June 2012: Please note that due to the very low bandwidth of African internet - it proved difficult to update our blog. We posted 'live' updates via Twitter and pledged to update the blog on our return. Sorry - it's just the way it was! Luckily there was always good old fashioned pen and paper to record events. Please keep checking back as I strive to catch-up!…..

Jeff Gosling Hand Controls Fitted

I had my first drive of Paula the Azalai today as we picked her up from GM Coachworks. They had fitted a push/pull hand control by Jeff Gosling and a removable steering ball. Despite the Exmoor Trim extended seat runners and the QT smaller steering wheel it is still quite a tight fit in the Defender cab! I think if my shin was just a few millimetres longer I’d be looking for plan B. Anyway as it is the maiden voyage went fine and they are definitely a great option for me. Great service again from GM Coachworks.

Paula goes back to OEC next week for a few tweaks (and hopefully the tail-lift fitting). The next job then is to get logo’d up with the decals of our kind sponsors to date.

We are also in the early stages of planning a fund-raising party at the Zoo (Paignton) Saturday Feb 19th 2011 – watch this space for more details in the near future……

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Delivery of the Land Rover Azalai

Well it’s got there – just about. Today we went over to OEC to collect ‘Paula*’ from OEC. We arrived late in the afternoon and found the guys hosing her down (luckily for Alicja who otherwise might have found that she was carwashing it at her fundraiser tomorrow!)

The tail-lift is still being fabricated and we will need to take it over to GM Coachworks to get the hand-controls refitted – so it was left to Rachel to bring the Azalai home. Paul ran through the various systems and controls, and Anton presented us with a bottle of champagne – one of only six in existence, especially bottled to celebrate the Azalai. (The six were a gift from a French customer). It was a really nice touch and something we both really appreciated. None of the others have even been opened yet.

Paula the Azalai gets ready to leave OEC

Paula the Azalai gets ready to leave OEC

We will be going back in a few weeks or so to get the tail-lift fitted, when Paul returns from his well-earned holiday. In the meantime it will be a bunk-up and ‘arse-ing it’ in.

We have had a busy week regarding all things expedition. Tuesday saw us in Tavistock at a Royal Geographical Society lecture by James Moore, Expedition Medic and Director of Travel Health Consultancy. It was a great presentation as he recounted various tours he had medic’d on (including Joanna Lumley’s ‘Nile’ series). I think we will be in touch again imminently with regard to us seeking advice for our trip. As it happens James had already seen our website and knew of our plans. Another bonus is that his practice is in Exeter – another great local discovery for us.

On Thursday I gave our first talk on the expedition. It was to ‘The Sunrise’ branch of the local Rotary. The clue was in the name and I should have twigged sooner that they meet at 0700! Still they were a great audience and I hope that they got something out of the presentation. Certainly it was a chance to highlight the work of www.motivation.org.uk

So just a quick post to mark the day we took delivery. I’m sure we will be blogging much more frequently as we get acquainted with the Azalai (aka Paula).

Thanks to all at OEC from both of us.

If you want to see the vehicle come over to Alicja’ car-wash at Chez Tisdall, Saturday (16th Oct) we will be there most of the day – and bring donations too as Alicja is collecting for the cause.

*You may recall from earlier blogs Paula is the name of my primary nurse from the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Unit back in the day (1986 as it happens). It’s a tribute thing (if having a LR named after you is a tribute!)

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Delivery Pressing and Land Rover World Magazine

We went over to OEC to keep an appointment with Simon Ward-Hastelow, Azalai Owner and Editor of Land Rover World magazine. As explained in earlier blogs, Simon was the first to own a UK registered Azalai; although he went to France to get all of the work done to his 300 tdi 130  base vehicle (pre-OEC Azalai conversions). He was getting a bit of maintenance work undertaken, so it was mutually opportune to catch-up and explain a bit more detail about the Indlovu Trans-Africa Drive.

Well we chatted for a good few hours and explained our timings, the route, the ongoing but tempered frustration of build time (more later), the work of www.motivation.org.ukand the relevance of our adopting it as the Indlovu Drive’s charity of choice. We also explored some of the evolutionary path  that OEC were taking in developing the Azalai product. Simon gave us a couple of top tips that you won’t find in the brochure too – both worth recording here:

  • When camped for the night, fully inflate the suspension bags (ie beyond the maximum pressure for road use) as this greatly reduces any tendency of the cabin to sway as the occupants move about inside.
  • Ahead of traversing any rougher terrain – disconnect the SOG unit from the toilet waste tank and bung the connector. Failure to do this can result in Sh1t being sloshed through the fan!

The upshot is that Land rover World magazine (LRW to it’s friends) would like to carry a feature on the planning and build, as well as a series of follow-up articles as the expedition progresses. Good news for us as it will help to raise the profile of the venture at a national level. It will also contribute to our objective of learning new skills as part of the project. Simon was particularly interested in Motivation.org.uk - so hopefully there will be some positive spin-off for their 20th anniversary ‘Wheels Out of Poverty’ campaign too.

Obviously we’ll be posting news of any publication dates here in the blog.

With regards to the build, little has happened to our Azalai over the last week, as OEC advised that they were going to put all of their resources into finishing one destined for Roger Young Land Rover in Saltash (the guys who did us so well on our base vehicle). The thinking being that ours could not be progressed too much further until the tail-lift adaptation was fitted. Clearing the RY Azalai would subsequently free up labour to then subsequently get ours finished quickly [post tail-lift fitting] .

It was clear that the OEC guys had been flat-out on the RY Azalai. It was due to go out that day and everyone was busy polishing and tweaking. However it was a bit disappointing to hear that our tail-lift had not yet gone off for fabricating. Paul (OEC) mitigated this by explaining that he was in consultation with the fabricators (and others) to see which parts could be made in 6mm steel, rather than a ‘default’ 10mm. Obviously this is an important consideration in keeping the additional weight to a minimum (as it will all detract from the payload).

Nonetheless, we have had over another week lapse and the completion date (as estimated by Harris) remains a month hence. I have blogged before that this slippage has a direct and adverse impact for some fundraising opportunities. We have stopped trying to predict a completion date with any certainty now – and OEC seem equally vague – although there is no doubt that it would suit them as much as us to see the build finished soonest!

Of course (and again as previously blogged) much of the additional time can be attributed to the adaptations and the development of improved design, features and component parts. We will be getting a better and more efficient Azalai than the one originally spec’d a year ago (for the same cost). That said, it would have been really useful to have had a realistic build time from the off. This would have helped us to then in turn reflect  more accurate, detailed, proposals to potential backers etc. Even more seriously the extended time is a valid threat to having enough time and opportunity for ‘shake-down’ trips and training.

Also thanks due to Sarah Taylor for her kind donation to the Indlovu Trans-Africa Drive.

With regards to recording the trip, we have been deliberating whether to use video as a media. This would be an additional expense and another new (long and steep) learning curve to accommodate. If anyone has any thoughts on this then please do get in touch. We are willing to invest in the gear (good enough hardware and software) and the learning if there is a possibility on ultimately getting a reciprocal return (IE does anyone think we’ll be able to get footage that we can fashion into stories? Clearly there are several possible threads that we could explore – but it’s a whole new dimension compared to our more practiced media of still photography.)  Advice welcome.

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Land Rover Springs, Seats, Trim, Thrones and Hobs

Water Tank in Place

Water Tank in Place

Richard and I had another jaunt to OEC today, we were asked not to go too early as the boys had been away at the Landrover show in Billing all weekend and had a bit of tidying to do before we would be able to get to the vehicle. Paul was again on hand to advise of the new additions to the Landy (Paula), the frame for the Azalai is in the process of being mounted, the water tanks are in situ as is the pipework which takes the warm water from the engine’s cooling system and around the water tanks to ensure the water stays above freezing. Once the frame has been fixed it will be possible to attach the Pod, I certainly look forward to taking that picture!

Uprated Front Nearside Spring (polybags to follow)

Uprated Front Nearside Spring (polybags to follow)

The uprated front suspension springs are in and the back ones will be fitted next – once there’s room on the ramp in the workshop! The suspension airbags will be going in soon too of course.

A couple of weeks ago we ordered the new front seats from Exmoor Trim, these being the very excellent Defender Elite Seats in Outlast trim. We were advised that we needed to get cracking with the order as there was likely to be a 4-5 week lead time on these, however these have arrived and can now be fitted – once in we can contact GM Coachworks to look at the hand controls/left foot accelerator options.

Exmoor Trim Defender Elite

Exmoor Trim Defender Elite

The Pod is coming along nicely, the toilet is in along with the cupboard and the shelving behind. The bench seats are all finished as are  the load bearing supports for the upper and lower bunks. The hobs and blower lid have arrived although not fitted yet – they look very neat. The seats for the benches were not at OEC (they are finished but take up alot of room and so are being stored elsewhere) so it will still be a surprise regarding the colour/pattern, hopefully will hide the dirt and dust nicely.

Galley Area (Wallas hob not yet in)

Galley Area (Wallas hob not yet in)

Toilet and Shower

Toilet and Shower

Paul with the Wallas Hob

Paul with the Wallas Hob

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Land Rover Azalai Finishing Touches

We haven’t visited OEC again this week, but there has been much contact as the outstanding issues reach a resolution.

After market copy of the console as used in the automatic Defender 50th anniversary and NAS spec vehicles.

After market copy of the console as used in the automatic Defender 50th anniversary and NAS spec vehicles.

After fitting the centre console that came with the 2.4 TDCi Defender Ashcroft Auto Kit OEC decided that it wasn’t quite right. (This NAS copy as stated on Ashcroft’s website has no lock on the cubby-box.) Consequently they are going to chop it in two and use the fore section to shroud the levers. They are also going to fabricate a metal cubby box, powder-coat it and trim it with upholstery to match that of the Azalai. It will have a lock matching the other lockers on the Azalai, all as part of the overall job. Whereas this might add some extra time to the project, it is exactly this attention to detail that mean OEC are such great people to deal with.

After a staff meeting this week it looks like the tail-lift will be bespoke and hydraulic with an electrically powered actuator. OEC are meeting a tail-lift supplier this week to see whether there is an off the shelf platform available to form the basis for this.

The order has gone in for a pair of Exmoor Trim Elite’s in Outlast Canvas. They will sit on raisers to increase available leg-room.

GM Coachworks are on board with making the disabled driving adaptations work (will need to happen after the seats are in so everything can be properly ‘tailored’)

My current guestimate – August

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