Sunday, 8 July 2007

Everything hurts

Yesterday was a busy day. To fully explain, I need to wind the story back about a year, to when one of the directors at work mentioned that he knew a guy who had a pair of 12ft drop tanks in his garden. This was exciting news. They were potentially the ideal objects from which to construct a catamaran-style raft.

I had heard a rumour that the lovely people at the Guildford Lions (think Rotary club, and you'll not be far off) organised an annual raft race on the River Wey. I thought that sounded fun, and managed to persuade a few colleagues that if we took part in the race we a) wouldn’t die, b) might have fun, c) would raise some cash for good causes, and d) if we did die, we’d at least make the local news doing so.

Three days before the race with an assortment of plastic bottles, rubber dinghies and noddy paddles, a colleague and I pitched up in a massive garden to inspect a couple of drop tanks. For those of you who have never seen a drop tank, here’s a quick introduction to these lightweight and fluid dynamic wonders.

They are quite large things, and not easy to transport, unless you have some friendly people willing to lend you a large vehicle with sturdy roof rack. Here’s what they looked like when we got them back to the office.

A rushed paint job and a couple of days later, strapped together with a couple of aluminium ladders, they were paddled down the Wey, all the while sinking slowly. Being good scientists and engineers, we had calculated the buoyancy of the craft, and worked out how quickly water would have to ingress to sink us. It was one hell of a rate (we did after all have about 2000kg of spare buoyancy), and there were no apparent holes below what we thought would be the water line. With the benefit of hind sight, a few more days’ preparation and leak-testing would probably have been a good plan, nevertheless, spurred on by the thought that the faster we paddled, the less chance we had of sinking irretrievably, we oozed across the finish line in an incredible third place. Not bad for a bunch of novices with a couple of days’ preparation and about 500kg of excess weight (water) by the time we’d reached the finish.

This year, I thought things were under control. We pitched up at the office at half twelve, a good two and a half hours before the off, following a slight panic over our transport vehicle spraying diesel all over the place. A quick repair later, all was well. Meanwhile we busily applied gaffer tape to all the holes we’d discovered, printed off a new pair of raft numbers, and got ourselves and our flat pack craft to the river.

A quick assembly job and donning of santa hats and fairy wings later, we were ready to launch. By this time, most other rafts were well down the river, leaving us space to overtake one raft at a time, and more importantly, allowing the earlier rafts to draw the worst of the spectator ammunition. Sorry, did I not mention this? It is traditional to watch the race armed with water or flour bombs to aim at passing rafters. Those people lucky enough (or in this age of flood-awareness, foolish enough) to live on the riverbank busy themselves with BBQs and take aim at the water babes with high pressure hoses. This is not a sport for the faint-hearted.

The assembly job may have been too quick. In the absence due to injury of our original action man, it transpired that we may not have done quite so good a job of securing the ladders and tanks into a raft as we did last year. I discovered this when, shortly after a flour bomb had taken out our secretary and main supplier of santa hats, and as my fellow bow-sider wriggled to avoid the small arms heading her way, she appeared to be causing the drop tank on which we were sitting to rotate. I was just remarking on this, when I realized that unlike my two fellows on that tank, I was not safely perched on a ladder.

The river was cold.

It is not easy to clamber back onto a freely-rotating drop tank, whilst retaining fairy wings, tiara and wand in situ. Badger was usefully on hand to get some pictures….

I was unimpressed by my dunking, but hauled myself back onto the raft, regained my paddle and tucked my feet under the ladder to give me some means of stability. I paddled in that posture for the next forty minutes, periodically checking the water line to gauge how much of the drink we’d taken on. It wasn’t much. The gaffer tape was doing its trick. Hallelujah.

Things started to hurt after twenty minutes or so. The surface of the tank is pretty rough, and with the benefit of hindsight, wearing shorts may have been a bad plan. The backs and inners or my legs were by this time covered in shallow abrasions. My arms, shoulders, stomach muscles and lower back were beginning to burn, and my hamstrings were more stretched than they have been for a good six months. That was after twenty minutes. We were nearly halfway…

We had a water fight with a pair of scout rafts who cried foul of the grown ups splashing them. I maintain that a) They started it, and b) they had come with intent, having a crew member whose sole role was to take aim and fire at other crews. Needless to say, we gave them a good soaking as we lumbered past. A few more overtaking manoeuvers later, we’d nearly finished. Our fan club (all three of them) were on the bank to cheer us home. It was heartening, and our paddling quickened with our raised spirits.

I was completely unaware as we sprinted over the finish line of just how scratched and grazed my bum was. Despite being in acute pain last year for a good four days following the rafting, I had assumed I would magically be accustomed to this rafting lark by now and that a similar fate would not befall me. That I am standing whilst typing this might suggest otherwise. No matter, I was unaware. We were pleased. We had put on a good show, and gaffer tape technology had not let us down. There was no need for a repeat of last year's Herculean efforts to get the raft out of the water, it was by comparison as light as a feather.

A few hours of trophy giving (none for us, alas), raft dismantling and transporting later, I was home… and knackered. Absolutely, completely, totally shattered, but not then in total agony.

Today is different. Everything is tight. My hamstrings are tight, my arms don’t straighten, my shoulders and neck resist even the slightest effort to move or twist. I had a bath, which soothed the aches and pains, but which made me acutely aware of the tiny abrasions on my legs and bum, with the stinging pain mapping out the bits of me that had struggled for forty minutes to stay in contact with the tank. I’m doing a rather bizarre walk as well, with short strides enforced by the stiffness in my legs. I do hope it sorts itself out overnight before I wander into a meeting doing a scene from the Ministry of Silly Walks. Ouch. So sore. Whimper....

Still, on balance, it’s all been worthwhile. I'm looking forward to next year.


Pixie said...

Love the idea of santa hats and fairy wings, along with sore bits, wonderful imagery!

But Why? said...

Ah, there was a myths and legends theme, which, because we spent too long arguing about whether or not it would be distasteful to turn up as Saddam's WMDs (well, the tanks look the part, but I think it's a bit sensitive and political for a fundraising event...) we thought we'd go for coordinating with the corporate colours and do santa things. Damned hard to find santa hats at this time of year, though, hence the fairy putting in an appearance.

But(t hurts a lot) x

Rob said...

Hah! Classic photo! Good effort Sub-mariner But Why?

But 'Actimaran'? sheesh

Anna MR said...

But(t)kins, girl - this tale grants you immediate and complete absolution for your sin of purchasing cheap, naff, unnecessary and, no doubt, manufactured-by-slave-labour-in-an-oppressive-and-totalitarian-regime fairy wings and other apparel.

Next year, if you give me a few days' notice, I might get a Ryanair and come and be your fourth fan club member. It sounds like a laugh.

(I won't bring bombs, honest.)


But Why? said...


After my submarinal baptism, I think I shall be resigning my post as Admiral of the Fleet before next year's race. No doubt some eager young thing can scrape together a far better campaign, and I can retire on my Admiral's pension to watch from the banks and hurl flour bombs at passing competitors xx


With offers like that, I might have to reconsider my resignation. Do come over - there's plenty room for guests and logistics support. Come to think of it, are you sure you don't want to join us on the raft? There's drop tank aplenty to squeeze in another crew member or two - we could have done with the extra manpower, and I'm sure I overexaggerate the immense pain of the event. It can't be as bad as giving birth.

Thankyou kindly for the gracious absolution. I do hope there's an easier way to balance soul and sin, no? Hair shirts, perhaps, or maybe wholewheat cereals? If the only option is this much pain, maybe I'll forego any purhase of cheap tat in future....

But x

Anna MR said...

Now there's an offer, But. I shall take it into serious consideration - I am quite a dab hand at manoeuvering boats and similar things (childhood spent on the sea).

The coveted first prize just might be the drop tank team's, you know...

But Why? said...


That's excellent news - if only we could get our vessel to go in straight line, we'd have finished the course in a third of the time and victory would be assured. Not that our raft in any way resembles a boat, and not that the Wey has much in common with the sea (apart from that they are both wet if yoou fall in), but still, that precious, precious trophy is so close, I can practically smell the plastic...

But x