At last! The time had finally come for my twice yearly jaunt across the channel to take part in the 24th Nachtrit in Holland. My partner in crime for this trip was RBRR co driver Dave Maton.
Dave arrived at my place at the ungodly hour of 6.30 and by 7.10 we were on our way. After a trouble and traffic free run we stopped at Tesco's Dover for fuel and breakfast and then booked in with DFDS. It was at this point that I got a strange case of dejavue and as I found out our 10.15 ferry to Calais had been cancelled just as it had been when we came out for the Chinese rally in March! Hmmm.......two bookings made, two bookings not honoured. Not impressed! After mentioning their 100% failure record to them, they moved us onto the 12.00 sailing to Dunkerkque free of charge, so at least we'd be 30 minutes further up the motorway when we did arrive in France.
The sky had been getting darker and darker across the channel and the drive through Belgium took on a leisurely pace due to the constant torrential rain. After tackling Brussels in the rush hour we headed towards Liege and then Maastrict before reacing our location in Slenaken at around 7pm. We checked into the hotel Berg En Dal which we found manned by two 'mature' gentleman that weren't exactly of a friendly nature. If you can imagine Fawlty Towers run by Hinge and Bracket you are just about there!
After checking into our 1970's styled rooms, (I dont think they were intentionally designed that way-they were just that old!) we had a wander round the town to try and find something to do. When this proved fruitless, we headed for a bigger town five miles away. When we found this town also closed due to a beer festival the following day, we admitted defeat and headed back to 'Hotel land fill' for an early night.
The following morning we were greeted by yet more rain and also got a good telling off by Hinge for sitting at the wrong table at breakfast! (We hadn't noticed they were numbered!)
On our way out of the hotel I asked Hinge what time the hotel was locked as we would be back late that night. He told me that his front door was locked at ten, but I could come in his back doors at anytime!
We took a drive out to get some petrol before the nights rally and managed make an interesting morning of it. Dave wanted me to pose by the sign below, I can't think why though.
We did find an Aldi and bought some supplies for lunch and encountered some strange names which provided us with a giggle, although the local must have wondered who these two madmen were in their midst.
On the drive back to Fawlty Towers we spotted this place......
....and although there appeared to be plenty to eten and drinken, I couldn't find any slapens anywhere! Most disappointing!
Once we arrived back we planned a military style operation to sneak the food and drink we'd bought up to our rooms without being spotted by Hinge, which went very well until we encountered Bracket on the second floor doing the hoovering. Busted!
An afternoon of watching the rain from the window and McCleods Daughters on TV (it was the only thing on in English!) and stuffing ourselves with bread, cheese, ham and coke was the highlight of the day and I made a mental note to write a guide on 'Things to do in Slenaken' the next time I pulled up at a red traffic light.
After about three years, it was time to head to the 'Best Western Hotel' for the start and meet up with the other crews doing the rally.
I don't know how, but somehow we were car no.1, and so were the first to leave. It was Dave's first time at navigating tulip diagrams and I have to say he was very good. After driving some brilliant roads and some err....not so brilliant ones we arrived at the halfway stage where we shared a table and some lovely spaghetti bolognese with Colin and Michelle. The restaurant (guarded by a WW2 Sherman tank) had a real old fashioned and friendly feel to it. (The place we were staying at could have learned a thing or two, that's for sure!)
(A very dirty Gertie at the halfway stage)
We started the second stage and after agreeing to follow Colin and Michelle who were having some fuel issues, we did about another 30 miles, before we lost all pressure on the clutch. Investigation indicated that it was a problem in the master cylinder and other than obtain a replacement, or a seal kit, there was nothing we could do. We had no choice but to retire from the event and set the Satnav back to the Best Western where everyone would be finishing and see if we could get some help.
We managed to continue driving the car by car by starting it in gear and jolting forward until the engine caught and changing gear at the right revs. This was to be the pattern for the 40 miles back to the hotel.
Back at the Best Western, nobody had the parts to be able to help us, so we retired back to our hotel deflated. Surprisingly, Hinge was still up even though it was well gone midnight, (he must have a had a tiff with Bracket) so we asked if we could settle up and check out. We'd already decided that we were going to try and drive home with no clutch and that it would be best to do it in the dead of night with no traffic on the roads.
This turned out to be a good call and we made good time arriving at Calais at around 4.30am Sunday morning. After pesuading DFDS to bring our booking forward 14 hours, we were able to catch the next available ferry at 6am (Although they did charge us 20 euros ammendment fee. I wonder what they would have said if I'd tried to charge them that for changing my booking at the start!)
(A Battle scarred and clutch-less car at Calais)
We embarked at Dover relieved that we had at least got back on British soil, so if we couldn't continue now, it wasn't such a drama to get home.
However, the gods hadn't quite finished challenging us as the no.1 fuse now decided to blow and continue blowing as well leaving us with no brake lights, indicators, heater, washers and more importantly...wipers! Needless to say torrential rain followed which made the journey back to Essex all the more entertaining!
Still being early morning the traffic was light and we made my home address with no further dramas. On opening the front door I found an envelope containing a clutch master cylinder seal kit that I had ordered before I left, but obviously just missed reaching me before I departed. Bloody typical!
Despite having no sleep and having been awake for over 25 hours Dave and I decided to get it fitted and bled up so at least Gertie was mobile again. While Dave stripped and rebuilt the master cylinder, I took a look at the electrics and traced the problem to a fault on the windscreen wiper circuit. It's possibly the switch, but further investigation is required. I had to break off from this as Dave had finished his bit and it was time to bleed the clutch. It was reluctant at first, but in the end it relented and we now have a nice firm pedal that selects every gear at the first time of asking.
Despite all of the above Dave and I had a great time and our ability to laugh at almost every situation saw us both through.
Hopefully, the next one in March will be a bit less dramatic!