'Tractor girl' returns triumphant

2014-12-22 22:36
Manon Ossevoort (Supplied Massey Ferguson, Sapa)

Manon Ossevoort (Supplied Massey Ferguson, Sapa)

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Cape Town - When Dutch actress and adventurer Manon Ossevoort arrived with her tractor at Novolazarevskaya Station, Russia's Antarctic research base, its inhabitants did not rate her chances of driving the machine to the South Pole and back too highly.

"The Russians at Novo base, I heard some saying: 'This girl on a tractor, she'll never make it.' But when we arrived back at Novo... two days ago, they all saw we had made it. A lot of women were smiling," Ossevoort told reporters in Cape Town on Monday.

Fresh back from the frozen continent where she successfully completed the 5 000km trip to the pole and back on a 3.3 litre Massey Ferguson 5610 tractor, she said the expedition had proved really challenging.

"We've seen all sorts of conditions - snow and ice, and soft, soft, super-soft snow, and snow that's so hard packed it's like frozen mountains. But I'm very happy we've made it all the way to the South Pole."

Ossevoort, 38, said the Antarctica 2 expedition, which arrived at the pole on 9 December, may also have sparked a "small revolution" in Antarctic travel, being the first time a vehicle with tyres, as opposed to tracks, had reached the pole.

"They told me it was impossible to cross Antarctica without full tracks... so I think it's very special we drove a tyred vehicle."

Her Massey Ferguson 5610, a model of tractor widely used across Europe for ploughing fields and other agricultural activities, was specially prepared for the expedition.

Modifications included an insulated cab, auxiliary fuel tanks, heavy duty batteries capable of withstanding the intense cold, and additional heaters, including one to stop the transmission from freezing up.

It also had special tyres to give it better grip on snow and ice.

Ossevoort said the tyres had allowed the expedition to move faster. Her tractor had also consumed "way less fuel" than its tracked counterparts.

"So that's a small revolution for the Antarctic continent," she said.

Other members of the expedition accompanied Ossevoort in two Toyota four- and six-wheel drive trucks.

Ossevoort's tractor was named Antarctica 2 in honour of renowned mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, who travelled to the South Pole in a tracked tractor - also a Massey Ferguson - in 1958.

While the obvious high point of the expedition was arriving at the pole, Ossevoort said the lowest point was on the way there, when she had encountered very soft snow.

"We were slowed down in snow conditions so soft we were travelling at one point at about 500m an hour. It took eight hours to cover 17km," she told Sapa.

The lowest temperature experienced by the expedition, taking into account wind chill, was -56°C.

Members of the 28-day expedition spent their nights in small tents on the ice, next to their vehicles.

Ossevoort, who has been dubbed "Tractor Girl" by the world's media, is no stranger to tractor travel. Four years ago, she drove a tractor 38 000km through Europe and down Africa.

On Monday, on top of the world after having succeeded in reaching the bottom of it, she was looking forward to leaving Cape Town - the expedition's stepping off and return point for their trip south - and returning to her family in the Netherlands in time for Christmas.

Her tractor, still at Novo in Antarctica, is set to be shipped to Beauvais in France, where it will be displayed in a museum alongside one of the tractors used by Hillary for his expedition 56 years ago.

Read more on:    antarctic  |  the netherlands

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