo: ‘Your trip looks brilliant! We can give it a shout from our blog at theexplorerschool - if you want.’

From Doug Manzer in Alberta, USA: ‘Looked through your plans for the LRDG and am pretty envious.  The mere thought of bumping along in Rat Patrol form is exciting!’

From Mike Van Pelt in the USA: ‘Your trip looks fascinating! I would love to make the trip with you.

From Martin Sohms in London: ‘Your trip will certainly go down in history... I would like to do the training day, that way I can say I at least contributed to it.’

From Chris Scott somewhere in Europe : ‘Avoid container shipping unless you have a quarter of a million tons of iron ore!’ (We are now taking the ferry - Venice to Alex) sahara overland

Kit Constable Maxwell in U.K: ‘Give my regards to Richard Noble when you see him, we had a great trip together on that Murzuq expedition. Good luck and kind regards, Kit.

From Alan Hall in London: I have also seen a possibly ex-Italian vehicle just south of the Gilf and not far from that Cloverleaf Chevy. I’ll send you the co-ordinates.’

From Filip De Pauw in Belgium: ‘This year I drove the new BF Goodrich Mud Terrain's 245/75/16 on my LR Discovery and I past all the dunes (even where the Toyota 80’ and 100’s got stuck!) at 900 gram pressure, without any problem.’

From Paul Cordle at Michelin: ‘We have them (set of 5 x 205 - 80 - R16, XZL's) in stock. it's not a problem to have another lot.’

From Brian B*****g. US Military: ‘Over the past ** years I've had the honour to fly top cover for ******, modern day versions of the LRDG while they are on patrol & would love to see where it all began in Egypt. Expedition Portal

From Ray Bird in UK: ‘I have just retuned from Angras Zboray,s similar trip which went well in spite of the +10 police { they help when one gets stuck !!! ]  We also crossed the 70 odd sand ridges between Big Cairn and Ain Duilla , no trouble.’

From Michelle Forrest in UK: ‘I was doing some research on the LRDG and came across your web site following a Google search for my Grandfather, Harry Harrison who I believed was in the group.

The photo shows Mahmoud's Land Rover being pushed on our last Gilf Expedition in 2003. Mahmoud is behind the wheel, watched by Lootfi. Pushing are Kevin White and Rich Washington. It the hat is Issa - the coolest guy in the Desert.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Ice cold in Matlock

The second Jeep is finished! Well, almost. Matt ran out of paint with a couple of rear panels to go, but as it was 10.30 pm anyway decided to call it a day (night), last Friday. We are still waiting for the seats to arrive. They have been ordered from American Canvas, in Ludlow, on Jeeparts recommendation. The tyres are not here yet either, but the ‘fat boy beach buggy’ ones it came on from California will be fine for now.

A few phone calls on Saturday rounded up enough likely suspects to take both Jeeps for a spin in the woods and see how well the Willys runs. It was a weird experience having two identical Jeeps. I bit like dating a twin I guess. I would go to the tool box on one and realise the wheel brace was actually in the other! Not a big deal, life changing, moment - just odd.

Tom Queally and I picked the coldest day so far this year to make the 50 mile journey north to Matt’s place. Minus 10ยบ all day, but under a crystal clear sky. No roof, no heater! We made a short movie that will air on the excellent Overland Expo web site as a ‘60-Second Overlander movie’. I’ll post it on this Blog straight after the U.S. Premier

See the LRDG Expedition web site.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Lunch anyone?

Desert catering relies on a fair amount of improvisation and resourcefulness. Whilst out there, away from all shops and supplies for 12 days, our expedition will be well fed by SAIG Travel. On a previous trip in Libya, we took one freshly butchered sheep and a second live one, for slaughter half way through the Expedition. This process works very well ensuring fresh meat most days, supplemented by bread made on an open fire, various vegetables and water drawn from wells scattered across the desert. It is a way of life that has changed little in a thousand years and the one thing that separates the tourists, with their cans of convenience food, from the overland traveller, intent on living the life of the locals on their level. However, it is still wise to pack a few Muesli Bars - just in case!

Further details of the 2011 Long Range Desert Group revisited trip here.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Skidmarks in the Workshop!

The Willys was a runner when bought back in the Summer and we had a tentative run up and down the track back then - slightly hampered by a total lack of brakes and not much in the way of steering. But things are different now. The rebuild is almost complete and the time had come to take it for a test drive. Young Teddy took the first drive. A keen campaigner in the local Autograss Championship, the Jeep would be more of a handful than his Mini, but he drove like a Pro. Next Matt wound it up on the Test Track, before I had a go and brought it back to base, leaving Matt to finish with a flourish! The engine runs beautifully and, fortunately, all the transmission components sound fine. They all have new oil seals and both diffs have been inspected. There are few small issues to attend to, then it will be painted, I’ll get the new seats, tyres and wheels and it will be finished.

For full details of this jeeps intended use go here!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Siwa Days

Our Expedition driving 1200 miles into The Sahara will end, as many LRDG trips did, in Siwa. This Oasis town has grown in isolation to the rest of Egypt and Libya - for it is very close to the current border. Virtually inaccessible for most of its history, Siwa has a unique character and the Siwan people, predominantly Berbers, have features unseen in the rest of Egypt. Rounder faces and a high proportion of Albino’s for some reason. The old mud brick town still has some inhabited buildings, whist most residents have migrated to the younger buildings spreading out into the desert landscape. Siwa is the location of The Oracle. The real one! Where Alexander the Great was confirmed as Divine and a Pharaoh of Egypt. We shall bath in the hot spring and wash 12 days of grime away, then enjoy the comfort of an Hotel for the night.

The photos show an existing Egyptian Army base still operating in Siwa, Chris Scott bouncing around in a donkey drawn cart - a popular means of transport there, and the view of the eroded hill looking across the ancient mud brick town.

Link of the day. British Pathe News has some remarkable old B&W film of the LRDG departing Siwa and towards the end of the clip the landmark of the eroded hill is clearly visible.

Monday, 18 October 2010

How to spend Easter. No eggs!

The web site is up!

For two weeks we shall re-enact many of the daring escapades of the legendary Long Range Desert Group in a pair of original 1943, World War Two, Jeeps. Our expedition, limited to just eight people, will drive through the stunning dunes of the Great Sand Sea.  Explore the Gilf el Kebir, a plateau the size of Switzerland. Camp under the stars a million miles from the nearest town.  Stand in the Cave of the Swimmers, immortalised in the film, The English Patient.   Live for that Ice Cold in Alex moment as we celebrate in exactly the same bar as they did 70 years ago. This is no cruise along the Mediterranean coast, but the real thing, sweat, steam and fatique, but with a fully equipped logistics team on hand to cook, wash up and guide us through some of the most beautiful desert scenery on the planet.

Departing from Cairo, we shall cover in the region of 1200 desert miles between Monday 18th April 2011 and Monday 2nd May 2011.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Back room boys.

There are two businesses, without whose help none of this ambitious project would be possible. Jeeparts UK, in Shrewsbury, run by Graham and Amanda, and my son’s business, Matt Savage, up in Matlock.

Any phone call to Jeeparts is greeted with a knowledgeable reply borne out of a lifetime of Jeepery and the answer you want - “yes, we have that in stock”. Likewise, any call to Matt gets the response - “Yes, we’ve done that”. This level of service is rare these days, and I speak as someone who has had a few ‘Main Dealer’ confrontations over the years.

Today was the penultimate visit to Jeeparts for bits. All those little bits that you don’t know you need until you (Matt!) come to join one bit to another. Light units, Speedo, dials and cables. Meanwhile, up at The Matt Savage Overland Preparation Barn, there was a bulging box of wiring components to fabricate a new loom and much progress since my last visit a week ago. The aim is to have it running by the end of next week.

With such professional chaps on the job that should happen.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Classic Love Story.

It has been suggested by Chris Scott, that perhaps we could screen a DVD of The English Patient whilst actually in the cave, in Wadi Soura, that the memorable scene is based. Kristin Scott Thomas, laid out on the rocks whilst her failing torch batteries act as a metaphor for her tragic death. Ralph Fiennes gallantly walking out of the desert to find a plane and rescue her.

Wadi Soura is on the western edge of The Gilf el Kebir and we should, In-sh-Allah, be there on Tuesday 26th April. There are many red ochre paintings on the walls of the cave, depicting figures ‘swimming’. The high vertical cliff opposite would suggest that, far from swimming, they were in fact being hurled off the top in some ancient ritual. Still. No need to let a theory spoil a good story.

Chris has a new book out shortly Overlander’s Handbook. Indispensable to anyone with interests in this direction.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A tight fit

A productive day up at the Matt Savage Overland Preparation Barn in Matlock. I went up in the 101 to have a few minor jobs done - new brake linings, oil and filter change and general check over. This accomplished, we thought it would be prudent to try and fit the Willys MB in the back. The master plan is to stick one Jeep in the back of the 101 and tow the other on a trailer, as far as Venice, where we shall drive them onto a ferry and head for Alexandria. The great news is that the measurements proved correct and a Jeep will just fit in the back of a 101. It’s tight, but with a set of 15 inch Suzuki SJ rims, no tyres and the steering wheel removed, we shall be able to have the roof on for the 2000 mile return trip.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Following in their tyre tracks.

It will be 70 years ago next year, that Ralph Bagnold was asked to form the Long Range Desert Group. Their forays behind enemy lines caused havoc amongst the Italian forces - blowing up airfields, destroying communication lines and knocking out remote desert outposts. They mainly used Ford and Chevrolet 30 cwt. trucks, but when David Stirling came along with his newly formed SAS, the Jeep gave them a big advantage in speed and manoeuvrability. Colossal distances were covered in heavily laden Willy’s MB’s and Ford GPW’s. Tales of heroic ‘walk outs’ are still unmatched today. Next Easter we shall be driving many of their routes - down to The Gilf el Kebir, 8 Bells, up to Shaw’s Cave, Big Cairn and finally, their base for much of the conflict, Siwa.

Full details will be on our web site, going live by mid October.

Link for the day!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Leaps and Bounds.

Back in September 2007 I detailed the rebuild of the first Jeep on the Blog, ‘1943 Jeep Rebuild’. (Scroll down to the bottom) That Jeep has now clocked up a trouble free 1500 miles and after a very small list of snagging problems have been sorted out, will be ready for it’s big Egyptian challenge.
The second Jeep rebuild will be detailed here, but not in so much detail, as it is much the same story.
Progress is going well, and on schedule for a completion at the end of October, or beginning of November. So far all the brakes and wheel bearing have been rebuilt with new parts and the floor of the body tub has been repaired with panels supplied by Jeeparts in Shrewsbury. The rolling chassis has now been painted in Desert Sand and the next stage will be fitting the body tub. The engine was a runner and we had an amusing run up and down the farm track with no brakes and little in the way of steering! It has now been fitted with a new clutch assembly and water pump and we shall reassess the engine condition when it’s easier to drive.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A Grand Plan

Four of us - Myself, John Carroll, Sam Watson and Mahmoud Marai, have long harboured the dream of driving authentic World War 2 Jeeps across the Sahara, following the routes taken by The Long Range Desert Group. With the first Jeep finished and having clocked up 1500 trouble free miles and the second nearing completion in the Matt Savage Overland Preparation Barn, plans are going well for this unique adventure next Easter . Many e-mails have been exchanged, but with John and Sam up in Yorkshire, me in Leicester and Mahmoud in Cairo, the opportunities to meet up are rare.
This month, Matt had a stall at the Peterborough Land Rover Show and us three Brits were all going, so as the show drifted from shopping to partying we met in Matt’s marquee for a barbecue (hence the smokey picture) and a chat to finalise plans.
This Blog will detail the build up to our Easter 2011 departure.
The main photo is a montage of the one finished Jeep, duplicated and set against a background of the Gilf el Kebir, shot back in 2004 on my last visit. The second shot is the four of us Brits - left to right, Matt Savage, in charge of Jeep rebuilds and helping me get both Jeeps to Venice to catch the ferry to Alexandria, Sam Watson, ex Cairo resident and expert of the Long Range Desert Group, John Carroll, life long Jeep enthusiast who has driven more Jeep miles, in more countries, than most and me, enjoying a beer!