Eben Delport recounts the very ambitious adventure that he was recently involved in – being in the recovery vehicle of the first commercial towing trip into the dunes of Namibia, featured elsewhere on the site. Eben, of course, went in his brand new Nissan Patrol.
By definition, a caravan is typically a house on wheels, or a vehicle equipped for living in, typically towed by a car and used for holidays. It can also refer to a “group of travellers, as merchants or pilgrims, journeying together for safety in passing through deserts or hostile territory”.
Whichever definition you feel comfortable with, it seems that caravans were meant for the desert. Or were they?
Recently I had the opportunity to drive along as a recovery vehicle with a caravan of caravans on their first excursion into the Namib “sand sea”. This trip was meant as a tester, so to speak.
With an assortment of vehicles (and attitudes) towing caravans and trailers, we wanted to see if it was possible, and whether it should be done at all. We also wanted to determine whether it would be worthwhile – an expedition worth repeating.
Initially it was a struggle – not only uphill, but downhill too. Getting used to towing a ton of metal through an already inhospitable environment doesn’t come easily.
Figuring out that a bit more speed can save your butt (yours and your caravan’s) sometimes takes a bit of time to get accustomed to! Not too much, just enough. Slipfaces? No problem. Just don’t slow down too much at the crest of the dune so that, when you negotiate the entire 38 degrees of sliding sand, your house on wheels comes thundering on behind you… and not past you.
Luckily, the caravans were fitted with tow strap loops, connected to either side of the axles to allow the recovery vehicle to retrieve the caravan safely, without jack-knifing. While I was hooking up the strap to my Nissan Patrol, the occupants had time to breathe, figure out a new angle of attack and in some cases, to discuss the upcoming divorce proceedings!
The pace of the convoy was never going to involve high speed, or a fifth gear for that matter. It is not a case of how slow your car is, but how fast your “house” is!
We stopped, we pushed, we pulled and we laughed. We arrived at camp at sunset. We tried that uphill again and again and again… and again, and we made it. All of us. With the caravans and trailers. And without any serious incidents.
The trip was a steep learning curve for all involved. We now know it is indeed possible to tow a caravan into, and out of, the Namib dunes.
Worthwhile? Most definitely. We will do it again. Soon!
Have tow ball, will travel!
Fuel consumption: Before this trip, I managed an average of 6km/l in traffic and around town. On the journey to the dunes, the roof rack was heavily loaded and I carried a lot of extra water, fridges and fuel. For the nearly 750km trip, of which 400km was in the dunes in mostly thick, heavy sand, the fuel consumption was 4km per litre.
Problems experienced: None.
Best attribute of Patrol on this trip: Apart from the enormous levels of comfort offered by the cabin, its brute power and ability to accelerate made it the ideal guide vehicle in Namibia. This was especially true over short distances where one needs to accelerate. The Patrol performs flawlessly in building up enough momentum (and keeping it) to achieve the goal in mind.
Worst attribute of Patrol on this trip: The suspension in the standard Patrol (60 Adventurer) is a bit too delicate to carry this type of heavy load. Even on normal gravel roads I could feel that it was taking punishment. Ideally, one would have to upgrade the suspension and shocks.
What I took along: 120-litre fridge/freezer fully loaded, 100 litres of water, 40 litres of extra fuel, standard camping equipment for two people, roof carrier and awning. Although the Patrol was heavily loaded, the weight was less than one would carry on a more extended trip, such as those into Kaokoland or Angola.
Interesting fact about the Patrol: The Patrol is fitted with a fixed front axle that, in my opinion, guarantees a relatively constant ground clearance while the body of the vehicle gets pushed up on uneven terrain. This, together with the approach, breakover, and departure angles – 37, 27 and 31 degrees respectively – ensures that one can tackle challenging obstacles with great confidence.
Despite the 135-litre fuel tank that offers about 750km, the Patrol is undeniably a thirsty vehicle and that reduces its range in sandy conditions.
What’s next? Zambia and Barotseland – an area where a lot of time is spent on dirt roads and sand tracks, although it’s not as challenging as dune driving.