Belated day one to seven

Acclimatising…sort of…

The delay in updating this travel blog is a result of an incredible schedule for the first week. Apologies to all of have been vicariously travelling with the group.

The intention of staying in and around Johannesburg for a few days was to provide the guys an opportunity to get over their jetlag and to start acclimatising to the altitude. Johannesburg is 1753m above sea level. The blood actually has to develop the capacity to carry more oxygen - this is somewhat advisable if you are going to be swinging a hammer for a substantial portion of the day.

Day one

After arriving at OR Tambo airport, better known as Johannesburg International Airport, we stumbled off the plane, sick and sore and weary (and some of us a little less than sober) to be met by Heather and Kevin Harvey, South African ABS Mastersmiths. Heather and Kevin were waiting for another Mastersmith to arrive from the USA, Lin Rhea and his wife whose flight came in half an hour after ours.

As we were feeling pretty rotten after the trip, we elected to go straight to the car hire places and pick up our vehicles, what turned out to be a dinky little tin can Datsun (yes, you have not read wrong) and a Hyundai 10 seater minibus. This probably took an hour, as things move a little more slowly in South Africa efficiency-wise.

We headed off to our accommodation, a lodge in a protected area and fenced for game near Lanseria Airport, north-west of Johannesburg, and were welcomed with a roast pork dinner which was just what the doctor ordered.

We all stumbled off to bed, hoping to set a solid night’s sleep, despite the time difference of 8 hours ruining a full night’s sleep.

Day two - Engedi Retreat

3am arrived, before dawn, with the call of the jackals in the bush close by. One by one we limped down to the lounge, made ourselves a cup of coffee, and waited for the dawn to arrive. Click on the images to scroll through multiple pics.

The plan for the day was to go to Sandton City, a large rather high-end shopping centre to obtain local sim cards, and to visit the Sharp Edge, and large knife and hunting shop, with a reasonable selection of customer blades as well as commercial blades, hunting equipment and so forth. A good couple of hours were spent there with Jake and Shaun purchasing pistol grip crossbows to entertain them for a few weeks.

Drew got into a bit of manscaping with a haircut and a beard treatment of sorts - apparently it was super soft and smelled nice - I chose not to put that to the test.

Back to the lodge, where our hosts Vernon and Belinda produced a table full of horns of interest to the guys. Target practice commenced for the rest of the afternoon before our hosts put n a braai (bbq) and a lovely big fire pit.

Day 3

Day three dawned, jetlag still apparent, but slowly more normal hours were being achieved. Today our plans were to go to Herbst Knife-making Academy, and KMTS (Knifemaking Tools and Supplies. We had also contacted Neels van der Berg from Black Dragon Forge who invited us round to say hi in the afternoon.

The guys at Herbst were as always wonderfully warm and welcoming, and the guys enjoyed having a look around their small shop containing knife supplies, but in particular loved their workshop, crammed with some very nice equipment.

Having contacted Neels from Black Dragon Forge, he kindly invited us to come over and say hi, and that there were some chops over from the braai in the afternoon. We advised that we had an evening booked at the Carnivore!

Day 4

This morning we wnt along to Zoo Lake Archery club, where we had an introductory lesson. Some of us had some previous experience, which made a big difference.

The sun was pretty strong in the morning, and poor Luke got a bit of heatstroke!

The morning was followed by a braai at my brother’s house in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, and back to Engedi to prepare for a full day course with Neels van der Berg the next day.

Organising, stressing, and a wonderful surprise!

Sitting with Google maps open, trying to work out how many kilometers a day we will be doing has become a major time in motion study. The purpose of this is to ensure that the bargain we got in hiring a 10 seater bus for the guys to get around (which has a limited mileage condition) remains a bargain.

I thought I would give Neels van der Berg of Black Dragon Forge ( a ring to tidy up the arrangements for our workshop with him. Neels let slip that Lin Rhea, American Bladesmith Society Master Bladesmith would be in town the week after our one day course with him.

Needless to say, I persuaded Neels to give us the gory details. It appears that Lin Rhea will be doing a hammer-in during the weeked between the first and second week of the ABS course. I begged Neels to put us on the list of attendees, and promptly went about re-arranging the itinerary! What an opportunity.

Have a look at Lin’s website to see what a lucky coincidence this is!

The concept - what were we thinking???

About a year ago, the esteemed Chairman of our little association, and my dearly beloved came up with the idea of taking a few of the guys to South Africa for some training. Specifically, the American Bladesmith Society’s Introduction to Bladesmithing course, followed by their Handles, Sheaths and Fittings course. Squeezing in some additional courses to advance our damascus skills, and of course try to meet some of the South African You Tube characters that we have been watching.

As Graham had done just exactly that on our last trip to South Africa, successfully avoiding most family get-togethers, he was eminently qualified to express an opinion on the matter.

So, I put together a basic budget, based on previous experience, a bit of guesswork, and came up with a basic budget. We posted this idea on our Facebook site and waited to see who was brave enough to commit to doing the trip in August 2019. The concept was to try to fill one of the ABS courses entirely.

Mission successful, the planning started in earnest. As did the budgeting and cost estimating. The question of how much we could reasonably squeeze in to four weeks, and still have our participants still able to stand.

It was interesting to hear Graham’s suggestions, which were based on his personal experiences in South Africa. Some small inconsequential things amused him, and continue to do so - these things were required to be built into the trip - visits to places like the Kruger National Park, a meal at the Carnivore Restaurant, and going shopping at the Sharp Edge, unless I am mistaken, the largest knife shop in the southern hemisphere.

And of course not forgetting to pop in to visit guys the the Herbsts, who teach folder courses, and are some of the nicest people on this planet, and South Africa’s best knifemaking suppliers, KMTS.

Week 1 - recover from jetlag, have a meat fest at Carnivore, go shopping at KMTS and the Sharp Edge, and of course drop in for coffee with the Herbst guys. Spend a day with Neels van der Berg of Black Dragon Forge.

Week 2 - Introduction to Bladesmithing

Weekend back in Johannesburg to attend a hammer-in with Lin Rhea - ABS Mastersmith

Week 3 - Introduction to Bladesmithing

Weekend In Kruger National Park, doing game drives and going tiger fishing!

Week 4 - Advanced damascus with Henning Wilkinson

I have been quietly working on refining all the last details for this trip, and we are now reaching the pointy end of things. Courses are in process of being paid in full, accommodation as well. I have started to think about little issues such as local sim cards, packing lists, CITES certification so we can import skins, and how to maximise luggage space to allow for purchases to be brought home.

Starting to get a bit excited now….