Land Rover supported expedition reaches Dunedin Star wreck site

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Clockwise around the outside edge of Africa through 33 countries – saving lives through malaria prevention, a Teaching on the Edge literacy campaign and spectacles for the poor sighted in a Right to Sight programme.

Yes, it’s another Kingsley Holgate led humanitarian expedition using adventure to improve and save lives in Africa. Via Evolution Communication we get the latest news from the Greybeard himself. “We can’t believe that it’s really a month since 347 Landies escorted us out from the Cape of Good Hope to commence this crazy circumnavigation of Africa,” shouts Kingsley into the satellite phone from the Skeleton Coast.

“Maybe we should have started with the East Coast instead of the West – this Skeleton Coast is not for the faint hearted. No wonder that early mariners called it the Coast of Death. Anyway, here we are, four Landies overloaded with inflatable boats and supplies, tyres down to one bar for the sand.

We’re nine expedition members plus the Skeleton Coast game warden, Alwyn Engelbrecht, and wonderful characters Eric and Tanja Reinhardt, Kaokoland experts from Wilderness Safaris. It’s bloody freezing, the cold South Atlantic is upside down, the South Westerly is howling and we’re sitting huddled around a fire waiting for low tide so that we can push North up the beach to the Kunene River mouth.

This 2 400 km coast of Namibia has provided an incredible challenge, extremely tough on Landies and crew. We’ve crossed the desolate Sperrgebiet – the forbidden diamond coast in the South and the great sand ocean of the ancient Namib, sliding the overloaded Landies down 100 metre dune slip faces, then foot flat clawing our way up the crest of the next, Atlantic on the left desert on the right. Shipwrecks, seals, jackals and brown hyena and the soo-oop-wa, the constant South Westerly that blows sand into your eyes, nose and food and in a moment covers up your tracks.

But if you think we’ve got it tough how about the castaways from the Dunedin Star wrecked on the 30th November 1942 close to where we are now camped. As if being a passenger on an unescorted merchantman sailing U-Boat infested waters had not been enough, they had then been forced to brave the surf of the infamous Skeleton Coast.

By the end of that day 63 people, including 8 women, 3 babies in arms and some elderly men were left cold and wet on this desolate beach. The ship’s motorized life boat lay high and dry and 500 metres away in the surf 43 crew were left marooned on the wreck of the Dunedin Star that slowly but surely was being battered to pieces by the Atlantic.

Fortunately they got rescued by a passing ship but the castaways had to endure 4 weeks of Skeleton Coast hell. Using bits of driftwood they wrote messages in the sand and Captain Naudé, a dapper David Niven look-alike flying a 1942 twin engined Ventura bomber dropped car tubes of water and supplies from the sky. 17-year old Annabel Tailor wrote “face cream” in big letters, he waggled his wings in acknowledgement.

Later in an attempt to rescue the women and children the brave pilot landed on a nearby saltpan – but then broke through the crust so adding a stranded bomber and crew to the Dunedin disaster. Much later in the saga Captain Naude repaired her and flew out but crashed into the surf. On the beach we find pieces of scattered fuselage, a tyre, some rusted landing gear and one of the 18 cylinder radial engines.

Further south we had come across the mast of a wrecked tug – The Sir Charles Elliot sticking out of the sea and nearby on the shore the lonely grave of Mattias Koraseb, drowned whilst swimming a rescue line to shore. Acting on a SOS from the Dunedin Star the coal burning tug had been sent to assist but it too had become part of the Dunedin Star disaster. In the mean time a police convoy of 18 men in two wheel drive 1940’s petrol driven Chevrolet trucks were pushing, pulling and digging its way up the Skeleton Coast to reach the castaways.

65 Years later we too struggle despite our modern Landies fitted with Old Man Emu suspensions, winches and built-in tire compressors. Imagine how it was for them, radiator caps popping, narrow tires peeling of the rims. They had only one hand pump for 36 tires and used bits of boot leather to keep it pumping. We know the only way to get through the sand is to let our Cooper Tires down to 1 bar and then pump again to get over the razor sharp rocks of the basalt sections.

At the castaways camp we find bits of canvas and rope, old nails and planks, sand blasted bottles and rusty cans of British Army issue bully beef. How the castaways must have struggled. The eyes of the youngest, 13 month old Sidney had become so gummed up with sand that they feared he might loose his sight. Meanwhile by some miracle in the dry Khumib River, the relief convoy of trucks came upon the stranded survivors of the Sir Charles Elliot tug boat, they loaded them up and pushed north to finally rescue the Dunedin Star castaways. The tide has turned, we must go. It’s Kunene or bust. We will keep you posted.

Kunene or Bust

Three days later… another satellite report from Kingsley. Foot flat to avoid getting stuck and zigzagging around rocks and incoming waves. Albatross swoop and dive in front of the Landies, seals wobble and flaps into the ocean ghost crabs gawk in amazement at our passing convoy. This is the nature of the outside edge.

Closer to Angola the dunes sweep down to touch the rocky plains above the ocean. The soo-oop-wa howls like never before and then in a moment we are there. Our Garmin GPS records the coordinates as S:17˚15.335’; E:011˚45.135’- mission accomplished. We’ve arrived at the end of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. We jump out of the Landies – it’s bitterly cold. Up goes our Africa Outside Edge flag, attached to the same piece of driftwood is also a simple hand drawn sign with the words KUNENE MOUTH.

Angola here we come

To stay true to circumnavigate Africa around the outside edge the Land Rover supported expedition must where ever possible follow the coast. Now Angola and the north bank of the Kunene is only a kilometre away but there’s no way of getting the Landies across the fast flowing river mouth, so it’s a 12 day detour through Kaokaland to get back to the river at Ruacana, cross into Angola and then work all the way back to the north bank of the Kunene.

We speak to Kingsley again this time from the expedition camp below the Ruacana Falls…We’ve really been fortunate to have been able to complete the entire coast of Namibia – it’s been a special privilege made possible by unique permissions from the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, NAMDEP diamond mines and Wilderness Safaris. We used the river beds of the Hoarusib and Khumib to detour out of the Skeleton Coast.

Fresh water, makalali palms and ancient omborombonga leadwood trees. Traditional Himba girls endorsed the expedition Scroll of Peace and Goodwill with a simple red ochred handprint and we spent hours with the desert elephants of the Hoarusib, Himba tribes people danced in the dust and we distributed mosquito nets to mums with babies – they are the most vulnerable. We roll out our bedrolls under the stars – what a treat after the desolate windblown coast – now it’s over and we’re back at the Kunene River ready to cross into Angola. Will keep you posted.