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Thursday, 1 February 2018

Something to live up to

Got a call this afternoon from Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner (Motorcycles) for the Institute of Advanced Motorists in NZ.  He wanted to know whether I'd accept being appointed to the position of IAM Examiner, currently one of 6 in NZ.  Must say that it was quite an emotional conversation in terms of both being immensely proud to be asked, coupled with trepidations about upholding the incredibly high expectations and standards.

When starting the journey in April 2011, it was principally driven by the fact that I was seriously lacking in talent and the chances of  injury and/or expensive encounters with the gendarmerie were pretty high.  There's no need to go over old ground as the journey so far has been reported in the blog since that initial assessment where Philip was able to confirm that I would indeed benefit from mentoring using the UK Police Roadcraft System (my mates were far less diplomatic!).

Apr 2011 - Initial Assessment - Philip's expression nearly made me pee myself!

Eight months after joining, I passed the Advanced Roadcraft Test after a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  Serious doubts as to whether I'd ever be good enough. Well, we made it but by then, it became pretty obvious that no matter what a person does in life, learning never stops.  Progressing onto Observer (mentor) training was a great way to build further skills as well as paying it forward for all the time and effort from others which had helped me to become a better rider.  That took the best part of another year to pass and then it was on to Senior Observer after a couple of years of building experience.  A lot of the learning has also spilled over into my personal life, especially interpersonal stuff.  A real life example of win-win!  Now it all starts again with another round of intensive learning but to be honest, would we really want it any other way?    Retirement sure doesn't mean taking it easy!

Dec 2012 - Just passed my Observer Test and have dust in the eye (well, maybe a teardrop)


Mar 2017 - Out for a brisk social run with other Observers

Interestingly, a comment made by Dan Bateman, a training manager at Team Oregon in the USA when I passed my Advanced Test in 2011 still stands out as much as it did at the time.  He said

"Also remember that you will forever be known differently now.  It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals"

It's something I'm acutely aware of and that's going to be even more important now.  The hooligan tendencies haven't entirely disappeared and I hope I can live up to the standards!

Arrested whilst loitering outside a country toilet!
(Steve is a police instructor and fellow IAM member)


Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A nice win for the team

I must be a bit of a disappointment to magazine sellers, no matter what the subject matter as I don't subscribe to any of them.  In fact, the only time I night buy them is if I'm in a shop waiting for Jennie, bored and there's a handy magazine rack.  Motorcycle mags (naturally!), boating/fishing or house & garden mags are normally what attracts my interest but I haven't looked at any for months.

However, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Tony, one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Trainee Observers (mentors) that I'm coaching rang and asked me whether I'd seen an article in NZ Bike Rider magazine about safe road positioning.  Tony was pretty disappointed with the article as he thought that it needed a lot more context and could be misleading in its published form.  I suggested that he contacted the magazine and constructively point out where he thought it fell short of the mark.

Tony wrote an excellent email with no hint of one-upmanship or negativity and a few days later, received a reply from Sean Willmot, the Assistant Editor.  Sean's response was gracious and as Tony doesn't live far from the magazine's editorial offices, Sean asked whether they could meet for a chat.  Cutting to the chase, they hit it off extremely well and Tony was able to talk about the UK Police Roadcraft system which IAM and other organisations use as the basis for advanced training.  It ended up with Sean being invited along for an initial assessment, which he was happy to accept.

It was a great opportunity to make the ride part of Tony's coaching programme so I went along to keep an eye on proceedings.

Tony (L) giving Sean a pre-ride briefing

We spent a couple of hours on major highways and highly technical twisty back roads with significant gradient changes, stopping for a ride mid-point debrief to discuss our observations with Sean.  The pre-ride briefing made it abundantly clear that the assessment had nothing to do about being either a good or poor rider, simply to determine what was done well and what improvements could be made as a starting point.  It would have been a surprise if Sean had been seriously lacking good skills given the amount of time he spends in the saddle but nonetheless, Tony was able to identify some improvement areas which Sean happily acknowledged.

Tony and Sean in the high country overlooking the Firth of Thames

What did surprise Sean was Tony's outstanding demonstration of a continuous commentary over the comms, showing his situational awareness and how this was impacting on his road position, speed, gear selection and acceleration sense.  Sean couldn't believe just how much information Tony was processing at any given moment whilst maintaining good progress.

At the end of the ride, there was a final debrief together with a detailed written report and Sean announced that he'd be joining IAM in 2018 as no matter how experienced you thought you were, learning never stopped.  He then said that he was going to write a series of articles about his journey with IAM for the magazine which was a fantastic outcome and may encourage other riders to do the same.

A few days ago, the latest Bike Rider magazine came out and there is a 2 page spread about Sean's assessment experience.  Very well written and complimentary.  Amazing what a bit of courtesy and positivism can do as opposed to having a rant at someone!

Page 1 of Sean's article


Arty-farty shot taken on Coromandel wharf  at sunset after getting back from the ride

Sunday, 7 January 2018

A slight case of Deja Vu

Bloody hell, I've jinxed the weather!  In the last post reviewing 2017,  I showed a photo of an angry sunrise just before a storm last January and said that we "sometimes" get summer storms.  Well, the Coromandel Peninsula and other parts of the country have just copped a real beating from a low pressure storm that has come out of the tropics.

We desperately needed the rain after weeks of hot, dry conditions. We had cracks in the ground on our property that you could put your hand in.  The forecasters were warning that over 100 mm of rain could fall in a 24 hour period, with nor' westerlies above 120 km/hr.  That didn't bother us all that much as our house is protected by a ridge from that wind direction.   Sure enough, we survived just fine and the only remedial work required was picking up small branches from around the property and a small amount of unripe fruit blown off various fruit trees.

However, as the storm moved south, the wind swung towards the west and that's when mayhem struck due to a number of factors coinciding - talk about bad luck!  This is where we live and what happened.

The Coromandel Peninsula, NZ

The Coromandel Peninsula is a major tourist destination, particularly in summer on account of its beautiful beaches, great fishing and its forest parks.  State Highway 25, also known as the Coro Loop; is a mecca for motorcyclists because of its challenging, technical nature.  There are only two ways off the Peninsula and for us, the most direct route is due south to Thames which normally takes a little under an hour.

Anyway, back to the story.  As the strong wind shifted to the west, it built up a storm surge which hit the eastern coast of the Firth of Thames.  Normally, that wouldn't be a major issue but it happened to coincide with high tide and a king tide at that.  The torrential rain added to the problem with already swollen rivers and streams.  This meant that big waves came over the road, carrying large rocks from the shallows.  The combined action has caused extensive flooding in some small communities and smashed the road to pieces in quite a few places.  At best, the seal has been torn off the compacted base structure and in the worst spots, the base structure has been wiped out too.  Here are a few photos from the local news services and public sources.

The mail must get through!

Boat floating in someone's back yard down the coast

Much of the road is now on the beach

Debris at Te Mata

Tar seal ripped up north of Thames

More seal damage

My heart goes out to the people down the coast who have suffered significant damage to their property.  In terms of economic damage, it's happened in the peak tourist season.  With the road closed for the foreseeable future whilst repairs are being made, businesses on the western side of the Peninsula will be badly affected.  In terms of direct impact on us, it will increase our travel time to get off the Peninsula by a further 1.5 - 2 hours by having to drive round the eastern side of the Peninsula so I guess we'll be minimising travel for a while.  We really haven't got much to complain about though compared with people further down the coast.

As mentioned earlier, the severe damage came about through a number of factors coming into play at the same time.  However, these extreme weather events seem to be increasing world-wide.  Whether it's a temporary phenomenon or a longer term trend remains to be seen but there sure is a cost to them, both in financial and human terms.  Let's hope that the rest of 2018 is a whole lot better for the planet!

Friday, 22 December 2017

That was the year that was - 2017 in pictures

2017 was a year that seemed to be over in a flash.  I thought it would be nice to show the year pictorially with a few photos which I haven't  previously published on the blog.  Every month of the year is represented.

January
Summer in the Southern Hemisphere and a time for the grandkids to descend on us ('cos Nana J makes great cake, haha!)  The photo shows us in a corner of the garden with all the grandkids and two of our 3 adult children.

Some of the James clan

Although January is mainly warm and sunny, the heat sometimes brings summer storms.  The next photo was taken from our deck at dawn, a few hours before a big storm swept through.

The calm before the storm....

February
This photo is important to me for several reasons. Rob (L) was one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Trainee Observers (Instructors) that I was mentoring.  He had just passed his written and practical Observer Test with flying colours after about 8 months of intense work.  Keith (R) is on his assessment ride prior to joining IAM.  Rob went on to coach Keith and at the time of writing this, Keith isn't far off taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test and then beginning his journey as a Trainee Observer.  It represents a wonderful cycle of raising skills, improving road safety, increasing riding enjoyment and it's all done on a voluntary basis.  The perfect example of paying it forward!

Rob and his Hayabusa and Keith with his FZ6R.  Some old geezer's bike in the middle

March
A highlight was meeting Aussie moto-blogger Steve Hoswell of  Road to Nowhere fame and his mates during their NZ north island tour.  It was only for a few hours but it was a genuine pleasure to ride with them and make an instant bond.

Steve and his mates on the Coromandel Peninsula

A trip to the top of the south island as part of an annual long weekend get-together with friends from down country.  Visiting the World of Wearable Art museum and adjoining motor museum in Nelson, then enjoying the stunning scenery in the area.  The photo was taken at Tata beach with the rugged hills in the background.

Magnificent Tata beach

April
April in the north island of NZ and the Coromandel Peninsula in particular wasn't much fun at all weather-wise.  Unrelenting torrential rain and gales saw us cut off from the rest of the country for a week with landslips and virtually no riding in the month.  Remedial work to roads and cliff faces is still going on!

A massive slip on the Thames coast road (courtesy of Thames District Council)

Flooding less than 1 km from our house (courtesy of  Coromandel Civil Defence)

May
Nearly into winter and NZ's nectar-eating songbird, the Tui; is enjoying the nectar that is produced by one of the large succulents in our garden.

Communing with nature

June
Not my photo but racing catamarans was a passion of mine when younger and fitter and I still follow sailing from the armchair.  NZ won the Americas Cup in Bermuda with their foiling catamaran Aotearoa.  A nice short video summary HERE .  Particularly notable that a country of 4 million was able to defeat the massive resources of Larry Ellison and Oracle USA by sheer innovative thinking in their design.  Long live the people of the world who think outside the box, no matter what field of endeavour!

What a spectacle - 40+ knots over the water!

July
A very special milestone with Jennie and I celebrating 45 years of marriage.  I genuinely don't know what she saw in me all those years ago as I was a shy professional engineer without too many social graces.  The most appropriate photo is one I dug out of a shoebox.  It was taken on what was effectively our first date when I took her to the wedding of mutual friends in 1971.  The rest is history......

Still totally crazy about her.....

August
More winter IAM duties, this time out with Hamilton riders Paul and his wife Joy.  Both are BMW fans with Paul having a K-series road bike and building a cafe racer.  Joy is the proud owner of an R9T.  Paul is shortly due to sit his Advanced Roadcraft Test.  Joy comes along for the company and is an extremely accomplished rider.  Next step will be to encourage her to join IAM..... no pressure, Joy!!!

Immaculate Beemer and matching immaculate riding gear!

September
The trip of a lifetime to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary.  Flying business class, a stopover in Qatar and a safari by Landcruiser through Kenya and Tanzania including ballooning on the Serengeti.  Lots of animal and other photos posted earlier in the blog so we'll avoid those already posted.  The shot below was taken in the Qatar desert across the Persian Gulf to Saudi Arabia in the distance.  We look pretty relaxed considering that the temperature was 44 deg C (111F) and windy. You could feel your skin shrivelling by the second!

44 deg C and survival time not very long without water and shade!

Skimming the Serengeti at dawn

October
My 70th birthday but mercifully, there are no photos to mark the occasion.  A very pleasant evening at a local restaurant with cherished friends.  It also marks 54 years of motorcycle ownership.  However, the photo I've chosen is of the house and garden as spring is well underway and plants are coming into bloom.

A long way from civilisation....

November
The weather in the North Island is hot and dry with rainfall way behind seasonal averages.  Not good for the farmers and horticulturalists but great for motorcycling.  A mid-week ride 25 km up the coast was accomplished with all of 3 vehicles being sighted and me being the only person at beautiful Waitete Bay.  That's a ride which is good for the soul!

Absolute solitude

Arty farty attempt


On the shores of Coromandel harbour

December
There are so many options as it's been a busy month but will finish with just two photos.  The first is Jennie's 70th birthday which all the kids and grandkids came along to.  The first is of Jennie cutting the white chocolate mud cake and the grandkids impatiently waiting for a slice.

Hurry up, Nana J!

The second photo is of IAM member Colin who rides a Harley Road King.  Colin is only a ride or two away from taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test but that's not the end of the story.  Colin lives 160 km south of the city of Hamilton, the nearest spot where he can train in city, country and motorway-type environments.  To come on a mentored ride, it takes Colin a couple of hours to get to Hamilton, a couple of hours being mentored under the critical gaze of an Observer and another couple of hours to get home.  That typifies the dedication of riders who set themselves the goal of raising their skills to an internationally-recognised standard.  That dedication is also why Observers are happy to donate their time - it really makes a difference.

Colin and his immaculate Road King

Well, that was my 2017 in pictures - a lot of fun.  May we all have a safe, healthy and enjoyable 2018 despite a number of world leaders apparently trying to achieve the opposite result! There are some real advantages to living at the bottom of the world at the moment!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

A good day on the road gets even better.....

Summer's here, a beautiful warm morning today, the important chores all done.  What could be better than jumping on the bike and riding round part of the motorcycle nirvana where we live - the Coromandel Loop?  Well, the ride itself was just wonderful with very little traffic about but it was all the other unexpected things which served to make it particularly memorable!

Kit up and head into the village to fuel up.  My local garage and gas station, Furey's Creek Motors; is so-called because it's on the edge of a short, deep tidal creek to Coromandel Harbour.  Opposite  the gas station, there's a hard-standing area for boats of all kinds to be maintained.  The garage keeps an old tractor there and for a few bucks, will haul boats out onto the hard.  At present with with the so-called Supermoon, there are king tides.  They were so big this morning that the tide had overflowed onto the hard standing area and had caught their tractor on a little rise.  Great for an opportunistic shot!

Water, water everywhere.....

Whilst on the road to the town of Whitianga, about 45 km from home, I was thinking about Christmas.  Jennie and I thought we might treat ourselves to to a new fishing boat for a Christmas present.  (What about a Thruxton Bonneville, I hear you ask?)  Answer: I don't want to be sucking hospital food through a straw, thanks!

Anyway, with a boat in mind for fishing and towing the grandkids about, I stopped off at a marine shop to enquire about a Stabicraft Fisher.  The dealer said that there's up to a 3 month waiting list whilst they build to customer specification but they were actually receiving a high spec model in January and if we were interested, he'd be happy to take us for an obligation-free spin in it.  Sounds good to me, the Chief Financial Officer is beaming, so watch this space - old boat shortly for sale!

Stabicraft Fisher

As I was about to chuck on my helmet outside the marine shop, I heard a piston-engined plane approaching quite low and looking up, saw the Titan T-51 kitset 3/4 scale Mustang which lives at Whitianga airfield less than 1 km away coming in to land.  Quickly jumped on the bike and hared round to the airfield but by the time I got there, it had taxied and parked outside its hangar.  Still nice to see it though. 

Titan T-51 Mustang

As I was putting the camera away, I heard yet another big piston engine approaching and was amazed to see a P40 Kittyhawk on final approach!  Excuse the focus but there were only a few seconds to wrench the camera out of the bag, point and hope for the best!  The Kittyhawk is part of the Warbirds collection based at Ardmore near Auckland.

P40 Kittyhawk on final approach

After it had landed, it taxied right back to where I was standing before taking off again, so the following photo is a lot better quality.  So many surprises at a grass airfield mainly full of Cessnas and the like!

P40 Kittyhawk throttling up

The surprises hadn't finished though.  As I was about to leave, up rocked a Bond Bug!  This is the first one I'd seen on the road in NZ, other than a stationary exhibit in the Southward Museum, down Wellington way.  Many readers of this blog will probably have never heard of them but for those of us of a "certain age", they are the epitome of the Swinging Seventies in the UK!   Manufactured between 1970 and 1974, the 3-wheeler had a fibreglass body and a 700 cc 4 cylinder alloy engine (later uprated to 750cc).  Rare as hen's teeth but in the modern era of micro-cars, it doesn't actually look out of place.   I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I reckon it looks pretty cool!  Here are a few shots,

The ubiquitous Bond Bug

Straight out of early TV budget sci-fi programmes

Forget modesty if you had a mini-skirt in the 70's!

After all the excitement, it was round to Subway to pick up some lunch and to eat by the Whitianga waterfront with all the Pohutukawa trees coming into bloom.  Wonderful spot for a feed,

Pohutukawa coming into bloom

Doing it tough - Whitianga Harbour

All this variety from what started out as a rambling ride with no particular destination or purpose in mind.  Some days are extra special and today certainly fell into that category!


Friday, 17 November 2017

Summer's here! (well, almost)

Friday morning, all the main chores completed yesterday and it's sunny and warm.  Jennie is off into the village to have coffee with a girlfriend so it's the perfect opportunity to jump on the bike for a couple of hours.  The leathers have already been cleaned and conditioned in anticipation and today is the day!

Tomorrow, I have to ride to Auckland to carry out some coaching so today, I just want to be alone with my thoughts and take in the scenery but where to go?  I know!  The last time I headed north up the Peninsula from Coromandel, it was over 2 years ago when I took the spirit of the late Canadian moto-blogger, Bob Leong in the shape of  ScooterBob, his wooden scooter to see the places I love.  That part of the story is HERE .  I'd been thinking about Bob recently so it seemed a good time to revisit some of those places.

The twisty road north of Coromandel is light of traffic apart from the main holiday season and being a weekday, it was virtually empty apart from the odd local.  First stop was Waitete Bay.  One of the Peninsula's best-kept secrets, it's about a kilometre down a dirt road.

Waitete Bay

There are a handful of houses at the bay but most of them are holiday homes.  Wherever the permanent residents are, they're certainly not on the kilometre-long beach 'cos I'm the only one!

Not exactly over-populated!

Handy helmet stand

Next stop was the Colville General Store for an ice cream.  It's the only shop and fuel stop for about 30 km and carries all sorts of things to meet the daily needs of the alternative lifestylers who inhabit the area.  Not quite "Deliverance" country but getting that way with a few communes and a Buddhist retreat in the area.

Calling in for some banjo strings.....


Buddhist shrine by the roadside

Next stop was Colville Bay, a couple of km up the road.  The shallow bay is a trap for whales and sadly, mass strandings are not unknown.  Today, the tide was out and again, I was the only person there.  So nice to just stand there and appreciate the beautiful scenery.

Colville Bay - tide is way out

The coast is dotted with small islands which provide a great location for sheltered fishing.  Tomorrow, there will quite a few boats out in search of snapper and kingfish.

The Happy Jacks and other nearby islands

Stopping just a few hundred metres short of home, I notice that a Pohutukawa tree (also known as the NZ Christmas Tree) is coming into flower so stop for a photo op.  In another week or two, millions of these trees will be covered in bright scarlet blooms; an overwhelmingly beautiful sight.

McGregor Bay - where we live

Pohutukawa coming into bloom

The ride only lasted just over 2 hours but boy, was it good for the soul.  Amazing what a bit of solitude, spectacular scenery and a motorcycle does for the spirit!  So nice to think about Bob Leong again too and how much he'd have enjoyed being here.