Keeping it in the family
LRO editor Neil Watterson competes in Gemm 4x4 Mudmaster 2017
It was all going so well. We’ve rattled round an orienteering section, picking up all of the code boards well within time and cleared four trial sections before moving onto the fourth venue of the day – and another orienteering section.
Twenty code boards are dotted around the 200 acre site and we have to find them, record them and return to the start with 30 minutes. This is Gemm 4x4 Mudmaster 2017 – an off-road competition that tests both the driver’s and navigator’s skill and we’re in central Scotland.
Now, it’s fortunate that I do quite a few of these events, so I know the format. And Phil, who is behind the wheel, isn’t too shabby when it comes to off-road driving. We won the event a couple of years ago and missed out on the top spot by just one point last year. Could we regain it?
We’re counted down by the start marshal and pick out the first four code boards – 300mm high white letters on black backgrounds – quite easily. I know where the fifth one should be, but we overshoot on the slippery grass and the tyres struggle to find enough grip on the muddy rocks we’re now on. We’ve got to go forward, and down the hill.
A Forces Network cameraman is ready to film us make the descent. Phil selects ‘Drive’ on the Defender’s autobox and we bounce down the steep hill. Only when he goes to drive up the other side do we realise we’ve just made our rather hurried descent in neutral (see footage on Forces Network).
But we pick a route through the trees, find the next few boards and go back and collect number 5 – which is just out of sight from where we were. We spin round and cross a boggy section, struggle to find 9, before descending again towards the eleventh marker. And there’s a military Wolf 110 sitting spinning its wheels in the mud.
Mudmaster is run jointly by the Scottish Land Rover Owners Club and the British Army Motorsports Association – so although it’s a competition, it’s also a military exercise. And this year the military and civilian motors started in alternating order – so the running order was civilian, military, civilian, military, etc.
We're car 5, but the stuck Wolf is car 12. How it has got ahead of us, we don’t know, but it needed help. Out comes the military tow strap, but there isn't enough give in the rope to jolt the Defender out of its ruts. So we dig out my more stretchy nylon recovery rope instead – and with mud and grass being flung everywhere by the 90’s tyres, the military Land Rover is extracted. It’s cost us five minutes, but we’ve still plenty of time.
The site is becoming more crowded now and we catch up another couple of Wolfs as we record more letters, eventually reaching the finish after 25 minutes; well within time, and with a completed scorecard. We’re pretty pleased and clear the next trial section easily before disaster strikes.
Phil and I have walked the course, but weren’t paying that much attention to it. So when we drive it, we drop into ruts and the tyres’ sidewalls simply don’t have enough claw into the walls of the ruts to get us out. We’ve scored 7 points and that has almost certainly put us out of the running for the win.
The next driver attempts the section, and doesn’t get out, even on extreme tyres. Maybe we’ll be lucky – but we know were the first to pick up points on that section.
Slightly despondent, we rejoin the road route, keeping an eye out for any 10cm square letter boards that have been placed along the route and make it to lunch. The top crews all have a clean sheet from the trials. Oh well, that’s us definitely out of the running. Still, at least it means the pressure’s off and we can enjoy it.
Another couple of trial sections are followed by a navigation test along forest tracks, which we nail, then a couple of very boggy trial sections before we reach the final section of the day: 12 minutes to find 12 markers in woodland.
Light is fading, but it’s not dark yet. We plunge down the hill into the wood and get the first board. It’s not a huge site, so it’s tricky to gauge distances. And the low light doesn’t help either. Three tracks run parallel and I’m not sure which one we’re on. I record one board but can’t finds the next, so we spin round and look in the opposite direction and collect it.
We loop round and the tyres scrabble to find grip on the hills, but we’re still going, One-by-one we’re getting closer to the finish and Phil floors the throttle pedal to get us up the hill, the final code board reflecting in the Defender’s main beam. Darkness has fallen – I haven't realised that the boards are reflective until this point. Another clear, and well within time.
We’ve done everything we can, but those seven points have ended it for us and when the overnight scores are handed out at the first section of day two, we’re in eighth place on 11 points. Gordon and Lisa McCheyne lead, having dropped just three points the previous day.
We kick off day two with an autotest and watch the first couple of vehicles go round. I’m slightly the worse for wear: we'd been enjoying the craic with the lads from the Highland 4 Wheel Drive Club and some of the Royal Navy crews late into the evening.
So when we arrive at the first cone garage, I struggle to find where we are on the test diagram. Then I tell Phil to drive the wrong side of a cone before realising my mistake and we ‘unwind’ the error. It’s cost us time, but at least we haven’t picked up more points. I need to get myself together.
Phil dispatches three trials sections with ease followed by two at the next site. When we arrive at the final site, Gordon asks whether we’d spotted any code boards on the roads. They hadn’t – and neither had we.
Gordon clears the sections, so, unless they have picked up any unknown penalties – driving standards are checked by observers and speed gun-equipped teams are also out – it’s all over. They haven’t, and it is.
We recover another stuck Wolf, clear the trials and return to event HQ, 221 (Glasgow) Transport Squadron, 154 (Scottish) Regiment RLC, where the results are tallied.
We’ve retained our position, but a couple of errors has shaken up the top crews. Gordon and Lisa take the win, Martin Duncan and daughter Rhona get second place and Ruari and Louise Treble take third in their Tdi-powered Lightweight. Fourth place goes to Stephen and Anne O’Rourke, meaning the top four crews are family teams.
First military goes to Royal Navy’s Rory Lowther and Andrew Richman, who had driven their winterised 110 up from RNAS Yeovilton, and because you can only win one award, Phil and I get 1st Outlander – which goes to the highest placed non-Scottish crew.
Last year’s event wasn’t a classic, but this year’s was, with plenty of mud and tricky navigation. As for 2018? Well, Phil and I have decided we’re not going to compete next year – instead we’re going to help marshal and maybe even set some sections. So that means there’s more space for fresh crews to take part.
Next year's event will take place on 27-28 October 2018. See you there!
Find out more about 4x4 Navigation events in the December 2017 issue of Land Rover Owner International, on sale now.