After the adventures of the day, discussion around the camp that night was all about the “what ifs”. What if they didn’t let us go? What if they pulled the trigger and shot one or all of us? Sleeping under the clear desert stars and waking the next morning ready for whatever was next in our adventure. We didn’t have to wait long! The desert in this area was mainly small low lying hills and dunes that were covered in clumps of sunburnt and windswept bush. So for me leading the way it was great fun picking creative driving lines in and out of gullies and troughs and up and over the various rises we could climb.
We traveled along like this for a few hours when I noticed the Yellow Landrover was no longer in my rearview mirror. We didn’t have radio communications of any sort so I waited for them to catch up. There was no sign of them after 10 minutes so we started backtracking the way we had come. As we came up a rise and onto a small flat area there they were with the bonnet up. They tell me how it just stopped and now it won’t start (their a helpful lot). I start to investigate and sure enough the motor won’t start in fact it won’t even turn over although I can get a little bit of back and forth on the crankshaft with a spanner. I’m starting to think we have a real problem and would need to go deeper into the motor.
Seeing as how we would be a while I suggested we get some shade set up and get lunch happening while some of the guys and I start spinning the spanners. We pulled the rocker cover of and all looks normal so off comes the sump to have a looksy looksy in there and oh dear. The insides look like scrambled eggs. I can see a bent connecting rod. Now it’s “off with it’s head” which reveals the complete picture. An exhaust valve head has broken off the valve stem and very quickly smashed a hole in the piston, bent a connecting rod, and bent and cracked the cylinder head. It had even caused the spark plug to break away and fall into the head forming a perfect hole in the top of the piston shaped like a spark plug.
Surely it must be time for a cup of tea:) What to do, what to do, what to do. I had a decent range of spares but not a new cylinder head or Con rod. After a fair bit of deliberations as a team it was decided that we would head to the city of Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania for the parts. For security, 2 of the team would stay behind and wait with the 4wd till we returned with the spares required. Once the plan was made everyone repacked and jammed ourselves into the 2 remaining landrovers. Yes Bill and Bob the flower pot men were still with us. I had carefully collected all the parts that needed to be replaced and tried to think through every possibility of what could go wrong and how I could solve it if need be. There was no coming back to grab something I had forgotten.
The thought of leaving friends in the desert without any way of getting out was very scary and we were determined to get back to them one way or another. As we headed off we had a real sense of excited fear in the vehicles. As we continued picking our way across the desert there wasn’t much talking as we tried to get our heads around what had just happened.
We all wanted to go on an adventure when we had left London but this was hectic and felt like it was well and truly on the edge of reality with danger around us all the time. Maybe thats what adventure is, the excitement before hand the fear during it and the fantastic stories afterwards.
It was well into the afternoon by now and we were getting close to the beach which we could use as a road all the way down to Nouakchott. Once we got onto the beach Shaun informed us that there was a National Park that we had to pass through and that they would want to see that all who had entered the National Park we’re leaving it as well. Of course we had a problem not only had we left a vehicle in the park but we planned to come back into the park and rescue them. As we’re heading down the beach we’re trying to come up with plans of how we could miss the National Park check point when suddenly we were at it and had to stop.
Shaun once again begins negotiations and tries to explain why we’re one Landrover short and missing 2 bodies. After an hour Shaun decides the African way is best and just pays a bribe so we can get on our way. The conditions being that we MUST stop in there on our way back so they can record that we have got our other vehicle out. (read so they can get more bribe money from us) We were all over that one now so we just plotted the location into the GPS to be used later.
A few Kilometers down the beach it was almost dark and the tide was rising chewing away at the beach so we decided to head into the dunes again and make camp for the night. Once again as we sat on the top of a sand dune with a peaceful breeze in our faces watching the moon rise above the Atlantic we discussed the adventures of another day in Africa.
The next morning we make our way along the beach arriving in Nouakchott soon after lunch. When travelling a book written by the Lonely planet is a must have and the girls had been reading up on where we should stay in town and had settled on a modest Cafe’ with lodging rooms out back. I was mad keen to get our parts and head back out to get our friends but by the time we had settled into our digs and sorted out a few other details like getting some black market currency everything was closed for the day.
Now I’m not sure how the African system works but most Africans seem to know someone who can get things done for you and all you have to do is ask a few questions of people and most of your requirements can be arranged and this was the case for us. We needed someone who knew where to go to get the parts we needed and as it turned out we were in luck. The Cafe’ owner knew a guy who had a car and for a small fee would take us around town collecting all the parts we would need. Now it seemed to me that the spare parts trade was a generally a mix of specialists where one guy would sell reconditioned pistons another the conrods and another the bearings. This made the job of buying our parts ridiculously time consuming.
Our Chauffeurs car was a 1970ish Peugeo that would have had it’s last service in 1970 and by the time we all piled into it it certainly made many noises of complaint but hey thats Africa. You just go with the flow and it was better than walking. We thought the best place to start would be the Landrover dealer who had most of the parts in stock and even showed us a brand new cylinder head but we didn’t own an oil company so couldn’t afford any of his parts so off we go to the black market side of town.
I won’t bore you with the details but it took 5 days of scrounging around the back blocks to find all the parts we needed. The piston from our motor was one size oversize and all I could find was a std size piston. The cylinder head we got our hands on had been serviced that many times without new parts that the valves had almost receded to the bottom of the valve seats. But as best I could tell it was flat and would work.
Around about day 4 in town and Shaun and I start to think through and plan our rescue mission when we realised that we wouldn’t have enough fuel in the tanks to drive out into the desert and return let alone have enough fuel to drive the stranded Landrover in so we needed to find a clean drum to hold at least 100 liters of petrol. We set our chauffeur who had proved his worth onto the task and within the day returned with a drum strapped to the roof of the Peugeo. Upon inspection it was actually clean inside and would work well for us.
Last week I posted this blog which can be seen as a hot potato. I hope that you read the full post and were able to form an educated opinion on the use of the Hitch pin during a recovery. If you want to check the blog out go to http://madmatt4wd.com.au/mad-matt-blogs/
As I mention in my blog I hear about shearing and bent hitch pins but have personally never seen one, even after a Google image search. I honestly thought I would get a fair few pictures of bent and sheared hitch pins sent my way, considering we all have cameras but alas not a single picture, once again just stories. So to learn a bit more on your thoughts i have set up a Poll at the end of this page.
But for now I choose to stand by my original Blog that to use a hitch pin is an acceptable, safe recovery tool although not the safest. The worst story posted on Facebook was that of 2 vehicles that ended up bogged with 2 bent pins and a taught snatch strap between them. My response to that is, whats unsafe about that situation? Nothing, yes it’s a pain for the vehicles and they may have had to cut the snatch strap, but no one got hurt which is what safety is about. If your interested in reading the responses go to my Facebook page, there’s some good thoughts posted by others for your consideration. Until I receive evidence of a sheared hitch pin feel free to continue using that method until you can afford to upgrade to a hitch receiver with rated bow shackle for your recoveries.
This is a subject that comes up regularly around the camp fire and it seems to me that there are 2 schools of thought.
First, “it’s safe and I have done many recoveries over the years without hassles.”
The second I hear is, “it’s safe but the pin can bend and therefore getting the snatch strap out becomes very difficult, probably requiring a grinder to cut the pin off.”
I personally have a “Pintle Hook” for my rear recovery point which mounts directly to the chassis rail with 4 x 10mm high tensile bolts. The most common rear recovery point is a hitch receiver that takes a rated Bow shackle. It is my opinion that a hitch receiver is the safest, most cost effective, simple solution for the vast majority of 4wders.
I recently got a comment on the MadMatt YouTube channel about hitch pins as a recovery point and this is what prompted me to outline my thoughts on this subject.
This is the comment from, “eastcoastcam” You should NEVER use a hitch pin as a connection for your strap. The pin is not designed for that kind of force and can be deadly. Friends of mine did that and it broke, luckily only taking out a headlight and it wasn’t even a hard tug, no worse than yours in the video.
I thank ‘Eastcoastcam’ for taking the time to give his input which I have no doubt is based on a true story, I would love to see some pictures as I believe there would be some other contributing factors for this to happen, but I don’t have all the facts nor do I know everything and can always learn from others. So if you have stories WITH PICTURES showing pins that have bent or broken with the strap still in the hitch receiver I would love to see them so I can help educate all of us. (Not stories of your lost cousins mate who knew some guy who wanted to buy a 4wd one day who saw a bent pin while on the drink one night)
So, my thoughts on this subject: As I talk about in my video (see below) the main issue I see as a danger is that of the strap getting cut if it comes against the edge of the receiver, so keep the strap coming straight out of the receiver by having the vehicles in line with each other so that the recovery is in a straight line. If this can’t be done then use other recovery techniques and/or equipment.
For a long time I thought using the hitch pin was a concern, so I would avoid using it. After watching numerous safe recoveries and talking to some industry experts, I felt that it was a safe technique, although not the safest.
My thoughts on why a hitch pin is safe to use for recoveries:
The pin diameter is similar to that of a shackle so there is no chance of the pin cutting the strap.
The pin is in a shear load which is by far the strongest.
“IF” the pin bends the worst that happens is the strap is difficult to remove.
“IF” the pin shears the broken pin needs to pull through into the center of the receiver which I can’t see happening because the snatch strap will not have sufficient friction on the pin to exert the force required to pull the pin into the hitch. I believe the strap would come away from the hitch without the broken bit’s of the pin. Keep in mind the pin has a bend in one end and a “R” clip in the other, both these need to pull through into the center of the receiver for them to become a projectile.
Pins are made of a steel that, although very strong, will bend rather than fracture if a pin was made of brittle steel.
If you do use a hitch pin make sure it’s a quality pin and always fit the “R” clip to the pin once the snatch strap if fitted.
When you’re doing your recoveries, please keep all the bystanders well out of the way and only have the drivers in the vehicles.
I do add some cautions to all I’m saying here and that is, that the hitch receiver and tow pack, is not a rated recovery system but it is well proven in the field as an acceptable recovery system when used within some guidelines. NEVER EVER do a recovery using a tow ball as this is well proven as a VERY dangerous recovery.
In a snatch recovery if anything must fail it should be the snatch strap because, although it is still dangerous, it would be very unlikely to seriouslyhurt a person if they got hit. I have seen many straps break over the years and the worst damage I’ve seen from a strap is a good dent in the leading edge of the roof above the windscreen of a Defender. So as long as the metal items are far stronger than the snatch strap a snatch recovery using a hitch pin should be seen a safe procedure.
In answer to my question “Is a hitch pin acceptable as a snatch recovery point?” my answer is, yes it is safe but it is not the safest the Hitch receiver or Pintle hook is safer again. If you need to find out the best system for your 4wd please go to your local 4wd accessory specialist for their advice. I would love pictures and the stories behind them, so either post in the comments here or send your stories in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t know if you’ve ever done it but if not it can add a whole new dimension of fun to your 4wding and that is going for a wheel at night. I love a night drive and in particular a rock crawling sort of drive. I put this video together a while back with a few of my ideas on 4wding at night and I hope the tips can help you out as well. Have a watch and share it with your mates who need some help on the road at night :). Anyhow I’m MadMatt stay safe on the trails at night won’t you.
So often when we hear all the hype around the great products that are available for our 4wd recovery purposes we can forget the basics. Over the years i have found that the humble shovel and car jack can be very effective tools in a recovery. There was a time when I want for a quick little play on a local track and got myself stuck at night by myself and pre mobile phones. Not having a winch i was able to use the car jack to jack up the rear wheels and dig out a bit under the differential. Then i got some sticks and rocks and packed up under the tyres and simply drove out. took a bit a time but simple tools and a bit of time saw me clear and on my way home. So remember sometimes simple tools are all we need in a recovery situation. I’m MadMatt stay safe on the trails.