Sunday, December 09, 2007

Liwa experienced

Here's the report now that I've got all the expletive deleted sand out of the car.

Three hundred and fifty drivers and another fifty marshals. That is an enormous number of vehicles to hit the sands of Liwa. Yet this is what happened last Friday.

As a volunteer marshal on the Gulf News Fun Drive, I attended a couple of meetings organsised by Gulf News and made three drive-throughs prior to the big day. I noted here that the whole trip would involve a lot of hours behind the wheel. From Dubai, one of the run-throughs totalled around four hundred kilometres comprising asphalt roads, gatch tracks, sand tracks and dunes.

A major consideration was fuel. Fortunately the Goatmobile comes with two fuel tanks, so despite a capacity-robbing dent in one of them there’s plenty of reserve assuming that I gas up at the last petrol station before the off road bit. The ADNOC at Mafraq was still ninety kilometres from the start. The next petrol was at the end of the off-road section at Hmeem. An absolute minimum range of 250km would be required. I picked up a spare five gallons of petrol in a jerry can. Someone with a Wrangler or similar vehicle with a small tank and a huge engine might be grateful!

The original plan for the Fun Drive was for two days of desert driving with a camp-out at Moreeb Hill. Owing to ‘insurmountable technical difficulties’ it was not possible to organise the second day’s drive, so Day 1 was extended. At the end of this, everyone would head off along asphalt roads to Moreeb for food, beverages, entertainment and camping before returning home on Saturday at their leisure.

Marshals were required to have driven the entire route at least twice prior to the event. I drove the whole route twice plus the Day 2 route that was subsequently cancelled.

On the day itself the event was spectacularly well organised. There were separate areas of parking for marshals and drivers, there was breakfast, and a registration system to ensure that everyone got their lunch packs, water and goody bags. A fuel bowser was set up on site to fill everyone’s tanks. Cash only and, predictably, an enormous queue that resulted in a slight delay to some of the later starters. Marshals were inserted in pairs into the departing stream of traffic, and off everyone went.

With tulip diagrams and a GPS with the route programmed in, plus the huge numbers of wheel tracks in the sand, it was not easy to get lost. Added to this, the road book contained prominent landmarks, some of which had names that were also emblazoned on signs stuck on poles along the route.

There were a couple of inevitable stucks and unfortunately one or two breakdowns. Marshals were on hand to assist with minor repairs such as getting tyres back on to rims, pushing and towing. I felt it necessary to remind some participants to wear their seat belts. This included representatives of the Emirates Driving Institute, who I’d have thought should have known better. Everything was going swimmingly until we encountered the first big bowl. It was like a sandy version of the Battle of the Somme. What was supposed to be an easy drive down into a bowl and up the other side half a mile away turned into a morass of stuck vehicles. Of course, the dry sand didn’t help. It got chewed up by 1600 tyres and turned into talcum powder. Out came my tow rope and shovels.

“Have you lowered the tyre pressures?”

Of course everyone had, but several kilometres of sand driving had pushed the tyre temperatures up and the 15psi (one bar or 100kPa in new money) had turned into more than 20psi. In many cases, letting some more air out and giving a push was enough to get the stuck car moving again. One driver insisted that someone else drive his Land Cruiser out for him, so my navigator did so. I felt a bit guilty afterwards, so drove back in to give this family of pedestrians a lift up the hill to their car before they were either squashed by some high-speed loony or they fell over with the effort of walking up the slope.

Shortly thereafter my navigator spotted a camel actually giving birth. We stopped and waited, taking a well-earned breather from towing and pushing, and watched the rather wonderful sight of a new mother encouraging her brand new baby to get up on to its unreasonably long legs.

The Fun Drive route led in a very approximate semicircle back almost to the Hmeem Road. The deal for the competi- sorry, participants was that those who arrived at Check Point 2 before 2pm would be allowed to continue on to a more challenging additional section with lots of very large slip faces. Naturally, marshals were all very keen to do the last section. Just as well, really. There were plenty of stucks and a couple of breakdowns. Plus by this stage some drivers were getting a mite concerned about the red bit on the fuel gauge. We struggled to get a Nissan Patrol out of a horrid steep-sided soft bowl. Eventually we decided to check the driver’s claim that he’d lowered the tyre pressures instead of just taking his word for it.

“Hah! Twenty-one pounds per square inch!”

“But they were fifteen, honest!”

A quick session of deflation later and the Patrol drove straight out. There is a moral in there somewhere.

I got off the sand at around sunset and re-inflated using the facilities organised by Gulf News. A row of 4x4s lined up at the multiple filling whip looks to all the world like cattle at a trough. There were still plenty of cars in the desert behind me. The final sweep team and breakdown recovery must have had a very late night.

I can confirm having a whale of a time. I personally gave away fourteen ‘I’ve been rescued by ME4x4’ stickers.

I hope everyone else out there had fun, as per the name of the event. Commiserations to those who didn't finish because of mechanical failure. Hope it’s not put anyone off desert driving.

Marshalling again next year? You betcha!


Gnomad said...

You make reference to "Tulip Diagrams" and I've heard mention of "Tulip rallies", "tulip treasure hunts" and other such references. They've all involved driving around in rough country in off-road vehicles.

I'm going to show my ignorance now:

What have tulips got to do with off-road driving?

Grumpy Goat said...

In the 'road book', the list of directions, are sketches showing where to go at specific odometer readings. For example, 14.2km turn left at roundabout (with a little picture with an arrow entering at the the six o'clock position and exiting at the nine o'clock).

Read this for more details.

I have no idea why these miniature sketch-maps are 'tulips'.

Gnomad said...

I think I have found out the origin:

The following comes from

"Note that the name of tulip diagram, usually used to describe the road book diagrams come from the Tulip Rally (Tulpen Rally) of the 1950's."

Details of the current tulpen rally are here:

sounds like fun :)

dubaibilly said...

Great photos of the mother and baby camels - well spotted!

James Sanborn said...

Interesting blog.Liwa desert safari specialize in a range of Abu Dhabi Desert Safari.which offers a full day desert tour with a personal driver who drives you into the desert and to Liwa.


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