Here is a short story of a little incident I was reminded of last night (22nd Sept 2016), at a Bikers Gathering in Johannesburg. Someone was telling me of a similar incident (A motorcycle drowning) which happened to him coincidentally, also in DR Congo. This story was first published, as part of a larger story, in a well known motorcycling forum http://www.wilddog.za.net/forum/index.php?topic=89046.0 during 2012.
SUZIE is a Suzuki DR350 motorcycle. My favourite motorcycle.
There is no special Ride.Report. for the drowned and resuscitated DR350 in Congo. This was work related, not adventure fun. I was doing some reconnaissance for a client a bit further south. Between the bigger villages of Kabongo and Kiakalamu in Shaba province, DR Congo. I did not want my client to know what an idiot I was. It happened like this:
If you look at the map of Northern Zambia you will spot Lake Mweru to the west on the Congo side. The main town in the area is Pweto. The Congo / Zambia border is a few km to the east of Pweto on a minor, but deep creek emptying into the lake in a shallow delta. The bridge has long since gone from this border crossing. A few km to the south of the Congo town of Pweto is a ferry crossing the the Luvua river (running out of lake Mweru) which is actually the beginning of the famous Congo/Zaire river. The ferry, although generally reliable was not running this time. Other choices include wooden boats (hundreds of them) which are either 5 or 7 meters long. They are made along the Zambian coast of Lake Mweru, from timber felled and sawn in Congo. They are sometimes powered by a 15hp Honda outboard. I was returning from the Congo site back to Zambia. One of the 5 meter, Honda powered boats was available with a 2 man crew. It was fairly late in the afternoon. It was decided that one crewman and myself could hold the bike vertical on board while the skipper powered us to the Zambian beach just east of the border where other people could help us off load Suzie. A Good enough plan.
Dodging floated fishnets is always a problem on African lakes. About 300 meters from the beach the prop caught some net, but seemed to break free. The crewman and myself made a one hand scramble for the oars to push aside more nets. The inevitable happened when we both let Suzie go at the same time – over she went to the port side. At the same time the prop did really catch and break the drive shear pin. I grabbed the float attached to rope and tied it to a piece of metal I found on the bottom of the boat (this is the man-overboard buoy), and threw it back to where I thought Suzie was (I had lost things overboard on this lake before). To my horror the metal and the float both disappeared WTF. The rope was too short, or one could say the water was too deep. I quickly managed to line up two features on shore, Zambian side, and two features on the Congo side, and make a note of them (I am a surveyor by profession). It was pretty much dark now so we headed for the beach.
Through the night I managed to gather support in the form of another 5 meter boat oar powered, ropes and hooks, and Zambians that called themselves divers, Ha! About noon the next day (I wanted to think this out carefully) we set out to salvage Suzie. The plan was to find Suzie, attach the ropes / hooks the best way we could, haul her off the bottom up to the side of the boat and row ashore. When in about 1. 0 to 1, 5 meters of water Suzie would be righted by hand and wheeled ashore. I was very concerned about petrol in the tank. Pweto has no vehicles, let alone fuel. I directed the oarsmen on the line provided by the features on shore, and re estimated the distance, it was like “Finding Longitude”. After a few passes I spotted the float dead stationary about 500mm below the surface, I guess the rope had been just a bit short. An increasing circles search pattern was initiated, and Suzie was found about 12 – 15 meters from the float in about 3,5 to 4,0 meters of water. The bottom was sandy mud, I would need to clean Suzie thoroughly. All went according to plan after that.
First task was to make a frame for the tank, and let the fuel water settle – back to that. Then drain engine, obvious muddy sandy oil coming out. I opened up and cleaned everything – Lights, Globes, levers, cables, electrical cladding, switches, connectors, indicators, axles, bearings, suspension bearings, air box, oil filter, handlebars, carb, hoses, steering head. I flushed everything with cleanish lake water (nothing else available there) even the engine several times. Back to the tank; Carefully loosened the taps into a borrowed plastic bucket, fairly clean water (discarded), and then fairly clean petrol (saved in the bucket, and filtered through a T shirt back into the tank. Good about 10 liters. When Suzie was back together (two days later), I was fairly satisfied, the only missing item was oil for the engine. As luck would have it, someone had serviced a nearby windmill recently, and had left the old oil in a cutaway 5l can. It was probably 90, or 140 grade with quite a few moths and beetles in it, but they could be strained out. I carried it to the bike, let it settle and with the same T shirt filtered it into the bike. – All set to go, only about 140 km to Nchelenge where I was fairly certain I could get clean oil and petrol.
At Nchelenge I drained the 90 / 140 grade oil (was no obvious mud/sand), and cleaned oil filter in petrol (it had picked up some sand/mud), and refilled with clean multi grade, and flushed the tank and tap filters again. All good except later, in hind sight, I had forgotten about the spokes, and nipples were rusting away.
Conclusion: Suzie had +/- 45 000km on her at that time. Back in Jhb I noticed a slightly over average oil usage – some damage had been done!! Bought new piston and rings etc. ready for installation. But on opening the motor it was apparent that rings only was all that was needed. Installed the new piston anyway. This bike has got 99 000 km on it now with no further consequence. Except to say that several months after that Suzie started breaking spokes – you guessed it – at the spoke nipples, but back wheel only. I was lucky enough to get hold of a hand full of suitable spokes and nipples to carry around with me on Suzie. I guess over the following years 10 or 12 spokes needed replacing. It is my experience, one broken spoke is near enough harmless, but two together is close to wheel collapse.
—— RIDE HARD SHOOT STRAIGHT, AND SPEAK THE TRUTH ——