The Sahara Challenge 2015

Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015

Day 6 - Erfoud to Erg Chebbi

We've come over all Beau Geste.

There's something about a Saharan dawn that brings out the legionnaire in all of us and as a result most were up and about and on parade quite early, even though there was a late start today…. 11.30 to be precise which gave crews time to swim / fix cars / do laundry / sleep in (delete appropriate).

Barbara and Nicholas Philips took the first option. David Roberts had taken the second. In fact he and Keith Ashworth and the sweep teams had worked long into the night trying to get to the bottom of the trouble with the Triumph.

The feeling was good by the time they packed away their tools and this morning, well before breakfast, David along with Andy Inskip took the TR on a test ride. Fingers crossed that they've sorted it.

We also learned over breakfast that Luc Maruenda and Ian Robertson arrived late  last night because they'd broken a fuel line. A little local expertise saw them pulling into the Kasbah compound just as dinner was drawing to an end. Better late than never as we say.

Once we started rolling down the road, alongside women clinging to the back of  motorcycles swathed in jet black abaya's billowing in the wind we could see just how much this part of Morocco was so very different from all we'd seen before.

We've swapped olive trees for date palms for example as the most abundant vegetation and around here the fossil industry is alive and well here as is the camel milk cafe trade. We were heading to an oasis for a barbecue lunch though so we didn't need anything from the latter establishments.

Before we could eat though there was a Test to negotiate with a little navigation thrown in to keep the occupants of the second seat on their toes - so to speak - as camels, oasis and…. telecoms masts flashed past. How the modern world is encroaching.

The fishing party had also set up an impromptu mid-morning halt complete with parasols Tuareg head dress and cigars. A Vauxhall, a Model A and a Lagonda made a fine sight pulled round in a rough arc in the middle of nowhere.

Lunch itself was a fine affair set among the shady palms. Cars were parked up some 400 metres across a dry Oued which ran deep with sand rather than water. This was really only passable by a 4x4 but Bill 'hang onto your hat' Cleyndert gamely offered to ferry Rally Director Fred Gallagher across. It was not that Fred minded the walk it was more that Fred couldn't wait to get to sit in Betsy, the Silver Bullet. With a lot of bouncing, grunting and creaking all three of them made it.

The afternoon was given over to the Erg Chebbi desert experience. Anthony Preston, route designer and Clerk of the Course had written a note in the route book that teaching someone how to drive in sand could not taught with a few words. It's a case of doing it yourself and learning from your mistakes. With this advice ringing in their ears then the crews set out into the dunes to slalom their way through three tests and a lot of soft sand. It was going to be a tough few hours for some, but one that would surely live long in the memory.

Local 4x4 vehicles had been stationed at regular points along the route to help anyone who found themselves stuck and, by and large they were keep pretty busy although Willemen Voorvart and Susanne Levy driving their Model A chugged on through without so much as a hiccup. The two Porsche's of Edmund Peel and Sarah MacDonald and Gavin and Diana Henderson fairly flew across it, their Tutuhill engines screaming defiance in the face of the sinking soft stuff.

Sia and Eric in their Mercedes 300d made it look all too easy as did Keith Ashworth and Jean Steinhauser in their respective Bentley's.

Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey however, who are back with us after having some Mini parts for their rear suspension fabricated locally. Unfortunately they bogged down mid-way through one particular section. Ground clearance and small wheels stacked the odds against themselves somewhat.

At the end of the Rally day we were taken back into the dunes on another form of transport. A camel trek through the dunes had been organised to watch the impressive sunset with a beer or a gin and tonic. This proved to be the perfect way to round off a perfect day.

Tonight we were supposed to be camping but, on arrival at the campsite we realised that we'd been misled. We were actually glamping. In a fold of the orange tinged dunes a tented village had been set up. Individual tents were furnished with a sofa, beds, a wash stand, mains electricity, carpets and en suite shower and toilet. Dinner was served under a canvas canopy whilst local musicians drummed and sang outside.

After such a day as this there have been some changes to the leaderboard.

Mike Velasco and Peter St George really have the bit between their teeth now after their setback yesterday and are tied to teh second with Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti for first equal in the Classics category whilst Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman sit in third.

The Vintageants are still being headed up by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second in their Bentley Derby. The Ashworth Bentley has moved up to third as Jo Robillard dropped time today due to a broken suspension arm on his Chevy. He's still running car needs a little work this evening.

Syd Stelvio



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