A Grand Plan.

A Grand Plan. The ups and downs of planning a big Desert Expedition.

Like so many good ideas, our plan to take two Second World War Jeeps to Egypt started over a few beers.  Three of us, Sam Watson, John Carroll and myself shared an interest in Jeeps, the Desert and the exploits of The Long Range Desert Group.  Sam’s Masters Degree had been based on their accomplishments , John and I owned Jeeps in various states of disrepair and I had visited a few LRDG sites out in Libya.  As the beer flowed and the conversation moved up a few decibels a plan was hatched and by the end of the evening we had it sealed and nothing was going to stop us!

How we saw ourselves - after a few beers!

In the cold light of day, hangovers being cured by a fry up, our enthusiasm remained intact, but exactly how were we to achieve our goal and why had nobody done it before?  Similar trips had been done in newer 4x4s, but old Jeeps seemed to restrict their foreign travel to the beaches of Normandy.  Of course, the logistics of getting two Jeeps to Egypt would be tricky, there would inevitably be a mountain of paperwork to complete and hoops to jump through - plus none of us owned a Jeep that actually worked!

Getting two working Jeeps in ‘desert ready’ condition was a task consigned to my son, Matt Savage, up near Matlock.  We started with a pair of 1943 California imports, one a Ford GPW, the other a Willy’s MB, their comfortable life in a dry climate ensuring most of the steel was still serviceable.  By the Winter of 2010 both were ready for an anticipated Expedition over Easter 2011.  Whilst the hardware was being prepared we turned our attentions to how we were going to jump over all the hurdles separating us from our dream trip.

1943 Ford GPW. Had an easy life on the beach in California.

1943 Willy's MB - Ditto!

 

Shipping and Carnet de Passage.

Researching various web sites we came up with an Italian ferry service from Venice to Alexandria that took passengers as well.  We could either drive, or trailer both Jeeps to Venice and catch that.  An expensive option, but at least we would be in control of our Jeeps.  Alternatives were to ship them from the U.K. in either a container or on a dedicated roll on/roll off car transportation ship from either Felixstowe, Tilbury, or Southampton.  We added these options to the ever expanding spreadsheet of costs, then moved on to the Carnet de Passage requirement.  Egypt is the world's most expensive country for this, demanding a terrifying 800% security of the value of each vehicle!  What a Carnet does is ensure you are not going to sell the vehicle whilst over there and evade Egypt’s punitive import taxes.

 

There are three ways of acquiring a Carnet.  They are issued in the U.K. by The R.A.C. who will either accept a lump sum of the agreed value of the car as a deposit, then give it all back when you return, or you can lodge a Bankers Guarantee for the amount with them.  As a hypothetical example, if you take the value of a car at £5000, you have to leave 800% of that amount as a deposit, hence £40,000 per car!  The more accessible option is to cover that risk with an insurance ‘indemnity’ policy.   For 10% of the total you make a one off payment and if there is no claim, you get half back when you return.  Another big figure on the spreadsheet!

Desert Logistics.

We knew we would need some kind of logistical support whilst in the Sahara.  It would be wildly optimistic to try and replicate the exact conditions of the LRDG.  Firstly we are twice their age and secondly we would not be there fighting a war, just having some fun.  I have an Egyptian friend, Mahmoud Marai, with whom I have shared adventures a couple of times before.  We contacted Mahmoud and he came up with Siag Travel - a high profile Travel Company who specialise in desert tours.  Not the cheapest, but highly regarded.  They could supply an Iveco 4x4, 7 ton truck and a Toyota Land Cruiser to carry all the fuel, food and equipment required and arrange the various desert permits required by law to venture as far south as we were planning - roughly the Sudanese border.  Mahmoud also delivered the news that would almost stop the project before we even started.  To drive south of Latitude 27 we would have to employ an armed contingent of eight soldiers who would be self sufficient in two Land Cruiser Pickups.  The spreadsheet was rapidly hitting various ceilings!

With a little help from our friends.

Not to be disheartened, we reasoned that there must be other like-minded adventurers who would share our dreams - we just had to find them.  I called in a few favours from various people I work with and together we assembled a web site to appeal to a world- wide audience.  Backed up by press releases published in all the 4x4 magazines and masses of ‘viral’ marketing on Facebook and You Tube, bit by bit we began to get interest and our hopes were lifted. 

Part of our Viral Marketing campaign wa sa promotional video shot in the coldest Decemebr in 100 years - 2010.

If we could muster another four or five people to share the costs we could just about do it.  By the beginning of 2011 we had enough ‘count me in’ interest to make it work, then disaster struck.  The Arab Spring and massive protests and rioting in Egypt resulted in the downfall of Mubarak.  Tourism in Egypt was about to hit an all time low and we had no choice but to cancel until further notice.  The Italian Ferry Company pulled the plug on the Venice/Alex service and we faced a summer of Jeep driving, but an adventure on hold.  Fortunately things soon quietened down in Egypt and we opted to postpone until Easter 2012 with the enthusiastic approval of our companions overseas who confirmed loyal interest in the project when the streets of Cairo were safe again.

 

 

This excellent illustration is actually 'Copyright Louise Limb' who kindly created it especially for us.

One of our ‘guests’, Karl-Gunnar from Sweden contacted us to say he would be in England for a week in the summer and maybe we could meet up.  Better than that we thought, lets have a weekend’s green laning in both Jeeps and a bit of a get together.  A plan was hatched and we ran two weekends enjoyed by both confirmed participants and a few who were tempted, or just wanted to try driving a 68 year old Jeep.  The weekends highlighted a few snagging jobs on both Jeeps, but was deemed a success.  We enjoyed the opportunity of meeting two of our American guests as a bonus and we raised £500 for Help 4 Heroes.

 

By the Autumn of 2011 we had a plan and enough people to make it work.  The spreadsheet was a collection of rather big numbers, but broken down between eight of us and payments spread over three months it suddenly looked promising.  We put together a payment plan and sent the email confirming the total cost per person and how we would need payment.  The first chunk of funds went directly to Egypt to secure the services of Siag Travel and get the permit applications processed.  The second instalment covered the Carnet de Passage insurance and the shipping, with the final portion paying the balance to the travel company to pay for the eight Army personnel.

Shipping Forecast.

Whilst all this had been going on we had been looking at various shipping options.  The Italians had not resumed the ferry service so it boiled down to Container or RO/RO Ferry.  Both were similarly priced and boasted a ten day service to Alexandria, but the container looked more secure.  We went with Maersk Shipping - one of the biggest players in the business, prompted by a phone call from their Sales Director who used to live in Cairo and had seen our web site.  Such is the power of the World Wide Web!  Faced with a rapid learning curve on the ins and outs of International Container Freight we got a quotation, then a ‘Hazardous Cargo’ notice, then a thing called a ‘Bill of Leding’ a document that must have a title deeply rooted in our maritime past.  We were offered a sailing on Moranto departing Felixstowe on 12th March, arriving at Alexandria on 27th March leaving masses of time before our planned start date of 6th April.  Matt and I took both Jeeps down to Felixstowe a week before.  One in knock down form in the back of my Land Rover 101 FC, specially converted for the purpose, the other on Matt’s trailer.

 

 Drama at Sea

 The process of loading the Jeeps into the container was very simple and completed within half an hour.  From the loading yard ‘our’ container was taken to the quay to await the arrival a week later of the Moranto.  Back home, we soon logged onto the marine traffic website to track Moranto.  Alarmingly she was still in Alexandria and I could see no way she could reach Felixstowe on time with a cruising speed of 17 knots.  Becoming increasingly worried I phoned Maersk to be told Moranto was behind schedule and would not now be coming to U.K. at all!  Watching two years planning and a large amount of money slipping away was the most stressful part of the whole process, but Maersk assured us they had re-scheduled all the containers onto another ship Cap Harvey a week later and a revised arrival in Alexandria was 31st March.  This should give us enough time to retrieve the Jeeps for a 6th April departure for the Desert and I very much hope you will be reading a feature on a successful expedition in a future edition of 4x4 Magazine.

 

Box out.

The web site and Blog for the trip is at:

www.tobysavage.co.uk/lrdg

There is a Live Map link to follow progress.

Shipping handled by Maersk Group at:

www.seagoline.com

Or could have been a Ro/Ro option at:

www.autoshippers.co.uk

RAC Carnet de Passage information at:

www.rac.co.uk

General information on Sahara Travel at:

www.sahara-overland.com

www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sahara-travel-forum

If you want to track International shipping:

www.marinetraffic.com/ais/

Captions.

Ready to roll.  The fully loaded 101 leaves Matlock for the long haul down to Felixstowe and an appointment with a container.

Felixstowe Container Port partially unloaded and dwarfed by piles of ‘boxes’ as they are known in the trade.  Just the Ford to drive off the trailer.

Two Carnet de Passage. One for each Jeep.  These are triplicate forms. One stamped on entry to Egypt, one on exit and the final delivered safely back to The RAC - we hope.

Toby’s Land Rover 101 was converted specially to transport one of the Jeeps.  Removal of the wheels, screen and spare wheel allows the canvas roof to be fitted.

Wooden decking supports the 1 ton weight of a Jeep with the 101 barely noticing the extra weight.

Karl-Gunnar over from Sweden for the first of two Jeep Green Laning Weekends in The Peak District.

The second Green Laning weekend entertaining two of the American participants and their English friends.

There are few pleasures to beat the simplicity of an old Jeep off road, as these Americans found out.

The original WW2 press shot that inspired the whole adventure.  We realised that this ambitious trip could be achieved with a lot of hard work and dedication fuelled the passion.

The two finished Jeeps in SAS/LRDG style and ready for the Desert.

The Ford GP before restoration back in 2009.

The Willy’s MB fresh out of a container from sunny California. in 2010.

Both Jeeps were ready in the Winter of 2010/11.

On a freezing day in December the team made a video to use in ‘viral’ marketing on You Tube. It was -18ºC!

Copyright Toby Savage March 2012