Friday, October 30, 2009

Solar Panel - requirement or luxury?

Are Solar Panels worth fitting to an overland vehicle?  
Does one require the additional power it generates or can a 2nd battery manage.  In this blog, I provide an overview of the benefits and disadvantages of adding a solar power system to your overland vehicle.

A quick story - BigSky Adventures, Mali, 2005
A quick story about why solar power has a benefit to play. March 2005 we were camping in Mali, on the banks of the Chutes de Gouina falls.

The mid March temperatures were reaching 45deg c. Extremely hot dry heat. We opted to stay for a few days chilling out in the water and exploring the falls. Our Defender was equipped with a dual battery config. The deep cycle secondary battery powered all auxiliaries and most importantly our Engel fridge.

The fridge was mounted at the rear of the Defender with easy access to the rear door.

The heat was excessive so the interior of the Landy crept up to high 40s. Even with the fridge turned to its lowest setting, the heat was causing it to constantly attempt to cool. This resulted in the auxiliary battery draining in 8 hours. If we had a solar panel, the battery drain would have been neutralized. Now, that would have been beneficial! 

A quick overview of Solar Power:
Wikipedia describes as follows: Solar Panels use light energy (photons) from the sun to generate electricity through photovoltaic effect (this is the photo-electric effect). The majority of modules use wafer-based crystalline silicon cells or a thin-film cell based on cadmium telluride or silicon. Crystalline silicon, which is commonly used in the wafer form in photovoltaic (PV) modules, is derived from silicon, a commonly used semi-conductor.

Adding a Solar Panel to your Overland Vehicle:
The quick answer to this question is as follows:

  • Mount the panel on the roofrack - ideally with removable mounts so that you can position the panel in the sun once parked in the shade.
  • Connect the wires to the Solar Charge Controller
  • Connect the Solar Charge Controller to your 2nd battery.

That's as easy as I think it gets.  Perhaps an expert might be needed to neaten up the wiring loom :-)

The Clear Benefits
The benefits include:
  • Additional battery capacity when remote camping
  • Vehicle Alternator not needing to fully charge the remote battery
  • Freedom of mind - i.e. being relaxed and knowing that your battery will be fully charged
The Disadvantages
Whilst reviewing the advantages for Solar power during the preparation for our BigSky Adventures overland trip, I opted a single reason why I would not fit one - The Expense.
This is still the number one reason why all overlanders don't have this handy feature fitted to the vehicle.

Purchasing a Solar Panel:

In the UK, I would recommend Sunshine Solar.  The products you need are:
  1. Solar Charge Controller - 10amp
  2. Solar Panel - 80Watt 
  3. Solar Panel Fixing Kit
The cost for the kit above is roughly  £460.  Money well worth spent!

In South Africa, the best advice and products are provided by Renzo at BushPower.

In summary, Solar Panels are a requirement for overland travel if you intend to remote camp often, and plan on using your fridge daily.

A new voice - stereo overland

Martin's kindly asked me to contribute to the site - my name's Sam, I drive a battered 110 called Elsa, and am hooked on the Sahara, though have travelled with Martin through East Africa as well.

Currently sitting in the bar of the Kingshouse in Glencoe writing a piece on Saharan travel, faithful old Defender sitting outside in the rain. Next trip probably Morocco and Western Sahara, last trip Egypt, looming Landy mods are a galv bulkhead, larger radiator and gasflow head - at 20 years and 250,000 miles old she deserves some TLC.

Had hoped to try out the Ozpig cast iron camping stove on this trip but the weather's been so crummy it's been easier to sit by the pub fire! Never mind - its beautiful here whatever the rain's doing.

Quite keen also to try out the (not yet wired up) RooLites I have fitted in a bank of 4 above the windscreen - I am well aware that roof spots make me look like a Camel Trophy Wannabe and a bit of a twit, but the Saharan habit of herding goats on roads at night, and the Moroccan laws that state that vehicles that travel slower than 30mph dont need running lights (??!!) have made me believe fervently in all the extra lighting I can get. Desert driving at night is not recommended at all, but when sheepdogging newcomers who have never travelled in the Sahara sometimes you need to to sort problems out!

Martin's discussing solar power on here - my two penn'orth, I run a Shell-Siemens solar panel on my wagon, it whacks out enough juice to keep the Engel fridge running with an external ambient temp of over 50 C, independent of the battery - very very good, tough kit, although the best UK seller, A B Butt of Leicester, sadly went bust a few months back in the credit crunch.
Overland Journal this month are discussing the merits of a flexible rollup panel, I am a Luddite here and feel that this will eventually cause delamination of the panel and failure - my panel is yacht decking-spec, a little heavy maybe, but solid enough to cope with sandstorms and Wolf boxes falling on it!

Happy trails.

Additional Links:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Kingsley Holgate - Mama Africa's Explorer

A new book by Kingsley Holgate has been released.  In this blog, I provide an overview of his books, plus a link to Amazon UK.

Kingsley Holgate - explorer, ambassador, husband, father - is an awesome South African Gent eagerly evangalising about Africa, her people, her life and beauty.  His latest book, Afrika : Dispatches from the Outside Edge has just been released.  The book is based on his recent expedition and can be viewed here - Outside Edge

I am looking forward to receiving my copy in the coming weeks.  Click here for Amazon UK

I have copies of all his books and highly recommend reading them:

Cape to Cairo - A family Expedition along the waterways of Africa
In his first book, Kingsley and his family take the Scroll of Peace, two inflatable boats and head North from South Africa following the waterways of Africa.  A good read that keeps you captivated and enthused about Africa's waterways.

Capricorn - Following the Invisible Line
Following the Invisible Line plots Kingsley and Co. taking two Land Rovers along the Capricorn Line.  Africa, the Americas, Australia and Madagascar form part of the route.  The book uniquely includes a DVD with video and photo highlights of the trip.  The Land Rover Defenders taking a punishing through mud, sand and bush but manage to take the crew around the world.

Africa - In the Footsteps of Great Explorers
There are plenty of Unsung African heroes - in this book, Kingsley and Co. follow those unsung heroes.  Good stories, especially as Kingsley's writing is real and enthusiastic.

Feel free to go ahead and purchase your Christmas gift!

For more information on Kingsley Holgate, see my blog about Vehicle Based Expeditions

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Overland Vehicle Insurance

What insurance is needed for Africa?  In this blog, I provide an overview of third party insurance for a Tran-Africa trip.
A mandatory requirement for every country in Africa is third party insurance.  In theory, this insurance will cover you for any accidents that may occur.  In reality, it's essential cover that will provide evidence at each police check point but will probably not cover you legally if you opt to go to court.  In most accidents, financial settlement will be negotiated and payment made in cash to the third party.

Majority of the African countries are covered by two consortium's, namely, Ecowas Brown Card and the Comesa Yellow Card.

Ecowas Brown Card
Ecowas refers to The Economic Community Of West African States and covers fifteen countries. Wikipedia provide a list of all current and past countries.
The insurance is provided in the first country of entry and is valid from the entry date.  Payment is usually in CFA or the equivalent Euro.
The Brown Card replaces the original Grey Card.  In some remote border posts, the police might refer to the insurance as Grey Card.

The following examples are from the BigSky Adventures 2005 overland trip.

Front Cover

First Page

List of Countries as per the insurance booklet.

Comesa Yellow Card
Comesa refers to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Wikipedia provide a list of the current and past member states.  Payment is usually in the local currency at the first border post or in US Dollars.

The following is an example from BigSky Adventures.

Other Countries
I don't have records of all the other countries we passed through but have the following:

A few EU countries provide third party insurance for Morocco.  Alternatively, insurance may be purchased at the first border crossing.  The process is relatively confusing but once at the correct office, the forms are simple if you have a copy of your vehicle documentation.


I have a copy of the Zambian vehicle insurance but also remember buying the Comesa insurance.  Additional clarification is required so double check prior at the border.

Vehicle Resume
One tip I was given was to create a English / French Vehicle Resume. We printed off about 100 copies and used them at each border, and police checkpoint.  It saves plenty of time and often the Police are happy to take the piece of paper rather than write the details down.
An example is provided below:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Lost Routes

Trans-Africa overland routes are constantly evolving ;  unfolding onto a new section of the Michelin map ; always paving a route North, South, East or West.  A route gets blocked, and another opens up...

A quick example from the diary of Graham Jackson and myself:
A year apart we crossed the same remote Gabon / Congo border.  Graham's Land Rover was the first overland vehicle in years, followed by our Land Rover a year later.  Graham journals the following:

Graham got his bolt cutters and cut the lock on the Gabon side of the gate, having decided that was easier than digging up the dead guy to retrieve the key. We drove through 100m of tall grass to reach the Congo side of the border. The officials stamped our passports at the border, then we followed the pickup 10km to Mbinda. The road was very slow and there were many deep mudholes filled with water from last night's rain. Toki got mired once as the dead spot in the steering makes for some tricky driving. A quick tug from the Pinzi got us moving again.

Our journal a year later related a similar experience.  We eventually crossed the border at 9pm.  I remember patiently waiting to be escorted to the village school where we would be allowed to camp for the night. The relatively short drive along a rough track was slightly harder due to the lights on the Defender failing.
Our route, however, is now a well known route and definitely not part of the Lost Routes.

From Cas & Grahams Tran-Africa Map

The Lost Routes across Africa overflow with adventure, myth and beauty.
Currently the Lost Routes across Africa are mainly Algeria (exiting the Southern Borders) and the large central African region. The map above, photographed by me in 2004 show the route Cas and Graham did in the early 1990's. Typically, the route entered Cameroon, crossed the border into Central Africa Rep. before turning South through the DRC (then called Zaire) and finally East into Uganda.  Mysterious cities, known to most by name only,  linked all these routes - Bangui, Bangassou and Kisangali.

View Overland Routes in a larger map

In 1991 Derek Tearne (Flickr) crossed Algeria heading South.  His route crossed the Sahara before heading East to Central African Republic, Zaire (DRC) and into Uganda.  This is one of the Lost Routes.
His website reads: "A few kilometres down the road, in Mambas, we meet two tour trucks full of tourists driving from East Africa to Europe. Usually when any travellers met on the road they would stop and talk. Some of these tours last for over six months and the trucks seemed to be very self contained. Often the passengers didn't seem to have the same need to communicate as other travellers. The passengers on these two trucks seemed particularly subdued and uninterested in talking. We found one passenger who didn't mind chatting and discovered that the main road route to Beni was closed due to repairs and they had taken the short cut. This road was particularly narrow and had proved difficult for their large trucks. It had taken them four days to drive from Beni. They were already feeling worn down by Zaire. Little did they know how much more Zaire there was to come."

Following a similar route was Derick Lean.  Heading to Kisangani he journals:

Day 126 Wednesday 17th February 1993 60 Km
Get up and go. Road of similar quality all the way to Kisangani, boring but not fast. Pass one small town, perched on the banks of a Congo tributary, beautiful setting but basically in ruins. Arrive in Kisangani about 09:30. Checkpoint into town is a mere formality.

Central Africa, with her red soil, gigantic jungles, offers snaking roads which zigzag the dozen or more rivers.  The rainy season brings mud, and ruts, whilst the dry season bring broken bridges, red dust and humidity.
Her cities are a maze of ex-colonial development, UN investment and African politics.  Tourism does not exist.

It's been almost two decades since these Lost Routes have been used.  I am certain a few brave overlanders have completed the Central Africa route.

The one trip that I know of, in French, is the following website:

Red Bird Dream - unfortunately his journal is no longer available on his website.

In concluding my thoughts, I long for more information about these routes and the early overland trips.  Perhaps one day the current routes will close and Central Africa will re-open.  When that happens, hopefully I will be there meeting people, finding routes and crossing Africa.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Vehicle based expeditions...

Having just watch the internet movie Flying the Fish about a couple of friends who fly their microlights from Cape Town to the Fish River Canyon in Namibia, it lead me to think about overland trips that served a purpose i.e. the vehicle became a means by which something else was achieved.

My first example is Kingsley Holgate and his Outside Edge Expedition.  In all of Kingsley's expeditions, vehicles become key to delivering a scroll of peace, or carrying a cargo load of anti-malaria mosquito nets.  His vehicles are well equipped, driven hard and all have endless stories to tell!  Youtube have plenty of videos relating to Kingsley Holgate.  A favourite is his talk on behalf of the David Rattray Foundation:

A second trip springs to mind - The 1998 London to Sydney Overland Expedition. I am still uncertain if they actually flew the microlights but the idea certainly was to take them along.

A third trip that I thought was unusual was the Pizza Delivery team. This trip, more of a challenge, lead the team to ride motorbikes from South Africa North to deliver a pizza!

There are many trips who have used the Overland journey as means of raising awareness for charity organisations.  I would attempt to list them all but it would take me ages to sift through the full list.  A few charities spring to mind - Anti Land Mines, Malaria, Children and farming - to name a few.

Thinking outside the vehicle, I wonder what other unusual overland trips people have accomplished by using a vehicle as the base for the expedition.

A few alternative ideas that spring to mind:

Mapping Africa - Tracks 4 Africa have already started this and are doing a stirling job.
Flying - following a full Trans-Africa trip that uses a paramotor, microlight or gyrocopter
Sport - Travel through Africa linking up with local sport teams.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Overlanding with Kids

During our BigSky Adventures trip in 2005 I often wondered what it would be like travelling with a kid.  Our Land Rover Defender catered for the two of us - two front seats only, and a double bed rooftent.  Limited space meant that there was no onboard shower, toilet or even a heater.

As I pondered the idea, I began to research how many people complete a full Trans-Africa journey,or overland journey with children.  A friend of mine told me his story how he and his wife drove from South Africa to Germany in a Land Rover Forward Control.  His son adapted perfectly and helped ease the border process as officials recognised them as a family, and not as travelers.

The current list of travelers with kids are:

My thoughts are beginning to evolve, especially now that I have become a dad.  Our daughter is still a little young to go off on a Trans-Africa trip however, I do think that it might be possible when she is four or five years old.

Vehicle Choice: Small 4x4 - Land Rover or Toyota
A Land Rover Defender will seat three people up front, however, the cramped driving conditions will be difficult over a longer driving period.  If I think back to the bad roads in Angola, having a child sitting next to me would be hazardous due to the constant jolting of the Land Rover.

4x4 Truck
This would be my ideal choice.  The front cab area is large enough for three people, plus the rear load area is sufficient for beds, washing facilities and seating area.

The UK second hand market, mainly ex military, offers ex Daf, Bedford and the odd Iveco.  A few trips with trucks are listed on The Africa Overland Network.

Back to travelling with kids... I don't have much more to add as I need to research a little more.

More later...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Canvas Roof

With three weekends left before the clocks change in the UK, I felt it was time to re-fit the canvas roof to my cherished Series III 88" Land Rover.  The vehicle was built in 1972 and was fitted with a 2.25L diesel engine.  Underpowered, and as noisy as a tractor, this little 88" turns heads.  The four speed gearbox is fitted with a Fairey Overdrive.  The 16" rims have baby 205/80 tyres but can support the bigger 7.50x16.

The speed claims about 97 000miles but this might only represent the chassis, however, a rebuild did take place 2 years ago.  I can confirm that this is the 3rd engine as the vehicle documentation needed changing, plus the original engine it came with when I bought it seized a month ago.  The new engine is an ebay special so no idea on mileage but based on the engine number it was no. 305 of the Land Rover Factory floor.

The 88" looking bare without its canvas roof - but in this mode, it's a great vehicle to drive in the summer.

First up, are the hoops.  They slot into the rear bin and have a retaining nut and bolt to keep them in place.

Next up are the door frames, which are connected to the hoops.  The door frames have a runner for the canvas to fit.

And finally the canvas roof.  The top of the front windscreen has hoops for the roof to connect to.  The canvas is held in place via a number of internal straps.

The rear of the Land Rover.  I have fitted a fume curtain which should assist with retaining the heat in the front cabin.  On that note, the heat is generated via the water cooling system as its heated through the engine.  Fresh air is sucked through a vent on the left side of the engine.  The heat varies depending on the running temperature of the engine. i.e. only once the engine is warm does the heater work.

Fitting the door windows comes next.  It's an easy job to do as only two nuts hold the top in place.

And finally the job is done.   Not quite your modified Land Rover for overland travel but decades ago, this was one of the few options available.

Here are a few Series Land Rovers kitted for overland travel:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Old overlanding photos...

It's not often that I stumble across old overlanding / travel photos.  Thanks to this couple they have added early travel photos dating back to the 70's.

It would be good to see more archived photos from early overlanding trips.  Anyone have some hidden away?

A few Land Rover photos taken from Janet's album:

I guess they did not have GPS, Sat Phone, email or Twitter to communicate ;-)