Bob's Bash 2002 (by Camel Trophy Club member David Hatherill)
There seems to be something wrong with owning a Camel Trophy vehicle and not actually using it off road. To ensure this state of affairs never arises Bob Ives, winner with his brother Joe of the 1989 Amazon event, stages an annual event on his farm known as Bob's Bash. A quiet drive in the country this is not, and it's certainly not for the fainthearted; but that's the intention. The objective is to recreate the authentic Camel Trophy atmosphere and to organise an event that mirrors the type of off-roading encountered on the event distilled into a couple of days: and who better to know what that means than Bob?
Proceedings start on Friday evening after setting up camp with a visit to Bob's local where we find Jerry Gatley (Team UK 1986). Needless to say some beer is consumed (no one will be short of Dutch courage the next day!) before finally retiring for the night. A somewhat leisurely start is in order whilst we wait for people arriving early on Saturday morning. The first hour or so is spent with some winching practice and yours truly uses the opportunity to rewind his winch cable onto the drum after being judged second most scruffy winch cable by Duncan Barbour. We then trundle over to one of the other farms and do some choreographed runs across the fields for the cameras. Nothing to taxing so far, but I'm being lulled into a false sense of security.
Things then start in earnest. We arrive at the edge of a chalk pit and Bob announces that we have to get down to the bottom and out the other side and no, we can't drive round the end the easy way. After some hacking with machetes we discover the the drop is not vertical, it just looks vertical (about 20 feet to the bottom).
We have Chris Colley with us who decides he'll have a go at driving down. Being ex-army he no longer understands fear. Off he sets and shortly arrives at the bottom still apparently in one piece, although he appears to have taken a wasps nest out on the way, and they aren't best pleased, but hey, this is Camel Trophy and the nearest we can get to poisonous tropical insects. Having arrived at the bottom we discover the way out is about 45 degrees steepening to about 60 degrees at the top: winches out boys. By winching and driving assist in low first he's out before too long. It is determined that those who haven't been to Bob's before have to do this as an initiation.
Shortly it's my turn and the 110 arrives in one piece at the bottom intact, so far as I know. According to the textbooks this descent should be carried out in low first with no brakes. This I do, but the presence of a number of bumps and holes causes the vehicle to bounce quite a lot so it's not quite as controlled as you would wish, but this is the real world, not a prepared off road track. By the time it's my turn to winch up the other side we've got enough vehicles across to be pulled up by two others, which speeds things up no end. As the last cars go through the top has been warn away enough for Guy Shepherd to make it up without the aid of winch or pull, although both front wheels leave the ground as he comes over the crest, something Guy's a bit renowned for. Once we're all through we move on.
A quiet drive round more of the Ives estate brings us to what appears to be a hedge, but what's this? There's a couple of Camel Trophy banners about a vehicle width apart. This Bob tells us is the chosen route. So out with machetes again and we hack our way through into a wooded area, and there are markers to show us the way the route goes, but that's not to say the route has been prepared: It's been marked. That's not quite the same thing.
First person in is Geoff White with his Discovery. It's over the drop and sharp round to the left on a side slope. I have to say that side slopes are my least favourite thing, but at least Bob's there to give advice. Some shunting in the trees and Geoff' is through the worst of it (for now) and up a gully the other side. Paul Blackburn takes the alternative route and narrowly misses a substantial tree. I'm not to sure whether it was luck or judgement. Anyway the invite said "non damaging(ish)".
Once we're all out the gully we follow a winding course in the trees before arriving at a gully of about six feet deep and about 25 feet wide. Next to this are some telegraph poles. Methinks some bridge building may be in order, and sure enough it is. We've only got four long poles and one short one so options are reasonably limited, so it's a short one diagonally for support, and two lashed together each side. Bob then tells us that he can't vouch for the strength of them, but no ones allowed to chicken out. No one is about to. We all do it, including Louis Radford's workshop truck, which still having all his tools in weighs a bit more than some of the others. The bridge holds out but we're not out of the woods yet. Over a bank we go and into a hollow, up a steep bank the other side and onto a flat area. Looking around amongst the undergrowth all I can see is Sandglow Land Rovers: Fantastic. There appears to be no way out until we spot that the route seems to head off into a Christmas tree plantation, and no it hasn't been thinned out. Mark Phillips heads in first and all I can see is his back door.
Next thing I see is him turning and shunting whilst the tops of trees can be seem waving as they're driven into. Shortly its my turn and I head into the undergrowth, trees branches hitting the windscreen and scraping down each side. At the same point I turn and after much shunting emerge. Only then can I see we're in the same field we started in. I think I picked up a few scratches and dents in the trees there, but with a Camel vehicle it's always a bit difficult to know. Bob finally arrives, and tells us he meant to cut a couple of trees down, but hadn't got round to it. Now he tells us. He cuts them down to let the final few out, much to the disappointment of the rest of us who'd already pushed our way through. After this we go on a short drive round other parts and into another pit. Low first down, with a good controlled descent down, and then a blast in low second up the other side to maintain momentum.
Gabby Browne is driving a Defender 110 but due to a slight lapse of concentration she hits quite a large tree part way up the slope. The vehicle is undamaged. The tree is not so lucky and falls to the ground. (It was dead anyway, and probably explains its limited resistance.) Chris Colley, however, was standing behind the said tree for 'protection' and it takes him with it in its last desperate gasp. He is unwounded and does not require medivac.
By now it's late afternoon and we decide to have a brew up and barbecue. This is not to say that the Trophy is over for the day as you will see. After a fine barbecue and a chance to use my volcano kettle. I always love using it: It somehow seems more natural, and quicker, and cheaper than gas canisters.
If you were thinking this now meant retiring to tents you'd be wrong. We now have special tasks. This involves driving to the edge of another chalk pit where we have to recover an old Series 3 109 from the bottom of the quarry. There's no chance of driving it, because it has no gearbox. I suppose on the plus side this has made it lighter. We bump it round and manage to winch it up the slope which is about 45 degrees steepening at the top. We then tow it back to camp, and consume a little more beer. The peaceful night is only punctuated by Guy's snoring which can be heard right across the camp.
Day two of Bob's Bash dawns and Bob asks for the first five vehicles which haven't done winching the day before to queue up. I am one of these. We set off and arrive at what can only really be described as a precipice. Apparently we are going over this. I'm not sure at first whether this is a wind up, but apparently it isn't. The top is about 70 degrees and the drop is about fifteen feet. A winch cable is attached to the back of the vehicle and you're lowered over. It's actually not as bad as I expect, although since I forgot to put my seat belt on before going over the edge it was somewhat difficult to stay in the seat. The way out is up the side we winched the Series 3 up the night before so my 8274 gets a good test. It's a double line pull, and drive assist is required too near the top. Awesome. Through the trees I can hear screaming as someone else is lowered over the edge, but I think this is more for theatrical effect than actual terror. Arthur Radford later gives a demo of real terror, but I miss it, and I don't think he's likely to volunteer to repeat it. This is the stuff of legend.
Having winched to the top, a few then plunge over the edge a bit further along and Mark Phillips has to negotiate a path over a slippery angled bank between some trees. It all sounds a bit tame, but we need two winches attached and four people clinging to the side to keep the vehicle from tipping against a tree. This we do successfully and he's out. After some blasting up and down slopes it's back to camp for lunch. Following lunch it's the resumption of special tasks. This consists of having to tow the Series 3 round the complete route of yesterday, and I mean the complete route, up and down the 45 degree slopes, across our bridge etc. We hitch Arthur's Tierra del Fuego '98 Defender 110 HCPU on the front and Chris Colley's Tierra del Fuego '98 Defender 110 on the rear. At the first quarry we get the HCPU through and then lower the Series 3 down, tow it up with the HCPU and then re-hitch. I then take up residence in the Series 3 and pilot it round most of the course. Control is somewhat hampered since the steering is the one and only control that actually works, and Series 3 steering is somewhat heavier than a Defender's.
I dream of having Popeye sized forearms but it is not to be. It all goes well and we even make it across our pole bridge. (This is good as the track of the Series 3 is less, but Louis clearly gives good hand signals). After this the Series 3 is shoved off the end and rolls a very long way, in fact nearly into Arthur's HCPU and remember I said the brakes didn't work. I nearly have to ram it into a tree, but it stops about three feet short. Neill Browne remarks that I seem to be having far too much fun.
Louis then pilots the truck for a while before having a collision with a tree, and wiping out the near side wing on the final exit. Bob's not exactly concerned as it was going for scrap anyway. So it's on to the final obstacle, the pit we started at yesterday morning in reverse. Louis is lowered down the first side in his new steed and then towed up the other. One good push from us all, and he makes it all the way to the bottom of the field and back onto the farm track. The rest of the vehicles then make it through, and that's it: the end of the mini trophy. All that remains is the prizes.
We make it back to camp and after a few words Bob presents the prizes. Arthur, Louis and Mel win Team Spirit, which is spirit literally in the form of CT whisky, although one suspects some relabelling may have gone on there. Gabby wins a driving award for giving the boys a run for their money, or was it for trying to kill Chris? No matter: well done. Finally Tim Cann wins the top award for most persistence which is a day at the Land Rover Experience. But, as they used to say on Camel Trophy, "There are no losers." We've all had a totally totally fantastic time. Many many thanks to Bob Ives, for tuition, hospitality and location.
We've all done incredible things with our Camel vehicles which we simply would not have believed we could do, and we've all learnt a great deal. In a couple of days we have done some very extreme off roading, and remember these aren't beaten up old vehicles, they're probably only five or six years old. In spite of the extreme nature of the event Bob's expert advice has ensured that pretty much they've come through unscathed. One of the Turkish competitors on the Amazon '89 event summed it up when he said "After you finish it you have a lot of things to remember and stories to tell, and most people wouldn't believe them; but we've done them." There's nothing more to say.