Build Update – It’s getting there!

On 5th October Anton wrote

“The vehicle ramp was delivered to the engineering firm beginning of last week.

Most of the parts have been drawn up ready for the water cutter. We have phoned them this morning for an update and will keep pestering them for final prices / timings.

Paul and I have looked at the known costs (bearing in mind we are awaiting engineering costs) and estimate the cost of the rear ramp system at least 2.5k – no more 3k.

The Azalai will be completed end of next week. This might not necessarily include the ramp fitted (relying on engineering co. to cut parts and make pivots). However this at least means you can take the vehicle away returning it for the ramp fitting.”

Therefore we are hopeful that the Azalai will be in attendance for the great car wash on Saturday 16th October at chez Tisdall, if you haven’t already booked your slot please hurry so you don’t miss the opportunity to see the van in the flesh!!!

We have also booked to attend the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) ‘Explore’ weekend (12-14th November) and now need to sort out accommodation so if anyone knows anyone with a spare room in Kensington or a large drive that we can park the van on please do get in touch. This week we are attending the local RGS lecture at Kelly College – the topic being Expedition Medicine: Desert and Jungle and on Thursday we have the first presentation regarding the trip to the Rotary Breakfast Club at The Belgrave Hotel. Rich has spent many hours on this in his usual perfectionist way and I’m sure the group are in for a treat.

I have been trying to contact the Ethiopian Embassy to look at how to obtain our visa if it is no longer possible to get this in Kenya nor get a post dated visa, I’m still awaiting reply after resending my initial email – the Ethiopian Embassy has spelt their email address incorrectly on their website!!!

Taking Delivery of the Azalai

Well it’s got there – just about. Today we went over to OEC to collect the Azalai from OEC. We arrived late in the afternoon and found the guys hosing her down (luckily for Alicja who otherwise might have found that she was carwashing it at her fundraiser tomorrow!)

The tail-lift is still being fabricated and we will need to take it over to GM Coachworks to get the hand-controls refitted – so it was left to Rachel to bring the Azalai home. Paul ran through the various systems and controls, and Anton presented us with a bottle of champagne – one of only six in existence, especially bottled to celebrate the Azalai. (The six were a gift from a French customer). It was a really nice touch and something we both really appreciated. None of the others have even been opened yet.

We will be going back in a few weeks or so to get the tail-lift fitted, when Paul returns from his well-earned holiday. In the meantime it will be a bunk-up and ‘arse-ing it’ in.

We have had a busy week regarding all things expedition. Tuesday saw us in Tavistock at a Royal Geographical Society lecture by James Moore, Expedition Medic and Director of Travel Health Consultancy. It was a great presentation as he recounted various tours he had medic’d on (including Joanna Lumley’s ‘Nile’ series). I think we will be in touch again imminently with regard to us seeking advice for our trip. As it happens James had already seen our website and knew of our plans. Another bonus is that his practice is in Exeter – another great local discovery for us.

On Thursday I gave our first talk on the expedition. It was to ‘The Sunrise’ branch of the local Rotary. The clue was in the name and I should have twigged sooner that they meet at 0700! Still they were a great audience and I hope that they got something out of the presentation. Certainly it was a chance to highlight the work of

So just a quick post to mark the day we took delivery. I’m sure we will be blogging much more frequently as we get acquainted with the Azalai.

Thanks to all at OEC from both of us.

If you want to see the vehicle come over to Alicja’ car-wash at Chez Tisdall, Saturday (16th Oct) we will be there most of the day – and bring donations too as Alicja is collecting for the cause.

First Night

We have just had our first night in the Azalai, safely in the grounds of the splendid Porth Mawr B+B in Crickhowell, S Wales. The parents have booked the annexe for a week and so it seemed like a safe place to try things out.

Porth Mawr, Paula and a great view towards the Brecon Beacons

So what have we learned?

1 The Azalai is compact – I think we need to learn who stands where when things are being set-up eg lowering the bed, opening the toilet door etc. It will be a squeeze if the dog was in there too! However it all worked fine on night one – and so will only get easier

2 The Azalai is extremely comfy. The upper bunk is surprisingly large (but inevitably no headroom to speak of)

3 The shower is fantastic.

4 The toilet is ideal.

5 The cab is alarmed (found out as I pinged a cushion through from the pod into the cab at 0700h!)

6 95l of water is not a lot if you are showering (about 2-3 days worth for two people) – even though you can be very conservative with the Azalai’s well designed shower control.

7 And Rachel has learnt that if you are emptying the toilet waste you should put the bung in to not spill shitty water all over the parents’ bathroom floor (luckily tiled not carpet!)

Anyway the grandparents have just come over for lunch, and Daryl, Sarah, Owain and (birthday boy) Nye are on their way over – so just a quick blog entry to say that we are very pleased with things so far.

PS From return trip can vouch for Defender cab heating to be non-existent or broken.

Dual Tank fueling issues

We were staying with friends at the excellent Bickleigh Farm (great Birthday Party Adele – thank you) – with the intention of sleeping in the van. The first night was fine despite the outside temperature dipping below zero. However in the morning we tried to boil some water for a cup of tea which causes a heavy draw on the battery via the inverter. We switched the engine on to mitigate this, but the inverter cut-out. We switched the engine off but then the Azalai’s PC-200 control unit (for the lights and water-pump) simply died. Checking the fuses and trips showed no problem. We sent a text to Anton (OEC) to see whether there was anything else obvious that we were missing. A few minutes later Paul (OEC) called and we established that everything had been done other than checking the two ‘main’ fuses situated in the battery compartment. They were fine though. We agreed that we would need to look at the unit when the van goes in (for preliminary tail-lift fitting) this week. It was great of OEC to phone ’round  their staff and get back to us despite it being the weekend. They were surprised that unit could fail as it has a reputation for reliability.

29/11/10 UPDATE: It was the 50 amp main fuse that had blown (as it’s supposed to if the current draw on the battery is excessive) – slapped legs for Rachel and a course in ‘How to Tell if Your 50 Amp Fuse has Blown’ (I was in the back in my pants – too shy and too cold averse to go outside into the cab – so obviously not my fault!).  Solution:  hob kettle rather than electric.

Of course we would rather these snags work themselves out early; and luckily there was room in Bickleigh Farm for Saturday night so no harm done (other than losing another night’s testing and proving opportunity).

However, that wasn’t the last of it. We decided to fill up on diesel after the short drive home from the South Hams. We had noticed that the main and auxiliary tanks were remarkably showing the ‘same’ level. We wondered whether this was due to a [further] malfunction with air in the system. To check we thought we’d just fill-up the main tank then compare the two readings. Job done, and with the main tank showing full, I switched back to the auxiliary and drove-off – only for the vehicle to stall on the exit from the garage. We had the ignominy of sitting there, bonnet-up, with a busy pre-Christmas Sainsbury shopper audience waiting for the AA!

It turns out that continued cranking of the starter (minutes) will draw fuel through (I had tried that to an extent but chickened out of pushing things far enough for fear of overheating the starter motor or flattening the battery. It is important to make sure that in extended cranking, to make sure that the starter motor does get time to cool – So if it happens to you crank for a minute or two then stop to let the starter cool, then try again…..). The AA chap explained that the Puma engine was “a pig” to bleed and suggested that it might be worth installing a feeder pump into the set-up to counteract the ingress of air back into the feeds. We’ll put that to OEC this week too. From early experience it does seem that the set-up is prone to air lock related problems at switch-over of tanks.

29/11/10 UPDATE: OEC advise that due to the relatively long construction of the auxiliary tank, the contents will slosh and pool to one end depending on the attitude of the vehicle: Nose-down or braking puts the fuel towards the front of the tank and might break the feed (which is at the rear). Solution: Don’t run the auxiliary tank much below a third full. (We had 20 litres remaining when we had the problems at the garage)


Not for the first time has this been a significant date for me. [As the avid reader would know] In 1986 I turned out for our local college XV for a scratch Rugby game (on a Sunday that was much warmer than it is in 2010 I recall!) only to paralyse myself in a clumsy ball reclamation. Inevitably that set life off in a direction that was probably different to what it might have been. Such is fate and regardless it’s how we got to where we are today, on the verge of this project.

I was in hospital for a year (Duke of Cornwall Spinal Unit, Salisbury) and then worked in Torbay Hospital’s cytology department for a while before moving to Exeter to train as an Occupational Therapist. Life has been pretty dandy since and the career has been varied and interesting. I have met some great people along the way. However time to break more ’30/11′ news…..    I have left work to concentrate on the Expedition planning. It’s either a very stupid thing or a very clever thing; but it seems the right thing. I had been working on a project that had just about reached its conclusion, and certainly I think I had reached the end of being able to contribute many more ideas or innovations to it – so the timing was good. That said after working in Public Sector as a main job for pretty much all of my adult life, it is still a little scary. Actually signing the job away felt a little like stepping off the Bloukran’s Bridge bungy – only over a much protracted time period. Hopefully the metaphorical fall will be, relatively speaking, just as swift – so that the fun and reassurance of the rebound and bouncing around bit kicks in pronto. In the meantime, “I feel a little strange.”

In the meantime I’d like to thank my wonderful colleagues who had a great whip ’round and have raised £100 for I was particularly struck by some of the gang from ‘back in the day’ taking the time and effort to get in touch with some really kind (witty and honest) sentiment. It was greatly appreciated (you know who you all are!). I wish you all the very best.

The departure terms were discreet, but suffice to say entirely mutual. This is very much a new beginning, although Fu Manchu like, I can’t help but wonder whether the NHS “will hear from me again!”

Getting tight on the build

We’re still waiting for the tail-lift, but I’ve been over to OEC to see it progressing. Paul is waiting for some solenoids to arrive to operate locking-pins to secure the lift in it’s various positions (to take the strain off the hydraulics when the lift is stationary). Even on it’s work-stand it looks a work of beauty! It’s incredible to think that the steel components were cut using high-pressure water!  The wait is frustrating as I can’t really use the Azalai ‘casually’ until the access is resolved – and therefore I can’t prove it for my use, least-ways not to the degree needed to be expedition assured. I have asked OEC to give us a delivery deadline on this as frankly, come the New Year, we will only have 16 weeks max to shake-out any glitches and then resolve them.

Further, until the lift is on I am unable to independently transport my wheelchair in the van. This is another, significant limitation in my being able to get out there with the vehicle too.

It would be really cool if the ramp was fitted in time for the Land Rover Driver Training course provided by Land Rover Experience early in the New Year. We have booked camping so it really would be a boon!

The whole thing (including hydraulics) will be pushing 90-100kg so it’s no insignificant drain on payload, but it is probably as light as it can be.

Some additional mod’s lined-up for OEC to provide/fit over the next couple of weeks are: Uprated headlamp bulbs (the Defender’s standard issue really are poor), fitting a socket for Anderson jump-leads, adding an additional curtain to retain items in ‘the bathroom’ of the Azalai (basically to stop me knocking stuff off the shelf into the toilet), fitting replacement rheostats for the defective seat heating ones from Exmoor Trim, and mounting a shovel to the front wing.

We have had a very kind and generous donation from Amber’s Fund and wish to record our appreciation to Richard Baker and the Trustees. Rachel and I agreed early on in the project that when people choose to donate to the Indlovu Trans-Africa Drive, that we would in turn incur an arbitrary 10% ‘tax’ of a donation to Motivation.Org.UK from our salaried pay. This together with direct donations from individuals has now reached over £1000 I’m pleased to say. Our target is £3000 (at least) so please consider donating  to Motivation directly if you haven’t already. If you are a UK taxpayer the money can be gift-aided too, which adds to the amount Motivation get at no extra cost to you – courtesy of the Taxman.

I’d also like to thank TCT’s Brixham Zone for their kind support and words of encouragement following my leaving work at the end of last month. It was another reminder of how many good people work for the NHS in Torbay. Good luck for the future and best wishes to you all. Please do stay in touch via the website and email.


I’ve spent an ‘irritating’ day researching visa requirements (or at least updating the info I already had collated). Current thinking is that most visas can be obtained at borders. Ethiopia remains a challenge if going north due to it expiring 3 months from date of issue (unless it’s a work visa). I’ll post the Excel worksheet with our notes for all countries when we’ve finished deciding which few warrant pre-arrangement. Trailfinders charge about £35-£55 for their ‘running about London’ service, The Visa Company about £75 – remember this is on top of the consular charges. All in all it’s probably cheaper than going up to the big smoke in person – but also we might be able to mitigate costs further by posting applications.

It seems despite finishing the day job I can’t yet escape being sat on my backside in front of a computer!

Finishing touches

Dropped the Azalai off at OEC today to get the finishing touches completed. Everyone is optimistic we’ll get there before Christmas, but the manufacturers of the solenoids (to operate the tail-lift locking-pins) have consistently reneged on promised delivery dates over the last few weeks. Anyway, regardless everything else can happen: Uprated headlamp bulbs (the Defender’s standard issue really are poor), fitting a socket for Anderson jump-leads, adding an additional curtain to retain items in ‘the bathroom’ of the Azalai (basically to stop me knocking stuff off the shelf into the toilet), fitting replacement seat heating (as the original rheostats were defective in design), and mounting a shovel to the front wing.

Hopefully there’ll be time to get decals on too for Prosport Insurance Services for professional sportspeople and Bishop Fleming accountants.

In other news:

It may be that we can tack a bush medicine course onto the back of the upcoming driver training too. It will mean hot-footing cross country but that will only add to the chance to give the Azalai a good testing. More details if all the bookings come together.

I’ve got a couple of shipping quotes (either side of £3k, 40ft Hi Cube container) – but interestingly it looks like slow-steaming is en vogue as the estimated transit time is 30 days [on the quote that specified]. This means shipping early April and flying out pretty much as soon as possible after our leaving party 29th April (in the Marquee NARFC, the last fundraiser but more importantly a chance to see everyone before we drop off the scene for a while!). I’m going to do some checking on flight prices (given all of the bank holidays around that time) and then book the shipping to suit. Sailings are weekly so there is a small amount of leeway.

The time-frame means that he Carnet will need to be arranged so it can ship with the vehicle early April.

Also much thanks to Algy & Dianne for their support and best wishes.

Tail-lift snag

OEC kindly dropped Paula back to us this morning sporting a few enhancements. The headlamp bulbs have been uprated, a shovel has been mounted on (Rachel’s!) wing, the seat heating has been replaced and the tail-lift hydraulics are in place. So we are all set for the rest of the winter. However the tail-lift isn’t yet on. The solenoids’ blurb had professed that they could push 20kg, but Paul (OEC) found that their movement could be stopped just by one’s finger! Another headache for him as he has to think of a new solution. He thinks that going up is OK as the platform could lift the pins through a gate type latch (makes sense). The problems are around releasing them again (in such a manner that I can operate the release from being on the platform) and releasing the hinge. At least Paul has a break over Christmas to think about it and I’m sure he’ll have a Eureka moment.

So it won’t be in for the driver training at Eastnor and the WMT course – but OEC are sure it will all be done by the end of January.

In the meantime we hope that you all have a great Christmas break….

Planning update

As we go into the New Year poignantly we can anticipate the end of our yet to be embarked trip! We will be back by this time next year, and that’s a reminder of how little time there is left to get things together. Paul Gowen from the RAC has been in touch recommending we apply for the Carnet imminently. Some shipping companies have returned quotes. Visa requirements are starting to make sense. We have spent a small fortune on guidebooks (mainly Bradt, as I find them to be generally the best, although a few others publishers have made it based on Amazon’s ratings).

We are also very much looking forward to  few days away in the Azalai. The Land Rover driver training at Eastnor will be both fun and informative, and Wilderness Medicine Training for Explorers in Oxford provides the other half of an intensive but crucial four days.

On the route front, a top-tip in Land Rover Monthly magazine highlighted that the Visemar Line are operating a new Alexandria-Venice service throughout the year. We may well take advantage of this for a couple of reasons:

• More time in Africa

• UK to Jordan probably warrants its own, dedicated trip in the future (taking more time than could be afforded on this trip)

The cost is just a little shy of £1000 for both of us, the Azalai, and a cabin for the 60 hour trip. Good value when compared with many channel ferry prices!

Completion of the tail-lift remains a priority. OEC have promised end Jan – which is pretty much as late as we can feasibly lapse delivery. If the van needs shipping to Africa early April in order to arrive early May, then you can see we are only left with eight weeks’ proving time.