Storm Katie – the awning killer

Let me set the scene, it’s March and Easter is early this year, which means that the start of the camping season is early too. Many of us get away each year at Easter to enjoy our first week camping of the year and it seems Storm Katie had the same idea.

This year the Blackford family have a touring caravan and so, Easter being the first opportunity to use it since buying it late last year, we jumped at the chance of towing it down to Devon and ‘making camp’. Looking at the weather forecast before we went we could see some rainy days ahead, but to be honest that’s normal for us, so we went anyway. The trip from Telford to Devon was a dream, we set off at 4.30am on Easter Sunday morning and the roads were clear, and I mean clear, we had whole stretches of the M5 to ourselves.  We arrived at our campsite in the bad weather but there were breaks in the cloud with the odd bursts of sunshine so excitedly we pitched and even though we had a few reservations we put up our Kampa Rally Ace 400 awning.

Because we didn’t have tie down straps I took advantage of the onsite shop and bought a set of Kampa Storm straps. Now at this point I want to point out that I’m not laying blame on any of the Kampa products, I think we would have had the same experience whatever awning we had. Having said that the straps did fail, but then again, so did all the pegs. I’ll go into reasons why later.

As the day wore on the weather got sporadically worse Storm Katie seemed to be closing in. The wind made itself known as did the rain, but finally we fastened everything up and went to bed. Windy and rainy weather is very noticeable in a caravan, it drums on the roof and shakes the van like turbulence on a plane. It woke me up a couple of times through the night, but on the last occasion it was my wife who woke me up at about 3.30am, she was pulling down the blind checking that everything was still where we left it. The words ‘it’s OK, it’s all still there’ had literally just left her mouth when a gust of wind so loud and violent definitely made sure that everything wasn’t still there and was definitely now very much elsewhere. The clattering and flapping noises that came next was dreadful, it was one of those noises that made no sense but you knew definitely wasn’t right. I opened the van door and looked out onto an empty stormy night, where there once was an awning with tables and chairs, there was now an empty space with zero evidence that anything had been there at all.

All I could say to my wife was ‘it’s gone, it’s all gone!’ Scrambling to get something to wear we stumbled into the screaming wind and rain. We found our chairs, table and awning carpet bundled into a heap at the front of the van, fortunately everything had jammed together and became one immovable object. We found a couple of shoes, not a matching pair, and we started stuffing whatever we could into the caravan. At this point neither of us knew what had happened to the awning, I was expecting to be roaming around the campsite with a torch checking the trees to see where it had ended up. It was only when we had collected everything and was checking the other side of the van did we see a whole bunch of poles and canvas sticking out from on top of the caravan. The awning had turned itself inside out and flipped over the top of the van, all of the poles were still connected but collapsed in a tangled mess.

I don’t know how long it took us, but between us we managed to remove all the poles and jam them into our Mazda Bongo camper van. We then had to drag the canvas back over the top of the van and slide it out of the awning rail and all of this was done in the stinging driving rain and storm force winds. The awning too was bundled dripping wet and dirty into the back of the Bongo and when we had finally picked up everything that we could still find, we stepped back into the van cold and wet and more than a little shocked. The rest of the nights sleep was just as disturbed, but at least we didn’t worry about things blowing away when we were woken by the wind, because unless the van tipped over there was nothing left outside to worry about.

As ever when a storm has passed, the next morning broke clear skyed, sunny and calm. I’m always amazed at how nature can do this and I was pleased it did it again that morning. Moving around inside the van was now difficult as we had all manner of camping gear dumped untidily in our way, so getting dressed as best I could I started to move the things back outside and once breakfast was done we started to take stock of the damage. Here is the most miraculous part, no poles were bent, the awning suffered only a minor rip and only lost one of the pole pockets and best of all the caravan escaped unscathed. How the awning wasn’t ripped to shreds and how the poles remained straight is a mystery, but all I can say is the Kampa awning must be made of heavy duty stuff to be able to come through that storm with so little damage. All that remained for us to do that day’s was to dry it out as best we could, fold it up and pack it away. There was no way we were going to attempt to put it back up which was a shame because we lost to use of the extra space an awning gives you.

For some people their awnings hardly moved in the wind, it seems that the direction you pitch your caravan in and how much tree protection you have around you really helps. We weren’t exposed as such, but we were backend into the wind and the gust that finally collapsed the awning must just have come from the perfect angle to get in and under the awning and lift it skyward. However, I will say the ground that we pitched on was so wet that it’s not surprising the pegs failed. I mentioned the storm straps earlier and I said they too failed, they did but in hindsight it’s not surprising. The straps in question had thick elastic bands that connect the webbing strap to the peg, this is done via a bent wire metal hook that hooks into a metal ring. I was dubious I have to say about the elastic band but I like to have faith in products and how they are constructed. I’m sure they are tested and produced like that for a reason. In our case the band didn’t break, the bend in the metal hook failed and when we looked the hook had been completely straightened. I’m going to make a hybrid strap of my own which will incorporate those large springs that I now notice other people have.

Reading the forums since I got back, it appears that awnings do have a tendency to blow inside out and land on top of the caravan. I’m glad (in a nice way) that other people have had the same problem we did because it makes me feel a little less silly for attempting to erect the awning in the first place. If it’s happened to you (or you have seen one go) please feel free to comment below, perhaps you can share some tips on how to stop in happening in future.

By day I'm a self employed website developer running my company www.designconscious.co.uk but by night I am the author of Make Camp. I along with my family love camping and time willing we go as much as we can. I have two young children so their hobbies and social life take precedence but when we can we are off in our Land Rover Discovery for a camp in our Berghaus Air 8 tent, or off down to Devon, Cornwall or Wales with our caravan in tow.
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