February 02, 2003

Advanced Driver Training Weekend

It was a dark and stormy night. No really, it was. It rained cats and dogs all night. Laying in the tent listening to it pelt against the tarp, it just seemed to continually step up a level in intensity, without ever dropping back. I haven’t heard rain like it for a long, long time.

But let’s rewind the clock a little. We were camped in the Casuarina camping area of the Watagan State Forest, having just enjoyed a terrific day of learning about 4WD recovery techniques. The weekend had been organised by Darren Smith and was aimed at giving people a chance to learn some of the important, but thankfully rarely used, techniques for getting your Zook out of serious 4WD trouble.

The weekend was well attended. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but it was a great rollup, with 13 cars meeting at the Wyong Caltex at 9:30, and still more just turning up at the campsite. After a chance to pitch tents and get set up, we eventually got down to the business end of things, with sessions in using a high-lift jack, power winching and hand winching. Darren divided the group into three and they rotated from session to session every 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see either the power winching or high-lift jack sessions, as Buzz and I were running the hand winch session. It’s a pity as I would have enjoyed learning from the other guys too. Regardless, it was great to see so many keen and enthusiastic people coming along to learn about hand winching. I really like hand winches, as they are so versatile – I managed to buy myself a little 800kg Tirfor many years ago at and it has gotten me out of trouble more times than I care to remember. I like the fact that they can pull from any direction. To prove the point, we “bogged” the Vitara pointing downhill and needing a recovery from the rear – a situation a power winch would find very awkward.

As each group came through, Buzz and I got them to set up a direct straight-line pull, a round-the-corner dogleg pull, and finally a snatchblock pull to see how you can use a pulley to reduce the effort required to extract the vehicle. All the groups get very hands-on, laying out the cables, setting up the winch points, shackling equipment together, and of course, getting physical doing the actual winching. People asked good questions (especially Thomas and Nicholas), and we had a chance to talk about a range of recovery ideas for a variety of different situations.

Overall, the feedback was great and there was a general good vibe about the day. I’m pleased Darren made a distinction between Driver training and Recovery training… I’ve always believed that Driver training was about how *not* to get into trouble in the first place, while Recovery training was about how to get out of it. When you look at the things we covered on the day, it had everything to do with recovery and almost nothing to do with driving. I like that.

After the main sessions, we were all treated to a session on airjack lifting from Nicholas and a session on using tyre pliers from Thomas and Dayton.

With heads full of recovery bravado, a group decided to venture down Creek Road to see how wet it was. Surrounded by monster Sierras, full-on Patrols, and Celia’s Vitara, DBZOOK felt a little out of place once we got to the bottom of the creek. The steps up the other side were really muddy and wet, and proved quite a challenge to the groups. Celia got up on the second attempt, thanks to her twin lockers and Simex tyres (and good driving ability of course). Pete Bailey got up under his own power, not a bad feat considering the state of the track, and in fact he was the only other one to do it. A few others made it up, but only with a bit of snatch assistance. It was a good play session.

Back at camp, we settled in for the night. Dinner was had and a great session was had around the fire telling jokes. There are some funny bastards in this club! Thanks Mick, Dayton and the others, but the “crack-up” award has to go to Ax for his string of Leb jokes. Good one Ax! We even had an STD, but names will not be disclosed here.

We eventually retired to tents about 12:30, all joked out.

During the night was when it really became very dark and stormy. I woke up about 2:30 and it was absolutely bucketing down. The heavy rain made it difficult to sleep.

In hindsight, it was a good thing that I didn’t sleep well. I was awake about 6:00 so decided to get up and I figured with the tracks so wet I’d pack up and get an early start back home. After breaky I packed the tent, folded the tarp and was ready to go. I started the car’s engine to warm it up and then went for a final walk around the campsite to say my goodbyes, but as I was talking with Karen we heard a loud crack, and looked around to see a huge tree fall directly across the front of my Vitara! I’m assuming all the overnight rain had somehow weakened the timber and caused it to break. It hit the car above the drivers side A pillar, then smashed the front of the car, deforming the bonnet and guards, pushing the hinges clean through the metal. The windscreen was completely shattered of course. I was really upset about it, but even more shaken by the fact that had the tree come down during the night, or even just a little bit earlier, or had I decided to sleep in, the tree would have come down directly on top of my tent, with me in it. I was a really scary thought, and kind of put the damage to the Vit into perspective.

It was still driveable, so we very carefully drove the car back down the hill into Cooranbong and tried to make arrangements with the insurance company to get it towed back to Sydney. Everyone from the club was very supportive and helpful. I think I was still in a bit of shock, so if I didn’t say thanks – thanks.

I haven’t heard from the insurance company yet, but given the damage, I’m not really expecting to get the Vitara back. I suspect it will be a total loss. ? What a bugger… I really liked that car.

Chris Betcher
February 2003

PS As it turns out, they didn't write it off, but decided to fix it. I'm pleased about that.