Archive for the ‘me’ Category

The sensible thing

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

When the recession bites and the company you work for is working very hard to keep sales figures up, a bachelor must do the sensible thing and buy an expensive luxury sports car. Seriously though, I haven’t explored NZ enough and I want to do it in a wee bit of style. I’ve never owned a vehicle with electric windows, central locking or any of that. Now I have very cool car with automagical everything – a proper GT car (Gran Turismo). It also goes like a stabbed rat and sticks to the road like glue. Fuel consumption is as good as it gets for a 4.2l V8, but cruising at 100km/h (‘ish) gives about 25mpg. Might never be in a position to own such a luxury again, so I’m enjoying it while I can! More to follow…

Home Produce

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Living as I do on a two acre section, and given the obscene increases in the cost of food, my neighbour/landlord Frog and I decided to put in a vege garden. We worked out where to put it, but it involved building around 50m of fencing to keep the livestock and rabbits out. We had milled, Frog has a portable mill, a number of macrocarpa (cypress) logs that have been lying in the paddock next to the cottage since before I moved in six years ago. A lot of them were rotten where they had been sat on the earth and even through to the heart. So, we had a lot of firewood, but we also had a whole load of 200 x 200 x 4m+ slabs we would use for the raised beds and 150 x 40 x 4m+ boards for the fence. The fence was constructed the same as the other fences on the property. The process started at the end of last summer when we tried to bore the 600 deep holes for the posts. The first two went fine but most of the others defeated us. The two man post hole borer gave us a workout and a bit of a beating as we tried to persuade it through the hard pan at 200mm after the long hot summer. After a couple of holes where we had smoke coming off the auger, we eased off. We filled the holes with water and kept topping them up for the next day or so before trying again. With the holes bored, we concreted 50mm galvanised steel waterpipe into the holes. It stayed like this for most of the winter as we were busy with other things like felling, ringing and splitting firewood. Anyway, we eventually laid out the beds and shuttered and poured the concrete nib to tie the fenceposts together. This was an afternoon of shovelling a couple or three tons of builders mix and cement into a mixer for me, worked up a bit of a sweat! The next weekend we put up the boarding and the next again weekend we stapled chicken wire to the outside of the fence to make it rabbit-proof. Fitting the gate and plumbing in a couple of taps finished it off. Frog got a few cubic metres of mushroom compost from the local mushroom grower for the beds and planting began.

New fence down the left and across the back, lots of veges after a couple of months.

Outside the fence is another source of cheap home produce. A ready supply of abandoned lambs for free which would otherwise be dispatched. This year there are 15 running around the paddock. Some will be fattened up and sold on, a few will fill the freezers.

Aren’t they cute. From the left we have Chops, Shanks, Rump…. you get the picture.

RR’s New Boots

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I never did post a picture of the Range Rover with the new suspension, wheels and tyres, so here it is outside work the other weekend when I dropped in to grab something from my desk. It certainly sits higher than the 27-odd year old saggy springs that were on there and may sit higher than standard, but the stronger springs and stiffer damping transform the handling. Might still fit the sway bars (anti-roll bars) as it still rolls, just way, way less than standard.

Newly shod old girl. Note the typical Hawkes Bay sky, I doubt you would see a cloud anywhere.

The 235 section tyres give great grip for road use and fill out the wheel arches looking pretty sharp. The fronts rub slightly on the radius arms when reversing on full lock – no big deal. Not sure how they will fare with off-road articulation? May find out one day…

Old Man Emu

Monday, April 20th, 2009


My 1981 ‘Classic’ range rover, three door finally failed a WOF (warrant of fitness) because of worn tyres. I’d been preparing for this and had lined up some 235 section tyres to replace the 205s. At the same time I knew I had to replace the shock absorbers as I could feel the front wheels pattering over bumps which means poor handling, reduced braking efficiency and excessive tyre wear. One of the rear shocks had eaten its lower rubber mounting bushes too. After some research it appeared that the best solution was a complete set of springs and shock absorbers from OME, or ‘Old Man Emu’, supplied by one of the main 4WD suppliers ARB. The four springs and shocks, plus the steering damper, are tuned for the vehicle. Many reviews I read suggested that this choice transformed the handling on and off road and removed the temptation to either remove the rear ride height strut or add anti-roll, or sway bars.

It cost me around NZ$1500 or about GBP600 for the full set, but it has indeed transformed the handling. It would have been interesting to compare against new original suspension since mine was 28 years old. However, I’m happy with new setup.

Now I’ve had a heater bypass hose blow. Old vehicles – love ’em!!

The 158 dollar kebab

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

The tyres on the range rover were pretty thin when I bought it, so no surprise that it failed its WOF (Warrant Of Fitness – NZ version of the MOT, but every six months rather than annual). It was Saturday morning and I was in Napier, so I went straight to ‘Landy Heaven’ to see what he had in the way of wheels and possibly tyres. I knew I wanted to go up to 225, or preferably 235 section which is the maximum possible without bodywork mods and/or reducing the steering lock. I got a set of 4 gray alloys from a later series-one Disco for the equivalent of GBP200 including wheel nuts. Early the next week I spent a lunchtime tripping around tyre joints looking for a deal. I eventually got from over $300 per tyre down to $255. On my way back to the office I picked up a kebab for $8 (not your greasy doner, but a healthy and tasty chicken one). Sadly I didn’t quite ‘stop’ at a stop sign and was issued a $150 fine. I didn’t sail through the junction, but slowed to a point where I could stop if necessary. There were no cars in sight, but the rules are rules, especially when the local council can make some quick bucks. I have no idea why that junction has a stop sign when many other similar ones don’t, but the bastards have been skinning people wherever they can recently. I pointed out the the fact that the police in the UK had given up such obviously cynical revenue earning as they had lost the respect of the public. They were seen as tax men rather than solving real crimes. The officer agreed, but it still cost me $150 for almost, but not quite stopping. So, $158 for a kebab – it was tasty, but not that tasty!!

A Week in Hawaii

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

My good friends Melinda and her husband of nearly a year now, Kim, live half the time in Hawaii where Kim works at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the rest of the time in Richmond, a suburb of Seattle, where Melinda works as CEO and Technical Director of Wildlife Computers – competitors to Sirtrack, but friends and colleagues too. We have enjoyed each others company at a number of conferences and workshops around the world over the last few years. I have shown them around my home turf here in Hawkes Bay and what little I know of Auckland. I have enjoyed their hospitality in Seattle and the offer of accommodation and hospitality in Hawaii was too good to ignore.

So, I arranged to stay with them for a week in early February. By the wonders of the dateline, I left Napier at the crack of dawn on Saturday 7th Feb. and arrived in Honolulu mid-evening on Friday 6th. I finally managed to use my second complimentary Airpoints Gold upgrade to business class which made the 10 hour flight very comfortable. Having attempted to use it several times and failed it was great because it was due to expire in a couple of weeks. I picked up a hire car and headed North and West. I overshot a wee bit, but after a phone call I was sipping my first cocktail about 10pm.

Sunset on the lanai, or balcony, overlooking Lahi-Lahi Bay.

After a relaxed morning we drove the 40 minutes down to Honolulu. We picked up some food for lunch in Chinatown and a few beers and headed to the harbour where Kims boat, Imua, is moored. We motored out of the harbour and headed North towards the Reef Runway, used jointly by Honolulu International Airport and Hickham Air Force Base. The US Navy had managed to park a billion dollar guided missile cruiser on the namesake reef at the Northern end of the runway near the entrance to Pearl Harbour. They had just refitted it and taken it for sea trials. They were stooging around in the dark dropping off civilian contractors into shore boats when they ran the USS Port Royal up onto the sand and rock reef.

USS Port Royal high and dry on the reef off Honolulu’s main runway.

When we saw her they had attempted to tow her off twice and failed. They had pumped out her fuel, water and half the crew jumped ship, but this still didn’t help. There were a lot of guard ships and other vessels around. They again failed to tow her off that night, but I wonder if they didn’t even try, but removed a significant quantity of weaponery under cover of dark that night. She was successfully towed the following night after ‘removing the anchor chain and other heavy items’. Most embarassing for the US Navy was that every plane landing at the airport had a clear view of this large ship listing noticably with the thankfully small surf breaking around her.

On Sunday morning we walked out to the North Western tip of Oahu, Kaena Point. The path is the bed of an old narrow gauge railway used to link the North coast and West coast sugar cane plantations, long since unused, but the sleepers are visible in a number of places.

Looking South down the West coast of Oahu. The old railway bed pathway is visible below.

We stopped to watch humpback whales breaching in the distance when I noticed a familiar outline on the rocks below us, a Hawaiian monk seal basking in the sun. At the point there is a nesting area for laysan albatross and wedge-tailed shearwaters. We also saw a white-tailed tropic bird flying around. On the way back we pointed out the monk seal to a couple of young tourists, sharing our observation and knowledge – big mistake! They immediately walked right down to the poor animal and took pictures of each other next to it. I was surprised that it did not head for the sea or lunge at them. I will in future keep it to myself, some people do not deserve to share natures beauty, no respect. That afternoon I drove up to the North coast for a look around.

Pesky tourists showing no respect for a Hawaiian monk seal minding it’s own business and enjoying the sun.

On Monday we started early and dropped my car at Ko Olina marina, pretty much halfway between Honolulu and Waianae. We then picked up Kims work boat from Honolulu with his colleague David to try and catch and tag some striped marlin. We headed out to the nearest FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) and immediately caught two mahi-mahi, or dolphin fish, a good feed as they were not the target species. At the end of the day, having caught nothing, we hooked up a big blue marlin. I was right beside the reel it hit and it was my fish. It took out more than half the line on the reel, well over 1000yds. The drag was way too hot to touch and was cooled with water several times. We hauled it in to only 20 or 30 metres from the boat after it had pretty much given up fighting, but one last leap in the air and it managed to break the line with it’s bill. Bugger! Never mind, I got to experience having a 300lb plus fish on the line and saw it leap a few times.

The last gasp escape of a 300lb plus blue marlin.

On the Tuesday we headed to Kim’s work, the HIMB (Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology) lab on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay on the East coast of the island. It was originally a playground island for a wealthy family with many animals including an elephant apparently kept for their amusement. It is now wholly owned by the University of Hawaii.

Coconut Island research centre from mainland Oahu.

Whilst on the island I hung out for a while at Kim’s shark tank. There was a long tank, maybe 6m wide by 30m long, which contained a medium sized shark and a slightly smaller local reef fish which followed it constantly. Not much else to be seen. At the far end of the tank is a small penned off area which was very cool. I watched it for about an hour and took a few pictures.

A large puffer fish which came in small and enjoyed a good life until it couldn’t get out through the net any more.

The main reason for the small tank was to grow small fish to move to the main tank. Here’s a small hammerhead and a stingray.

The puffer fish was very cool. It would do a couple of laps and then come and check me out. It would stick its head out of the water and on a few occasions squirted water in my general direction – only 20 to 30cm, but cool to watch.

On Wednesday we took a colleague of Melinda’s and his family out for a trip on Imua. We searched around for dolphins and whales, but didn’t find anything. I gave Kim some stick about not having a line out, so we put a single trolling line out. On our way home passing close to Waikiki Beach, where you never catch fish, we took a strike on the one line out. I jumped down from the flying bridge and got on the reel. After about 20 minutes I had reeled in a good sized mahi-mahi. Kim vowed that he would religiously put out a line no matter how unlikely the result.

Flying the flag on the way home.

A good sized mahi-mahi, very tasty!

Those were the highlights of my holiday in Hawaii. Great place and I look forward to visiting again soon.

The Big Four-Oh

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Yup, it happens to everyone eventually. Natural selection has worked in my favour so far, and I have reached 40 years of age.

On Saturday 20th December 2008 I planned to hold a party with my neighbours’ support and their shed. I wanted to do something a bit special and something I hadn’t tried before, so I decided to spit-roast a whole lamb. I spent most of the Sunday before fabricating and a couple of evenings finishing off the spit. My neighbour, Gordon, or ‘Frog’, is a stainless steel fitter and welder. He has a lot of second-hand stainless kicking around and new stock left over from jobs.

On the day it was very windy and three sheets of mild steel were welded together as a wind-break- very effective. We had pine, macrocarpa and peach wood to burn for embers. The spit design needs some fine tuning, but we got the lamb on their and stuffed with slashed lemons, garlic bulbs, onions and herbs, followed by a good quantity of the olive oil and lemon juice based marinade. The cavity was stitched up and the spit placed on the stand as soon as the flames died down to good hot embers.

Lamb on a shiny stainless steel spit. The shed and guests in the background.

Work colleagues and friends with kids turned up mid-afternoon to enjoy the pleasures of the ‘lifestyle block’. The more hardcore party types pitched up later for the food and drink.

My neighbours house with kids on the lawn. My wee cottage in the background.

Cooking the lamb took considerably longer than I expected. I was determined not to burn the outside and I suspect the wind didn’t help despite the shelter. Anyway, an hour and a half after my upper estimate of 8.00 pm, at 9.30 pm the lamb was ready.

Mark and I take the lamb to the table for carving. You can see the lemons, onions and garlic inside the beast and the stitched cavity.

We let the cooked lamb rest for 10 minutes or so before carving.

Phil was a chef in a previous life. It was a pleasure to watch him work and I carved the pieces as they came off the carcase.

There were a few people hovering and picking, but Moony grabbed the first available leg-bone for a good gnaw.

Moony caught gnawing on a leg-bone at the back of the shed.

I guess there were fifty-or-so people there, so one lamb, two rabbits and some venison, plus some sausages for the kids doesn’t go that far.

The remains of a whole lamb with happy guests. The dogs, pigs and chickens will be happy for many days to come!


‘Mustang Colin’

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

After dropping the VFR off at the hotel in Redondo Beach, I jumped on a shuttle bus to LAX. There I met my good friend Ed Bryant and we picked up a very cool ride for our drive up Route 1, the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to Monterey for the Biologging III conference. I kept the car for two weeks all up.

Hertz GT-H Shelby Mustang.

When the Mustang was first released in the mid-1960’s, Hertz had Carroll Shelby produce the original GT 350-H Mustang. This was such a good car that people would hire and race them and get good results. Not what Hertz had in mind, but hard for them to find out. It became known as the ‘Rent-a-Racer’. With the good looking 2006 model Ford Mustang, someone at Hertz harked back to the sixties and had Carroll Shelby Motors produce a modern day GT-H. The one I hired was based on the Ford Mustang GT convertible, V8 of course – there is a coupe too. Shelby add their own performance exhaust which sounds awesome and adds 25HP, up to 325HP. They also add the Ford performance suspension and brake package as well as a custom bodywork and paint package. Sadly, they only have auto’s and you cannot override the traction control. The button is still there but is just a dummy with TCS written on it. I intended popping this cover off to see if the wiring was still there to disable TCS, but the car was enough fun to drive with TCS that I didn’t bother.

Hood up on Monterey pier.

From Monterey I traveled 900 miles in a little over a day to get to a ‘luau’ or traditional Hawaiian bar-b-que at my good friends place in Redmond, near Seattle. A few powernaps were needed on the first day after the usual work-hard, play-hard of a conference, but I still managed almost 600miles from 1100 until 2230 on I5 (Interstate 5). The remainder was completed by 2.00pm the next day. The beermeisters at the party were penning names on the beer cups, and mine was christened ‘Mustang Colin’.

The traditional part of the luau is the bar-b-qued pig. This is a particularly ‘Heath-Robinson’ contraption for rotating the pig at the appropriate speed. The treadmill has power and variable speed and the bicycle gears it down.

Traditional Hawaiian spit-roast pig – not a traditional spit.

Next the pig is carved.

Not sure how traditional this is…

After a not particularly early rise after the luau, I drove my host Roger, his dog Sam and another guest Todd inland to the Cascades where we walked a path up and around an impressive rock buttress to ‘Rattlesnake Ledge’. Didn’t sound like an advisable combination to me, but there were plenty of people returning, so up we went.

Roger, Sam and Todd on Rattlesnake Ledge with Rattlesnake Lake below and the Cascades beyond.

On the Monday I did a bit of work, visiting a fellow companies premises and a couple of meetings. We went sailing on Lake Union that evening. We had oysters and a couple of beers drifting around the lake in light airs. Then we stopped at the South end of the lake and went to a restaurant.

Sunset on Lake Union, Seattle.

The next day I had a good day in Seattle looking around the city with my good friend Kim on his 60th birthday. We had an excellent lunch at Elliotts Oyster House, the best selection of oysters I have encountered. That evening we went to a great Spanish restauarant with tapas, paella and fine wine.

Sadly I had to move on early the next morning. I took a ferry across to the Olympic Peninsula. Stunning scenery, but it was hazy, so no good photo’s unfortunately. I stopped at the Hoh Rain Forest at the insistence of my hosts. Well worth it, stunningly green, mossy and huge trees. I think this place competes with the West coast of South Island, New Zealand for the highest annual rainfall title – around 15 metres per year! That night I stayed at the Lake Quinault Lodge as recommended. This is a lakeside lodge hotel dating back to the 1920s. Peaceful, quaint and great vistas. I had a couple of beers and a great dinner with fine wine.

Lake Quinault Lodge, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

I left early the next morning as I had some serious miles to do in a couple of days. I went South to the mouth of the Columbia River, across it, inland to Portland and then South at high speed down Interstate 5. 450 miles saw me in Grants Pass, Oregon for the night. The next day saw another 400 miles to San Francisco to drop the car off by 2.30pm. I stayed the night and most of the next day in this fine city. This was the end of the trip for me, but I’ll go back to San Francisco and I only scratched the surface of what there is to see in California, Oregon and Washington, never mind all the other states.

Motorbiking in California

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I arrived in LA yesterday, Thursday 21st August, and chilled out. Today I decided to do some of the sights, Hollywood Blvd etc. It was a welcome relief to get out of the heat of the city streets and onto the freeway south to Long Beach. This is probably the southernmost point of the trip.

Queen Mary, LA
VFR 800 beside The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California.

T-shirt, gloves and no suncreen is uncool.
It took me nearly two hours to remember to stop at a drug store for sunscreen, too late!

On way back to Redondo Beach I stopped briefly for a photo-opportunity.

Torrance City Hall
My bro’ lives in Torrance, Scotland.

The next day I got the hell out of LA. First was the the Santa Monica Mountains and the Malibu Canyons. These are awesome biking roads!

Viewpoint looking North at the Santa Monica Mountains.

This pic shows the extent of the luggage required in California. I had jandals, shorts, t-shirt, smalls and a camera in the tank-bag and a map on top. That and a credit card makes for easy travelling.

Next stop, the Rock Store, via the Malibu Canyons and the Mulholland Highway. Saturday is quiet with only a couple of hundred bikes. Sunday is the day, but I couldn’t hang around that long. Jay Leno pitches up with his latest toys and state governor, Arnie, show up most Sundays.

The VFR parked at Rock Store Cafe.

I stopped in Santa Barbara first night out. Accommodation here is either expensive or basic, or if you are late into town and unlucky, both! In the morning I headed inland to the Santa Ynes valley and then back to the coast. I stumbled across a pelican rookery at Pismo Beach as I stayed off the 101 Freeway and kept to the old Highway 1 as much as possible.

Pelican rookery at Pismo Beach.

It had been quite chilly driving up the coast, so it was pleasant for a while to head inland. But, as soon as you cross the first mountain range it gets seriously hot. It was 105F, or about 40C when I arrived in Paso Robles that evening. The ‘Melody Ranch’ motel was without doubt the best of the trip. $50 for the night, and it has been maintained, but not changed, since it was built in the fifties, or earlier.

Classic motel in Paso Robles.

From Paso Robles I crossed the central plains to the Sierra Nevada mountains and the respite of cooler temperatures at altitude. After climbing to over 8000ft, I dropped down the Kern River to the quaint huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ town of Kernville.

The next day curiosity got the better of me and I headed out to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley beyond. I got as far as the edge of the Death Valley National Park and turned back. It was already 120F or nearly 50C, too hot for me and it would only get hotter in Death Valley. The Trona Pinnacles in the next photo are well over 100ft tall. I stopped short as the track was not designed for road motorbikes. The heat-haze is quite obvious.

The Trona Pinnacles.

On the way back to Kernville I travelled this amazingly straight road. This was at least 30 miles of straight blacktop.


From Kernville, with a hangover, I headed back to the coast and stayed in Carpinteria. A great restaurant that night and a great diner for breakfast.

After one last night in a motel in Malibu, I dropped the bike off back in Redondo Beach and began phase two of the trip…

Cunard MS Queen Victoria

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

This is one big ship. I was quite surprised that it even fitted in to Napier Port. The NZ press touted it as being the biggest liner ever built, but I think it’s actually a wee bit smaller than Cunard’s own Queen Mary II.

Ugly looking slab IMHO.

So, they drive it into Napier Port…


three point turn…


and she’s tied up.

Here’s an aerial shot.


Now, how did I take that picture? Yes it is mine!

You wait weeks (or more, sorry) for a blog to come along and nothing, then, just like buses, three come along one after the other!