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Going caravanning – the first time

[Also in Afrikaans @ http://pgjonker.co.za/?p=220]

[Gouritsmond, December 2002]

[Published in Leisure Wheels, August 2010] 

Prelude

 Having been convinced by friends to try camping at Gouritsmond Caravan Park, we found it a rather pleasurable getaway.  So when a colleague of mine decided to rent out his house for the December holidays, leaving him without a place to stay, we came to a mutually beneficial arrangement:  he would stay in our house for the holiday, whilst we will go camping with his 1979 (or thereabout) Sprite Sport caravan. 

Departure

The caravan had been delivered to me as a courtesy, so I had no previous experience in towing a caravan by the time we departed for Gourits.  This led to a rather nervous departure one dark morning in December. 

The caravan was wedged in the space between the house and the perimeter wall, with a few centimetres to spare each side.  But how difficult can this be.  I simply reverse the bakkie in, hitch up the caravan, and off we go mos.   

Not so.  Due to the lack of space and the fact that the caravan was parked at an angle to the wall, any minor movement pushed the rear of the caravan into the perimeter wall.  After trying this in all directions it became clear that this is not the way to get the caravan out of my yard.

Back to square one, thus.  We unhitched the caravan and removed the bakkie.  But now the caravan was unrestrained on a downhill slope.  This made for a rather spectacular rescue attempt to prevent the caravan from departing without us.  Now we allowed the caravan to roll out of the yard with two of us hanging on at the back and the rest braking from the front.  In the front yard there was ample space to successfully complete the exercise of hitching the caravan.  

Eventually, rather sweaty and suffering from extremely agitated breathing, I slipped in behind the steering wheel – but not necessarily with a sigh of relief.  I still had 360km’s to go. 

[Another occasion, another caravan] 

At first it went rather feel-feel.  I tried not to sit with my full weight on the seat, you know, just to lighten the load a bit.   It was quiet on the road when we hit the N1 outbound at Brackenfell, so it gave me the opportunity to get the feeling of the caravan without having to negotiate other traffic as well.  Just about then someone from the backs seat enquired how far it still is to Gourits.  I cordially informed said person that the question was not appreciated, and for his good health, should best not be repeated within the next four hours.  By the time we reached the Huguenot tunnel I was a lot more relaxed, and the frosty atmosphere that followed my instruction referred to above, had also improved.  Things were running smoothly and at times I tended to even forget that there was a caravan following me.

It is, of course, rather simple to just keep the rig in a straight line.  The rest happens by itself.  It’s when you get to confined spaces that things become a bit difficult.  At Riversdale I stopped at the fuel station.  After filling up I realised that I could not go forward, except if I intended taking one of the pumps with me.  Assuming that the proprietor might not have been too thrilled with this idea, I decided to reverse out the way I came.  Uhm…. I decided to try to reverse out. 

Now prior to my trip I’ve been told that the easiest way to reverse with a caravan is to put your hands on the bottom half of the steering wheel and to turn your hands in the direction you wish the caravan to move to.  The theory is quite simple and it actually works, but like most things in life, there is no replacement for experience.  I believe it is Gandhi who once said:  thirty years of experience comes only after thirty years.  Now you may recall that I did mention my lack of previous experience in towing a caravan. 

To cut an embarrassing story short, with the assistance of two petrol attendants and under the curious scrutiny of onlookers (my family took up station at a distance pretending not to know me) I eventually got the rig out of the forecourt.  That was to the relief of both the proprietor and me.  His business prospects for the day increased markedly once we removed ourselves from his forecourt.

 

I found Gouritsmond Caravan Park to be a wonderful sight after many hours on the road with such an unfamiliar load. 

I was, however, still left with the last manoeuvre of setting up the caravan up the site we had booked.  Fortunately some friendly neighbours relieved me of this chore by quickly hitching off the caravan and manually positioning it for me.  They, of course, had a vested interest in me not trying to practice my caravan reversing skills in close proximity to their already set up sites.

Pitching tent

After the neighbours had helped positioning the caravan they set off to the beach for a swim.  Now we just had to pitch the caravan’s tent. 

Since our wedding 14 years earlier my wife has consistently and systematically worked on us becoming a camping family.  At first I resisted.  I had this dream (more of a nightmare, really) of me arriving at a campsite with my tent, only to be unable to figure out how to pitch the tent and in the process making a big gat of myself.  However, my wife’s persistence paid off, and by this time we could be classified as a bit of a camping family, fully capable of pitching our tents.  Pitching a caravan tent, though, is something else.

First things first:  get the tent out.  That’s easy enough.  We even managed to figure out which side of the canvass should be the inside of the tent.  We fed the tent through the tracks on the side of the caravan.  For any novice caravaner, take heed:  the better idea is to first sort out all the poles before you start on the canvass.

It was about 30°C.  The wind was blowing lightly, bringing some welcome relief, but not if you are trapped underneath the canvass, holding it up with one hand, and with the other hand trying to locate and identify the poles. 

 

Some poles are marked “left”, “right”, and “centre”.  Now I’m OK with where “centre” should be, but as for the other markings I’m in the dark as to whether it means “left” and “right” when facing the caravan, or standing with your back to the caravan. By now it has also become evident that there are enough poles for two caravan tents.  Absolute overindulgence, if you ask me.        

By the time the neighbours got back from their swim we were still pretty much trying to figure out which poles were superfluous, and which we should use.  The neighbours were veteran campers.  Within minutes all the poles required for the tent were identified and mounted in position.  I suspect that someone must have quietly made off with the spare poles, because by the time the tent was standing there were no extra poles left. 

Upon reflection, that dream I had was prophetic.

Epilogue

Since this first excursion we’ve briefly reverted back to one further attempt at tent camping.  However, that year we had to leave a few things behind as everything seemed to have grown to new proportions and would simply not fit into the available space.  A good friend then lent us his 1974 Gypsey caravan for the following December [picture above] where after we became the happy owners of a rebuilt 1990 Gypsey Caravette 6 caravan with which we since have had many happy Decembers of camping.

 

I am happy to report that things have progressed remarkably since our first outing with the caravan.

PG JONKER 

Our rig now makes a neat picture, I thought.

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