M ith hard bumps, the waves slap against the doors of the Land Rover. They slosh through the windows, ice-cold lake water pours over me. I am wearing a waterproof fishing suit and life jacket. Still, I feel unprotected - it's not an everyday off-road excursion. This is pure madness. But the 90s, unimpressed, fights its way to the landing craft, which lies a few hundred meters off the coast in the turbulent North Atlantic. 'Can you see the white marking at the end of the ramp?' My instructor Phil Royle instructs me: 'You have to drive straight towards it and take it into the middle of the bonnet.'
Out in the middle of December open sea
It's the scariest thing I've ever seen in a Defender. Crossing deep river water may be one thing, but going out to sea in the middle of December is a whole other league. A few minutes ago I was freezing on Devon Beach, looking for the military ship. Black storm clouds came in as if they were just waiting to give me hell.
Then I recognized a dark silhouette - the 168 ton LCU10 (Landing Craft Utility Mk10) - only a few hundred meters away. There is no going back. I am going. Soon I'll be up to my neck in sea water, exactly halfway between the beach and the boat. The Land Rover is loaded with 500 kilograms in the rear so that it keeps all the wheels on the ground. 'Watch out for the bow wave, it has to stay in front of you', yells Phil.
This bow wave deserves its name
Never before has a bow wave lived up to its name as it does today. I try to see the end of the hood as the Atlantic continues to work its way into our little cabin. The Defender we are sitting in is one of 630 of its kind. Also known in marine circles as the Land Rover TUL HS WW, which means: Truck Utility Light High Specification Waterproofed Winterised - that is, trucks for light purposes with high specifications, waterproof and winterproof.
The special Defender creates water depths of up to 1.5 meters
Behind the project is a small team based in Solihull. It is only referred to as Team Wolf by the Marines. Although a large part of the waterproof components in these models is installed ex works upon special request, the fording depth remains unchanged. Only after the wolves had the Defender in their fingers, it manages dives of more than 1.50 metersDepth. “When we asked Land Rover for a custom-made Defender for 1.50 meter dives, they didn't know how to do it.” So the team led by officer in charge Dave Tucker developed a concept themselves. Together with the experts from Land Rover, they gained a lot of experience.
It goes into the sea 50 times a year
On the Defender, the first thing they did was change the alternator, grab all electrical contacts upwards, removed the hoses from the parking heater and put rubber plugs on the openings. Finally, the air filter box was specially sealed. 'We're the only unit in the world that prepares Land Rovers and trains soldiers to drive through five feet of water,' says Tucker. 'We have 15 Defenders in our fleet, twelve 90s and three long 110s - each of them goes into the sea at least 50 times a year, each with 250 kilograms of ballast - in rough seas we take half a ton.' p>
But what is everyday life for the boys here feels very oppressive to me. I could sit comfortably by a fireplace and drink mulled wine - instead I dive through a storm in the North Atlantic. Because again a mighty wave sloshes over the dashboard. Especially with the front wheels, the Defenders would like to sink into the soft seabed. At the back it often lifts the axle. My instructor could give me a little more courage. We are slowly approaching the landing craft. Actually, nothing should happen. One of the strangest machines I've ever seen stands ready as a rescue vehicle just in case: the BRV (Beach Recovery Vehicle), also known as the hippopotamus. It weighs 55 tons and has enough juice to push stranded vehicles of all sizes back onto the landing craft. There are only four of them in the world. Two are stationed here, with the first attack force of the eleventh squadron of the Royal Marines, Instow, Devon (England).
Now it is supposed to save the Land Rover if it does not make it to the ship. It's getting tight. I've already got used to the rough seas. But now I'm supposed to hit the ramp. And then the Landy has to make it up. The LCU is right in front of me like a rock solid. Suddenly a jolt. It has to be the ramp. The front car rears up slowly in front of me. The 90s howls and pulls himself up the steep ramp with all his might. A huge load of seawater pours back into the sea in one gush. We made it. The last residue drips through the many openings. I can finally get out. But wait - happy too early. The sailors guide me onto a small ramp in the middle of the boat. A moment later I stop at a huge turntable for cars. 'Before we had that, we had to turn the Defender in 50 moves,' says my instructor Phil. 'That took forever and gave us a lot of bumps.'What does he mean? Why do we have to turn the car here? Then it falls like scales from my eyes. A lever is moved. A jolt goes through the car. It spins. I can still feel how tight it is here on board. Then I look at the sea again. 'Feet down everywhere,' says Phil. 'Just let him climb down the ramp while idling.'
Shortly afterwards, the bonnet disappears again into the waves and the sea washes itself back into the cabin. But with the beach in mind, it doesn't feel quite as traumatic. It's much easier knowing that there is solid ground ahead of us, not some shaky ship. Besides, we're riding the waves now. And they have always reached the beach safely so far. Then it's over. We reach the bank and stand next to the other Land Rovers. Now it's the turn of the marines. A few are already ready for the exercise.