Off road repairs on a South African farm.

As our attention focused on the metal ‘twang’ under the vehicle, Amanda braked sharply. Even before we had come to a stand still, a scan of the dashboard showed the ABS indicator lit up.

It was day four of a twelve day bird survey on a proposed wind farm in the Eastern Cape. We were in the process of commuting on a Jeep track across a vegetated dune in a section of farm where fences were being replaced.

We had just driven across a roll of discarded fencing wire in long grass. A loose strand of wire had hooked on the forward towing ‘D’ ring and the rest of the coil had wrapped around the rear axle and right rear wheel, severing the ABS cable.

From experience, we could contine driving with the damage under normal circumstances. The only snag was that we had to traverse 1km of thick sand before climbing over two dunes that required a minimum of diff lock to get over. With the severed cable, diff lock was not going to engage. And where we had to drive was definately not going to be normal driving conditions.

To start, we had to remove the tangle of wire from the axle. While a pair of flat nose pliers and a Leatherman Wave did the job, a pair of side cutters would have been a lot better.

With the wire off, the next task was to reconnect the ABS cable. A minor setback was discovering that part of the plug housing had broken off and was lost in the grass.

GB_Su 019With the plug removed the major challenge presented itself – all we had to work with were two sections of wire, a white and a blue, protruding from the sealed section of the plug, both wires less than 8mm long.

The plan was to use two strip connectors to join the severed wires, but after stripping the protective sheath off, the strands of each wire frayed open, proving difficult to insert them into the connectors. So the plan had to change. In the middle of a dune field, it was not as simple as heading down to the local repair shop for spares. In the eastern Cape local shops and hardware stores take a firm stance of closing at 16h30 as fishing and surfing are more important than commerce. It was 16h00 and getting into St Francis Bay before the close of day was going to be tight, so Amanda called ahead and begged one establishment to stay open till 17h00.

GB_Su 017With the limited equipment available, it was time employ the famous South African expression ” ‘n boer maak ‘n plan” (a farmer makes a plan) to overcome the difficulty of the frayed wire not going into the strip connector. Our moment of genius was to cut sections of a tea light aluminum casing, wrapped it around the trimmed end of a matchstick to create a feral. To then get the ferals over the frayed wire ends we plucked a strand of hair from Amanda’s blonde mane, tied a slip knot in one end, looped it over the loose wires and tightened the knot.It took some time and precision to get the ferals onto the wire ends, but once crimped on, they sloted into the strip connectors perfectly.

Once the adapted plug was reconnected and inserted into the ABS socket the true test was to scale the dune. For the first 500m the ABS dashboard light obstinately remained on and the diff lock refused to engage. Then everything worked and we set off for the neccessary dune climb to our survey vantage point.

On our two previous survey visits we had endured heavy rains which had firmed up the sand. On this survey trip the heat wave had created extremely soft sand. Added to which a tractor had been churning up the track for a few days. Even before we started the second ascent Amanda’s knuckles were white as she clutched in anticipation.

It was the tractor rut a few meters from the top that quite literally stopped us in our tracks. Thankfully gravity helped us down for another attempt. At the base of the dune we hopped out and deflated the tyres to 160 bars, took a deep breath and gunned for the top of the dune. When we hit the tractor tracks our forward momentum slowed and by the time the rear wheels crossed the tracks our chances of a summit were 50:50.

It was with a syncrhronous sigh of releif that we summited and sped down the southern slope towards the second dune. Free of tractor tracks and having a small amount of veggetation, traction was good and we popped up onto the crest without slowing down. Thankfully the repairs to the ABS had held up and we could continue with our survey schedule.

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