Freesteel Blog » Weekends

Monday, October 5th, 2015 at 7:18 pm - - Kayak Dive

Not much bloggable recently. Some well-formed untested ideas on matters of servo motor control, and lots of bad psychology. Two discoveries of note that’ll take up a lot of time are jscut for CAM and chilipeppr for CNC downloads, both of which run in the browser. I have an interest in this approach, but now that I’ve found some people who are doing it effectively, it will save me a lot of time.

Meantime, here’s a couple of bad pictures from a cheeky kayak dive in the docks during Becka’s Thursday night canoe polo session (aka murderball).

Getting ready to go down:

One of the scary eels that made me shriek when it appeared in the dark.

Eels look and move a lot like snakes. We’ve got an instinctive fear when we encounter them in their own environment. It was interesting how they could swim backwards just as easily as forwards.

Monday, September 7th, 2015 at 10:55 am - - Kayak Dive

Home at last. Lots of stuff to do, so here’s just the bare facts of the trip to the north part of Ireland with our kayaks, as well as a 4-day booking with aquaholics where the weather blew northerly gales the whole time, which denied access to the famous north face of Rathlin Island and the basking sharks were a no-show.

Date Site Place type depth (m) time (mins)
2015-08-28 Mulroy Bay Downings Kayak 15 19
2015-08-28 Mulroy Bay Downings Kayak 17 35
2015-08-29 Melmore Head Downings Kayak 20 45
2015-08-30 Gloster Rock Malin Beg Kayak 20 12
2015-08-30 Shark Rock Malin Beg Kayak 20 30
2015-08-31 2nd Pinnacle Slieve League Kayak 18 12
2015-08-31 Big Cave Slieve League Kayak 9 15
2015-08-31 Carrigan Head Slieve League Kayak 20 23
2015-09-01 Portnagh Rock St Johns Point Shore 26 52
2015-09-01 Skuddagh Rock St Johns Point Shore 17 48
2015-09-02 Black rocks Rahlin Island Boat 31 36
2015-09-02 HMS Drake Rahlin Island Boat 18 46
2015-09-03 Black rocks Rahlin Island Boat 31 38
2015-09-03 Scallop bed Rahlin Island Boat 21 48
2015-09-04 SS Lough Garry Rahlin Island Boat 30 29
2015-09-04 Harbour wreck Ballycastle Boat 19 37
2015-09-05 SS Lough Garry Rahlin Island Boat 29 29
2015-09-05 Black rocks Rahlin Island Boat 29 36
2015-09-06 Lees Inner Wreck Strangford Lough Kayak 11 24
2015-09-06 Lees Outer Wreck Strangford Lough Kayak 12 29

Kayak diving wins again!

The most notable sighting of wildlife was this unexplained swimming snail above the kelp at the start of yet another black rocks dive (where we failed to find the right bit as usual).

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 at 9:17 pm - - Kayak Dive

The past five days have been kayak diving and camping in Donegal. Now we’re in Ballycastle for four more days of expensive boat diving where the weather has turned bad and probably won’t be so good underwater, but at least we’ve got a roof over our heads.

Camping in Ireland seems pretty easy. The two places we’ve stayed at had “day rooms” for people with tents where you can do your cooking, make toast, sit down and drink tea.

First two days were at Downings, diving in the almost totally enclosed Broadwater Bay at Massmount, and then at the totally exposed Melmore Head once we’d got our confidence back.

Then it was south to pitch tent at Derrylahan hostel before spending the day out at Malin Beg having to seal launch the kayaks off the slip at very low tide and poking our noses along the Slieve League cliffs for a couple of kilometres to check if paddling its full length was going to be a silly plan. The local fishermen thought it was an okay idea and said there weren’t any currents. With a northerly wind blowing we had perfect shelter.

Here’s a short video of a dive into a shoal of mackerel at the mouth of a huge cave. I noticed them only because they broke the surface as the streamed past my canoe and it looked like rain was falling onto the water even though the cavern ceiling was dry.

The next dive onwards was on the east side at exactly the tip of Carrigan Head, completely sheltered from the wind, waves and current by a 2 metre high headland of rock, but where the sounder registered a sudden dropoff to 20metres. The place was scoured of kelp revealing a low animal turf and dozens of large wrasse fish parked in the slot doing nothing in particular. As usual, Becka did the cycle back along the road to fetch the car while I packed the gear and walked up the road to the hostel to have a cup of tea.

On our fifth day in Ireland we got air fills at Dive Donegal before using it all up on two long short dives from St Johns Point. If anyone is counting, the one on the left out from Portnagh Rock should be in the top ten shore dives of the world for its perfectly designed architecture of satisfaction. You use up your air at the perfect rate at the perfect depth and everything is easy to find. The karst rock of the main reef has eroded into shelves that are like a condominium hotel for critters (one alcove contained a fat lobster chewing on the hide of a dead dogfish). It’s worth the drive, even if we couldn’t find a decent breakfast anywhere nearby to fill us up in the morning.

All this kayaking is exhausting and makes me not interested in spending many hours at the computer. I’ve got all winter to do this when I get home and settled down.

Monday, August 10th, 2015 at 3:14 pm - - Kayak Dive

What do you do with someone who broke their elbow six weeks ago?

Take them on a long 7 hour canoing trip up the Conwy river from the coast at Deganwy to the new inland surf station at the historic village of Dolgarrog, of course.


Due to the lack of a waterproof camera, I don’t have any photos of our journey and of the many hours upwind paddling through miles of waving reed meadows and into the small dry creek leading to the hydro power station.

We parked on a bank full of thistles and waded through stagnant pools and along rocky river beds before we reached a road bridge where we could climb up and over the fence.

Down that road was the surf pond, already packed out on its 6th day of operation. We had our picnic on a bench watching the surfers, noted that it was already half past six, and then rushed back to the boats before we got benighted.

In the meantime the hydro power gates had opened, causing a slightly worrying river crossing. The tide had also risen another metre (more than an hour after Conwy high tide at 5pm) nearly washing our boats away.

More engineering

Last Thursday I made a trip to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield. It’s a bit of a massive establishment with a lot of machine tools, so they ought to have people making special CNC toolpaths for them. On the other hand, I don’t think the development of yet more passenger aircraft technology is necessarily a good investment of engineering resources, given that the industry needs to shrink by 10% per year from now on as part of any strategy for us to survive on this planet with our species and civilization intact.

I decided I need some mechanical engineers to put to work on the triangular machine tool, and formed a theory that there were not enough of them around because they’d all got a proper formal education which put them on the conveyor belt into corporate employment where they were no longer an accessible resource. On the other hand, software engineers are often self-taught and therefore don’t begin their careers with much faith in the system, and so tended to be easier to entice into random start-ups that don’t have any rich person’s backing.

Then I spent most of my Sunday in Manchester at the MakeFest in MOSI not helping on the DoESLiverpool stand at all. But I did find plenty of mechanical engineers who immediately contradicted my theories.

One of them had made a tiny wind tunnel model into which he let me insert my hang-glider wind meter for testing, which I’ll talk about in the next post rather than confuse everyone by putting at the bottom of this page here.

Friday, July 31st, 2015 at 11:19 am - - Hang-glide

This blog has as many gaps as my logbooks which are sitting on the to-do section of my desk waiting for their pages to be filled with flights and caving trips done many moons ago.

After expo my passenger and I drove back to his house in Bristol. I continued onwards the next day through horrendous rain showers to a campsite behind the Long Mynd for the third and final BOS hang-gliding competition of the season.

Here’s a picture on take-off on the Long Mynd in special smudged-lens-o-vision:

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 at 8:36 pm - - Cave

Top camp was still relatively empty before the hoards arrived for the third week expo. Two young ULSA (University of Leeds Speleological Association) cavers fresh from their bus trip from Leeds showed up and were easily persuaded to walk up the hill at 6am. We got there in time for Rachel to organize us into three teams and go do Balconyhohle into the area known as the Leeds Bypass. (Leeds people are gradually taking over this expedition in name and numbers.)


The team comprised of David, George and myself. Frank had found a new hole in the floor the day before and persuaded David to check it out. George and I went for a poke in the western extents in the direction of the Tunnocks cave (to which this one has not been connected yet).

On the walk back, I said to George, “You know that thin gap we saw in the ceiling back there? Do you want a leg up?”

“Sure,” said George.

He found a moderately large unexplored chamber up there. I didn’t believe him because there was no echo, but I had to squeeze through anyway to check it out.


We went back to fetch David who had so far only managed to push a big slab of rock over so it filled in Frank’s hole. He didn’t take any persuading to give up. We traipsed back to the drafting ceiling slot (tagged as “Question Mark 90b” in the database), pushed all our kit bags through, drills, tacklesacks of rope and ourselves, and began exploring and surveying it. Down one end there was a perfectly preserved dead bat spread out on the floor complete with wings and fur. David began drilling for bolts and putting in rope to get down the hole opposite to access the next level below.

We ran out of time and came back the next day.

Partway through the trip I finally got suspicious at how quickly George had been taking notes.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were supposed to draw a map. I’ve only been writing the numbers.”

David’s rigging had by then lead us down a rope and onto traverse line along a loose ledge above a bottomless pit to a proper passage.

I lay down for a nap while David sorted out some of the missing surveys. I planned to bodge out a map of the chamber above.

We carried on while David looked down the far end where there was a sandy slope with rocks embedded in the crest. He pushed one of them forward and it slid round the corner and carried on down. Back in the main passage with the high domed ceiling, George and I thought the world had ended with the entire cave imploding like a pile of boulders in a blender. I went rigid, unable to see any solid looking rock shelter nearby that I thought wastn’t going to burst into an avalanche.

When the noise subsided, David didn’t know what we were yelling at him about, so we stood him exactly where we had been and then went and pushed one of the other boulders off the slope so that he too could experience the amazing sound explosion.

As we were derigging the rope, a couple of other cavers were struggling through the crack to inspect our discoveries. “Go up in that direction,” I said. “There’s a perfectly preserved bat on the rock.”

They did.

Luke said, “What bat?”

I led him over and showed him where it was, now trodden on by a boot so that bits of wing and tail were spread over a wide area.

It was time to go out.

I came down the hill in the morning and typed in the survey data. It definitely doesn’t look right. There’s one huge rift passage which claims to coincide with an already known small passage. What a mess.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 at 8:26 pm - - Canyon, Hang-glide


Last week I did quick day trip to Greifenburg to take advantage of a weather window and a chance to do the “best canyon in Austria” with a couple of spare cavers who were festering in expo base camp. My tent spot hadn’t been filled since I abandoned it three days earlier, so I left the cavers Frank and Dave to pitch up while I waited for the taxi to carry my glider up the hill. It turned out I’d just missed the 9:30am rush to the bus, so we ended up driving my car up with David’s mountain bike for a pack lunch in the shade of my wing and a lazy start.


And so it was straight off for a fly at 1pm with low cloudbase and strong lift to 2400m. I had my radio tuned to the channel of my german friends. They couldn’t hear a word I said, but I could hear everything from them, which wasn’t very useful as I don’t know any german.

Monday, July 13th, 2015 at 8:34 am - - Hang-glide

I didn’t get very far up the Drau valley from Greifenburg, but the flight was sooo satisfying.

Anna Schutz is a bitch, if her Haus is anything to go by.

That’s the strange name for the sharp ridge on the north of Lienz marking the turning point where you can go around Kreuzeck range. It was my self-set task for the day because it’s described in a bit of detail in the Burkhard Martens Cross-Country Flying book.

Picture 8.5.17 Flanks over the Anna-Schutz house. A racetrack up high and a dangerous lee down below.

After a very difficult start of flight trying to get up from deep in the ravine between Emberger Alm and Gaugen, and then scoring 3000m altitude to get that hunger out of my system, I headed over to the red cliffs of Scharnik.

Here I had the usual nightmare with the rigid wing Atos gliders, who are always above you like mosquitoes because they glide more efficiently. However, they don’t thermal so well in turbulent air when a normal hang-glider can make progress by really throwing it around in the air currents, and inevitably you come face to face with them on the level. They think they own the thermal because they started out above you. And they fly differently so you can’t circle with them. And if your glider is easily recognizable like mine, they can give you a bollocking in the landing field as you’re derigging. They all look the same to me, these Atos gliders, so I have no idea when that was. It could have been two days before.

I do always keep out of their way, to the extent of making bad decisions and losing thermals. So I followed the back ridge from Scharnik to Damerkopf, lost all my height, went back to the rocks at Scharnik and did it all again this time without the distraction of the other glider threatening to bite me. I then crossed directly to Damerkopf, hopped over onto Anna-Schutz’s spine-back house perfectly lined up to take advantage of the thermal highway as advertized.

Far below on the southern flanks I could see gliders returning low from a competition task and having a hard time staying up. I’m glad I’m not down there, I thought to myself.

Five minutes later I was down there where it was as rough as a pair of long-johns flapping in a sea breeze. You couldn’t see anywhere to land except for a few green cornfields far in the distant valley that probably had three rows of power lines through them, so it was best not to bail out. Sometimes your shadow was so close you could almost touch it. Then you’d have a heart attack when you saw another shadow coming directly at it and you’d have to rapidly dart your head about like a chicken’s to see where the other glider was camouflaged against the boulders and scree.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 at 3:26 pm - - Hang-glide

Last Saturday we skipped MakeFest in the Liverpool Central Library to take advantage of some sunny weather.


I had a nice flight off the Long Mynd, caught one thermal up off the hill, and then drifted over the back and totally lost my sense of direction on the way down, blundered through one thermal on Wenlock Edge and was quickly down in a grassy field as I deserved to be.

I walked most of the way back to Church Stretton by the time Becka arrived with the van after her midday cycle ride up and down the Mynd holding up all the cars. We set up in the camp-site nearest to my landing field, had a late lunch, and then pushed off onto a bridleway along the top of the Edge which quickly degenerated into a tree-rooty footpath through a series of wheat fields.

When we eventually got back onto the tarmac, Becka sped off downhill along the country lanes until she came unstuck at a T-junction with a lot of loose chippings at the centre.

This is day 3 of the recovery period.

No caving for you!

Friday, June 26th, 2015 at 12:59 pm - - Kayak Dive

I took a break from my treadmill of unpaid unproductive work for a day on Cosmo’s boat with a couple of dives with Becka. We left the slip at 7am, having forgotten to have my morning tea. I wondered if my addiction was the cause of the headache most of the afternoon.

Aside from that, it was very calm out there.

We dived on the wreck of the Alarm (a light ship), which was pretty deep at 30metres, but clear enough to see and swim round.

There was a bit of a drama with the SMB reel which stops paying out if you squeeze the trigger too hard, doesn’t it?

beckawet beckapressuretest

Becka’s suit flooded completely. Luckily the water was 12degreesC, so it was like being in a cave. We pressure-tested it after the second dive with soapy water and only just detected the problem on the neck seal which had peeled off at the front and remained joined by a thick film of glue.

The second dive was on the Lelia in stirred up clouds of terrible visibility. (Here is a video from last time when it was clearer, which was also the last time I bothered taking a still-shot camera underwater.) Headcam video does the necessary job of aiding my memories.

We got off the wreck as soon as we’d dealt with the anchor, not wanting any repeat of our getting trapped inside experience from our last trip out (which, fortunately, was not our last and final trip).