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Four Days and 408km on the Road with Alwyn Vintcent and the Official Videographer

The Holiday of a Lifetime!

Before 7am on Monday 25th June 2012, the team assigned to follow Steam Tug Alwyn Vintcent on her epic voyage overland from the V&A Waterfront to her new home and new life on dry land in the inland town of Villiersdorp, started assembling in the harbour.

The five members of the Villiersdorp Tractor & Engine Club who accompanied the vessel all the way were (in [guessed] age order) Dennis Viljoen, Nelis Lamprecht, Andy Selfe, Tom (Oubaas) Theron, and Willem (Exhaust-pot) Roux. The sixth member of this group was Monty Swart from Pretoria, our official videographer. Oom Denis and Nelis were travelling in the Kombi, towing the caravan which was our Ďbed and breakfastí for the trip. Oubaas in his Caravelle and Willem in his Isuzu bakkie (pick-up / Ute) were support crew, and my job was to get Monty to the best vantage points for stunning footage!††

Others accompanying the tour for parts of it were our webmaster Hermann Geldenhuys, pro-photographer Trevor Wilkins (see his pictures here and elsewhere on this website), Julius Herfurth, Eric Le Roux, Harvey Metcalf, Mike Heath and Keith Wetmore (see his you-tubes on this site).

Many other Tractor & Engine Club members joined us for the night-time outspans where swinging parties developed, and of course, for the triumphant entry into Villiersdorp on Thursday.

By the time we had the stuck gate of the holding area opened (by Willem towing it with his bakkie), members of the Press and TV started arriving and interviewing members of our group, as well as Etienne Gouws, Chief Dockmaster, who had lifted our Tug out of the water and the all-important Captain Steven Bentley, V&A Waterfront Harbour-Master, without whom Alwyn Vintcent would have been cut up long ago!

Champagne was popped (and drunk!) on the bows of our vessel, all set up on her 88-wheel low-bed, while the drivers from ALE Heavy-lift were doing their checks and raising the trailer to its working height. Johannes Uysís men from Machine Moving and Engineering (MME) were removing their gas cutting equipment which had been left on the deck from the previous Saturday.

The team from the Cape Town Area Traffic Police introduced themselves to us, getting to know our vehicles and our roles in the convoy. They quickly understood that I was to be given every opportunity to get past the convoy, to give time to scout for the best vantage points for Monty.

With the gate opened to the Port of Cape Town at the other end of the holding area, we were ready to move at last! We had been scheduled to move Ďafter rush hourí, but in the end it was about 11am before we actually moved out into Duncan Road, along all the quays† towards the Abnormal Load Exit of the Harbour area. The first set-up was on a pile of granite chips at this corner, opposite the stacking for the refrigerated containers which are used for our fruit. Instead of exiting ourselves with the load, we went through the normal exit and arrived in Marine Drive, Paarden Eiland in front of the load. While Monty filmed the procession, still including the superstructure on MMEís low-bed at this stage, I gave an interview for Die Burger newspaper (see you-tube on this site).

Catching up after this meant missing the section on Koeberg Road, (necessary to avoid roadworks on the Coast Road), and waiting for them at the right-turn into the R27 to Langebaan, on the Blouberg Road. There Monty must have taken good footage with Table Mountain in the background. From here on, I got a taste of what Ďchasingí is all about! I soon developed it to a state that I could teach a taxi-driver a thing or two! It was great having a rotating yellow beacon light and flashing hazards, along with the superb co-operation of our Traffic Escort!

At every filming location, we tried to include some feature which would be easy to pin-point on the map, and to include locations on each side of the road so that the advertisers on both sides had equal video coverage. The location also had to show the load off well, either over an extended section of road or around a corner.

Our next stop was level with Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. We could zoom in on the two domes (themselves having spectacular Abnormal Loads transported to them in the Ď70s!), and then swing across to the road, past a shrouded Table Mountain and watch the Tug with its puller and pusher loom ever larger in our view-finders. Once past, we were back in the bakkie and again some deft traffic dodging to get ahead, this time to the Wind-Farm beyond the Darling turn-off.

The Ďtrainí was pulled off the road for a while just before reaching this point, to give the crews a rest, so that they could check the load, the fastenings and the vehicles. Also to allow the traffic to clear. Once again, Monty could pan across from the massive windmills with 50-metre blades, to the road and catch our huge load coming up the hill and past. The rate we were covering ground was impressive, so we really had to move fast to overtake the convoy and set up at our next destination, this time the top of a sand-dune, high up over the road and set well back from it, from where we could see the southern tip of Langebaan Lagoon and the historic farmstead Geelbek.

From first sighting of our Tug, the load must have been visible from this vantage point for a full five minutes as it developed from a hazy spot on our screens, to going over the hill on our left, the engines giving a throaty roar! Another dash of disgraceful driving and we were at the turn-off to Langebaanweg and Hopefield. There we stopped and almost blocked the road completely, but we also had a big surprise in store! Montyís sister who lives in Vredenburg was waiting in ambush with two huge pressure-cookers full of soup which you could stand a spoon up in! Having had nothing to eat since five that morning, this was Manna from Heaven; I donít think there was a single drop of soup in those pots for her to take home!

On the move again, still blocking the road completely, we turned right at the Air Force Base and pulled over into the lay-by there. Here some heated arguments started between the ALE crew, the Cape Town area Traffic Police and those from Vredenburg who were to take over from there. We had got too far, too soon; we should have pulled over for the night while still on the R27 to Langebaan! The Traffic Permit showed this as the stop-over, but no-where was it marked on our 17 pages of detailed route planning. The very fact that the trip was touted as being of four or five daysí duration indicated that the night stops were not planned in advance! In truth, I donít think they were ready for us, we had caught them off guard, and they didnít want us to move a single inch further.

Help came from an unexpected source: Eskom! The representative said he had been instructed to switch off a high tension line ahead at 3pm. It wouldnít touch the load, but it would be close enough that it could spark to earth on our hull. We had to continue under the line so that it could be switched on again. This meant that we had to proceed to the next possible lay-by, past Hopefield and some 20km further. But first we would have to wait for another escort vehicle to be brought. The result was a convoy with still more traffic police, as the Cape Town area team stayed with us to our stop, just 47km out of Malmesbury. The parting with the Cape Town speedcops was emotional with hugs all round; could we have been friends for only one day? It felt like much longer! Hug a speedcop??

This was the turn-off to the R311 which we were to use later, but this last stretch straight towards Moorreesburg was not suitable for our load. Here we set up camp for the night, looked around for the ALE crew; they had gone home for the night! No matter, we formed a laager with our vehicles, made a fire and offloaded the generator and floodlights and soon there was a spectacle that only the most hard-hearted traveller would go past without stopping to look!

Next morning we chatted to the Vredenburg traffic cops and explained the passing procedure. All the negative feeling of the afternoon before had evaporated and from then on, co-operation was as good as it had been from Cape Town.

We had to go all the way to just north of Malmesbury, where we turned north into the N7, the main road to Namibia. Just before we joined it, we set up a superb position for Monty, high up on a bank on the left hand side. The handle which he uses to pan the camera had broken off the tripod during one of the quick moves of the previous day so we attached the handle to the camera itself with cable ties, giving him even better control of his picture than before. Here, the road snakes across fields and we could catch it in the viewfinders for several kilometres. However, we were concerned that many of the run-pasts were of the left hand side of the hull; we were not giving the advertisers on the right hand side enough exposure.

No special opportunities presented themselves on the N7 itself so we decided to stop and chat with Tractor & Engine Club friends at the spot where we turned off the N7 to Riebeek West and Riebeeck Kasteel, just short of Moorreesburg. A reasonable piece of footage could be taken of the Ďtrainí making the turn, but tall salt-bushes on the inside of the corner prevented us from getting far enough away for a really good shot. By this time, the Northwester was blowing strongly, the weather was closing in and the Traffic Cops were looking anxious.

Up to this time, we hadnít been able to take film of the load passing through a country town. Riebeek West was our chance, but by this time it had started raining! We crept in under large ficus trees and took our chances. The arrival of the traffic vehicles with wailing sirens, followed by the ALE vehicle with the height-pole, then our Tug, did in fact, make good film footage! However, the top of the hull caught the branch of a plane tree, part of which broke off and landed on the deck of our Tug, breaking some of the attaching ties of the top banners on the left hand side. How Dale Elliottís painting, roped to the starboard bow missed this tree will remain a mystery. This was no copy, but a genuine oil painting which has probably increased in value from being the one which actually accompanied the vessel it depicts, on this trip!

The weather got worse and worse from here on. We tried to film the turn into the road to Hermon; we tried to take film from fields on the right hand side but rain was falling on our lenses, it was cold, wet, windy and miserable. However, it all showed that on a trip like this, all is not wine and roses! All day long, the Traffic Police had made it clear that they would not attempt the Nuweberg Pass that afternoon. This involves blocking all oncoming traffic for the time it would take us to drive through from Gouda to Tulbagh. We were therefore not surprised to be pulled off on the right hand side at the site of an old weighbridge, just below the Pass, level with Gouda.

By this time the rain was bucketing down. We wanted to recnnoitre Nuwekloof Pass for a good spot to film and photograph from, for the next morning. Denzil from Die Burger (see his photos elsewhere in this site) came up with us. By luck, the pole at the gate which would have prevented us from driving on the old road had recently been stolen (judging from the disturbed ground), so we were able to proceed on it for about a kilometre and then clamber up to the railway line, where I decided that the top of a railway signal tower was going to be my spot for the following morning. Climbing the tower in the wind was scary but the shot was going to be good! The road from there is visible as it weaves around a headland and then lines up to cross a bridge over the river, and from the opposite bank, we could follow the load up the Pass until close to the top, where it veered left out of sight. It was going to be good footage!

Once we got back from scouting, we still had to re-attach the banners on the starboard side, hopefully before dark. We had not thought to bring a ladder, so we had no method of climbing on to the deck. A few phone calls, and Willem and I went off to a local fruit pack-shed where a ladder was waiting for us at security. We had to tie it to the side of Willemís bakkie and drive carefully to the outspan. Somehow in the wind, we erected the ladder, climbed it and between us, re-attached the flapping banners. After returning the ladder, we could settle down for the night. Efforts to light a fire to cook with werenít promising until we decided to move it under the counter at the stern of our Tug. With Oubaasí Caravelle parked on the other side to block some of the wind, we could at least keep the fire going and encourage Nelis to make the curry in a pot he had promised for the first night.

While our first night had been a fairly quiet occasion, getting to know one another a bit better and talking to curious visitors, this second evening, possibly as a result of increasing media coverage, was a different story. As people arrived, mostly from Malmesbury, the occasion developed into a rip-roaring party, despite the weather! We were pleased to be visited here by our Chairman Eniel Viljoen and with him Daniel Burger, all the way from Villiersdorp. We enjoyed the curry, and there was a lot more food still added to the fires, including a pizza brought by Freddie Truter (of the many Fergusons). Naturally, this was all washed down by good wine and other beverages!

Next morning, we looked anxiously at the weather. The wind had dropped but it was still coming from the north-west. But the cloud was lifting. Johan Stemmet phoned from Rawsonville to say it was drizzling in the Worcester area we were heading for. We waited for the ALE team to arrive and set out for our spots in the Pass. The weather was improving by the minute and soon it was cloudless in the Pass with sun touching the tops of the mountains. A troop of baboons above us was wondering what all the fuss was about, barking to one another. Soon, the familiar two Cop-Cars were spotted going on ahead to block oncoming traffic completely as there is no place in the Pass for vehicles to pull over into. Then the ALE vehicle with the pole, followed by the 47m-long, 110-wheel train with our precious Tug on board. The sound of the big engines reverberating on the walls of the valley was as impressive as the sight! Denzil got some good shots too!

We ran to our vehicles and followed the convoy, catching up eventually near Tulbagweg. Passing by a mad dash on the left-hand hard shoulder of the brand new road we were using (and completely blocking), we were again ahead to be able to look for a good spot at Whitebridge at the base of Michellís Pass. We were well below the road next to the river, swollen from the rain of the day before and the load looked very impressive as it passed over the bridge.

Catching up between Whitebridge and the beginning of Bainís Kloof Pass was easy; the road has a wide sloping storm-water gutter, so although we were driving on the edge of that, we could get past the built-up traffic on the left. After getting good footage as the load came down the hill and turned left towards Worcester, we jumped back into the bakkie and tried to catch up, knowing that the entire 45km of this stretch was being worked on, and that the road is narrow anyway.

Here followed the most daring driving of the trip. I ducked off onto a construction track about two feet below the road surface on the right with both of us holding on for dear life. Gradually, I gained on the load well up above us on the left, while dead ahead, stood an excavator in the way! Would there be an access slip back on to the road before the excavator? Would we have passed Rudi in the pulling vehicle by then? Yes, yes, and we made it!

We then had a clear run to Worcester where we found a good spot on Rabie Road Bridge across the N1, the main road to and from Johannesburg. Here we blocked the southbound traffic completely while we trundled along on the wrong side of the road, first to a lay-by, allowing the first batch of held-up traffic to go past, then after traffic had been stopped further on, our train moved back into the wrong lane, up the slip road, straight over Rabie Road and down the slip road on the other side, all the wrong way! About half a kilometre further, thereís a place where, under these conditions, traffic can re-cross to the correct side of the double-carriageway. Once we were over, the held-up traffic could be allowed to flow again. I donít think either batch of traffic was held up longer than a quarter of an hour.

I had left our bakkie on a pedestrian pavement near the traffic lights, so we dashed back to that and drove off, also against the normal traffic flow, before the first vehicles came in the correct direction. Passing the load on the wide northbound carriageway was easy, and we turned off right at the last traffic lights leading to Worcester Main Road. Earl Buntmann was waiting for us to pass in his immaculate Dodge lorry and I suggested he slip into the procession behind the pusher.

The turn into the Robertson Road was too tight for the trailer, so some of the wheels mounted the inner kerb. Rudi took it very slowly, giving us a chance to pass again on the left, bouncing over kerbs and dodging traffic light poles. Monty jumped out here to take some footage of the tyres mounting the kerb. We heard later that this often happens with long loads, but it was still nerve-wracking at the time.

Harvey Metcalf was waiting for us in his 1938 Chev at the Over-Hex turn off to the right, where we got good footage. We were standing well back in the field inside the corner, giving the port side advertisers some coverage for a change. Somehow we got past the load on this stretch which isnít wide; I remember having to wait for a gap between lengths of Armco barrier, as I needed to have the right hand wheels on the grass verge. The load was moving fast and I noticed we were going at 130km/hour at one stage, to get far enough ahead for the shot which Hermann had suggested, on the road from Cilmor Winery to Rawsonville above the swollen Breede River. This is his picture:

The view was great as the load passed Osdrift farm, which is so flat that they flood irrigate, then across the two long spans over the river itself. Again we were giving the port-side advertisers good exposure.

From Worcester onwards, I was worried that we were covering ground too fast. I phoned Eniel and Iím sure a lot of calls were being made at the time on this very subject. We didnít want to get into Villiersdorp before the reception was ready! We got a message eventually that we were to overnight at Loufontein at the base of Rooihoogte Pass just north of Villiersdorp. This meant phoning all our contacts, friends and the Media, to let them know.

No good photo-ops presented themselves on this section past one of our sponsors Brandvlei Cellars, besides we wanted to cover the arrival at Loufontein, so we shot on ahead, passing before the road narrows at Stettyn Winery. We set up well above the road on the right for some good footage. Being so close to home, only 11km, meant that many of our own members joined the party which developed as the evening progressed. We had nearly made it!

Next morning dawned with picture-book beauty, even though we had been promised some rain. The drivers arrived at 8.35 and did their checks. We had been up the pass the previous evening and had planned our filming positions, even to the extent of booking a parking place with beacons borrowed from ALE, for the chase vehicle.

We split for the first time, with Monty high up on the left bank being able to follow the progress through the hair-pin bend and with Enielís wife Juan and daughter Danielle waiting for him with an open bakkie equipped with a seat for him to sit in and film all around. I was further up on the right, filming from where he left off, around the left hand curve and up and over the hill.

The road is wide on the way down to Villiersdorp which is visible from the top. It was easy to pass the load, and with Monty following the progress from the moving bakkie, I looked for a good independent vantage point. Just before Ou Radyn on the left, I spotted a water tower. Could I get up over the height of the road on that? I parked well beyond it and investigated. A ladder! I was able to climb to the platform, well above the top of the telegraph poles and watch as the old car and tractor procession formed up in front of the Tug, and then to follow it past me. It was scary up there and my footage shows I was shaking; also that I was overcome by the emotion of the event. All that we had planned this last two years had fallen into place, and here it was happening, just below me!

Among the vehicles passing was Juan with Monty, so I knew the procession was being well covered, yet once back in my normal bakkie, I found myself cruising past the procession filming it from behind. As I passed the Tug, I was level with the Church and the bells started pealing! I got a shot of the time, 10.10! This was all too much! Thousands of people lined the road waving and shouting, even throwing flowers at one place! Hooters and wailing sirens added to the excitement.

The cars and tractors went on to Betkoís yard to be out of the way while the pusher was disconnected outside Dennis Viljoen Engineering and the bar taken off the back of the trailer. Traffic police managed to open a narrow gap past the hull while all this was going on so that the traffic could pass. However, some who had been caught behind had abandoned their vehicles and taken their keys out, so we couldnít even move them!

The manoeuvre, reversing into the yard, was to be done by Rudi alone, with the pusherís driver operating the steering at the rear corner. By this time I was on the gate post of Enielís yard, only to see our friend Denzil from Die Burger on top of a ladder on the other side! We were all being interviewed by the various newspapers from early morning. Rudi backed up in the yard as far as he could, not in line with the fence, but Johannes Uys from MME said he would move the vessel to the ideal spot when he comes with his crane to lower the hull to the ground.

The same stacks of bearers we had last seen in the harbour were set up at the ends of the cradles and the trailer was lowered and driven out from under the hull. Extra stands were added under the keel as soon as the trailer was out, for added safety. A rope was rigged, and a bottle of champagne was swung against the bows. We were worried about the wind, so we took all the banners and cargo net down, revealing the clean lines of the hull itself. For safety, we knocked in standards and put up a rope to keep people from getting too close.

V&A Harbour-master Steven Bentley, godfather of our vessel arrived on his fast motor-bike and made a speech. He tried several times to break another bottle of champagne against the hull, so popped the cork instead!

Monty had to catch his plane back to Pretoria, so there was another emotional parting. We had worked together so well over the last few days, and I am sure he has some brilliant footage to piece together into an hourís documentary.

We were far from finished! The trailer, with only half the wheels touching the ground, must have left at about mid-day, but we still had to unload the superstructure from Johannesí low-bed. When they lifted it off the vessel the previous Friday, the crane had registered 14 tonnes. We drove the low-bed to where the superstructure would be out of the way, but still in sight of the security building and then Johannesí crane lorry backed up to the side to set up. The capacity of the Fassi crane is 16 tonnes, and in short, it couldnít quite lift it.

Barries Barnard was called to bring his own crane truck and with the two trucks together, they managed to lift the whole superstructure so that the trailer could be driven out from underneath, and the load put down on wooden blocks. This sounds easy, but it took most of the afternoon and I have an hour and a half of nail-biting footage of it!

So came the end of the Holiday of a Lifetime; four days along the road with the last steam vessel on the South African Register of Shipping, saved from the scrapperís torch by a Bunch of Crazy Farmers! There is no way such an experience can be repeated!

Andy Selfe

1st July 2012