Huge problem at the Berghoek sheep post: The cable of the electric back-up pump in the borehole snapped. Pump, cable and metal pipes of the windmill cannot be pulled up. So the borehole is completely blocked. 540 sheep (more about sheep farming) without water, around 1,000 hectares of pasture unusable – a medium disaster!

No water before mid-January?

What to do? A new well costs a small fortune: N$ 10,000 for transport and set-up the drilling rig. N$ 300 for drilling and N$ 300 for casing – each per metre. Taking the depth of the current borehole of 54 m, this comes to a total of around N$ 42,000 (amount in Euro according to the current exchange rate; 1 N$ = 1 South African Rand). Although there is no guarantee that the water vein will be hit again immediately…

And even worse: the question of when. Only two drilling crews are currently operating, country-wide. In order to minimise transport distances, they go area by area. That means you have to face two or three months waiting time. A well would therefore not be expected before mid-January.

Do it yourself – and be creative!

So there is no choice: The problem must be solved by yourself – like in so many other cases, when people in town would just call the handyman. After almost 40 years as an active farmer, Ernst Sauber is a master at working out solutions.

First step: In-depth inspection. Aha: Several meters of cable fell down and apparently got stuck between the pump and the casing of the borehole. How can you grab this tangle of cables at a depth of 50 m and pull it up?

Fishing for cables in the borehole

Second step: Getting the right tool. No, not at the hardware store Pupkewitz or farm wholesaler Agra in Windhoek, 230 km away. For the farmer the first shop to go to is his workshop. Ernst welds a barbed hook out of iron rods.

Third step: happy cable fishing. Back at the borehole, Ernst and his team of workers lowered it carefully. When they felt the hook touching the ground, they turned it and pulled it up a little, carefully testing. Several attempts failed. But finally they felt more resistance when pulling: Here we go!

Softly, softly, catchee monkey…

Then Ernst and his team carefully let the metal pipes of the windmill down a little so that the jammed tangle of cables could get unstuck. Carefully they pulled everything back up a little – it works! But only for a few metres. Then it got jammed again.

Ok, let the pipes down a bit again, then carefully pull up everything again… With patience and finesse, they finally managed to pull the pump out of the borehole. YES! Relieved, Ernst Sauber wiped the sweat from his forehead. He really earned the ice-cold Windhoek Lager in the evening! Oh yes, by the way: Today is Sunday…

In – out – in

The next day, farm assistant Lüder Meyer cleaned the borehole and put the wind pump back into operation. The weather forecast was favourable: The wind, which had been blowing strongly for weeks, was likely to continue for a few more weeks. So the electric pump was not needed as a back-up when there is no wind.

On the next supply trip, Johanna Sauber will take it to Windhoek, where it will be repaired and fitted with a new cable. After picking it up in three or four weeks, it’s time again at the borehole: rods and pipes out, pump in, rods and pipes back in. But definitely not again on a Sunday…

Farmer’s fact is stranger than fiction

Guests of BüllsPort Lodge & Farm can hear stories like this on a farm tour (more on this under experiences)… And learn how to sustainably breed sheep and keep horses, on the edge of the desert, with an average of 220 mm of rain per year.

Ernst Sauber borehole pump cable hook BüllsPort Naukluft

“Catch of the day”, value: N$42,000. Farmer Ernst Sauber with worker Josef Ruben and the self-made hook at the borehole on BüllsPort Lodge & Farm. Photo (re-staged): Sven-Eric Stender

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