Skubie's blog 2015
Elephants crossing the Great Ruaha River in the dry season, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania. Taken last year on one of our patrols.
What it's all about: Preserving these magnificent creatures.
This year Skubie is off to Tanzania to do what he can to help. We arrived Jo'berg Tues 9th June and spent some time in Louis Trichardt where our dear friends Ant and Norma Scott put up with us for around 5 weeks until we got the paperwork sorted for the big trip up. Skubie survived the long road trip up and after many trials and tribulations is now working in Ruaha Park. Now read on....
Tragedy Strikes STEP’S pilot team in Ruaha
The wet season has at last begun in Ruaha National Park. With the rain comes the winds and sadly for a small microlight aircraft called Skubie, the end of his flying days. The wind gusting at over 60 knots (120 km per hour), picked him up and turned him completely upside down. As Skubie normally takes off at 40 knots it was obvious he was going to try to fly, even though he was securely tied down. It seemed he wanted to fly solo for once! We the pilot team, with our own charity, Wings Over Africa, have flown over 210 hours for conservation in South Africa and Tanzania, with most of those hours being in Ruaha National Park, are deeply saddened by the loss of Skubie as he was a part of our dream. The loss is not only a loss to us the owners, Annie and Chuck Nagy, but to the Southern Tanzania Elephant Project (www.stzelephants.org), who have been using the plane for monitoring, photography, data collection and general surveillance, to counteract the Elephant poaching, which is rife here.
However, both STEP and Wings Over Africa have found another plane that they wish to purchase which is all weather, more robust and can fly in the wet season, when the poaching is at its worst. They will also be building a hangar for the plane so that a tragedy such as this does not happen again
We are now looking for sponsors or donations no matter how small, to enable us to raise the US $30,000 needed to buy the plane and build the hangar. If you wish to help STEP protect elephants in Ruaha National Park, please contact email@example.com by email and she will handle the donation. Or visit our crowd funding site http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/wings-over-africa/
STOP PRESS! MONEY RAISED for Aircraft! Just organising the hangar now.
Final post for this page - 18 Jan 2016
Well, good news finally! Between STEP and ourselves, we have managed to raise the $20,000 or so that we need for the new aircraft. (the hangar is still a work in progress!). STEP is kicking in $10,000 from a donor in Sweden, and we have managed to raise the other 10,000 through our crowd funding site, and personal donations from friends. We are just in the process of finalising the payment for the aircraft right now, and it will initially be flown to Louis Trichardt to be stored in our friend Ant's hangar, where he will go over it and fix any little thing that needs to be done. The aircraft is in excellent condition by the way, but we are looking to add an extra luggage locker, and just check it out generally. Here is a group photo of the aircraft at Groblersdal air strip after a successful test flight, piloted by yours truly, including our friends Ant & Norma, who have done so much to help us over the years.
Everyone very happy in that I managed to land the Zenair safely having never flown it before!
We shall be getting the aircraft delivered, (probably in June), up to Tanzania, by our friends from Durban, Dave & Paul, who are itching for an adventure!
November 8th Sunday
Things have crystallised somewhat. We were about to dash off to Arusha to have a look at a possible aircraft, but have heard bad things about it. As luck would have it, we have a Shadow expert in Dar, Eve Jackson, who famously flew a Shadow microlight from London to Sydney solo, in the 1990's. the first person to do so. She is a qualified airframe mechanic so she is going to have a look at Skubie to see if anything can be done to restore him to flying status. She is also going to have a look at the possible replacement aircraft in Arusha, but that aircraft has a bit of history, so we need to have it checked out.
Meanwhile, all sorts of exciting stuff has been going on. Firstly, we have an Elephant collaring team here, who have been attaching GPS collars to Elephants with the help of a helicopter. (an R44 - look it up). They have been working solidly and have now moved to Mpululu to continue with their work. Sadly, if Skubie was flyf uable, we could have been involved. Also, there is a new dog team that has been introduced, and these dogs are specialists in tracking down ivory, guns & ammo etc, and they will be deployed soon to flush out the poachers. Jenny and Dexter, the two dogs are becoming celebrities and have even b is een involved in a local documentary.
So exciting things are afoot and we are looking forward to next year and getting involved again. We will be gone in a few days and heading down to South Africa, to look at a potential replacement aircraft. Then it is back to the grind stone, and work. Me in London, the week after we get back and Anne in Warsaw. Ugh!!!
Anyway, stay tuned, we will report on the status of the new aircraft from Louis Trichardt in a few days.
November 2nd Monday
There is no way to sugar coat it, yesterday was a bad day for us. During the afternoon, a local storm blew up and though it was far from us, did produce freak winds. One minute it was calm, and the next it was blowing twenty knots. I wasn't worried then, because Skubie's tie downs have never failed, even in the windy conditions at Rungwa, but when the wind increased even more Anne & started to get worried. On our way to the airfield, the wind speed must have hit close to 50 knots, but sadly we were too late. We arrived to find Skubie flipped on his back and badly damaged. The tailplane was completely bent, but that could have been replaced; however, there appeared to be damage to the main wing spar, and on an aircraft, that is normally a write off. Too upset to write too much on this today, so I will just leave you with the photo...
Not much to say. A sad end to a faithful little aircraft that never let us down and accomplished as much as the big boys.
October 30th Friday
Taking a bit of R & R in Iringa. Believe me, it is the big smoke after Msembe! Spent the first couple of nights at Neema cafe in town, but as elections have just been completed the place is a bit rowdy. There are various mobs protesting about the election results and complaining about vote rigging, which, since the ruling party was apparently returned, is probably justified. Stories of stolen ballot boxes and various other shenanigans abound, again, probably true. However, the riot police were out in force, and tear gas was liberally applied, plus the whip was not spared.
Hence we had to lay low at Neema, as walking around was not encouraged. However, after the peace and calm of Ruaha, the centre of town seemed incredibly noisy to us, so we found it hard to sleep and decided to move away from it all to Mama Iringa's, an Italian restaurant out in the sticks which also has accommodation. The food is excellent (better Italian food than most Italian joints in France! - not difficult I know, since the French insist on "improving" any cuisine they get their hands on), plus they have basic accommodation (read "up market" for Iringa).
Getting to Iringa was no picnic either, as the land-rover we were driving (affectionately nick named "Labda"), broke down in the middle of nowhere, twice! Both times with the same issue, a water coolant hose coming adrift and dumping our coolant on the ground. The first time, a "fundi" was organised from the nearest town by Trevor, and fixed things, but then we had the exact same issue again 30 kms on. This time BK arrived and fixed it properly. Apparently the clamps holding the hose were not secure enough to handle the abysmal road conditions. The (nominally) 2.5 hour drive took us nearly 8 hours, so we were quite hot, bothered and extremely dusty. Still, comes with the territory.
October 25th Sunday
This just in from Annie:
We have now finished our work with the Census team and are now carrying out general surveillance. However, I still cannot get away from elephant carcasses. Each flight I photograph and record the number of elephants , buffalo, carcasses and water holes. Back at the bandas, I confirm numbers of elephants and composition of the group eg cows, calves or bulls; estimate the number of buffalo, as there are hundreds in a herd; record size or position of water holes. But for carcasses, it is a little more difficult. They age in Stages from 1-5 and it is not an exact science. For a start Ruaha has a lot of lions- just ask our friends Kay and Bill! Also black backed jackals, hyena, leopards and a few cheetah. The park still has a large number of vultures who are endangered in many other parks , and then we have weather the weather conditions, which can change from day to day. Also on the ground the carcass looks quite different to when seen from the air. Just compare the 2 photos. I took them only 15 hours apart. They are both Stage 2.
Carcass from the ground. Note big flap of skin and huge Elephant skull to the right.
The same carcass from the air taken 15 hours later. Note that the skin flap has been dragged further away to left, probably by Hyenas
A flight can take between 2 -3.5 hours depending on where we go and the report can take between 1-5 hours depending on what we see. So we are tad busy. But never too busy to go outside and watch the passing parade of elephants along the river or indeed blocking our way into our Banda. Life isn't too bad at all!
Anne preparing paperwork for the next flight.
October 19th Monday
The previously mentioned broken drain plug was going to be a major headache, or so we thought. That drain plug is in the bottom tank, into which the fuel from all the other tanks drains. If that leaks, then we have a serious issue. However, BK, our bush mechanic, who is normally to be seen underneath cars, removed the drain plug, and managed to bung it up with a special fuel proof putty so it didn't leak. Fueled the aircraft up and left it overnight. No leaks apparent this morning, took it for a short two hour survey flight near the airstrip, so if it started leaking badly, we could high tail it back in safety. The flight went really well, and still no leaks when we landed, so the aircraft is good to go.
Again though, this morning we nearly had another minor catastrophe. As I was mixing fuel prior to refuelling, a very cheeky baboon pinched the bag my fuel funnel and selection of pourers were in. He was obviously hoping for some food, but he was sadly disappointed. Luckily, Anne managed to retrieve the bag, otherwise it would really have been a pain in the neck trying to operate without those fuelling implements!
And here is this from Annie:
Last week we had unbelievable bad luck with machinery - first the land rover blew a re-tread tyre; then we lost the end of the fuel funnel in the petrol tank; then the engine lost power during take-off due to bad fuel and the need for new spark plugs; then the Landy would only start on a hill in gear; then the drain valve broke...need I go on! If a good slug of red wine could have sorted it all out, we would have had no problem. Anyway just when you think 'they' are out to get you, the elephants turn on something special. I was completely by myself at the bandas at 530pm when 14 ele's strolled into the bandas to spend an hour eating. Surprisingly there were not only cows and calves, but bulls, all busily devouring the succulent leaves while rumbling their appreciation to each other. I stood outside my banda, camera in hand, clicking away with abandon. Basically they ignored my presence, but occasionally one would stare at me with curiosity for a few minutes then continue to munch. As they passed by my door, on their way out, I could have almost touched them…but I was not stupid enough to test the trust that had been bequeathed - or lose my arm! It is moments like these, that you never question the need to protect these amazing fellow creatures.
October 18th Sunday
Boy what a week! First we had the puncture coming back from Mdonya.
Then we lost a loose fueling hose attached to our funnel inside Skubies fuel tank, when refuelling. This took us ages to get out and we had to devise a nifty solution to do it.
Then yesterday, when attempting to take off, the power unaccountably failed. We had only just got airborne so I just put it back down on the runway, so no real drama, but still very unsettling. Turns out it was due to some bad fuel. I drained all the fuel off and changed the plugs, and the aircraft performed as good as new.
Then, after coming back from a flight today, when refuelling, the drain plug on the bottom tank broke off! Never seen this happen before. This means we can't hold fuel in the tanks at all! We are trying to fix it by blocking the drain hole, but we shall have to see. More tomorrow.
October 13th Tuesday
Just returned from a fabulous couple of days chilling out at a luxury camp in the park called Mdonya Old River Camp.
See above for images.
Luxury tents, great food and lots of animals wandering through the camp. We haven't had much luxury this trip, (well none, actually!), so after all the flying, we were really hanging out for a relaxing time. We had met one of the owners at the airstrip one day, who was most interested in Skubie, an Italian fellow, somewhat improbably called Malcolm Ryan. He very kindly offered to allow us to stay there, food included. Wow, what luxury! Our peace and calm, was somewhat marred by picking up a doozy of a puncture on the way back to Msembe. Took quiet a while for me to work out how to use the jack, (mainly because it hadn't been greased for quite some time and didn't function properly). Some WD40 soon sorted that out. So while Anne kept a watchful eye out for Lions, (there had been one roaring in camp the previous night), I changed the tyre. Now I really am a bushman!
Had a close encounter with a Giraffe on takeoff for the flight this morning. After having turned onto the runway, done my power checks etc and started my takeoff run, a Giraffe ambled onto the runway in front of me just as I was about to get airborne. There was no space to stop, so I had to continue, but did a steep turn to the left, 20 ft off the ground and mercifully, managed to avoid him. I can still remember the amazed expression on his face as I roared past, missing him by about 5 feet. No doubt, I had a surprised expression on my face as well......
It is the end of the official survey, but we still have about 5 transect blocks to fly, so that our results have significance within the broader survey results. Then, there is a possibility that we will go back to Rungwa, if the rains don't arrive first. The survey was brought forward in the first place to cater for the possibility that El Nino would influence an earlier start to the rainy season. So, with 5 weeks to go before we head back, we are still busy.
Meanwhile, we have heard many stories around the camp fire, but one of the best, involved an un-named lady, wife of one of the pilots, who, halfway through a long distance flight in a Cessna, reacted to some fish she ate the night before. (not a wise move eating fish). She wanted her husband to land so she could go to the loo, but was advised there was nowhere to go as they were many miles from the nearest airfield. Climbing over the bemused passengers in the back, she went in the only place possible, a plastic cool box which will never ever be used for the original purpose again, (esky, as we call them in Australia). On landing the bemused locals were told to burn it. But it's perfectly fine they said. No it aint, "Burn it!"
October 9th Friday
After Skubie's unscheduled off road trip, we decided that conditions were just to windy and dangerous to continue at Rungwa with Skubie. After talking to Alex Malle, the Project Manager at Rungwa (a Game Reserve has a Project Manager whereas a National Park has a chief park warden), he said that it did get windy that time of year in Rungwa. Later, in the beginning of November, things calmed down there so we should be able to finish our work there then.
Hence after a day of maintenance on Skubie where, with the help of Serafino, our driver and mechanic, we cleaned Skubie's engine, cleaned the air filters, replaced the fuel filter, and of course, replaced the broken nose wheel bungee. That took up the 6th, and on the 7th, we blasted off for Ruaha again. As we had Easterly headwinds of up to 30 kts, we filled Skubies tanks almost to the brim. Plus we had some stuff which we had to bring with us, so we were overweight off that short Rungwa strip. So it was with some trepidation that I advanced the power lever at 0630 in the morning to depart Rungwa. I needn't have worried, whilst Skubie took some time to accelerate, we reached 60 kts with plenty of runway to spare, and as always, at 60 kts, Skubie leaps off the ground. It was indeed a slow trip back, as the wind was right against us, and we were often doing no more than 30 kts, (40 mph). Whilst it only took us an hour and a half to get there from Msembe, to get back to Msembe took 2.5 hours. We carried out a recce for Malle on the way back, so we made some use of the time, but still....
Now, back in Msembe, we flew another block count, and then, answering an SOS from a vulture researcher, we headed off west to check out her vulture. It hadn't moved for days, so she was worried that it might be dead or injured. It was fitted with a GPS backpack, so we could home in on the last known position, which led us directly to a new elephant carcasse! Hence the reason the vulture wasn't moving. Why move away from a substantial meal? This was out in the middle of no-where, 80 K's west of park HQ. The carcase would never have been found if not for the Vulture GPS position.
Carcase with attendant vultures on the ground. Picture by Annie from back seat of Skubie
October 5th Monday
Things have been moving fast lately. We have shifted to Rungwa, a game reserve (as opposed to National Park), west of Ruaha. Here the elephants are allowed to be shot, but only with a license, (not that the poachers seem to care!). We are still supporting the census team, by flying small 10 Km square blocks, based on their larger transects. The idea being that the statistics will confirm their counts, with our total counts. So far, we are seeing pretty much what they see, ie, not many elephants and lots of carcasses.
The wind here at Rungwa has been picking up every day, and both the Cessna and Skubie have had problems trying to land after doing our transects. It is normally calm when we take off, around 7 am, but by the time we get back, around 10, it has now started gusting up to 25 kts, and with major crosswind component. Rungwa is difficult, as there is massive 20 kt wind shear at the threshold, with trees on either side, producing interesting rotor effects. It is also short, so because I had to stay high on final to avoid the wind shear, we ended up landing long in the rough overun. (As did the Cessna). No damage except a broken nose wheel bungee, which we will fix tomorrow.
Skubie parked at Rungwa strip, the day the US Ambassador paid a visit.
Previously, we had been based at Jongomero, a rather exclusive game camp about 30 miles south of Msembe. Not that we stayed anywhere exclusive there. We pitched a tent at the staff quarters, and had a close encounter with a young bull elephant that night. Around 2.30 am that morning, we were awoken by the sound of some gigantic creature padding around our tent, contentedly destroying the tree our tent was tied to. We tried to hang in there, but when he started pushing the tend with his trunk, we decided to exit stage left... Anne headed off first, a sheet wrapped around her, shortly followed by yours truly clad only in his undies. For some stupid reason, I yelled something like, "hey! Bugger off!" as I exited, turning back to see a visibly astonished, massive bull elephant looking at me. No aggression, just surprised and inquisitive. We retreated to the loos nearby, and watched while he continued to eat all around the tent for an hour and a half. Eventually, he and his mate, a younger bull ambled off, and we repaired to our tent, which was mercifully still standing.
This was what the ele looked like beside the tent. Not angry or annoyed, just curious. The sight of yours truly in undies no doubt surprised him!
Sept 24 Thursday
A typical day consists of getting up at 6 am, no real hardship as there is nothing to do at night anyway. We are usually in bed by 9 pm, and coz we got up so early, can only read for a short while until we fall asleep. We don't even bother with brekky, and have taken to making coffee the night before and putting it into a thermos, so we don't wast any time waiting for the water to boil. Getting the aircraft ready to fly is a bit of a faff as we have to take off the wing covers and fold them and put them away. Then we refuel, (I don't do it the night before, because we typically carry a lot of fuel, (70 litres) and there is a slight leak in the main tank, so I don't want to put extra pressure on it.
Once refuelled and pre-flighted, we are airborne about 0715. The temperature has been going up the last couple of weeks, it started off around 18 deg at 0700, but now it is 22 to 24 deg, hence the earlier we get airborne the better. Skubie takes off at pretty much max all up weight with that sort of fuel load, but as the strip is long and only at 3000 ft altitude, we are usually at 100 ft by halfway. The air is beautifully smooth around that time of day, as the thermals don't kick in till around 8.30 - 9 am. We usually have a 30 min transit time to get on station, and take about 1.5 hours to complete our 10 km square transect block. So basically a 2.5 hour flight there and back from Msembe. We plan to do some of the more southerly transect blocks from Jongomero next week, and then we will head west to Rungwa, to do the game reserve there the week after. We aim to do 30 of these blocks, which will be a total of 80 to 90 hours. Quite a lot for Skubie, and he will need a service after.
After we return, we have to put the wing covers back on again, as Skubie has canvas wings, which will be easily damaged by the UV from the sun. Skubie is holding up remarkably well, considering the rough operating conditions. The dust literally gets everywhere, and a dust devil came through the Bandas, coating everything with a thick brown layer. A is after Skubie is all tied down and put to bed, it is usually around 10.30 - 11.00, and we repair to the bandas for breakfast. Then after breakfast, we typically spend 2 to 3 hours analysing the flight, and send off a report to the various people who need to know, including the head of the park.
During this census period, there is a meeting at 4 pm for the census aircraft, to which we need to go, which kind of cuts into the afternoon in, but needs must... After that, back to the bandas to wind down, and start cooking the evening meal. So, pretty much, this is like doing a proper job really, except we do not get paid for it. Then, back in the bandas when we switch off the lights, there is the inestimable pleasure of being lulled to sleep by the sound of an elephant quietly but methodically destroying a tree beside the Banda. Of course, hippos grunting and jackals howling plus the odd lion roaring complete the picture. All in all, not your average job!
Sept 23 Wednesday
We are racking up the hours in Skubie at a rapid rate. Closing in on 30 hours in the past two weeks alone! What we have been asked to do is actually quite exciting. Last years census figures were so bad, that the park wanted the census redone because they didn't believe the elephant figures. Hence the census team is here, re-flying all the transects again. We have been asked to do 30 randomised 10 by 10 Km blocks (transects 1 km apart), over the whole area. We do what is technically termed a "total count", ie photograph all elephants and carcases we find. The idea being that we provide an actual count for these randomised areas, which can be checked back to confirm the average figures the census team gets for those areas. We can of course orbit and photograph what and when we want, whilst the census team flies rigidly along their transects. The park seems to think that the census team has missed significant quantities of elephants, so our randomised counts could help identify that, (if it is indeed the case).
Given the number of hours Skubie has been asked to fly, he is performing beautifully, the engine purring along like a very large pussycat, (or friendly lion). The main issue appears to be getting hold of the two stroke oil we need. Tz, as usual, doesn't appear to have it anywhere, though we appear to have found a source as we speak. The cretinous import agency we used in Tanzania, made us leave 24 litres behind in Louis Trichardt as they said it couldn't come in without a full chemical analysis.
Anyway, here is the picky of the day:
Skubie getting put to bed after another successful 2.5 hour mission
Sept 18 Friday
Bill & Kay, our friends from the Dordogne, have gone, but they had their fill of wildlife here in Ruaha and at Udzungwa. The park here really delivered, with a sighting of two lionesses the very first day, only metres from the car. Subsequently, they saw a whole troop of lions, plus a leopard, and of course, oodles of Elephants. So they left, very happy after having a wildlife experience like no other.
For us, life goes on, and we are flying early morning every day. We have been asked to support the official census team with unofficial counts in various areas of interest, so we are flying transect missions, 10 km by 15 km, 1 km apart. We had just returned from such a mission this morning when we were asked to take off again and look for an injured elephant which had been spotted near the main gate, with a snare on it's leg. We spotted an elephant lying on the ground, which is most unusual for a bull elephant, so we took some photos and passed the coords onto the park. It was nice to be of immediate, rather than theoretical use for a change! As I write, Annie and Trev have gone off to look for him, whilst I (for my sins), have to stay behind after school to flight plan tomorrows flight...
Injured Ele, though we couldn't see the snare
Also, the park Vet, Dr Alex asked us to try to locate some Buffalo which had been seen near Mpululu, one of the ranger stations on the western side of the park. It was quite a way, and it took us a whole hour to get onto station. Thankfully, we found them in the first 10 minutes and radioed their GPS location in to him. The idea was to fit a GPS collar to one of the bulls, so they could be located easily in future.
Sept 09 Wednesday
We have done nearly 10 hours now since the permit came in. The first flight being a 2 hour recce up the Ruaha river, where we saw a healthy population of elephants. A couple of carcasses too, but not as many as we would have expected to see, given the amount of Eles lost since the last census. Since that flight, we have now instituted specific intersecting transects, so that on each flight, we can cover a 10 by 15 Kilometre grid square. This way we know which areas we have covered. Photos will follow when we have downloaded them.
Meanwhile, the highlight of the week was the arrival of Kay and Bill, our friends from the Dordogne, who organised a trip especially to see us. We were supposed to pick them up at the airport in Iringa, but on the way, some ghastly graunching noises started coming from the front right wheel, and it started to wobble. After organising a cab to pick them up at the airport, we turned around and headed back to the garage normally used by STEP. Towards the end, we had to travel so slowly that even bicycles were overtaking us. Seriously embarrassing! Turned out that the drive shaft had broken and had to be replaced. This took the better part of the day. Unfortunately, this meant that we could not make it back to the Park that night, so ended up staying at Neema Cafe, a local B&B.
Apart from the driveshaft issue, the day developed several frustrations, in that the cab we had organised initially was so late picking Bill & Kay up, that the airport manager called another one instead. Somewhat comically, both cabs arrived at the same time, so they took the latest cab. Then the other cab driver had the cheek to come hassling me because he had lost his fare. He was told to take a hike in no uncertain terms. As the afternoon wore on, Bill and I went to check on the car, which appeared to be taking longer and longer to fix, and repaired to a pub just around the corner from the garage to wait it out. (we have found here in Tz, that they work best if you are constantly checking on them). That night, the final straw on the camel's back was that we couldn't open the padlock on our bedroom door. It was about 10pm, we were dog tired, but we couldn't get to bed. Eventually, after struggling with the lock about 40 minutes, the owner showed up with some bolt cutters. That did the trick! However, it begs the question, why pay for all these expensive, tempered steel padlocks, when a cheap pair of bolt cutters will cut through them in seconds?
However, we made it into the park the next day, and the park did not disappoint. Apart from numerous antelope, elephant and bird sightings, we saw a pair of young female lions near a lookout (where we had previously been wandering around outside the car!). They were only about 5 ft from the vehicle so we got some good photos. So a good first day all in all for Bill & Kay.
Skubie climbing strongly out of Kibebe strip at 5000 ft altitude, with yours truly at controls.
Sept 04 Friday - Final Stop Press
Haven't written anything since the last "Stop Press", because, guess what? Nothing Happened. In the long running saga of the overflight permit, even though on the 26th they said they would issue it, it still took them an extra 8 days to actually do it! People getting pregnant, a death of a relative in the Overflight Department, and meetings, meetings meetings, all conspired to slow the process down from it's already glacial pace.
No matter, we have the permit now, bought and paid for at the exorbitant sum of $2000 for 4 months. However, we are now ensconced in the Bandas at Ruaha, and flew our first mission this morning, Annie in the back, counting and photographing the Eles'. As we have not yet been issued with transects to fly, we just went up and down the river to see how many Eles' there were within the nearest 50Kms. On the river, quite a few. Annie is still counting them, over 100 in just one photo! Skubie performed magnificently, especially as he has been bounced from pillar to post on the long road trip up. However, the engine ran, sweet as a nut (however sweet that is), and the airframe is still as tight as it ever was. Will be posting some new photos soon, but everything all happening now.
The intrepid duo, Kay & Bill are in Zanzibar right now, taking in the delights of Stonetown. We will be picking them up at Iringa airport first thing Monday morning, and bringing them back to stay with us at the Bandas. Meanwhile, still have tomorrow and Sunday morning to go, so, two more flights, before that happens. Watch this space!
August 26th Wednesday - Stop Press!
Well, something happened yesterday, finally! It seems we are to be granted that overflight permit now, for the consideration of $2000 US for the 4 months. An exorbitant fee, but hey, this is Tanzania! We have heard from other sources, that this charge is a new thing. Apparently it is to discourage Kenyan commercial operators flying Tourists in from Kenya on their Kenyan registered aircraft, and (in the view of TCAA), taking business away from Tanzanian companies. The fact that we are not a commercial operation, and in fact, as a microlight, are not allowed (by law) to carry paying passengers, so never could be; does not seemed to have occurred to them. We have just been lumped in to the one size fits all category, TCAA not being renowned for their ability to think outside of the box.
However, the good news is that we should get the permit today, as soon as the payment is received, and plan to fly into the park tomorrow. Will update this post as things develop.
Still Nothing Happening August 22 Saturday
Roughly 6 weeks after applying for our overflight permit, we are still waiting for it. The original application asked that it commence on August 2nd, which we estimated to be a week after the aircraft's arrival in Tanzania. When we hadn't received it, we employed the services of a "runner". Basically, this is a guy we pay to hang around the TCAA (Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority), to generally keep bugging them to move the application on. This is pretty much standard practice in Tanzania, because bureaucracy moves at such a glacial pace, and you can't afford to hang around yourself for the 3 or 4 weeks it typically takes to get anything done. Using a "runner" also helps you find out all sorts of things, because they will discuss with him things they normally wouldn't mention.
For example, 3 weeks ago, they claimed they couldn't find our original application, and so we had to re-submit it. (basically resetting the clock again, so back to square one after 3 weeks of inactivity). Then we found out that the Director General had it on his desk, so they hadn't lost it. After a further week, it was sent downstairs for action. After a further week of inaction we found out that the lady who issues the permits was now on maternity leave, and here deputy didn't know how to handle it. We were told that we had to wait until her boss, who was away as well, came back. Then he was mired in meetings so nothing happened again (the staff probably spend 4 or 5 hours a day in meetings, so difficult to get hold of, in addition they tend to leave at 3 pm every day).
Now, we have jumped over those hurdles, and expected the permit to be issued this past Friday (21st). Now we find that they can't decide how much to charge us for the permit. Originally, we were quoted 2000 USD for 4 months, which was and is, outrageous. (Given, I flew for 3 years in South Africa and paid not one cent). Now they are talking about charging us 200 US per week! That is nearly double the previous amount. Eeesh! 3600 USD for 4 months instead of 2000 US! I don't know what planet, let alone what drugs these people are on.
The good news is that I now have all my research permits, courtesy of STEP, which authorize me to remain in the national Park, without having to pay the exorbitant tourist fees. Also, I have a Tanzanian resident's permit, which allows Anne & myself to remain in Tanzania beyond the 3 months stipulated on our original tourist visa. So, some progress then, even though we are not flying yet.
Meanwhile, Skubie remains, poised, on the ground, ready to fly the minute the permit comes through. So, another missive from the "You wouldn't read about it" Department.
We go through periods of time when pretty much nothing happens. Actually, nothing happens a lot in this country. So you sit around, waiting for stuff to happen and then suddenly, nothing happens! But it happens suddenly. Case in point, when we were in SA, trying to organise the paperwork for the trip up, everything was going swimmingly. SA, Botswana and Zambia, no problem, but suddenly, we hit Tanzania, and, nothing happens. For 3 weeks nothing happened, whilst our Tz logistics company tried to figure out how best to import the trailer and aircraft into Tanzania. (And then they got it wrong!). Then for two weeks, nothing happened while the aircraft sat at the border, waiting for them to figure out what to do. Now that we have the aircraft in Tz, after the initial flurry of activity, putting the aircraft together again, test running the engine etc, nothing is happening again.
Because the aircraft is French registered, we need an overflight permit from the Tanzanians to be able to fly the aircraft here. This we applied for over a month ago, but the whole application process seems to have stalled. According to the SA clearance company I employed to get the permit, it is with the Tz air safety department, but according to a "runner" we have employed who is working with the Tz aviation agency, they seem to have lost the application or claim to know nothing about it. Eeesh!
The final stretch 12/08/201
Camping in Ruaha, note elephant in background
Having enjoyed one night of camping bliss at Ruaha with Ian and Jabu, listening to the Metro Golden Mayer lion calls around the tents, the grunting of hippos, the soft padding of elephants, we sadly had to say farewell to them as they wound their merry way back to South Africa. Until Ruaha our entire trip had been short on animals, but interestingly on the way to and from Ruaha Park we saw 2 dead Spitting Cobras – quite rare- and now even rarer. We also saw for the first time the Lesser Kudu, not to be confused with the Greater Kudu – but of course you knew that piece of trivia.
Spitting Cobra (no Longer)
After 2 weeks hanging about and having email warfare with the freighting company we were eventually given permission to go back to the border and pick up the trailer. The Landy was fitted with a tow bar and off we went to Tunduma yet again. That evening we were requested to ‘facilitate’ the process with a $50 payment to the customs official, who was to meet us the following morning to give us right of passage. At 7am the merry band of 3 waited, and waited, and waited. He never turned up, but miraculously we were allowed to leave.
Waiting at dawn at the Tz border for the Customs guy who we had just "facilitated", though he never turned up
The Landy tow bar was too high, so we quickly found a ‘Fundi’ – an artisan or craftsman in a particular field – to weld the tow bar lower. Now this is what I love about Africa, the ability on an everyday local basis to get things done. No fuss, quick and cheap. This is in great contrast to the bureaucratic rubbish- that Tanzania has inherited from the Imperialists - and to which they have added their unique set of rules and regulations. Don’t start me off. As the red queen said to Alice, "you have to keep running to stay in one place!"
Anyway 1.5 hours later we were on our way ‘racing’ at 50km/hr toward Mbeya, where we stayed for the night. We could not get the lights working on the trailer, so another Fundi was found (actually hanging about the Hotel) and for $10, the connections were sorted.
Off the next morning for an 8 hour trip to Iringa and home, but not without being stopped 3 times by the Police. One to check that we were not illegal immigrants; one to check that the driver had a licence; and once to see where we were going and what was in the trailer. For the latter we just said it was full of ivory heading for the coast and to a Chinese buyer, so there was no problem. God help us if we had said we had a microlite! Now as this email may be read by certain officials, who would take umbrage at my suggestion, I wish to retract my comment on the ivory in advance and I apologise for making such a crass joke.) Right that should sort it.
We arrived at Kibebe Farm (more like an Aussie Station with over 500 cattle, 170 sheep, goats, chickens and about 20 horses.) What a sweet moment it was to arrive at the airstrip and unhitch the trailer from the Landy and soak up the smell of cow dung. Fabulous. A huge thanks to Serafino for driving all of the way from Mbeya with mother hen Charles, instructing and guiding him over every hump and bump in the road.
Arrival at Kibebe farm and heading off to the airstrip
Skubie had now arrived and we went off to enjoy a well earnt drink back with Trev and his 2 gorgeous re homed Alsatians – Bomba and Maddie.
Thoughts on driving in Africa
Before delving into the intricacies and frustrations of trying to haul an aircraft, by road, across 4 African nations, I would just like to say a big, heartfelt thank you to Prof Ian Gaigher, for making this all possible. He was the one who initially answered our requests for work in Africa, and prepared a whole swathe of jobs for us, from vegetation surveys to animal counts, in the 2013 season in the Soutpansberg area of South Africa. This was when we had received no other offers of work, and it seemed that our African project was dead in the water. It was at his Lajuma Research centre that we met Dr Trevor Jones, who invited us up to work with him in Tanzania. But it was Ian again, who volunteered at short notice, to help drag Skubie's trailer, the 3500 torturous kms to Tanzania. A task which I am sure he regretted more than once during the trip. In fact here he is, on his knees in front of the trailer, praying that the trailer might disappear:
Ian with prayer shawl - (actually fixing the trailer lights)
Ian had originally planned to spend a few days here in Iringa, and some time in Ruaha, but sadly, he and his driving companion Jabu, had to turn around almost immediately and begin the arduous trip back, due to some unforseen events in SA.
My abiding memory though, after our 3500 km road trip across Africa (plus an 11 hour drive to Dar), is police roadblocks, and speed bumps, (and also, on the trip to Dar, police radar traps). It seems the police have nothing better to do. One wonders that if they cut the road patrols in half, (with no deleterious effect on road safety), and instead, used the extra resources to indulge in some good, old fashioned policing around the National parks, they might catch a few poachers instead? But no, they are constantly checking the papers of drivers along the road, like every 30 to 50 kilometres, as if these papers hadn't been checked an umpteen zillion times already. Eeesh! And the speed bumps! These are not your normal speed bumps by the way, gentle ones, that you can drive over at 30 kph. These are really vicious, narrow and high, so that even at 1 kmph the corrugations shake the shit out of your vehicle. And typically, there are at least 10 to 20 of these interspersed every 50 or so yards through a village, so the amount of fuel wasted in slowing down and accelerating is significant.
Of course, the additional bumping the trailer (hence aircraft) received due to these was not conducive to keeping the aircraft secure within it's moorings, and I constantly had to keep getting inside the trailer to make sure things were not coming adrift. I was in constant dread that maybe one of the wings would fall off the mountings on the side of the trailer and crash onto the floor. However, our slow pace made it conducive to explore various philosophical view points, whiling away the boring parts of our slow progress. At one point, we discussed the existence of God (or not), and Ian decided that he would call his own personal God, Dog, since dogs had never let him down. We thought that yes, it would be great if Dog was in charge, as we felt sure he (if it is indeed a he), wouldn't allow some of the nonsense that humans are indulging in at the moment. Then, veering onto the future of environmentalism, which we all agreed was dismal, and ultimately doomed, his own personal opinion was that since the natural world would be consumed by the coming population explosion anyway, there was no point in fighting it, or even worrying about it. His proposed solution was to start drinking earlier.
Of Course, taking the even longer term view, in 5 billion years the Sun will expand into a red giant, and it's surface will reach past the orbit of the Earth, frying the then inhabitants, who by then, would not be even remotely human. Hence, in the long run, we are all doomed. Therefore, I believe his "solution" is entirely appropriate, but I would elect to start drinking a bit earlier than the conservative 11 am that he suggested.
However, there was one, final, twist, when we reached Tanzania. Radar traps; all over the place. Frequently, they would have a 50 km speed limit sign but with no corresponding sign to say when you are leaving the zone, hence on leaving the village, and given that there is no evidence of habitation, you feel can resume your previous speed. Err nope! hidden around the next bend is a radar trap, in the middle of nowhere, with the end of speed limit sign just behind them. It is difficult to imagine that these are not artificially created speed traps designed primarily for revenue collection. On another occasion, there was a single white line we crossed, while overtaking a truck going at 10 kph. This section had perfectly clear visibility for about 3 K's so why they should put the unbroken line there was a mystery, shortly resolved by us being pulled over by the police again for crossing a white line. Again, difficult to imagine any other reason for this setup than revenue collection, given that it was perfectly safe to overtake there. The fines were not large, only 30,000 Tz shillings, (30 US), but we got picked up 3 times on the return trip to Dar (and after the first time, we were really, really careful). It all adds up!
July 30th Thursday
Well, after the mother of all road trips, we are finally here. Trouble is, the aircraft isn't. It is stuck at the Zambia-Tz border. But first, a quick summary of the trip.
July 17th - Left LT at 6 am, bound for the Botswana border via Polokwane. We crossed at Martin's Drift border post into Zambia. We were supposed to have "pre-clearance" to cross out of SA, but somehow, that got screwed up and we were held up for 3 hours at the SA border, just trying to get out. The Botswana side was pretty easy though and we were through in 30 minutes. We were trying to go as far as possible each day, but due to the delay at the SA border, we only got as far as Francistown, and then, only at around 9 pm. The good old GPS found us a hotel to stay at, somewhat pricey, but good quality. It even had a casino, so of course we spent half the night playing the pokies... (Not!).
July 18th - Francistown to Livingstone - Botswana - Zambia border. Again an early start, and lots of driving. This part of Botswana is not particularly picturesque but we did drive through some Elephant country (at least there were elephant signs by the roadside), and saw about 5 elephants browsing by the road. We reached the border about 3 ish and after initially making some great time at the border, got bogged down due to some underhand dealing by one of the agents at the border. This delayed our clearance into Zambia, but we were allowed to cross and proceed to Livingstone, as long as the agent got the final paperwork to us the next day.
On the ferry across the Zambezi from Botswana to Zambia
July 19th - As we had just had a couple of 15 hr days, we decided to treat ourselves to a day off (plus we wanted to see Victoria Falls). Hence we camped at "The Waterfront" camp site, on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river, surprisingly tranquil and calm considering that Vic Falls was just 6 km's away! There is allways a serpent in paradise though, and though it was a beautiful location, with a great restaurant and bar, the catch was that it had an ancient clackety diesel generator which they started at 5 am in the morning for our exclusive enjoyment. One dreams of waking up in these amazing places to the sweet warbling of exotic African birds, but it wasn't to be!
Sign at a bar in Livingstone....You have to read the fine print!
Vic falls, was, as you might expect, amazing. There apparently has been some discussion on whether the Zim or Zam side is the best to view the falls from, but after we viewed them from the Zambian side, we can't imagine that any other view could top it. There is a lovely walk that you can access near the border, which leads to a small foot bridge which is right in the middle of the falls. So much so, that you are covered in the thunderous spray generated by the uncounted tons of water plunging down the falls. We spent a good couple of hours just wandering and wondering, and took many photos, which we will bore our friends with upon our return!
July 21st - After the afore-mentioned 5 am diesel chorus, we headed off North, into the interior of Zambia, heading for Lusaka, or to be more precise, Eureka campsite, 10 miles South of Lusaka. Again, once past Vic Falls, there was not a lot to see. Zambia is basically a high altitude plateau with not too many hills or valleys. The roads were basically good though, better than I had hoped, and although I was checking on the aircraft tie-downs inside the trailer twice a day, everything seemed OK. We reached Eureka just on night fall, pitched our tents, and after a fairly basic feed (they only had hamburgers - though that included a veggie one), we pitched our tents and bedded down, ready for another 15 hour day.
July 22nd - The barman at the campsite recommended that we start early to get through Lusaka before the traffic started, so we were up again at 5.30 am, and got through Lusaka by 8 am, just as the traffic was getting heavy in the opposite direction, going back into town. Can't say that Lusaka was a revelation, usual high rise in town, followed by shanty suburbia all around. Our next destination was Mpika, just 600 km sout of the Tz border. This northern area ot Zambia was very sparsely populated. Hardly any service stations even, and no camping sites that we could see. As we approached Mpika just on nightfall, we resolved to stay in a hotel and hang the expense!. Trouble was, the GPS only had one hotel in the database there, and when it took us there, it was just a vacant block! One of the locals took us to a "hotel" run by a German expat who said all his chalet's were full as there was a conference in town. We checked around and all the other "hotels", (and I use the word advisedly), were full too. Eventually, we went back to the German and he let us camp on his back lawn for free.
July 23rd - Yet another early start, as we were determined to get to the Zambian border early enough to cross into Tanzania by nightfall. Mind you, there was nothing to linger in bed for, and we couldn't have breakfast there until 7.30, (far too late), so we grabbed some serviceable looking croissants (tasty but a bit doughy) and a coffee (crap), at the local service station and headed off again. This section of the road to the border was even more sparsely populated, though it was a major truck route. We counted at least 6 crashed trucks, and since most of the crashes had occurred on straight sections, they appeared to be due to the drivers having gone to sleep at the wheel.
One particular petrol truck had fallen over on it's side and was leaking. A bunch of locals clustered around it busily siphoning off petrol into plastic cans and bottles. No police or ambulances were in evidence anywhere around these crashes, so one was left with the distinct impression that if you crashed here, you were on your own. Mind you, the abiding memory I will take back from this road trip is the sheer number of police roadblocks we went through. That seems to be mainly what the police in these countries do. They are constantly checking papers and registrations and doing very little else. Perhaps if they spent more time patrolling and pulling drivers over for poor driving, they would have fewer accidents?
Again, we got to the Zambian border around 3 pm, and were through to the Tanzanian side by 4; then all progress stopped. There was no problem getting the car through, as that was on a Carnet, which all these countries recognise. (Even then, the Tanzanians insisted on typing the entire Carnet into their computers when only a stamp was necessary at the other borders. They justified this by saying that this was needed because there were many counterfeit carnets in Tanzania, (probably due to corruption from their own officials). However, the main problem was the aircraft and trailer. The Tanzanian freight clearing company we were using proved to be completely incompetent, and whilst they had assured us before we departed SA that they had the expertise to import the aircraft, it turned out they hadn't. The sticking point was that The Tanzanian import process cannot handle a person importing any item to themselves. ie, I Charles Nagy from SA was exporting an aircraft to Charles Nagy in Tanzania. They couldn't get their heads around this. Also, you are not allowed to import anything without a TIN number (Taxation Information Number), and this is only available to residents of Tanzania. We had been made aware of this in advance, but the freight company said they could get a temporary TIN number for us. After spending the following day at Mbeya discussing this with the taxation authorities, it turns out we were badly advised, and no temporary TIN number was possible.
July 24th - Friday - The upshot of all this is that fully 7 days after having departed SA, we were stuck at the Tanzanian border, with no real prospect of moving the aircraft issue forward. Hence we were a fairly dejected lot when we booked into the Tunduma Hotel at the border that night, but cheered up when we read the house rules (below):
Click to enlarge!
So, the end result is that there is no end result. The freight company who was advising us seem to have dropped off the face of the planet, in fact, at time of writing (30th July), we have not even heard again from them, let alone had an apology, and they are not returning phone calls or emails. Right now, we are in Dar (after another 11 hour drive), where I had to come to renew my aircrew medical, (which went OK), and we plan a surprise visit to their head office tomorrow. Should be interesting!
July 17th Friday
Breaking news Finally have clearance to begin the trip to Tanzania from our agents. We finally have all the documentation we need (tons of it), and we are all packed and ready to go. We leave at 6 am on the 17th for Botswana. Stand by for further bulletins on the road.
July 15th Wednesday
Breaking news! It seems that we now have clearance from our export/import agents to head off on Friday, which we will do at 6 in the AM. Also, it seems that the Tanzanians will grant us a block clearance to fly Skubie on the French register, but they are going to hit us $2000 US for the privilige! I think we will go with that, even though it is outrageous. For comparison, we have flown 3 years in SA and not been charged a cent. EEEESH!
We expect to take 6 to 8 days to get there, so will update this page sporadically when wifi is available.
July 10th Friday
More paperwork EEESH! (Eeesh, by the way is the local expletive used to express frustration etc). Apart from all the hassles getting the trailer registered, obtaining an overflight certificate for our aircraft from Tanzania (Still not approved by the way, they just can't process the fact that France does not require an airworthiness certificate for Microlights), we have now been hit with more importation demands from the Tanzanian end. For example, here is a list of things that we need to obtain:
Chemical permit application.
Material Safe Data Sheet for all the chemical items that will be imported for application of chemical permit before importation into Tanzania.
Material Safe Data sheets required to below items required
• 27 Plane oil
• 1 TTS oil
• Fire extinguisher
• Differential fluid
• Puncture prevention liquid
• Glass and Acrylic cleaner
• 2 High temperature sprays
• 2 paints
• Multi Purpose oil
• 2 Acetone
• Anti Freeze
• WD 40
TFDA permit application
Permit from Tanzania Food and Drug Authority will be required for below items before importation into Tanzania.
• 1 distilled water
• Shampoo,/Mr Min,/Insect killer/All purpose
Freaking Food and Drug Authority approval for Distilled water FFS! Are these people nuts? That water is liable to be far purer and healthier to drink than anything we could find over there!!!
The short answer is, that we are taking out all the "contentious" stuff (including the WD40 & Distilled water), since we can buy it all in Tanzania and submitting our packing list for approval again. Downside is, that some of that lovely packing I have done to get Skubie into his trailer, might have to be undone to get this "contentious" stuff out, and repacked.
Skubie all packed and ready to go
In fact, dealing with all of this ridiculously ridiculous paperwork has made us doubt our sanity....
This is now our favourite shop, we call in every day for our daily dose of sanity.... The advantage is, you can apply it in the shower....
June 30th Tuesday
The past week we have been hassling with getting the aircraft trailer registered. Unlike the rest of the world, here in Africa, even the minutest shittiest little trailer has to be registered and MOT'd. This was especially difficult for us as the trailer had never been registered previously. This was a major drama, as you can imagine, because they needed the original manufacturer's details, which of course do not now exist. However, we found a trailer place who were willing to create all the documentation for us. This was their sign, below:
Yes, it took me a couple of attempts to read it correctly too!
The DOT is the Department of Transportation Rego disk. After about three days of standing in line at the local municipality offices, visiting various counters, we finally got the trailer registered. There was one particular woman teller who was very difficult and refused to let us proceed for some reason, and we had to go above her to her boss, but eventually, after mountains of paperwork, it was all complete. (Without this, of course, we could not have crossed any borders).
To take a break from all this documentation crap, we decided to go to Blyde River Canyon to do some hiking. Blyde River Canyon is South Africa's answer to the Grand Canyon. Not quite as big, but spectacular just the same. Our main problem was finding any information on which walks to do. The Leopard Walk had beentlyen closed because, apparently, there were too many Leopards. Go figure. Nobody seemed to know which walks were open or where they started from amongst the tourist information places we visited. However, eventually we found a couple of good 5 hour walks, both of which went right down to the floor of the canyon. It was easy going down, but walking back up was a real doozy....
Meanwhile, on the way back we encountered some roadworks, with this plaintive little sign:
I love the little praying hands!
June 24th Wednesday
As previously mentioned, we are on Plan C as far as getting Skubie to Tanzania. The plan now is to tow Skubie inside his trailer up to Tanzania via Botswana and Zambia. We are avoiding Zimbabwe because we have been told that the border crossing at Beitbridge, Zimbabwe is a real pain, and you can sit there forever waiting to be processed. Also, avoiding Zim, means that we have one less country to cross, and one less border. So, we will cross the SA border into Botswana at Martin's Drift, then onto the Kasane crossing in Botswana, then along the Zambia side of Victoria falls to Lusaka, Mposhi, Mpika, then crossing into Tanzania at Mbeya, thence onto Iringa. See map below:
It's going to be a distance of nearly 3000 Km's, so not a Sunday stroll. It could be accomplished in 3 or 4 days, but as we will be towing the trailer, and trying to avoid the aircraft bouncing around too much inside, we will probably not go above 80 Km's per hour, depending on road conditions. Hence we are expecting to take a minimum of 8 days for the trip, (not including stops for border crossings, which may or may not take a while).
June 21st Sunday
Have been in Louis Trichardt, or Makhado (the new, post apartheid name), for a week now. We have now moved from plan A to plan C, just as well, as we have the rest of the alphabet to go. We are overwhelmed by tons of paperwork, which is required to get us and the aircraft trailer across the various borders. Anne is on the case however, so if anyone can accomplish this, she can. The current route will is through Botswana, to the Zambian side of Vic Falls, then through Zambia to the Tanzanian border. One of our issues is that the trailer is unregistered, (not required in Europe), but required for the border crossings, so we are getting that done on Monday.
The big excitement on the weekend was that the fire patrol Cessna 210 crashed after takeoff and became a twisted burnt mass. Luckily the pilot escaped with just a broken wrist. We thought a friend of Ant's was on board so rushed off to try to help, but by the time we had got there all the emergency vehicles had already arrived and the fire was out.
What used to be a Cessna 210
The good news to report is that I took Skubie for a fly this morning, and didn't crash on take-off. In fact, Skubie performed impeccably, the engine running as sweetly as ever despite an 8 month layover in the hangar. Skubie, the Shadow, handles so well, that I had forgotten how much I enjoyed flying, especially after the issues we had with the Savannah, (which is a bit of a truck), in Ruaha last year. We also bought the most wonderful piece of kit, which I haven't found anywhere else except Africa. It is called a Jiggle Siphon. What it allows you to do is transfer fuel from one container to another, (ie from your car to another vehicle or container), without having to suck the foul tasting and poisonous stuff yourself to get it started.
Considering how useful this thing is, I am surprised it is so hard to find. All it consists of is a tube with a rudimentary ball bearing pump (the red thing), on the end. All you have to do is dip the red thing in the fuel you want to siphon, (hereafter called the Siphonee), and jiggle it around a bit. then after a few jiggles, it will start siphoning into the designated receptacle, (hereafter called the Designated Receptacle). Voila! Extremely simple and effective. It is however difficult to find such a thing. The final place we went to ordered it for us, an exercise in itself. The Indian owner was extremely helpful and on calling the supplier, was amazed to get him on the phone straight away. He immediately berated him saying, "What are you doing answering your phone so quickly?!!", "I have just told this customer that it would take at least 10 minutes for you to answer! Are you trying to embarrass me?".
Afterwards, out at the airstrip again, Anne & I started refining the wing covers for Skubie. Initially, we just had some silver reflective canvas material, which we used 2 years ago, but that took ages to fix on Skubie's wings, and it was always getting blown off by the wind. This time, we cut everything exactly to size, (see picture)
You can get a general picture of how it fits by looking below. The idea is to get a tent maker to punch some holes in the canvas, front and back, and afix brass rings through the holes, so we can then just attach bungees under the wings front & back to secure it to the wings (see below). The sheets are with the tent-makers as we speak, for the princely sum of 350 Rand, or around $32 US!
Skubie looking very smart. (Annie doing all the work... as usual)
June 16th Tuesday
Having arrived in Joberg on the 9th, we spent a hectic few days catching up with our friends from The Bateleurs, Joan, Clyde & Sven, and buying last minute supplies. Wandering around the various shopping centres, we came upon this sight, which really let us know that we were in Africa (as always, click to enlarge).:
Then it was the 5 hour drive up to Louis Trichardt on the Saturday which was accomplished without misadventure, except that I obviously must have missed a turn on the freeway, as we ended up trundling through the centre of Pretoria for no good reason. The following day, (Sunday), we went out to the airstrip with our good friend Ant to check on Skubie to see how he had weathered the long winter layoff.
Skubie was mostly fine, apart from a minor leak in the main left tyre valve. The engine started up fine and ran as smoothly as ever, though as I was giving Ant a taxying checkout in the plane, we found that only one speaker in the pilot's headset was working. Also, as I was defueling (because I wanted to find out how much fuel was actually in the aircraft before flying), I found that the fuel gauge was over reading by about 12 Litres, almost an hour's worth of fuel. Obviously, not a good thing, however, this can be fixed by re-calibrating the fuel flow unit. There are a couple of other things, nothing serious, but will all take a bit of time to fix. We had originally planned on leaving for Tz next week, but will delay that a bit until these issues are sorted.
We also went for a flight to the Blauberg in Ant's Wilga (a massive Polish aircraft). This is an area we had visited last year when we went to look for some Samango monkeys which had been spotted there. At that time, we did not find them, and this time it was a failure also. There is now far more human habitation than I remembered, so that may have driven them out. The area is truly spectacular though with massive Inselbergs jutting out above the plateau.
Ant also gave Anne an impromptu flying lesson in the Wilga, a veritable truck in comparison to Skubie the microlight.
Finally today, we went back out to the airfield to take an inventory of the trailer. It has been so long since we have even looked inside, over two years, so we had no idea what we had in there. A bunch of rubbish to be sure, but also, plenty of stuff that will come in handy in Tanzania, where we will be operating in much rougher areas. All in all, we had prepared pretty well, three years ago, when we first came to this massive continent. There really are only a few things which we will need to re-provision with. The indefatigable Ant, had noticed that the trailer wheels were not spinning freely, and took them off, finding that the wheel bearings were all corroded, so that is something else we need to look at. Also, he has secured two spare wheels for us in case we get punctures on the way. (Almost guaranteed in Africa). So, all in all, we are in good shape, so far.