Escape Hatch / Wildlife Viewing

Without having a cab crawl-through it was always going to make sense to have some easy secondary means of getting out of the truck in case of emergencies. I looked at various options and decided a roof hatch would not only do the job, but would also provide a useful vantage point for viewing wildlife. After a bit of research I decided that a boat hatch would be the best solution. The advantages over a ‘normal’ motorhome hatch were many, including being able to open to about 170°, having a really low profile, and having no ‘tree branch grabbing’ edges to rip the whole thing off. I decided on a Lewmar medium profile hatch as these have a decent reputation for water-tightness, have replaceable polycarbonate lenses (better insulative qualities than glass), and are widely available. Fitting was reasonably straightforward with the worst part, as always, plucking up the courage to cut a massive hole in the roof. Plenty of non-setting IDL 99 mastic and a bead of Sikaflex around the outer edge saw the thing seated and with the optional (but ridiculously priced) trim / fly screen kit in place it looks neat from both in and outside. The fly-screen is functional but came with some pointless and flimsy plastic hinges. I didn’t use these and made a couple of custom retaining catches to allow the screen to slide into place along its leading edge before being secured around the rest of the frame with the standard turnbuttons.

One advantage of junking those rubbish hinges and making the fly-screen fully removable is that it is easy – in colder weather – to replace ithe screen with a 4mm polycarbonate shield custom cut by The Plastic People which helps enormously with keeping the heat in and the cold out. This is vital as the hatch’s peripheral frame is aluminium which makes for a really efficient thermal bridge; the very best way to ensure loads of condensate drips all over the front bed! With the exception of this limitation the hatch itself performs well. It can be set to a locked vent position or opened to any angle required; the (adjustable) friction hinge system automatically holds it in any chosen position. When fully open the hatch allows easy egress and by sitting on a cushion on the front bed performs its wildlife viewing duties extremely successfully. One small point for anyone considering a similar thing. As mentioned the hatch opens to about 170° and in this position can’t support its own weight. Some kind of rest is needed to prevent excess stress on the hinges.

My own solution was to incorporate a rest into some bash bars that are primarily designed to lift tree branches and wires over the various exposed roof fittings. The bash bars themselves are suitably fashioned 10swg 25mm aluminium and are jointed using some rather splendid stainless marine rail fittings supplied by Sea Screw.

Though not persuaded that carrying enough fuel to traverse the whole globe is necessary or desirable, I also considered the truck’s standard 137 litre fuel capacity somewhat limiting for overland travel use. In fairness, we managed perfectly well for over two years’ worth of trips with the standard tank and a couple of Jerry cans, but we did - far too often - have to address the issue of finding fuel. It’s fair to say that in standard guise, diesel capacity was perhaps the biggest single limiting factor for our chosen style of travel.

In contemplating solutions, it seemed intuitively logical to me to utilise two smaller, rather than one very large tank. Benefits - as far as I see them - include: better weight distribution, less localised stress on chassis members, a ‘known’ reserve capacity, and back-up in the event of one tank leaking - or being siphoned by thieves.

As with many other aspects of the build, I have a soft-spot for retaining some originality and so, when presented with the chance to purchase a second perfectly standard LD T244 tank complete with all the original fittings, it seemed fate had lent a hand. In very short order I found myself with said tank on my garage floor and began the process of working out how best to integrate it with the truck’s existing fuel supply system. Suffice to say, having considered many a pro and con, I decided to keep the original tank in its absolutely original functional state. This means it remains solely responsible for supplying diesel to the engine and receiving unused diesel back. It also retains the original fuel level indicator sender unit and the original filler spout. It is now known as tank 1, or the ‘running’ tank.

With a bit of careful measuring, I found a suitable home for the ‘new’ tank (now also known as the auxiliary tank, or tank 2) on the right hand side chassis member and was pleased to be able to utilise two existing chassis holes for mounting. I did have to drill two 10mm holes in the chassis for the front mount strap but in doing so consider I off quite lightly. Drilling / welding on the original chassis on any truck - let alone an overlanding truck, - is not to be taken lightly. It should really only ever be done in accordance with manufacturers’ advice and only then very cautiously.

This is how the whole system now works. The tanks are filled separately as required. Tank 1, as already described, is the ‘running’ tank. Tank 2 is only a reservoir; it is not capable of sending fuel to, or receiving it back from the engine. It does, however, supply fuel to the onboard diesel heater via a dedicated standpipe that utilises an original ‘bung’ fitting in the top of the tank. Tank 2’s fuel can, as and when required, be pumped across to the ‘running’ tank courtesy of a Sigma K series semi-rotary manual pump. In creating the transfer system, I very satisfyingly managed to utilise only standard tapped tank fittings throughout, which are - for the benefit of anyone even slightly interested - mainly half-inch BSPT threads. Altogether the system works well. It gives us an almost 300 litre capacity, is simple, reliable, and even looks as if it is OEM supplied.