Saying Thank You to Opere, Paani and the boys

The eighteen months of our Land Rover restoration project brought us into contact with many people who in their own way contributed to the successful outcome.  We met mechanics and electricians, welders and painters, upholsterers and air conditioning specialists.   After returning from our trip one of our last Saturday afternoons in Ghana before departing for Canada was spent saying thanks to many of those individuals by inviting them to Opere’s shop for pizza and beer.  We set up the Defender in full campsite mode, filled the fridge with beer and soft drinks and brought some pizza from Frankies and meat pies we bought from Rejoice at the High Commission.

 

The turn out was not bad, if devoid of female presence.  Despite that, on request we put an Ebo Taylor CD in the stereo and the boys even danced.

It was our way of saying thank you and farewell to some people who helped  realize a project that was, when you think about it, rather unlikely and against the odds.

 

 

 

 

Demobilization

Almost two years ago when this blog was started just before we purchased the beat-up 15+ year old Land Rover Defender for restoration we contemplated some of the possible options for disposal at the end (See Posts in Planning Category). Since that time the list of possible options has grown and evolved ifrom  selling in Ghana, selling in Morocco, or shipping to Canada to include shipping to South Africa to explore southern and eastern Africa and retaining in Ghana, perhaps on a shared ownership basis,  for future use in the region.  At the time we wound up our trip  all of those options save the Morocco one were still on the table.  I had obtained quotes for shipping to South Africa and expressions of interest to purchase from within Ghana,   We had weighed all these for some time and each had its merits, and its downsides.  If we sent it to South Africa it would open up whole new horizons in southern and eastern Africa, but would carry a large financial cost associated with shipping and storage.   Selling it or retaining it in Ghana would provide an incentive to return to try to get to Mali and other West African locations like Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, etc.

One week before leaving Ghana we decided to ship our Defender back to Canada.  This was not at all Continue reading “Demobilization”

Legal at Last

Mr. Orgle reviewing and signing the Form C

 

I call the Chief Transport Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday to say I that I was interested in learning about the history of the vehicle I had bought, and that I needed a signature on a Form C transferring ownership from EPA.  Of course he was rather suspicious about who I was and what I was after exactly, but accepted my offer to come by the following week to see him.   His unease was perfectly understandable, he was only being professional.   When I visited is small office in the basement of the EPA building the copy of the letter I had from the EPA Director to DVLA asking them to transfer ownership, together with the picture I brought of me standing with the unrestored Defender with the EPA logo still on the side helped put him at ease.   It did take some explaining why Mr. Andy had not come himself, but I just said that as a diplomat and ultimate owner of the Defender  I was the one in whose interest it was to get this done in a legal and transparent manner.  His primary concern was actually that the EPA markings had to be removed before he would sign the form, which also made sense. I did not have it with me so had to return a couple of days later.   Mr. Orgle was delighted see the restored Defender and talked to me about an internal debate going on in EPA about the pros and cons of maintaining vehicles beyond a certain point.   He sounded as if he was partial to the “sell it before it gets too old” option, while the Director apparently has a soft spot for a couple of other old Defenders they have and wants to restore them.  Mr. Orgle seemed very impressed by the condition of  the vehicle and when I told him how much I had paid to have the work done he took Opere’s contact info and said they might go see him.   He then signed the Form ‘C”’, had me take his picture with the vehicle and we shook hands.

Armed with the signed Form C from EPA I returned to see “Sam” at DVLA.  I needed four photos for the paperwork, which were readily available from a few photographers set up under trees around the DVLA grounds, and was treated to a long period in a cubicle with three women who were filling out forms, mine among them, asking me if I was married, and when I said yes inquiring if “mummy” would beat me if they took me home with them.   After paying GHC 60 to a cashier I finally had the registration and the windshield sticker to prove it.  They did not change the plates, which did not bother me at all as I rather like have plates that have the same number as the year of the vehicle – 1995.  I inquired about getting diplomatic plates but Sam explained that  this had to be done through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which makes perfect sense.  I just don’t know if we will have time to go through the process, although it would greatly reduce pullovers by police and facilitate border transfers.

Civil Business Man meets Entrepreneurial Bureaucrat:

After the initial discouraging visit to Sam at DVLA I was left with the command to return with Mr. Addy, the person from whom I had apparently purchased the Landy but whom I had never met.    I was not confident it would lead anywhere but I called Gomez, who actually gave me a number for Addy, who I called immediately.  I was unnerved a bit because the voice I got when I called Andy sounded just like Gomez, it was really wierd talking to this guy as Addy when I really thought it was Gomez pretending he was Addy.  At any rate, he did say we could go to DVLA together, he suggested the following Wednesday morning, and asked me to call him when I was on my way and he could meet me there.   That in itself is problematic because depending where he lived it could take well over an hour for him to get to DVLA so I called him well before I left and he said he was  “on his way”.    I had leaned that that “on my way” is a very elastic concept in Ghana, and could mean they are thinking about leaving an adjacent town soon, or that they are thinking about leaving soon and have three stops to make en route.  It was also pouring rain that morning, and traffic was bad.   Despite this I arrived at 8:30 and spent a very uncomfortable hour sitting outside Sam’s office alone, managing work email on my blackberry and wondering what I would do if Andy did not show.    Until a husky,  distinguished looking man sporting a colourful African print shirt came in.  He did not smile, but acknowledged me right away, shook my hand and said “shall we go in?”  We had to wait for Sam to finish with someone, during which time Addy was on his phone constantly.  Then when we were invited  in we sat down in two little chairs in the corner of the small office and watched Sam  stamp some more other people’s forms and bark orders to staff  for five minutes before he turned to me and said, “so where are we at…did we pull your file?”  That would be the file we had been looking for for two months.   He sent someone looking for it and while we were waiting Sam handed us each a sheet of paper that extolled the virtues of a fuel additive called “EXtreme”.   When I asked where you get this wonder product he reached under his desk and pulled out a boxful of sachets and bottles.    Mr. Addy and I both bought some, Addy said he would give it to his ‘engineers” to test and perhaps come back for more.

Both were absolutely professional and efficient from that point.  Sam turned to Addy and said he was very pleased to meet him, that he had seen his name on many Form Cs.    Mr. Addy explained that he turned over hundreds of vehicles in a year , and that in fact he had come to DVLA many times.   Sam asked him what the ‘S’ for his given name stood for (Solomon) and asked Mr. Addy to please put his name in full on all the forms in future so he knew who he was dealing with.  “Obviously you are a man of some status”.   Sam explained that he wanted to execute both transactions simultaneously,  from EPA to Addy and from Addy to me, and to do that he needed not only  the Form Cs, but also a letter from Addy to DVLA saying had sold the vehicle to me and requesting the transfer of ownership.     It was at this point that we learned that the signed Form C Gomez had given me was forged, Addy simply said, hey, that is not my signature, where did you get that?  No problem, says Sam, we can do another now.   Then Addy went off and said he would be back in five minutes with the letterSam needed to formalize the transfer to me.

At that point Sam said he needed to see the vehicle.  I had not brought the Defender with me because I was reluctant to show it  in the now quite impressive restored condition to anyone having some official role in the transfer unless I absolutely had to lest they see some advantage in slowing the sale.  In this instance I had  anticipated the possibility of being  asked to present it and Laura was on standby to bring it and she had it on the DVLA lot in 10 minutes.   Sam  went out himself, in the rain, to confirm the chassis number located on the brake servo under the bonnet.   By that time Addy had brought the letter that he must have had typed under a tree in the rain somewhere, signed two Form Cs and left.   We still did not have an EPA signature on the Form C  transferring ownership from EPA to Mr. Addy, so  I quickly volunteered to  get the requisite signature because I had some contacts there through my work, and because by this point I was so relieved that Solomon Addy was a real person with a sense of responsibility and a degree of interpersonal skills.  It was my pleasure to go to EPA to do that part and save him the trouble.   I could now see the light at the end of that long tunnel and would not have to throw myself from the rocks in the ocean off sewage hill.

 

MUDSTUFF Dash Console

The “dashboard ” of older Defenders between the drivers panel and the passenger door is notable for its very basic design.   It is very much function over form, and the function is pretty basic.   There is no “glove-box”,  just a 4′ wide, open area with a 2″ high lip along the bottom edge to keep anything from falling out onto the floor.   There are two  large “ventilator control” levers used to raise the two 2′ x 4″ metal covers than run outside between the windshield and bonnet.  There is a a simple switch panel in the lower central section of the dash that almost seems like an afterthought to hold the cigarette lighter and the switch for the rear windshield washer.  As to where one puts a radio I was left guessing.  Our vehicle  must have had a radio and other electrical accoutrements at some point, the motley collection of wires that protrude from a hold in the bottom of the dash attest to that.   Some of these wires go to speakers to the sides of the roof panel above the front seats, others go to the an elaborate electrical box mounted in the rear fender to house an external AC plug-in and outlets for accessories.  The speakers  were still installed, but were very worn out and we removed and  discarded them when we redid the roof panel.  All the wires are still in place.

Original dash, with basic oval panel for rear wiper switch and accessory plug visible. Note ventilator levers and vents under the upper dash

Our ideas for upgrading the dash range from creating and installing attractive hardwood “glove-box” doors that would hinge from the flat bottom lip of the dash to close under the top dash.  This would add some visual ascetic appeal as it would  conceal the open area.   The downside is that these cover the vents that are designed to allow air to flow in (or, as James May of  Top Gear jibed “just in case it isn’t noisy enough inside already”), but this is not such a concern when we have air conditioning.    I have even purchased some mail-order hinges from a cabinetry shop in Canada (Lee Valley) that may work for the this, finding the hardwood here that is thin enough is proving to be more of a challenge.

However none of this addresses the problem of how to mount a radio.    This vehicle must have had a radio, the wires are still there, as are two now-defunct 6 1/2 inch speakers mounted in the ceiling panels above the front doors on either side, but there is no evidence of where the radio might have been mounted.  There are no holes that suggest there might have been a radio housing screwed in somewhere.   However, none of this addresses the problem of how to mount a radio/CD player.   No holes remain visible in any part of the dash that suggest screws were once mounted there.

We opted to get a console from MUDSTUFF,  www.mudstuff.co.uk/index.shtml , a company in England that produces a range of  aftermarket accessories designed for Land Rovers.  The console is simply a plastic form that comes with a metal mounting frame and installation instructions.  The user can choose whether they want to use the console to mount switches, meters, a radio, and the precise location of each.  I ordered the console, a radio mount, an additional plug-in for AC power and some switches for lights and other accessories.

Installation was not terribly difficult, although  it took longer than it would have if I had access to the tools I have storaed in Canada.    I did bring a set of basic hand tools with me, which I have supplemented with a ratchet set that I purchased here.  I am getting good use of all these, but I do not have any power tools.  I had brought a set of light Black and Decker battery-operated tools,  but the charger is not working here and it is only possible to get very light work done before the batteries expire.   To install the console it is necessary to remove a section of the dash that requires cutting through a foot long section of metal.  Getting the tool to do this proved to be the most difficult and time-consuming part of the project.

Original switch panel removed and dash marked for cut-out

I asked around to see who might have an electric hacksaw and ended up dealing with James, who is a contractor to the property management team at the High Commission where I work.  James came by and quickly determined that a hacksaw was not going to do the job and we went off together last  Saturday morning to a metal shop that had a “grinder”.   This is a fairly heavy duty rotary tool that can be mounted with a range of different 4″  blades.   It was noisy, messy job that took about 20 minutes and GHC 15 ($10), with another GHC 20 for James as fixer,  a role which in addition to getting me to the grinder included some other drilling work in the console panel itself that he did with his own electric drill.

Dash cut out and console mounting frame installed. Note the A/C unit has been temporarily removed

At this point there is a bit of a sick feeling because all you have is a big gash in the dash and the panel that held the lighter and rear windshield washer switch is gone.   From there is was more satisfying.  The metal mounting plates for the console screwed into the area between the vent levers without difficulty.  The vehicle has a plastic trim piece that runs along the top of the bottom front lip of the dash catch area that has to be cut.  I had to stop in the middle of the installation to go up to Opere’s to borrow a simple hacksaw blade to cut the trim because I don’t have one of those either.   It took five minutes to do the  cutting but almost an hour to get there and back.  I really miss my tools.

The biggest challenge was adapting the console and the air conditioning unit.  Distribution of A/C in a Defender, at least in ours, consists of a 2-3″ high channel that screws snugly along the flat bottom of the dash.   The MUDSTUFF console has a wide plastic flange e that is designed to slip between the A/C unit and the dash, which helps to establish a firm footing for the console.  Unfortunately, I had recently had my A/C unit remounted complete with a screw right in the area where the flange has to go, which prevented the console base piece from slipping in.  The amount of time I had to spend unmounting and remounting the A/C unit before I realized all I really had to do was cut the flange was incredible.

Console front with cut-out marks for switches and radio; original wiper switch and 12V accessory have been installed.

Cutting the holes in the console required some precision, and again the lack of tools was a pain.   I could mark out the places for the radio, the switch plates, and the AC power converters (cigarette lighters), but cutting them out was more difficult.    I was able to coax enough power from my B&D battery operated drill to cut round holes in the corners of the square holes for the radio and switch plates, but had to get James cut the lines to complete the job.  With that I was able to mount everything into the console and install it.  It is only a temporary placement of course ,  we don’t have speakers yet for the radio, or light to hook onto the switches yet, but the unit can be easily removed with three screws to get at the backs of the switches and the radio casing to complete the hook-ups.

Finished Product Installed with Radio and Switches

 

We still have to run the wires to the unit for radio and switches, but I am waiting for the lights from SA Africa (separate post coming on “a shopping trip like no other”) and we are still in the market for speakers, that one is getting to the top of the priority list .

Other project ideas for the interior front include the replacement of the vinyl-trimmed top of the cubby box between the front seats with a more attractive hardwood panel, and doors fro the dash from the same material.  Then there are a  whole list of things to do to make the cargo bay expedition ready.  One of my biggest problems now is limited time.  There is only so much you can do on weekends, I need to stop working long hours in the office, and using my vast stores of accumulated leave to devote to the Landy project.

 

 

Finished console with radio and switches for front running and rear area lights. Set up to accommodate two additional switches if required.

The Saga of the Furtive Form C

My reluctance to write anything about the challenges of getting the legal registration for the Defender was due to two things: fear and ignorance.    First of all my lack of understanding of what was actually going on at any point led to a few mistakes and  limited my ability to say anything intelligent (ignorance),  and my gradually declining confidence that it was ever gong to lead to a positive outcome made me feel rather embarrassed(fear) .   There were moments, indeed days, when I thought I had screwed up so badly that not only was our trip in jeopardy,  but our ability to export the vehicle from Ghana at all, ever, was in serious doubt.  I could have done fifteen blogs on this story, but they all would have been too depressing.  Only now can I see the light end of a very long, multi-branched tunnel.   I have used fictional names for many of the individuals in this story in order to spare anyone from embarrassment or other trouble.

We bought the Landy from someone named Gomez, to whom I was referred by Opere the Land Rover mechanic that runs the shop under the tree.   I had put Opere to work to find us a fifteen year old Defender 110 that could be legally imported to Canada.   (See separate post “We find our Defender”)   I purchased the vehicle and obtained a bill of sale.  Obviously I knew I would need to eventually register the vehicle, but that was not something that could be even contemplated at that point, first it had to be in a condition that was a) drivable and b) able to pass a basic safety check .  It was a long way from satisfying those conditions a year ago.

After the first few months of mechanical and body restoration, when we got close to having a vehicle that would pass muster I asked Ruby, the admin person at the Canadian High Commission that deals with vehicles where I work what I had to do to register it.   She asked if I had all “the papers”, and  explained to me that “Form C” was of some importance.  This is something that is signed between the seller and the buyer that contains certain specs on the vehicle, like make, model, year, and chassis number.   No-one had offered that when I first bought the vehicle, and I was not keen on going back to see Gomez so when I was about to leave for our trip to Egypt last October I arranged for Opere to follow up with Gomez to get said Form C.  When I came back Opere said he was having trouble with Gomez and that I should go see him myself to see what the problem was.

I called Gomez and learned at that point he was not the actual seller of the vehicle, but rather someone named “Andy”,  his “brother”.   Gomez said there was no problem, that he could get Addy to sign a Form C passing ownership to me.  Laura and I went to see Gomez one Saturday, in his chair under the stairs at the front of a decrepit two-storey walk up retail/office building in Dansoman where we had bought the vehicle.  He not only had a Form C signed by Addy and pictures of the gentleman, but the original of a letter sent from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the original owner, to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), attesting that Addy had indeed purchased the vehicle from them at auction and asking DVLA to transfer ownership.  Said correspondence was dated March 2011, a month after I had purchased it from Addy, which struck me as a bit curious.

But finally after months of dead-ends, it appeared I was home free and could get the Landy licensed.  At this point the brake lights were not working and these needed to be fixed before it would pass the safety so I did not pursue it until I got those fixed   A few weeks ago I went to DVLA and entered another stage of the twisted path.   I went to DVLA with Francis because I wanted a Ghanaian who knew how things worked and he knew someone there.  This led to the two of us sitting in the office of a DVLA official, who we shall call Sam , watching him stamp other people’s forms and bark orders to staff.   When he finally decided to give us the honour of his attention, he asked who had sold me the vehicle and if I knew him.  The fact that I had the letter from EPA,  pictures  of Mr. Andy and a signed Form C did not impress him. He wanted to meet Mr. Andy before he would go any further.  He lectured us about the risks of transferring vehicles that were stolen and said he did not have anything in his files about the sale of this vehicle.   At one point he actually said that he if I did not like it I could go see his Director (who works in another location) or I could just return the vehicle to Mr. Andy and ask for my money back.  Not an uplifting day.

By this point the prospect of throwing myself into the sewage laden surf on the rocks in the ocean off Accra has begun to look like a rather attractive option.    I had by this time invested over ten grand in the vehicle but I had serious doubts this Andy fellow actually existed, a doubt no doubt shared by Mr. Alright.  I was very suspicious that perhaps Gomez had  stolen the vehicle and orchestrated a fictional vendor  to clear himself of accountability.  Would I be able to get someone to masquerade as Addy?   Would I never be able to register the vehicle, and would I have to abandon it when we left Ghana?

 

A Shopping Spree Like No Other

Now that the restoration stage is pretty much complete we have to get serious about adding the things that will make our Defender usable for overland travel.   This involves planning for and procuring a whole range of systems (see separate Feb. 2012 post “Planning the Outfitting Stage”)    Unfortunately, there is really nothing at all one can get in Ghana for this, nor do any of our internet suppliers include much expedition gear in their offerings.   We decided that the best way to deal with this is to go ourselves to South Africa to buy stuff   Our trip to South Africa  included the My Land Rover has a Soul Festival (see separate post “Woodstock for Landy Lovers”) and a side trip to  Victoria Falls, as well as a few days exploring the amazing Blyde River Canyon in northeastern South Africa.  But the real purpose was shopping.

South Africa is arguably  the best source for expedition outfitting gear in the world.  There are many manufacturers and many more distributors.   We had seen some of this during our first visit to South Africa in 2010 (see Jan. 2011 post on Testing the Idea in South Africa) and were able to make a list of things we might want to pick up on a return visit.  We made that return visit in late February equipped with a list of about twenty items we needed and another list of a half dozen stores/suppliers to look at.  The latter ranged from big box  camping stores like Outdoor Warehouse to excellent 4×4 outfitting specialist stores like Front Runner 4×4 or Safari Centre, as well as suppliers of specialized items like solar power systems or awning canvas suppliers.  All the photos in this post are stock photos from the suppliers, our own stuff is still on a boat somewhere en route to Ghana.

Rooftop Tent:    Our experience renting an outfitted Defender introduced us to the concept of a hard floor canvas tent that bolts to a rooftop carrier. (see Jan. 4, 2011 post, Testing the Idea)  The roof rack that came with our Defender will accommodate this very nicely. There are a few tent products available from different places, ranging from South Africa, Italy, Australia, etc.  This is the largest, (heaviest) and most costly piece we need so we invested a fair bit of time looking at the available options.     After doing lots of research we  settled on the Eezi-Awn Jazz tent, a first-class quality and tested product of South Africa.  Weighing in at 55 kilos there is nothing like this really.  Erects quickly and easily via a ladder that comes out from underneath  the floor and fills our need quite nicely.  This is what we had for our earlier test run in South Africa trip and we loved it. Now we own one.

Storage Drawer System.  As we learned from our earlier rental, the design of the Defender cargo bay supports the installation of a flat floor between the wheel wells in the cargo bay which creates a 1′ high x2′  wide x 4 ‘ deep space and lends itself well to installing drawers that then open out the back when the cargo bay door is open.  Frontrunner 4×4  www.frontrunner.co.za  in Johannesburg produces a great drawer system using simple and affordable  “ammo” boxes.

In the Defender we rented from Bushlore it was this system that they used to carry all the kitchen gear and some other miscellaneous pieces.  We liked it so much we went back to Frontrunner and bought one.  There are other makers of 4×4 drawers but we did not see anything that was as cost-effective.  I was very surprised to see a review of drawer systems carried in the Winter 2012 issue of Overland Magazine did not even seem to acknowledge the existence of this South African product.  This is likely because of the American base of that magazine, but I think they missed the best product.

 Propane and Water Storage.    One  can buy jerry cans in Ghana but they are very expensive and they do not come with harnesses to mount them.  We looked at various floor and wheel well fuel and water storage systems that Frontrunner or others make for Defender but decided these were more that we needed or could organize for and opted instead to pick up stock water and propane tank  carriers designed to fit on the side and rear exterior walls of a Land Rover Defender.

Propane Tank Rack from Front Runner

Solar Power System:   After some on-line research we decided that back up power to help ease the draw on the vehicle battery when parked is a worthwhile investment.   Like so much to do with overlanding there is enough demand for this in South Africa to support a couple of specialist suppliers.  The one we visited was Bushpower http://www.bushpower.co.za  run out of the garage of a suburban house in Kyalami on the northern reaches of Johannesburg, only about two kilometres from the Frontrunner store and factory.   The panels and related wires and switches are all imported, mostly from Europe.  We purchased an 85 watt panel with mounting and cables, together with a dual battery monitoring system.

Lights:   The front headlights on our Defender are not the brightest I have seen and our comfort driving at night will be greatly facilitated by additional lights.  It is quite common for  4x4s  to be equipped with an extra set on the bumper or roof rack.  I had been looking at 70 watt  Lightforce from Australia but the only place I saw them they were very expensive relative to other quality options.  We opted for a product called KC, which I believe is an American company based in Arizona.   These were recommended by the Safari Centre store in Centurion which carries a range of very high quality 4×4 products. 

Because it gets dark at 6:00 PM here we also need to have an area light for meal prep and eating at night.    We happened to notice one type in particular on the backs of three Land Rovers in parking lots our first couple of days in Jo’burg and when we saw exactly the same light in Frontrunner we figured it must be good so we picked it up.

Canvas for Awning:   There are a number of roll-up awnings available in the market, including a range manufactured by Eezi-Awn tent producer.   There is value in having something to provide protection from the sun and rain, but the  manufactured awnings all seem expensive and require quite a bulky, heavy case that mounts permanently to the side of the vehicle.   I came up with our own awning design (see separate Awning Made to Measure post for details) for which we needed some material.   We thought of this when we saw a store that sells awnings for windows and decks and went in to have a look. As it turned out they did not sell material itself, but the helpful woman in the store referred us to a place called Home Hyper City near Pretoria, where she said we should see Uncle Joe.   The store was the largest fabric store we have ever seen two floors the size of a football field, really incredible. We found Uncle Joe and explained what we were looking for to which he replied “oh, for your baakie?”  A baakie is the term South Africans use to refer to what North-Americans know as pick-up trucks,  but the term can also be used to refer to any 4×4.  He led us to a row where they had a range of weights and colours of canvas and we picked up a couple of metres of canvas in two colours that will look good together and complement our own “baakie” quite  nicely.

Miscellaneous:  We bought a few things that were not on our list to supplement the miscellaneous items we had purchase in December 2010.    A funnel, speaker wire, fastening straps, an ammo box for the roof with a water proof cover to hold sundry items like souvenirs purchased along the way, silicone spray for the awning, etc.  When the shipment finally arrives in Accra we will no doubt be pleasantly surprised by things we have forgotten we purchased.  It will be like Christmas, hopefully it won’t take that long to get the stuff!

By the time we were done we were glad we had bought the fridge and other outfitting gear the first time we came to South Africa from Ghana because after 3 days of nothing but shopping we had run out of time and had to go back to Ghana.  The purchase of  all these items came in the last few intense days of our time in Johannesburg, after our trip to Victoria Falls and the Blyde River Canyon.  The most difficult part was arranging shipping.  We had started the process weeks before we left Ghana through a company that brings things in to Ghana from South Africa and this led to a recommendation to rent partial space in a container to be sent by sea as an inexpensive option.  It was indeed a very affordable option, unfortunately the Jo-burg forwarder we had been referred to turned out to be non-responsive and we had to go back to the original contact to try to get their attention and this led to referral to another forwarder. They turned out to be much more responsive, but it all took awhile to arrange and it not until our last couple of days in Jo-burg we had settled with them.  We had to impose upon the Safari Centre 4×4 store in Centurion (between Johannesburg and Pretoria) where we bought the tent, second battery, lights and other accessories to hold all our things, not just what we bought there, but everything from all the suppliers, until the forwarder could come by to get it.  They agreed to do so, and we delivered all our other sundry items to them the day before we left,on the understanding that the forwarder (Synergy) would retrieve it in the next couple of days.  It actually took Synergy more than two weeks to get around to picking the stuff up, which also meant they missed the sailing of the boat they had initially said we could use.  Thanks very much to the Centurion Safari Centre for helping us out in a jam.

Now we are waiting to get our things to Ghana.

Sound Reduction Puzzle

In the process of perusing the seemingly endless Land Rover restoration sites we could see that (so-called) “soundproofing” was a common step in most projects.   The term is a bit optimistic, one can never eliminate sound in a vehicle, so “sound reduction” is a more appropriate term.

All vehicles have some degree of soundproofing, it is the stuff under the carpet on your floor and the trunk/boot.  The thick piece of silver lined foam under the hood/bonnet is also soundproofing.  Depending on the vehicle and/or the preferences of the owner there can be any number of products and combinations thereof used throughout, including in the doors and roof.  People who are restoring older vehicles, whether they are 50s roadsters, 60s muscle cars, or 90s Defenders, will at some point likely decide to reduce noise by installing additional soundproofing materials.   Land Rovers are no exception as the various threads in Land Rover Forums show.

Defenders and other Land Rovers of their era were built as big utility vehicles and because of this and the large areas of the aluminum body they are probably among the noisier vehicles on the road.  Ours is absolutely utilitarian, and has only bare metal on the floors and walls.  The doors do have small patches of  sound dampening materials on the inside of the door panels, this would have been part of the factory production process.  The roof has quite a good piece of hard plastic liner behind the interior roof fabric, but that is not going to do much against the vast areas of bare aluminum.

We decided it was worth looking at sound reduction, but had no idea of where to start.   I started scanning for what materials worked best and learned a lot about  the science of sound reduction.  Obviously there is a huge sound reduction industry, but I was surprised to learn how much of it is devoted to vehicles.  I learn that there are two separate steps involved in sound reduction: the first is referred to as “dampening” or “deadening”.  This addresses noise generated or amplified by the body panels themselves and involves the installation of some sort of very heavy rubber/butyl material, lead is sometimes used to add weight.  The dampener is added to directly to the metal surface and transforms the sound waves into heat.  Thus an integral part of a good sound dampener is a layer of metal foil that helps keep the heat from entering the vehicle.

The second key function is sound absorption, a barrier to collect the sound waves that are generated both inside and outside the vehicle.   This is what is done by the  baffles one sees on the ceilings of in orchestral halls.  Baffles are not terribly practical in your car, so this function is usually performed by a light, open cell foam.  This is applied on top of the dampener.  And that is about it.  That is most certainly an overly simplistic description of the basics of vehicle soundproofing, but it helps to set the stage for the story of our product scanning and  eventual selection of a product.  There is a great variety of products available, some which perform one or other of the functions, or perhaps combine them both.  All the sellers say more than one layer is better, which no doubt helps to sell sound proofing material.

The first supplier that we became aware of is the aptly named Noisekiller(NK) of Great Britain.  www.noisekiller.co.uk/vehicle_soundproofing_products.asp.   NK makes sound reduction materials for every imaginable application, including but certainly not limited to vehicles.  I became aware of them because they happen to produce custom “soundproofing” kits for Land Rovers.  The product is highly recommended by many others.  Thinking this might be the way to go last May I exchanged emails with Andy, my contact at Famous Four, who said he could get NK to send them a kit which they could send on to me as part of  my star-crossed third shipment (see separate “Customs Shock” post).

However, at this point I encountered the problem that would make getting sound proofing to Ghana a real challenge: the weight.  The stuff is  expensive enough to begin with, but it weights as much as 1 pound per square foot, which rather renders international shipping costs prohibitive.   The NK Defender kit costs 280 British Pounds, or about $450, to buy, but the weight of that kit is 50 kilos!   Andy said he could get a 5% price reduction from NK to cover the cost of getting it to Famous Four, but for them to send it on to Ghana would be an additional (gulp) 430 British Pounds, or almost seven hundred dollars just for shipping, for a total cost of more than $1,200.   That is very expensive quiet.  I told Andy thanks, but I would have to pass.

That began a long search thither and yon for a less expensive noise reduction option.  Some Land Rover forums have people talking about assorted construction materials that are usually readily available in North American or European hardware/building supply companies, for example the ashphalt paper that goes under roof shingling, but that sort of thing is not necessarily available in Ghana, and would be very difficult for me to locate.  My local search did lead me to Ghana Rubber Products, which I thought might produce some sort of heavy rubber that would work.  They produce sheets of rubber of varying sizes for shoe soles (ie. flip flops)  This led to a Saturday morning meeting with the owner at the GRP plant in Accra, who showed me what they had.  They identified a 3 mm thick but not very heavy rubber that I thought might at least serve as a sound barrier for 30 cedies  ($20 dollars) for a 4×6 sheet.  At that price we could do the whole Defender for about $100.   I went back a week later and spoke to his brother who, incredibly,  happens to own a Land Rover Defender and had actually purchased NoiseKiller.   He knew something about  sound reduction and recommended Noisekiller, he was not confident the product I had been looking at would do too much, but he identified a slightly lighter material.  I bought four sheets worth of his flip flop sole material thinking I could use it as sound absorber for some areas, but left knowing I was still in the market for sound reduction material.

Other options I found included Genesis of South Africa and Second Skin or Dynamat from the US.      I spent a lot of time looking at Genesis  www.genesisacoustics.co.za,  because it seemed to be a good product reasonably priced.  They also have a liquid paint on product that one can apply inside or outside the vehicle, which extends the area that one can apply it to.  However, when  I eventually measured and got a quote on the material and shipping it was only marginally less than the NoiseKiller from Great Britain.

In the course of surfing the web for more ideas and sources I stumbled upon a company called B-Quiet  www.b-quiet.com, which sold dampener, absorbers, and combinations thereof and billed themselves as  “the affordable sound deadening solution”.   One of the things I noticed was their website gave prices in US and CAN dollars and I assumed they were an American company selling into Canada.  The $C=US$ exchange rate they gave was rather  unfavourable to the Canadian dollar, which would make an American product more expensive to Canadians, so in a patriotic mood I sent them an email to say as much.  I received a prompt reply saying they in fact were a Canadian company located in Alberta and they thought their exchange rate was just fine thank you.  Of course, if they are producing in Canada and selling to the States the low exchange rate only makes them more competitive with American products like Dynamat.  Brilliant.

I looked at this product more carefully and judging from reviews their quality was good and the price gave credence to their website billing as the “affordable sound deadening solution”.   I looked at something called  B-Quiet Ultimate, a sound dampening material, and V-Comp, a combination sound dampening and absorbing material.   They also produce B-Quiet Hiliner, a thicker aluminum lined acoustic foam for under the bonnet.  Similar materials  are available from Genesis or from Noise Killer, but the Canadian company’s price was much more reasonable.   I was able to get a quote  of $500 for an coverage area larger than NK or Genesis, delivered to Ottawa.

The Ottawa delivery is where the real beauty of this Canadian- sourced option plays out.   I have an annual mailing allowance from Canada of one hundred pounds, which might not go far if you have a large family or get lots of magazines, but this year Laura and I have only used 25 lbs.  It is now October and we have more than 75 lbs of  shipping we have to use before the end of December.     As it turns out the weight of two 50 sq. ft rolls of B-Quiet Ultimate and two 15 sq. ft. rolls of V-Comp is about seventy pounds – the Hiliner only weighs another pound.   I could use more V-Comp but if we go over our weight it will just be held in Ottawa till next year.  I can order more then if I really need it.  I am planning to combine the B-Quiet Ultimate deadener with the V-Comp in the particularly vulnerable areas in the front of the cabin until the V-Comp runs out and  and then use pieces of the Ultimate  in combination with the flip-flop sole material from Ghana Rubber Products for less vulnerable areas.

B-Quiet products purchased: 30 sq. ft. of V-Comp barrier (1 of 2 rolls on the floor – 18 lbs); 100 sq. ft. Ultimate, (1 of two rolls on the table – 17lbs); and a 4×6 sheet of Hiliner for under the bonnet (silver on the right – 1 lb

It only took about two weeks to get here, and with this in hand I am ahead of the game because we can’t install it until after the painting is done, which won’t be for a couple of weeks yet.    With this material installed and covered by carpeting our  Defender will hopefully be elevated from clangy utility vehicle to relatively quiet cruiser.

Ghana Customs Shock

To date, apart from a few things procured locally, the primary source of parts to rebuild our 1995 Landrover Defender has been two shipments from Famous Four http://www.famousfour.co.uk/ in England.     This is how we got almost all the brakes and  clutch parts, the rear half axles, the wheel bearings, the tie rod ends, the door seals,  the aluminum chequerplate panels, the heavy duty shocks, etc.   Those shipments came into Ghana with greater ease and speed than I had expected in March and April, delivered to the front door of the embassy within two weeks of sending from the source.

I started compiling a list of things for a third shipment in June to cover a few mechanical pieces that I had missed in the earlier shipments, as well as some interior and exterior finishing pieces.  The third shipment is relatively small and includes relatively  inexpensive, yet vital  pieces that are not available or are very expensive locally.  It includes:  the fuel sender (the piece in the tank which which measures the fuel level for the fuel gauge which I discovered had been removed from this vehicle at some point); the bonnet release cable and device;  a handbrake cable that is too expensive here; a new set of floor screws,  tie rod ends (that I should have ordered the first time);  and some mechanical pieces like bushings for the rear A-frame that were not part of the bushing kit I got in the first shipment. more body pieces  (aluminum chequerplate for the hood, screws to tighten up some of the body plates, new exterior lights to replace the old ones that might work and look OK now but will look really old when we repaint the body.   I also bought new front seat foams and covers from Exmoor Trim in England (www.exmoortrim.co.uk) .   One of the reasons why I wanted to do our own vehicle is that I did not like the way they did the interiors here, the seats were particularly frightening.   However, this shipment did not  include any soundproofing even though much of the delay in finalizing the order resulted from my own indecision about the various options for the stuff.  In the end I concluded that all things considered England would not be the optimal choice for soundproofing for us(see separate “sound reduction puzzle” post).

This shipment has demonstrated how the reliance on externally-sourced parts makes my schedule vulnerable to delays beyond my control.   There were already delays due to my own indecision and effort to include as much as possible in this shipment before finally finalizing the order in late  July.   When mid-August came and I had not heard anything I went back to Famous Four to ask for a sitrep.  The next day I received a phone call from TNT in Ghana to say the shipment had arrived in Ghana but was being held in at the airport by the Customs and Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) and that I would need to present myself at the airport in order to clear it.    This had not part of the process in any of the previous shpments,  neither of the two  Famous Four shipments or the early investment in outfitting gear we had shipped back from South Africa last December incl. a mobile fridge before we even owned the vehicle.    I have to wonder how long the things had been in Ghana before TNT deemed to phone me, perhaps prompted by a call from Famous Four.  As it turns out this was just the beginning of series of problems with both TNT and CEPS that would combine to seriously delay the delivery of this shipment.

I took a morning off work to go to the airport cargo area and on arrival at the entrance was besieged by people asking where I was going, one fellow just got into my front seat uninvited and said he would show me where TNT was.  It turns out everyone there is looking for  a cut in the process.   When I got to the TNT office I was informed that I had to pay a “handling charges”, even though my shipping fees with Famous Four were to take it to the door.    DHL, who had handled the two previous shipments, had on both occasions delivered the goods no problem to the High Commission without delay.    I declined paying the handling fees and left the airport and sent a message to Famous Four to seek clarification about shipping/handling costs.  The next day I got a phone call from a manager at the local TNT office (with a strong British accent) to apologize for the confusion, there would be no handling fee, but I still needed to clear Customs.

A couple of days later I went back to the airport and went through the same process of having someone jump into the front seat.  This time I was well received at TNT by the same person who had asked me for the handling fee the previous occasion,  who this time just escorted me to the small office of a CEPS officer at the end of the warehouse.   Despite the modest office the CEPs officer had an air of assurance and authority and people around certainly deferred to him.   After we were introduced he looked at the documents the TNT person had given him and asked if these car parts were for official purposes or  my personal use.   I decided it would be tough to convince him these were official auto parts and indicated it was for my personal vehicle.  He said that even though I was a diplomat entitled to duty-free import of personal possessions,  how did he know I did not have a Ghanaian girlfriend I was bringing in car parts for?   I said I did not appreciate being accussed of abusing my diplomatic privilege,  that I was obliged to respect laws and  protocol, just CEPS was obliged to respect the Geneva Convention.   He said that since this was for personal not official use I would have  seek the approval of Ghana’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  I was  not sure  that was true but it did not seem totally improbable and I decided there was nothing to be gained from challenging him and said I would be pleased  of course to follow any required procedures.   While he was telling me about the procedure I had to follow, he also wanted to  impress upon me  how long the procedure could take,  as if I had some choice.

The reason for his making the point about how long the process could take became clear only after I had agreed to go for MFA clearance and left his small office at the end of a warehouse and was walking acrosss the yard.  As I neared my car  I  was approached by a fellow I had noticed in the  warehouse when I first came in.  He repeated the Customs agent’s refrain that it could take a long time to obtain the clearance, but that he thought I could get the goods that day if I was prepared to pay the duty.   I asked if he knew how much the duty would be.  He said  250 cedis, the equivalent of about $170.   I don’t think my shipment  was worth that much, and the fact that I was having this conversation in the parking lot with a fellow in jeans and T-shirt, who also asked me how much I wantd for my Subaru Legacy that we were standing beside, helped me realize that I had just been asked for a bribe.

For better or worse, I have had a long-standing personal and professional commitment against paying bribes.  In my experience this has been the position of  Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) and of CIDA where I work, and I am no stranger to waiting out delays required to clear our personal effects upon arrival in other postings because we don’t pay bribes.   I declined the offer of paying the “duty”, saying I preferred to do it properly.   Interestingly, about the same time as we were trying to clear this shipment newly-arrived diplomatic staff at the High Commission were also being subjected by CEPS to unusually long delays in processing their personal effects at the  Tema Port,  in at least one instance there had been an approach that sounded like a request for a special payment.   Despite Ghana’s relatively positive governance image when compared to other African countries, corruption remains a significant development challenge.   Certainly corruption persists within CEPS.

Later that day when I spoke to CHC Admin they said indeed it was not out of order for CEPS to ask for MFA clearance and this was part of CHC Admin’s duties.  It would take a couple of weeks to get it.  Fortunately CHC has the knowledge of the process and people to facilitate this and I was hoping to get my hands on the goods just before Laura and I were scheduled to depart for a two-week Egyptian vacation.  We got the clearance about three weeks later and  TNT came to the CHC to pick up the formal approval MFA and presented it to the CEPS officer at the agent.  By  7PM on the Friday of the weekend we were scheduled to leave it was delivered to our house.   On Saturday I was able to get the parts and vehicle to Opere’s shop under the tree where he, Paani the “welder”, and Eric the electrician were able to work on their respective pieces while we were out of the country.

The implications of the problems that I had with this shipment are not limited to the delay of more than a month.   I now have a much more cautious attitude toward any future shipments and will be more willing to source second hand or more expensive new parts locally rather than importing and risking having to deal with CEPS again.   Fortunately the only offshore things we still need are a few items for expedition outfitting.   I was able to get some from Offroad Egypt(separate post coming), and we should be able to pick up most of the rest of what we need on a shopping trip planned to South Africa at Christmas and bring it back with us.

As I write all the mechanical parts have now finally been installed, Phase I of the electrical work is underway (separate post coming) and Paani has finished the pre-paint body work.

Taking Delivery

Buying it is one thing, getting it home is another altogether.  First, I had to buy the battery, which calls into question the term “a driveable vehicle”.  An 18 plate battery is what is called for and they don’t come cheap.  So much for it being a driveable vehicle.

I decide to take Gomez’ offer of delivery.   It took him two days to get it to me, I am still not sure why.   Westerners criticizing the sense of time of people in developing countries is a terrible cliché, I have lived in the Caribbean and Latin America and am quite familiar with how it is more cliché than reality.  However, there is a uniquely Ghanaian sense of time that I am gradually beginning to appreciate,  actually far worse than I have seen elsewhere.   Here, if someone says, “I am on my way”,  it does not necessarily mean they are physically seated in some means of conveyance located between where they are and where you are.  As often as not it means that they are thinking of leaving the place where they are soon. It may well be that they are going to pass by a third location to do something else before they get around to actually heading in your direction.  To remove the uncertainty about when someone is coming I have learned it helps to seek as much precision as possible about where the person is at that moment and what they are doing.  “I will be there soon” or “I am on my way” do not mean what it does in Calgary or Paris. Unfortunately I had not yet assimilated this wisdom when I was trying to get my Landy home.

Gomez  told me about 9:00 AM one Saturday they were bringing it that morning.   It is only about a half hour drive, so when at noon no-one had arrived I called to ask what was going on.  It became clear that they had not left Bubiashie yet.   By evening there was still no Defender in my parking lot.  I was told they had had some mechanical problem and would bring it in the morning.  Two fellows did arrive about noon the next day, I was never really given an explanation for the delay.   There were a number possible problems they could have had, which became all too apparent later on.    One of gentlemen (in the tam hat in the photo below) was the fellow who had pretended to be Gomez the day I went out to look at the vehicle.  This was the guy I gave the money to, which was ironic.

Counting the money. You would think with so many cedis on the table there would be more smiles
Jonathon with the pre-restored Defender, in front of our house in Accra. Note the dents in front fender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that the machine is accessible we can get acquainted.  I can’t drive it yet but I am going to spend some time sitting in it, crawling under it and climbing over it.