Tag Archives: Old Colonial Route

Y is for: Land Yachting, Sahara, 1967

Part of the Sahara A to Z series
See also: 2WD trans-Saharan bicycle

Organised by French ex-army Saharienne, Jean de Boucher, in February 1967 twelve land yachts with pilots from half-a-dozen countries set off on a 2500-km rally from Colomb Bechar (then linked by rail from Oujda on the Mediterranean) to Nouakchott on the Atlantic coast, at times following today’s recently reopened Tindouf Route via Algeria. It seems the race element of the rally was abandoned after some 2000km in Zouerat following several DNFs, but some carried on down the coast, cutting across what was then Spanish Sahara (‘PFZ’), on to the beach at Nouamghar and down the beach to Nouakchott. At this time most of Mauritania’s population still lived in the desert as nomads. The rally was supported by a couple Land-Rovers, small planes and surviving French military garrisons with which General de Boucher presumably had good connections.


The adventure featured in the November 1967 issue of National Geographic magazine (left, right, below). A couple of images are used here; read the full 30-page article scanned on the Extreme Kites website.
There are more reminiscences here by American competitor, Larry P featured on the magazine’s cover.


Thanks to Dutch participant, Copijn Bruine Beuk for turning me on to this little-known story and sharing his own pictures of the event (below). Besides hundreds of punctures, as the article recalls, early on Copijn had a close shave with an overhead electricity wire – luckily it wasn’t live. The same happened to a few others who ended up with snapped masts.
Once it gets going, a land yacht can hit 60mph or more, but back then brakes added up to little more than a hinged footboard you pressed into the dirt (left), like pressing your feet on the ground to slow an out-of-control pushbike. So you can see why half the field DNF’d. Other hazards included side gusts blowing a land yacht over – February-March were chosen as the time of the strongest northeasterlies.
Note also the twin steering wheels: one to steer the front wheel and the other to adjust the sail’s trim: pressing on the footbrake for all your worth, that’s quite a lot to think about when hurtling towards a steep oued bank or into a small dune field.
Makes desert biking look positively benign!

Book review: The Forgotten Path ~ David Newman

In 2019 this route reopened.

David Newman, 1965 (o/p)

This book is a cracker. In 1959, with the French Sahara convulsed by wars of independence, Newman, an engineer who’d failed to launch “a product two years ahead of its time”  jacks it all in to visit a friend in Nigeria. But unlike his friend, Newman decides to drive all the way across the desert – “the sort of adventure that had my nerve endings tingling”. And to make matters harder he chooses to do it in his new Ford Zephyr.
In a saloon car it’s impossible” his Nigerian friend urges him, having struggled to reach Nigeria from Dakar in a Landrover. “I’ll see you in six weeks” was Newman’s firm reply. Trouble was, he’d spent £3000 preparing the car, was running out on the HP, and was skint.


The romance sours and he’s turned back at the border near Foum el Hassan by the Moroccans where the FLN (sheltering in newly independent Morocco) and the French (clinging on to Algeria) were still battling it out. Infuriated by this reversal and convinced that his sheer determination and self-importance will win the day, he tries to bully people into overruling the decision but eventually has to storm off to Oujda on the opposite side of the country. Here again he’s repelled and so decides to charge illegally into Algeria.

“To hell with them. It was impossible was it? I’d show them whether it was!”


And so he and his Swiss hitcher muddle overnight through machine-gun fire into French/Algerian territory. He gets interrogated in Bechar, loses his suspicious companion and eventually gets permission to go west to Tindouf, alone. But it’s August so he has a hard time of it; gets repeatedly stuck, gets lost, gets desperate and at times flips out. He shoots his soup can with his ’45 and chases gazelles to exhaustion through the night – but then fondles them lovingly.
Arriving at Tindouf (then a military base) he’s treated as a hero, given much free hospitality, admiration and a guide to Bir Mogrein (“my big worry – that he would smell – was completely unfounded“). Then the poor old Zephyr begins to break up: first the drive shaft, then the clutch, he gets one shipped up from Dakar but the rally-spec engine blows up too. He flies to Dakar expecting the embassy or the Ford agents to bail him out, but merely gets repatriated ‘on bail’. Back home, he borrows some money from his mother, flies back out with a new companion and engine bits to then stagger down to Dakar, on the way exhausting his welcome with the French who now see him as an irresponsible scrounger.


His bad reputation rolls ahead of him like a bow wave and in the Gambia he’s been forced to stay in natives’ lodgings. The climate turns on them and at one point he threatens to shoot a ferryman who – of all things – requests payment to barge him across the Faleme river into Mali. Penniless and with his companion now struck down with fever, they lurch from village to lorry, scrounging fuel, tow starts and food. After Bamako it’s relatively plain sailing to Nigeria (another engine in Ghana), but his friend has long since left. With his car a wreck, the book ends with Newman boasting that he’ll return north via the Hoggar route in summer. It’s impossible, after all! If he did, there is no record of a book about it, The Forgotten Path was published five years later when he was 35.
Even allowing for the era, Newman puts himself across like some arrogant, entitled pillock thinking the world owed him and his ‘impossible’ undertaking, making even Geoffrey ‘Fearful Void’ Moorhouse look reasonable. Time and again he boils over when friends, strangers, hotel staff or – for pity’s sake! – embassy refuse to bail him out, and yet he obviously started the trip nearly broke with plans of ‘selling film rights’ while bouncing cheques like a Haarlem Globetrotter.
It’s this breathtaking arrogance and the lively ‘what-on-earth-could-happen-next’ pace that drives you through this short book. One admires adventurousness of course, but in his own words Newman comes across as deeply obnoxious and who deserved everything he got. Available online for a couple of quid.