Wahiba Challenge 2008

November 2008 (English only)
VlaarKamp MakesKamp

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Thanks to Paul & Chantal Vlaarkamp, Charlotte Seegers, Bruce Lundberg, Mohammed Al Kindy, Talal Al Barwani, Francois Dorleans, Pierre Sentuc and Johnny de Leeuw.

The author does not take any responsibility for the notes in the little black books given to him and faithfully reproduced below. He is happy to have seen a Hummer in the wild for once.....


The Challenge

For me (and most of the others in the team) the third challenge already (see 2006, 2007). The 11th Challenge organised by the Ras Al Hamra Off-Road Adventure Club (ORAC) and again bigger than last year.

Basically to quote ORAC "The Wahiba Challenge is not a race"

The journey from east to west, crossing the big dunes, is not the easiest route through (the whimps go north-south), but not the most difficult either. Climbing the magnificent slip faces on western flank of the dunes is already difficult, let alone trying this with a car. Going down is another story and adds quite a lot to the overall excitement.

So much about the Challeng in broad terms. Our team had a specific Mission. As Bruce put it:

In an overwhelming positive vote, that did not include the Vlaarkamp's, the Old-is-Gold team has been renamed:  "VlaarKamp MakesKamp". This is in honour of Paul's third annual  & "last year in Oman" and his expressed desire to make camp and prove to the doubters that his green beast is up to The Challenge.

Mission

Vlaarkamp Must Make Kamp

Vision

The cars can do it, particularly the Green Beast

Preparations

Teams with cars exceeding 20 years of age do not need to qualify according to the ORAC rules. We decided to participate in the qualification anyhow to give the oldies (I mean the cars) a general rehearsal.  Good thing as "spilt milk" (more about this name later) did not make it to the sand in the first place, but stranded after 80 km on the motorway with a leaking gearbox, luckily in front of a garage. Francois, driving behind "spilt milk" noticed oil on his windscreen. Of course in good tradition we blamed the French thinking his yellow monster had done it again until we saw the steady drip of the Toyota in front. Leaving the problem for now (we are good at that kind of thing) the car was left in the garage and we continued the qualification with Mohammed's Toyota and Francois' Yellow Defender. With balloon tires the yellow monster's chances of making it increased dramatically, and that for a car that had to leave the Challenge last year at the first dune. After completing the tests without any difficulties we concluded that it was doable as longs as the cars would keep hanging together.

The Toyota was recovered to Ruwi so fast that we could not even finish our coffee back home.

Two days later "spilt milk" was up and running again. To quote Ed:

Thanks to Mohammeds awesome efforts in Ruwi the “geobug” (or as  Viviane prefers to call “no use crying over spilt milk” "spilt milk" for short – with reference to the high opex costs) is up and running,  with new gearbox seals and clutch (! – that was a surprise to wear it  out in 5k km – oil leak related?). 

Somehow Ed Follows had agreed to loan his "spilt milk" to the Oldies team, without joining himself. Vlaarkamp can be that convincing as we all know.

Now to our Captain's (Bruce) detailed instructions:

The beauty of an "old car" team has always been the attitude of the team members. It takes someone who really understands that it's the journey, not necessarily the destination, which matters.

That has always been the case, until this year. This year Paul must make Kamp.

That means the rules have changed:

  1. No unauthorized fun, smiles, and especially laughing.
  2. Speak to each other like Paul would. a. No need for first names (e.g. "Frenchman!" "American!" "Omani!" will suffice). b. If you must compliment someone, say it like it is a complaint.
  3. If you need to move faster and lighten the vehicle, simply force your "co-driver" to walk.
  4. Most importantly - no one, under any circumstances, practices yoga while we are trying to drive.

TIME MANAGEMENT

I know we all are competent, proven sand drivers. This section is some brief notes about managing our non-driving time. It's not just about driving...

  1. STUCK - This means you need assistance to proceed. Don't use the word "stuck" for difficulty in progressing (let's call that "sorting it out," or something like that). When we hear "stuck" on the radio, all will stop and wait for direction.
  2. Don't get "too stuck." Recognize when we are at risk of burying a car and stop the struggle. A quick pull out is exactly that, "quick."
  3. When stuck: a. Car behind is the first recovery vehicle (work together). Car ahead if it's the last vehicle stuck which is stuck. b. Don't come unless you are called for help. c. Stay close to your car (use the radio for info).
  4. Stop only in good locations. The starting area will have very soft sand. Even starting on the flat will be difficult!
  5. Don't start moving until you have a place to go. Try to avoid "stacking up" the cars.

For people that have not done the Challenge before this may read like a bit of fun, possibly even madness. Partly true, but the main reason that we made the challenge this year without any serious problems is because we followed these rules, except Paul and Francois that is to say (more on that later).

Francois has been so kind to source a cotton coverall (sandy color) which he adopted to suit each body size (even Mohammed) and became the team outfit with the team name printed in full glory with the exception of his own coverall which was required to print “Misuse me” (I have not seen that). These coveralls turned out to be covernotalls with missing legs used for pockets, some more than others.

Cultural differences do make life interesting, but how Napoleon conquered Europe (for a short time) remains incomprehensible and even more so after a trip with Francois and Pierre. BUT The Frenchman's car proved to be an unlimited source of gadgets, tools and, most important, food. This included an inexhaustible stock of chocolate and even grilled Canard. Very much appreciated by all. Breaking the above rules I believe a Merci Beaucoup is warranted.

To our surprise Bruce told us the only all-ladies team (Diva's) participating in the Challenge requested our protection at the campsite near the start on the eve of the Challenge. Was this because of a strong male protection factor, or because oldies are considered to be harmless? Anyhow it should have been quite a good reason as it must outweigh likely "nocturnal noises" from our campsite as Bruce warned (and were indeed rather distinct, not all from males though).

Dummy's guide to the Wahiba (Al Sharquiya) Sands.

Check-out the "Sharquiya sands; a window into the past".

The Wahiba Sands is a large dune area of some 12,000 square kilometres in east/central Oman (see map below). It is characterised by almost north-south trending large linear dunes, generally some 60 to 80 metres high, with a regular spacing of 2 to 3 kilometres. Easy stuff? Read on.

Most important to know: The longitudinal dunes that are the backbone of the Wahiba sands are aligned N-S,  in the direction of the strong winds of the SW Monsoon some 100,000 years ago at the end of the last glaciation. The dunes are modified by current wind circulation patterns with gentler winds of the northern monsoon that blows in the Wahiba area from the east during the early months of the year. The eastern winds developed the asymmetry of the large dunes with a steep slipface facing west. That's why we cross the dunes from east to west and your easy way out is to the North.

The sands in the northern part of the Whahiba’s are rich in ophiolite grains, derived from the magmatic rocks draping the Oman mountains. This makes no difference in terms of friction, but if you see black sand you are lost and too far north. 

Bushes on the dunes trap sand and can build large sand mounds in their quest for survival. They can also magnificent obstacles for cars descending the dunes too fast and are known to have caused quite some car damage. Some interdune areas seem to have hosted temporal lakes during wetter conditions. Do not get overconfident when crossing these relative flats. There are always little bumps that can cause confrontations between roofs and heads in which the roof always wins.

Early mornings can be chilly and quite wet with fog from the sea. Mind the strong winds in late afternoon. Ladies need a husband in the sleeping-bag (read on if you want to understand this remark)

The Al Sharquiya (formerly Wahiba) sands in East-central Oman, just south of the Eastern Hajar Mountains and above the island of Masirah. Notice the darker sand in the north near wadi Batha and the ophiolites.
 

The Team: Vlaarkamp Makeskamp

Team captain Bruce Lundberg

  • Car 1: 1983 Nissan Patrol, Bruce Lundberg & talal Al Barwani. "The Green Hornet"
  • Car 2: 1982 Toyota Landcruiser, Mohammed Al Kindy & Charlotte Seegers "Abu Shenab"
  • Car 3: 1981 Toyota Landcruiser, Johnny de Leeuw & Jan Schreurs, "Spilt Milk"
  • Car 4: 1985 Paul & Chantal Vlaarkamp, Landrover Defender, "Green Beast"
  • Car 5: 1985 Francois Dorleans, Pierre Sentuc, Landrover Defencer, "The Yellow Frenchman"


From left to right (excluding the orange guy): Jan (proposing to guy), Talal (cap wrong way around), Charlotte (waving behind Talal), Mohammed (smiling behind sunglasses), Chantal (just caught a big fish), Paul (showing his back, but that is probably better as well), Bruce (you just see his cap, admires Paul's front), Johnny (selling coffee), Pierre (kept at bay by), Francois (always happy).

Below in same order, but for once Paul behaving and Bruce sticking out behind Chantal's even bigger fish/

For those initiated.

The Nissan Patrol is an old power horse, more engine than car, but Bruce had it fitted with balloon tires and that makes all the difference. Some in our team described is as a grill on wheels (from the back there is something in it).

The Abu Shenab is the favourite of the Bedouin. The name is reflecting the big "moustache-like" bumper featuring at the front. It is much smaller than the modern luxurious LandCruiser wagon and also a lot lighter because there’s a lot less of it. The car has a great power-weight ratio (but that of course depends on drivers as well). We had two of these without balloon tires, but proven in previous challenges as a good all round workhorse.

The two Defenders have a lot of feeling, but being Landrovers we also needed hammers. With balloon tires the biggest problem turned out to be the drivers getting side by side stuck on the same kink.



The Story

This time the story is written by notes made during the Challenge. Francois distributed dozens of small black booklets and I still find them between my clothes, in the coolbox, back in the car. Only two were used for the purpose that they were intended for (although we were never sure what they were all about) and their valuable contents are literally listed below.

We drove along the new coastal Highway to Sur and amazingly arrived without loosing a single car.

19 November:

Bruce contemplating at the campsite on the eve of the Challenge: "if we get to the end of it will be like doing good work at PDO: nobody notices".


The now famous VlaarKampMakesCamp Logo


Bruce collapsing a self-foldable tent. That's the plan. Self?


Part of the team at the campsite; from left to right: Chantal, Paul, Jan, Johnny, Francois, Bruce.

20 November

  • @7:50 Left from starting point
  • @8:15: at the dunes Chantal: “don’t trust the Frenchman”. Francois: “I am so Happy”. Charlotte saw Paul and Bruce doing something what looked like yoga or was it pointing in a direction? Pierre was corrected in that he was not supposed to talk in private with Chantal on the radio. Bruce is in such a hurry and wants to go straight. Paul at a big dune “is Bruce trying to do it backwards?”
  • It must be said that Charlotte and Chantal have confusing similar voices, but that did not matter as both of them stopped using the radio's anyhow (and discovering much later that had accidentally switched off).
  • @9:45 Paul seems to be on tow of what looks like quality toilet paper.
  • @9:45 Paul was desperate for some socializing and proposed a team yoga stop
  • @9:55 Paul got worried when he saw small bumps coming up “this is not nice”
  • @10:00 Tanuf bottles to pull (and ages to unravel in camp) another French plan…
  • @10:30 Jan and Johnny got lost but were rescued by Mohammed. Not everybody has balloon tires.
  • @10:33 Paul notices that Bruce refuses to take the easy route
  • @10:45 we had not had a break yet. Chantal :”he does not only want to make camp, he wants to be 1st as well”
  • @11:00 first real problem with Paul’s flat tire on a dip. It took 40 minutes and all of Francois’ gear (we think), which included in random order: a pneumatic wrench, a high pressure tank of Nitrogen, a suicidal high jack with extension, a normal jack, a hammer to hammer the jack down, a double capcity airpump, pumping two tires in one go and a block of wood that split.
  • @13:25 arrival in camp, to everybody's big surprise. Boring as well as we did not know what to do except untying the knots with the Tanuf bottles. Not in the plans.
  • @13:40: Paul made a compromise by moving camp away from base camp but not too far. He admitted making a compromise. Bruce: ”Wow, it takes a man to admit that”.
  • @15:00 Chantal manages to get the bottles out of the tow-rope-knots. Not strength but persistence. Poor Paul.

Reviewing the day around the campfire:

  • Chantal has not been running down the slopes as in past years. Were we driving too fast or did she actually get more confidence in her husband?
  • Chantal: we use ducktape in connection to a discussion on big slips. Mohammed remarked innocently the Chantal has a big mouth, but somehow got out of the discussion remembering undoubtedly Chantal's feat with the knots.
  • Chantal remarked to Talal “you could be my child” which caused some confusion and visible fear on Tatal's face. No idea where that remark originated from, but Paul must know.
  • Mohammed confirmed that having Charlotte in the car was much nicer than having Talal.
  • Johnny subsequently confirmed that he was not in labour (context very uncertain).
  • Jan confessed that he mixes up Lilian with her sister (from behind, at least here the context is clear as we were discussing the similarity in voice patterns of Chantal and Charlotte)
  • Bruce’s 25 year old Patrol was seen to pull-in a new Pirates Monster Jeep.
  • When temperatures dropped in the evening Mohammed found his Inca blanket. Paul felt so cold he would not mind Mohammed on his lap to get that blanket which led Mohammed to explain that a “real man shares".
  • Admiring the covernotalls Chantal & Charlotte got sidetracked in a discussion on liposuction and skin leftovers, which Francois advised to fix like the pockets on her covernotall. Chantal got shwarma from Jan while she had asked for chocolate.

French tools, but the plan was less clear

Changing tires? Mohammed holds all

Bruce, ignoring Mohammed's advise - and regretting it immediately (right).

The only time we had to do some real pulling

And the rope gets longer with bottles

Chantal and Jan arguing about the same bottles. Chantal won (of course)

21 November

In the early morning Charlotte exclaimed that she needed a blanket and a husband.

  • @7:20 Departure.
  • @7:40 The French nearly capsized
  • @10:30 Francois proposed to Paul to drive down on the slip stream side of every dune whatever that is.
  • The French get overconfident. Paul gets stuck and Francois parks his car next to him, connects the cable and confidently explains that he will pull Paul while sliding down. Paul quietly remarked that considering the two cars being the same and being now "parked" on the same place on the kink he expects Francois to be stuck as well. This theory was quickly confirmed and the Nissan had to do the job.
  • @12:15  Arrival finish 12:15 (which could have been 11:45 if it were not for Paul and Francois violating one of the prime rules set-out above and getting stuck brotherly together on a kink). 
  • @14:15 Changing tires in Al Mintrib again.
  • @16:00 The Frenchman has a blowout, but the team quickly took control, changing tires again. Balloons come at a price.....
  • Chantal and Paul provide rearguard protection to a lonely Daihatsu straddler from the real hazards of this challenge: reckless driving fast cars on the motorway.
  • @18:30 ORAC BBQ, agreeing that Hummers should stay on the road after hearing about the Nawras team trying to fly one.
  • @21:00 Charlotte fell from the back of the green truck when unloading, blaming her slipper (undoubtedly because there was no Frenchman around).

The French after a cold night

Paul, as usual "a slip too far"
The full track of this event (Google Earth kmz file, zipped, WGS 84) is linked here. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer you just need to click on this file to open it (unzip and click on the file) and presto the tracks are there.

Kmz track + pictures


Changing tires at Al Mintrib (again)

Profile actually driven, from left (East) to right (West). Note the change in the amplitude of the dunes. One wonders what kind of sound would come with this pattern. The rumbling sound of the singing dunes we heard while descending the steep slipfaces?

Wahiba Challenge2008 facts

Provided by the ORAC directly after the event: •

  • We had ca. 140 vehicles and ca. 280 participants.
  • Out of 31 teams, 25 arrived at the campsite. The bikers were the first. The 1st non-bikers team arrived at 12:30, the last just before the cut-off time (17:45).
  • The number of teams that reached the finish is still unclear, since the GPS tracks are unavailable. The bikers were the first again…
  • Zaher’s recovery team made 7 official recovery trips (last year – only 2!), whereby 6 cars have been recovered successfully. The 7th car is still somewhere in the desert and could not be recovered so far, since its precise coordinates are not available (the Recovery Team spent this whole afternoon trying to find the right spot). The recovery happened on “first come, first served”. The 1st damaged car was a H2 that could not be towed due to severe wheel damage. Its recovery took very long and cost a lot of efforts leading to delays in recoveries of other teams. “Officially” recovered vehicles: 1 Land Rover, 1 Land Cruiser, 1 Hummer H2, 3 Jeep Wranglers.

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@ J. Schreurs November 2008

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