After many years of out and about camping in anything from tents, caravans, campers and motorhomes, I have learnt that people are extremely loyal to their particular brand of “house on the road”. And especially fiercely loyal are the Sherpa owners.
This light maneuverable all fiberglass caravan can be towed by almost any small sedan. Putting one of the larger variants, the Rambler, to the test (Caravan & Outdoor Life – November 2016), I was particularly impressed with the build quality, strength and roominess of this seemingly small caravan. In fact, in my review I compared its interior to a well-built cruising yacht!
On my latest trip up to Gauteng I met up with owner Neville de Meillon at the Sherpa Leisure factory in Plantation Road, Edenvale.
Neville was born with caravanning in his blood. Growing up, the De Meillon family had a Sprite Musketeer. They towed the Musketeer with a big Rambler V8 – which is interestingly where the name of the latest Sherpa comes from.
Neville goes on to reveal that his love of caravanning led him to buy his first caravan when he was only 19 years old. He says: “It was a Gypsy 4… I got it from a place called Sunseekers.
“I towed with a Cortina XLE. It was one of those jobs with a vinyl roof,” and he laughs at the memory.
It’s hard to believe that Neville, with the support of his wife Karen, only started building the first Sherpa prototype from home some 12 years ago. In just over a decade, Sherpa Leisure has gone from strength to strength. A few years back when I collected the Rambler, the factory was in one building. Sherpa’s team has now taken over the adjoining building. This is now a large showroom and final finish area.
After a cup of coffee, Neville says: “Why don’t I take you on a walkabout of our whole factory… take as many photographs as you like.”
You can now insure your Sherpa caravan with a tailor-made insurance!
Sherpa Leisure and CaraSure have been associated for many years and have mutually decided to establish an insurance product specifically for Sherpa caravans.
CaraSure, who are the leaders and only specialists in Leisure Vehicle insurance in South Africa, has insured thousands of caravaners for almost 15 years.
The first thing I learnt is this: every single component of the Sherpa range is made of the premises. From the chassis to the state-of-the-art moulds for the caravan bodies, the tents, and even the curtains are made right here on the factory floor in Edenvale.
As I am taking pictures of the row of molds, Neville says “Wait, they look untidy,’ and he quickly gets two of the guys to turn the constructions at a similar angle for the photograph.
He explained that there had to be two people to turn the molds, one on either side: “We are very particular about safety at the factory.”
There is also a set down procedure for ensuring the molds were supported at all times. It is this attention to detail, found throughout the Sherpa Leisure factory, that is so impressive.
Basically all Sherpa Caravan’s are built to order. The client is king! Standing on the showroom floor was a caravan that was specially designed so the owner could wheel his motorcycle from the large back access door. The bed cleverly folds away, and specially reinforced tie-down bolts have been built into the body to ensure that the motorbike was securely fastened at all times.
Neville had also built a custom-made Sherpa for a client in a wheelchair.
These little caravans are tough! I know of Sherpa client who has taken his caravan all the way to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. The same client recently came back with absolutely no hassle from a long trip through Angola.
Back in the factory, one of the guys in charge of the moulding explains: “All our caravan bodies are monocoque construction.” The word monocoque is a French term for “single shell” or “single hull” with boats.
Monocoque, or structural skin, is similar to an egg shell – a structural system where loads are supported through an object’s external skin. A true monocoque carries both tensile and compressive forces within the skin and can be recognised by the absence of a load carrying internal frame. In other words, that little “egg-like” caravan body is a strong as blazes!
A new product I saw on the showroom floor is the FibreTrail 1800 luggage trailer. Weighing in at a mere 180 kg with a load capacity of 380 kg, the FibreTrail comes out with either an aluminium or galvanized steel chassis.
Meanwhile, as you might have read in previous Caravan & Outdoor Life, Sherpa caravans are now being exported to Australia. A company called Express Caravan in Queensland are the agents for Sherpa. And closer to home, Paarl Suzuki is now a sub-agent. They are selling the Sherpa Tiny Lite due to the fact that so many Suzuki Jimny owners tow these vans.
By Richard van Ryneveld