Wahiba Challenge 2006

November 2006 (English only)

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How to drive across massive sand dunes with 20+ year old cars, using a hammer, a screw driver,  ty-raps, duct tape, and a T-shirt. 

Playing in a big sand pit.


A story of man and machine battling against nature.

More specifically the story of 7 men and a wannabe Barbie trying to cross the Wahiba Sands in their vintage cars.

The Cars

1979 Toyota Landcruiser;
Mohammed Al-Kindy
Peter Engbers

1985 Mercedes G-Wagen:
Bruce Lundberg
Roland Stoltz

1983 Nissan Patrol
Jan Schreurs
Henk Rebel

1986 Land Rover
Paul & Chantal Vlaarkamp

The Men and the Barbie

Team Vanguard, gifted with directional instinct, sometimes forgetting the other cars are not Toyota
Team Navigator, GPS talented, sometimes a bit lost but always waiting on his team
Team Advisory (sand) Board support, always digging deep to get going again
Team Solutions Manager, excellent PDO training
Team Executive (sand) Board, no more talking, but walking, sometimes overheating
Team Sand Dune Scientist, knowing theory and getting stuck in reality
Team Pragmatist; the man with the hammer
Team Wannabe Barbie, always running down

The Plan

Very simple: perpendicular to the dunes, from East to West through the Wahiba Sands (Al Sharquia Sands). Looks easy from outer space, but close to the ground there is some 30+ major linear dunes, 3-4 km wide and 60-100m high to conquer.

Approximate cross-section along the planned track. Vertical altitude in metres and horizontal distance in kilometres. Notice that the dunes increase in size (vertical) towards the west (right).  

The Story

Early October I received a phone call from Paul, indicating they needed an old car to join a team of vintage cars to participate in the 9th Wahiba Challenge. It did not need a lot of convincing, my Nissan Patrol is old and Paul is a strong man, so why not. Initial tests in the nearby Bausher Dunes increased confidence as the old cars seemed to cope rather well. The Nissan got some essential repairs, such as new tires, shock-absorbers and a general overhaul. We would take each 3 Jerry cans of Petrol and 3 boxes of water (one seemed to have special water for pregnant women, but we still don't know who took it), extra spare tires (not used at all), lots of rope (used a lot) and shovels (a lot as well), sand plates (essential) and Bruce's repair kit.

I know a bit about engines, but am certainly not an expert and was therefore putting complete confidence in the known fixing skills of Paul and Bruce.

Henk was keen to join as well, which was great as he is a true veteran of difficult Wahiba Challenges.

Peter joined Mohamed in the vintage Toyota, reputed to be the best car in the team, which turned out to be very true.

Bruce had two cars lined up, but was putting his faith in his Mercedes G Wagen, remembering poor performance of his other Nissan Patrol last year. Together with Roland he would man the last car in the convoy, always the most difficult in terms of recovering and driving through completely loose sand.

Paul's long-base Defender would be put to the test, certainly when comparing turning radius of the other cars as he repeatedly pointed-out. Chantal normally leaves her husband battling the elements on his own, but this was different and she was there -stand by your man-. Granted she ran down every steep slope, not trusting Paul, or the car, or both? Anyhow she was always first down while we were getting stuck.

Camping at Al Kamel, fit for the start. Some complaints about snoring and Henk chilled as he forgot his sleeping bag, claimed he had seen a camel spider, a fox and moaning about overactive chickens nearby.

Team consultation after receiving coordinates at the start. Seemed easy. 40 km to the camp.

Still easy going the first 10 km

Path-finding, not always easy

Trouble starts, fixing the ignition of the Nissan that became a regular happening. A spring from the bonnet got fixed to the carburetor to pull it back to lower revs. Nothing more difficult than to drive a 3000 rev car gently down a slope. Stiff feet from pushing the strengthened acceleration pedal. Bruce appeared to have seen it all before.

Early morning on the 2nd day in the middle of the sands after a quiet night. Rising at 05:30 We wanted to catch-up.
We did not make to the Wahiba Challenge camp location in the middle of the sands, but decided to call it a day 5km short of target. Initial quick progress got seriously slowed down by continuous Nissan engine trouble and getting stuck in more and more difficult places. Team patience and spirit remained high.  We enjoyed a great evening in a quiet sheltered spot with Peter cooking weird things from unreadable baggies, but tasting nice. No complaining about snoring this time and Henk found a good way of keeping warm rolled into a wadi carpet. Bruce taped his disconnected air filter with duct tape and declared it fit for purpose. A bit of shaking of the Mercedes got the petrol in the right tank completed a gentle tap on the bonnet. Man and machine.......

Trouble the next morning. The Nissan rumbled initially but refused to start the second time. Jump starting failed as well, but Bruce quickly traced the problem to the start motor. A screw-driver shorting the contact did the trick and a bit more cleaning work on the contacts solved the problem altogether later. Perhaps helped by a threatening hammer by Paul?

The Nissan won't start. Battery. No, as Bruce managed to get it going shortcutting contact on the start motor with a simple screwdriver. Impressive.

Paul preparing for his well tried methodology. Threatening the poor Nissan with the heavy hammer.
Engine trouble remained and the team decided to escape north, only to realise quite a bit later that we were in the middle of a discontinuous dune corridor with lots of soft sand filling regularly the inter dunes. No fast way out, but great slopes down and that's when Paul's Defender broke a shock absorber.

Down the slopes

And more slopes, with Chantal running down

Enjoying the moment

Sometimes enjoying too much

Let's not forget the scenery that we are desperately trying to avoid getting stuck in.

German grundlichkeit down the hill

Paul checking his broken shock absorber.

Fixing the coil-spring with ty-raps
One can drive without shock absorber, but it gets a bit shaky as the contents of the Vlaarkamp's coolboxes testified (at home a spoon had perforated a plastic food box; there must have been G-forces at work). A bit further down the track the unconstrained coil-spring tried to escape its fittings, but was quickly fixed in Bruce's ad-hoc repair shop with the ever so multi-purpose ty raps managing to keep it in place all the way back to Muscat.

The view steep down (that Chantal tried to avoid).

Bad combustion clogging the air filter. What can you expect when the engine runs 1/1. There goes a Bruce T-shirt, but it worked and even this car got out of the Wahiba sands and drove all the way home.
We were out at 14:00 hrs, of course discovering one tire was leaking after being submitted to extreme under fill (6 Psi). Back home at 18:00 hrs.


The real track, overall in the right direction on the first day, but with major deviations to about halfway and subsequently escaping to the north on the second day, following what should have been an easy way out, but which still was a challenge. The outlined area is shown in more detail below.

In close-up view it is clear to see how these dunes affected our progress after the first easy 10 km's.
Outlined area shown in 3D perspective below

3D view of the the four dunes near the 1st day camp. Notice the gradual eastern flanks, the tortuous crossing of the central part of the dunes and the straight dip down the slipfaces along the western side. Little dunes on top of the large linear dunes adding additional complexity as these hide the soft sands and virtual car traps in wind-blown holes. Compare the track to a low Ferrari trying to cross a speed bump?



No we did not make it, but the team spirit was great and as Chantal remarked later "you guys did not even talk about work at all"....

We are still friends and Paul and Chantal are still married.

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@ J. Schreurs November 2006