Ruba Husari
Ruba Husari Image Credit: Supplied

A quartet, headed by a female marshal led the sweep drive for the Gulf News Fun Drive Overnighter – The Tilal Sweihan Experience this year.

Ruba Husari, 55, an energy analyst and writer by profession, led the way to comb the desert as she trailed participants, ensuring their safe return home.

“I was invited to be a marshal on the Fun Drive 10 years ago and since then I was always part of the sweep team,” said Husari in an interview with Gulf News.

Husari said the sweep team “combs” the desert, trailing behind all participants to make sure no one stays behind. “That’s why we are called the sweep team,” she said.

Marshals on the route drive alongside participants, helping them if they get stuck in the sand or face issues during the drive.

“We also report vehicles that break down in order for the recovery truck to locate them later and tow them out of the desert,” explained Husari.

When not sweeping in to rescue cars, they also impart solid advice as needed.

“We told people how to use their vehicles’ capabilities to their best and how to approach certain challenging sections on the route,” she added.

Participants in distress

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Marshals and sweep team being briefed by route director John Spiller Image Credit: Supplied

Like every year, this year also saw participants stuck in the sand who needed rescuing.

“We came across participants that deviated from their pre-designated route. They were lost so we helped them get back on route. Cars broke down and we found drivers stuck in the middle of nowhere,” she revealed, adding: “We even had to drive some in our cars to the nearest check point so they could exit the dunes.”

“This time the route was 153km in total but only participants who were able to drive the first 65km within a certain time limit were allowed to proceed to complete the full loop,” she explained. “Usually, only experienced off-roaders are able to make that distance in time and complete the full route. Anyone who arrived at check-point 5 (i.e. the 65km mark) after 2.30pm were told to take a shortcut to the camp. This was for their safety and to avoid getting stuck in the desert after dark where recoveries become hazardous.,” explained Husari.

Common issues faced

Ruba's Sweep team at play Image Credit: Supplied

Husari said the issues that participants faced were common to all previous editions. “People stuck in sand and needing help to be recovered. Some cars needed tyre replacements. One group went off track. Some vehicles ran out of fuel and we had to carry it to them.”

“There was one participant that did not follow the route, came over a ridge and went down the dune hitting petrified sand. It took a lot of time and many shovels to clear the rocks to free the front bumper so the driver could get out. And when all this was happening, I had to stay in touch with the control room. It was hectic but fun,” she added.

“A lot of the problems we came across can be avoided if only the participants read the instruction manual,” she said.