Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Boston Rowing Marathon: wise advice

This was going to be an email to the 2015 crew, but I realised I had lots of things to say, so I've put it here. And who knows, it may help someone else. Having poked around the wub, I don't find any other "general guides to Boston" about. This is written from a Cambridge perspective, and from the viewpoint of a crew mostly racing the course without being fanatical, rather than just trying to finish.


Its an odd thing, but most even moderately fit people are able to finish Boston, including large numbers of people who would have no hope of finishing a running marathon (only 42 km) in a comparable time. To be able to focus on your actual rowing, and indeed enjoying it, pay attention to your hands and your arse - see sections below.

One general piece of advice: there is little spare time, especially if you're racing the course. Its easy to think that you'll have time to re-arrange your kit, or your plasters, or whatnot at Bardsey lock, but its not true. If there's no queue then you're onto the pontoon, hurried off it, hurried across, and hurried back onto the water as fast as possible.

The course

The course is 49 km (not 50. People get confused because the finish is at 50 km; but the start is at 1 km. Think about it). After 12.5 km there is Bardsey lock where you get out and hump the boat across; then there's another 36.5 km to go. There are a variety of bends along the way but basically that's it. The river is initially quite narrow - too narrow to overtake - but by the time you get anywhere near overtaking anyone, it widens out. It can be quite weedy; consider taking a "weed hook" to clear your fin.

12049196_10153303241199495_4177093507814851806_n The "official" estimate of the time taken to get over Bardsey lock - for those interested in racing the course and trying to work out their needed splits - is 5 minutes. You'll be lucky to hit that. In 2013, when we thought we'd done it well, we took 6:30. Its generally considered best to leave your blades in, rather than taking them out: just push them diagonally across the saxboards, and "handbag" the boat. This also has the advantage that you don't need to take your kit out. There are people on hand to help.

As I said the start is quite narrow. Boats go off at minute intervals, and there's space for a bit more than one VIII's worth on the start stages (pic of the start). So if you're a scull you'll be hurried on and off, but you can sit in the river for a minute or so sorting yourself out. If you're an VIII there's no such space, and you may be obliged to actually start before you're really ready, and expected to sort yourself out while rowing in sixes after the start. This depends a bit on how busy the year is; 2015 seemed quite relaxed.

If you want a decent (i.e., not too early) start time, then consider carefully what category you're entering. Have a look at this year's draw for example. Remember, anyone allowed to enter novice is also allowed to enter IM3.


Hands fall apart

For me, this is the biggest problem, as it is for many people. Solutions:

1. tape / plaster up your hands. My pic shows an example. Often, a layer of padding with electrical tape on top to keep it in place works well.
2. Wear gloves. I've come to believe in this. Ignore the naysayers who'll tell you its not Manly. Gloves can usefully be combined with taping, and can help it not rub off.
3. New idea: tape up your blade handle. One of our ladies tried this and it seemed to work; we think she may have used "equestrian tape".
4. Endure the pain. Not my favourite option.


Arse on fire

Another excellent way to really not enjoy your row is to discover 20 km in that the seat isn't very comfortable and you've run out of ways to wriggle it better. Hopefully, you're rowing on a seat you know and love; but even so a seat pad is an excellent idea. Either a "real" one such as people sell, or a seat-shaped portion cut out of a carry may will do just as well. Opinions vary as to whether its best to pad from the start, or give yourself a treat half way in.

AOF is not obligatory. If your bum fits the seat (mine fits the J8 very well) you won't need one.

Food and drink

You want some. Opinions differ on exactly how much. I find a litre of water is enough; others want two. You're likely to end up stopping every 10 km, or somesuch, for water and a snack. If you're shaving every second, energy gels are faster than real food. Otherwise, the obvious: bananas, chocolate bars. Be aware that food that seems scrummy when you're relaxed can be hard to force down your throat in a hurry. It may be a good idea to plan the first snack at or around Bardsey: that way, if you have to wait for the pontoon, you can use the time usefully. If I was running, I'd take a gel every 5 km after the first 10 km; when sculling Boston, that's what I've done.


You wouldn't believe what a pain transport can be. The central problem is that your cars and trailers go to Lincoln, but you end up at Boston, 49 km away. The easiest solution is to get someone to drive your trailer for you. Do this if you possibly can. However, contrary to what I said in 2009, I think (indeed I found by experience) that sculling and driving your own car back is fine.

If you're an VIII, you have the option of pre-positioning some cars at the finish, at the cost of some to-and-fro-ing. Getting a lift back from the finish to the start with someone else can work; a shared taxi back is about £50, reasonable if shared with a few other people. My pet peeve is that the organisers could surely do more to help ease this process, but don't.

Getting to the start: pay close attention to the final stages. If you've from the South and following the "obvious" route you get diverted into the one-way system and if you're anything like me, you get lost. If you ask google maps carefully it will show you a different route round the north.

Du cote de chez Swann

I've done Boston more than once. If you want to read about it, try:

Monday, 31 August 2015

Book review:Utopia by Thomas More

Available from Gutenberg and discussed on wiki. Most interesting is the question of interpretation, which as wiki says is somewhat problematic:
One of the most troublesome questions about Utopia is Thomas More's reason for writing it. Most scholars see it as some kind of comment or criticism of contemporary European society, for the evils of More's day are laid out in Book I and in many ways apparently solved in Book II. Indeed, Utopia has many of the characteristics of satire, and there are many jokes and satirical asides such as how honest people are in Europe, but these are usually contrasted with the simple, uncomplicated society of the Utopians. Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious toleration of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England.
Some elements do fit with More's known inclinations, and so are presumably what he would like to see: plain clothes, seriousness, principal hobby reading, and so on. His condemnation of lawyers sits oddly with a lawyer; though his main solution is to have less law, and for plain interpretation, an idea that many have shared. Utopia tolerates all religions - but not aetheists, obviously, they are scum; perhaps More secretly wanted toleration, but his faith and his King prevented it.

Utopia is strongly patriarchal - wives obey husbands, of course. There's a brief hint of better: "military exercises and the discipline of war, in which not only their men, but their women likewise, are trained up" but that is quickly thrown away with "that, in cases of necessity, they may not be quite useless". It is also slave owning but - and here we come to the core of the problem with the envisaged society - its a nice slave owning society. Similarly, it has few laws because people are good. It is a society designed to work well when people are good; but as Popper pointed out that doesn't work; you need a society and a political system designed to work well when people aren't good.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Stubai 2015

A diary of a week in the Stubai in late August 2015 with Daniel and Jamie. See-also: 2014. Day-links are to the GPS tracks.

Friday 21st: Having packed, caught the train to Gatwick, the plane to Innsbruck, the bus in to the Hauptbahnhof and the bus up to Neustift we called a taxi to get us up to Oberissalm, the road head for the Franz Senn hut. Thank's to D's steaming pace we're up in one hour (book time 1.5) in time for dinner. They're crowded (we're in the FS because the Sulzenau was full) but we get served promptly. We're n box 10 in the loft; pack our sacks for the morning, set the alarm for 6:20, DJ to bed and I sit up over Anthem with a red wine.

Saturday 22nd (Lisenser Ferner Kogel): An implausible amount of early getting-ready noises woke me earlier, but I slept well. Alarm 6:20, we three up and down to breakfast; I indulge DJ (and hence myself) in the buffer. Wx: sunny, near cloudless. Good for the climb, bad for hut fullness, its already bursting. Set off 7:25 for the Lisenser Ferner Kogel (see post from 2012, unfinished) with several groups ahead, who we overtake, though one gets us back when we rest at the bench. 2h to the Rinnenneider col. From there a surprise, the whole glacier is "dry" - snowless. Down to the glacier edge - further than usual due to lack of snow - and DJ put on crampons (I'd bought a second pair in Keswick but not a third, arguing that anything D or J could do with crampons I could do without, which wasn't quite true but worked out well enough, despite a small amount of blood on the ice). There's a group ahead of us, which is unusual - the twice I've been here before I've been completely alone in the whole basin - but as we cross and then trend up to the Plattigewand it becomes clear they're off to the Lisenser Spitze instead. The Wand is snowless so de-crampon, and so is the top, so there's a slowish rocky section, followed by the glacier to the col and finally snow. Thence scramble up the last 100 m of rocks to the summit. We carried the rope, just in case, but DJ are clearly happy without it. Back to the col, they rest, I zoom up the Rotgratspitze for old time's sake, but its not at all as I remember. Back at the hut by 5 (DJ ten minutes ahead of me) 9:45 total. Sit outside and persuade them to get me a Radler and something for themselves. Tonight's beds end happily: they're still full, so we're in the skiraum, but that's fine. DJ play "slam", D going 5 apricots down to J; I read. They're out of Apfelstrudel so Kaiserschmarren.

Sunday 23rd (Ruderhofspitze): Skiraum was fine, in some ways its more convenient since we're just next to the boot room. About 12 people in there in all. B'fast buffet against, whilst outside a glorious sunrise. Set off at 7:20, 5 mins improvement on yesterday, except I forget my phone so actually just the same as yesterday. Summary: 5h to the peak; 6h back at the col; me back at the hut in 9:30, DJ 20 mins less. Compare 2014, when there was more snow so the glacier was easier. Easily and pleasantly up the valley, then we get to the old / new path choice. Pick the new, since I'm not totally sure the old moraine path can still be used, especially to get onto the glacier; must try it some day. Up by the really very large and impressive waterfall - like so many other things here, it would be the wonder of England were it in England, but here's its just "oh, another massive waterfall" - and we're on the silt plain in front of the very dry glacier; there's no path up onto it despite my feeling there really ought to be one; or perhaps we're supposed to go on the rocks? But never mind, we can force a way. The snout is heavily ablated, caved in, and rock / stone / gravel covered; its a bit tricky sans crampons but I cope. Before the steepening  - which is bare ice - we duck off right onto to the rocks, which is again trackless and much slower than a snowy glacier would have been. One little climb is perhaps slightly more exciting than desired - you don't really want to do Diff in these circumstances - but its brief; and after more circumlocutions and ancillary glaciers we're above the steepening and set off again, and fairly soon the snow starts. Wx is holding - a few clouds - and I'm in the lead initially as I abandoned DJ to put their crampons on. See a party of three descending, but they swing wide to avoid the crevasse zone from the Westliche Seespitze which I realise I was supposed to do, when I look at the map back in the hut; but I'm enjoying my "I know where I am" thing so I'm not looking at it now. The zone is safe, though I need to zig-zag a little; later, we pick up their track. DJ explore a crevasse, then we're at the col. This time there are glorious views across to the Dresdener and down a wilderness of rock and scree to the D-NR path. Embark up the ridge, which as last year looks enormous from here; views this time to my fail of last year, or where it would have come out, I think. DJ cope perfectly well and soon we're at the top: Berg Heil! Stop at the top for 20 mins to take pics, sign the book, and fall asleep; then head down. Rest at the col and finish off lunch (breakfast buffet allows you to make sandwiches for lunch!). Down, letting DJ leap ahead. Above the steepening take a bit more care exactly where we're going on the rock and do it better. Back on the ice for the descent to the snout via views of various increasingly large sinkholes; we're all cramponless now. Back to the silt plain, en up leaping some of the streams, and thence to the hut. They're resting outside when I turn up, and D buys me a Grosses Radler again. A second long day. To bed early, before 9; in the dorms again, since the hut is not full on Sunday evening.

Update: I realise, when writing this up, that I missed a trick: its possible to descend from the Ruderhofspitze to the Neuregensburger. Either by tracing the ascent route I failed on last year (somewhat dodgy, as I've never done it) or by crossing the Hochmoosscharte between the R and the Westlicheseespitze. Which I haven't done either. So, even if I'd thought of that, we probably wouldn't have (we'd have had to carry all our kit, too). But it would have been worth a think. And would be cool to do!

Monday 24th: We want to get to the Sulzenauhutte. As it much later transpires, the best thing to do would have been to cross to the Neuregensburger, then go into the valley and out again to the S, taking two days; those would have been out mid-trip rest. However, that would have taken up our last spare day so instead we're going back to the Oberissalm, taxi to Neustuft, bus upvalley, and walk up to S. Or so I'd planned. Wake 6:20 for the practice, preceeded by comedy of the Russian guy who couldn't turn his clock-radio off; have kleines fruhstuck because we can eat lunch in the valley; D repairs his heel which had rubbed somewhat yesterday, possibly because it had got wet in the stream under the crevasse, and off. Wx is grey, but the peaks are clear, so that'll do; tomorrows forecast is rain. We get down quite quickly, DJ leading. I call a taxi but he can't make it for half an hour... or an hour... or maybe two. I say I'll call back and we go to the Alm cafe. DJ realise that they've both left their towels, and J has left a base layer, so D is despatched back to get them(after first being allowed a drink), and given about an hour and a half; this seems to fit, I'll call the taxi when he's back. D does come back in time, J and I sit in the sunshine in the cafe in the interim, its a hard life. We miss the "real taxi" which had brought someone up; but the "Alm taxi" is there so take that. Half way down the driver casually asks if I'd rather go straight to the S start; and without thinking much I say yes; we'll miss lunch in town but meh. It turns out moderately expensive - E85 - but never mind. Its now sunny so up we head, DJ in the lead, and I'll stop saying that because they always were. We meet up at the half way Alm and have bier and Fanta, and I re-admire the old carvings. After a nice rest on to the top in less than an hour, with views back through rainbow as there is a fine rain. The rebuilding is done (entranceway reshaped and the common room gains an extra room), but the inside is not yet quite back the the "gemütlich" it once was. Lunch: Tiroler Grostl for DJ, wurst-n-brot for me. Shower, E2, via token; the shower room is rebuilt and much better. Afternoon: rad, cards, stare at weather which is clear and windy but clouds at 2800 m. Dinner: two knudeln for me again, but the Sulzenau style is different. Pudding: GermKnudlen, which we find a challenge. Talk: Ladakh, the not-summit day, and should they have tried anyway? But the risk of avalanches. And discuss the rapid evacuation when people got sick. Knock-out whist from 17: D wins.


Book review: Anthem by Ayn Rand

Anthem is more of a short story or fable than a book; think of it as a very condensed Atlas Shrugged if you like. Read about it at wiki or read it at Gutenberg. It is a paean to the virtues of individualism and a polemic against the evils of collectivism.

Summary: our hero lives in a society where the word "I" is unknown, as are individual names; he grows up lively, interested, and questioning but is assigned the trade of street sweeper. By native brilliance and a chance discovery of ancient relics in a subway tunnel he rediscovers electricity as a source of light; when he shows this to the college of scholars they are appalled: it might put the candle makers out of business. After an obligatory torture scene - in Rand, the state must be physically violent, no matter how little it fits - he runs into the wilderness, followed by the noble upright "Golden One", a woman as unbent as him. But naturally her only desire is to obey him, and subsequently have his babies. After wanderings they find an abandoned house from The Old Times on top of a mountain; he learns to read while she admires herself in the mirror; he determines to rebuild society, starting with his infants and those from his old city not crushed.

Muller hutte

The Muller hutte (3145 m) is a high mountain hut between the Wilder Freiger and the Wilder Pfaff / Zuckerhutl, only accessible by glacier. Being high, and relatively small, it doesn't have quite the same range of facilities as others; but it has a common room with a stove, and drying room, and will provide food though not a-la carte.


* Common room

Some of my posts involving the hut

* Stubai: Wilder Freiger to the Muller Hutte (2014)
Wilder Pfaff and Zuckerhutl (2014)

Hildesheimer hutte

The Hildesheimer hutte is between the Dresdener and the Muller, in my world; or between the Hochstubai and the Siegerlander in the Solden-side touring world. Its a nice old hut,the staff are good,and the views are wonderful.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Stubai: packing list 2015

This year's list bears an uncanny similarity to last year's list. Except: there are three of us going, so add rope and harness for glacier travel, and since I have those a few slings for tokens like gear on the Zuckerhutl even though I know I won't need them, but they;re only 400 g in total.

So, what can we see? Don't say "nothing, its all black". I'm sorry about that.


In the rucksac, three ice axes (two walking, one climbing) one for eachof us, and three ski poles (between D and me; J has his own). Peeking out, my thin "waterproof".

New this year, some food, probably too much, never mind we can just eat it: two each of mixed nuts, dried apricots, mixed raisins, about 200 g each; a pack of shortbread; and eight Mars bars.

To the left, my gaiters, two pairs of crampons: mine from last year, D's new aluminium pair, to be shared with J according to conditions, my nice 50m blue half-rope, two harnesses (J to bring his), a towel.

To the right, my green "waterproof" trousers mostly for warmth, BAS fleece hat, spare bin liner, water bottle, phone, toilet paper part-roll, phone, head torch, watch charger cable, D's penknife, lip salve, spare glasses and glacier glasses, sun cream, soap, USB plug, foreign adapter, silk liner, various black tee-shirts (not too many), underpants times two, one pair tracksters and one pair long johns, bag of misc like compass and whistle, maps, red diary, Alpeinvereinsfuhrer, Kindle, gloves: Dachstein, fleece, thin; neck warmers times two and "silk" balaclava.

Add money-tickets-passport-EHIC-boarding passes and we're about there. No SLR this year, I'm being very brave.