or ‘How to go from 2nd to 22nd in a short telephone conversation’
Our rally reports are usually on the web site shortly after the rally has finished while the detail is still fresh in our minds but it’s been over a month since the rally and we’ve only just started this one. We nearly didn’t do a report at all as the way it ended still grates but we’ve written up all the others and there’s no reason why this one should be any different.
I’m getting ahead of myself so let’s start back at the beginning…
Since last year’s rally a lot has happened: I’ve been commuting to work in London – two hours each way – and Kevin’s been working very long hours from home, my Grandfather died quite recently and I had his estate to wind up, we became the first people to do the new FHB48 and an SS1000 solely in Wales and to top it all we’ve become Grandparents which has prompted lots of weekend trips to Cornwall and back. To say we were tired was a bit of an understatement. We did discuss not participating but Kevin said “We’ve entered so we’ll do it. We’re not going to be one of the no-shows just because we’re tired” so we found ourselves making the 200 odd miles journey up to Castleford for the 2nd year in a row to take part in the 2012 Brit Butt Rally.
We arrived, chatted to friends, had the bike and paperwork looked over, rode the odometer check route, attended the riders’ meeting then went to our room to prepare a route. The rally waypoints were themed – every one of them had a link, however tenuous, to the 26th or 27th May, the dates of the rally. We were also told every waypoint had been visited; the rally had obviously taken a lot of effort to put together.
There were a couple of changes this year:
In previous years the waypoints were printed in the rally book and if you wanted to use mapping software you had to type the waypoints in yourself. This year they were delivered electronically, removing the typing and the risk of errors. We think the old system gave us an advantage as data entry and checking is much quicker with two but this is a great step forward in our opinion as the ability to type quickly has nothing to do with evaluating bonuses, planning a route and riding a bike. Others thought that all added to the pressure and the waypoints should have remained on paper; everyone has a view.
Previous rallies have declared a minimum number of miles and points that have to be achieved for anyone to be considered a ‘finisher’. Last year many people were classed as DNF (did not finish) because the minimums were challenging and they didn’t achieve them. This year those minimums had been removed altogether. Ensuring you don’t DNF the BBR has always been an achievement but under this year’s rules someone could turn up, ride to any mandatory bonus waypoint(s), return to the hotel and claim a finish. We understand the many reasons for the change but it’s a disappointing development in our opinion and has the potential to turn the Brit Butt Rally into just another Round Britain photo’ rally. Only time will tell and hopefully our concerns are unfounded as no-one took the easy route this year.
Back to our planning. It quickly became apparent we would end up retracing our steps to our own back-yard and visiting France for the big combination bonus. We hadn’t brought our passports so needed to return home to get them but that wasn’t much of an issue as we don’t live far from the Tunnel.
We spent ages going over our route eliminating various points as they were on the wrong day or we’d get there at the wrong time but by about 00.30 we had a route we were reasonably happy with. We like to see shapes in our routes (I’ve no idea why but we always look for them) but could see nothing this year. An ominous portent?
After too short a sleep we were rudely awakened by the alarm and got ourselves up and ready for the off. The weather was forecast to be hot and dry (result!) so we didn’t put many warm clothes on but had them ready for wearing in case the weather men got it wrong (I know, how unlikely was that?!).
Just after 06:00 we found ourselves in a queue at the traffic lights with about half-a-dozen other rally riders. It seemed everyone was going to the same place – the sad grave of TT rider Allan Jeffries – which was about 30 miles down the road. The first rider in the group we found ourselves in overshot the turning and like sheep we all followed him! After turning round we parked alongside the several bikes already there and it was easy to find the grave as there was a steady stream of people heading towards it. After a moment’s reflection and capturing the photo we were off and heading for our next stop, Dibble’s Bridge where 32 people died on the 27th May 1975 in Britain’s worst ever road accident.
I love riding in the early morning when the traffic is still at home and the sun is rising. The air smells cleaner without all the traffic around and the animals in the fields look at you as if to say “What are you doing up at this time?”. This section through the Yorkshire Moors was the best bit of our ride. I wish I’d had the camera out but enjoyed the scenery and riding without it.
We arrived at the bridge and chatted to one of the other riders who had followed us through the twisty roads. “I dropped back when your exhaust was sparking” he said. Sorry? We think he must have been referring to sparks when the centre stand on our FJR clipped the road. I’m sure if the exhaust had been causing sparks we’d have been shortly following it!
We helped each other to take our photos and then departed to go our separate ways.
The next few stops went by uneventfully except we didn’t realise how accurate the waypoints were and decided that the private-looking house and driveway couldn’t have been the entrance to Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham. Fifteen minutes later, having been round the back-way which was rather ‘off road’, we realised our mistake but had to retrace our steps as we couldn’t go through the locked and closed gate to the road. Time wasted with no-one to blame except ourselves. We hurried off to Todmorden school for the next bonus.
We next found ourselves outside the Manchester United football ground taking a picture of the Sir Matt Busby statue. Here we met ‘Beautiful Baz’ complete with his own private entourage of oriental tourists who wanted their picture taken with his bike and in one case, on his bike. Apparently they were there because he was riding a Kawasaki (or so he told us!). We’re still trying to fathom out how they knew he was going to be there; perhaps someone put up a sign?!
Then it was on to Liverpool to take a picture of the Yellow Submarine. We had five minutes free parking in the car park so this was going to have to be a quick stop. It was.
There were quite a few stops in Wales, including two that were part of a Welsh TT course back in the late 1940s/early 50s. At the second of these I sent the first of our bonus texts in but got it wrong as I omitted to put our odometer reading in it despite Kevin turning on the ignition so I could read it.
As we continued the ride was pretty much going to plan until Kevin suddenly realised we were travelling North instead of South and checked the SatNav to discover it had helpfully removed all the intermediate waypoints from the route and was taking us back to the hotel. At some point we must have suffered SatNav fixation and missed a large sign pointing towards Cardiff as we headed in the opposite direction. We ended up executing a 60 mile loop missing Cardiff and those 550 points altogether.
Coming out of Wales the bridge that we were going to use was closed and we went round the roundabout a couple of times looking for the diversion back to England, worrying that our aim to eventually live in Wales might come true sooner than expected!
There were three mirror ball bonuses listed in the rally book. We had to visit one, and only one, of them. We’d chosen to go to Bristol and bumped into Steve there. We had a quick chat about whether we should be doing something with the 1.2 m of string we’d been instructed to carry, decided it was nothing to do with this bonus, said goodbye and headed towards High Wycombe for an appointment with a Spitfire.
Our plan after High Wycombe was to pick up the bonuses in Northern France, take our sleep bonus at home if the time worked out then head through Kent and London back to the hotel in Castleford. What was driving this rationale was that two of the London bonuses had to be visited in daylight and we thought we’d arrive there too late on our way to the coast. We’d actually arrived next to the Spitfire ahead of schedule so we decided to switch the route around and head for London first then France.
Our first London stop was the new, disappointing, Wembley (why did they have to get rid of the famous towers?) then on to the Abbey Road studios with an extra bonus if you managed to get a photo on the zebra crossing (we did). Euston Station followed then Vauxhall Bridge which had to be visited in daylight. Kevin was getting quite cross that I was insisting on visiting Vauxhall Bridge as the traffic in London was very heavy, he thought we’d be there too late and there was a quicker way out of the city. I have to confess it was a bit marginal but it had been a really nice day and there was still light in the sky so we gave it a go.
Deep breath. The next few paragraphs give a long and probably overly-detailed account of what happened next but it’s relevant to the eventual outcome.
We had booked our Channel Tunnel crossing to coincide with our arrival from High Wycombe so we were going to be a bit late for our train. We needed fuel so filled up at our local Tesco 24-hour station and went home to pick up our passports.
Arriving home just before eleven it occurred to us we could take our mandatory sleep bonus now instead of after we’d been to France. At that time of night the Tesco petrol station is the nearest place to home from which we can get a receipt and is ten minutes or so away. The receipt was timed at 22:45.
If we stayed at home for three hours we couldn’t get the next receipt until around 02:15 which would clearly show we’d been resting between 23:00 and 02:00. It seemed reasonable to us but would it seem reasonable to the rally master?
Only one way to find out. If what we were proposing was outside the rules we could either nip down the road to get another receipt or continue with our original plan and head to France before we rested.
To further complicate matters there was an additional bonus available for sending a text message between 01:00 and 02:00 and we had been warned during the briefing that the rally master did not want to receive any texts which had been sent in the middle of a sleep bonus. What did that mean? Was a text near the end of our sleep bonus OK?
After a few minutes on the ‘phone with the rally master, having supplied him with the time of our receipt and discussed the issue of the text bonus, I was happy the receipt we had from Tesco would be OK for the start of our sleep bonus and we could send the text towards the end of our sleep period.
That would turn out to be the most costly telephone call made in Weller rally history.
We’d been sitting there in our bike gear waiting to see what the result of the call would be and it was nice to get it off for a lovely, short-but-sweet sleep in our own bed. Alarm off, text sent, just about to get on the bike and oops, forgot the passports! Passports safely in the tank bag, back to Tesco, end sleep bonus receipt obtained timed at 02:19 (if I recall correctly) and then to the Channel Tunnel for our train.
Leaving at two made it a bit tight to catch the train we were after but the quiet roads helped and we got straight on to the train which we practically had to ourselves.
As we headed towards the memorial to the people who lost their lives during the battle at Dunkerque for our first French bonus the sun was coming up. Beautiful. We headed out of town south and west for the next bonus to another sad memorial. This one was for 97 British troops who occupied and defended a farmhouse in Le Paradis during the BEF’s retreat to Dunkerque. They surrendered on the 27th May 1940 after running out of ammunition and were subsequently massacred.
After an uneventful ride back to the port we were lucky enough to be able to get on a train earlier than anticipated. Unfortunately there was a problem in the tunnel and we sat on the train for over an hour before it moved. Well I sat, Kevin snoozed until he was disturbed by the car full of very noisy French people who had obviously never been out of their country before if their behaviour was anything to go by.
Eventually we were back on our home turf and a quick photo of Dover Castle, followed by the tall radar mast at Dunkirk and then round (and round) a car park in Whitstable looking for Cushing’s lookout; finally off to Sheppey for a memorial to HMS Princess Irene which blew up on the 27th May 1915 with only one survivor. A lot of bad things seemed to have happened on these two dates.
Our next few bonuses were in Cambridge/Norfolk and we had a lovely ride through the lanes for a quick lunch with Captain Mainwaring in Thetford. We were still ahead of schedule so nipped over to Banham to take a picture of the village sign outside the church for an extra bonus before heading for our next scheduled stop at the Dambusters’ Inn in Scampton. Still with a little time to spare we were considering going to the Oil Well Nursery in Alfreton then realised we’d arrive at the end of the time window allowed for that bonus – it was too tight to make the detour worthwhile. We settled instead for a smaller bonus 20 miles from the hotel at the Moortown Golf Club where we bumped into Rob Roalfe who was also just gathering his last few points.
We got back to the hotel with plenty of time to spare – well 15 minutes which is a huge margin for us. We’d had to skip one of our planned bonuses due to that unplanned detour but had added two extra ones in.
The rally master had made a good job of planning the rally and every waypoint we visited was absolutely spot on. This was the first time we’d used an FJR for a rally and it went really well. Our expanded petrol tank paid dividends and we’d achieved 287 miles out of one of the tanks of fuel although we were well into reserve by the time we filled up. The new Krista lights really lit up the roads at night making it much easier to maintain a reasonable speed on dark country roads. It had been a pretty successful ride of around 1300 miles.
Paperwork done, shower showered, into the scorers’ room for the reckoning. Fuel log, check. Photos, check (even the Vauxhall Bridge photo although it did prompt some discussion and needed a decision from the rally master). All good and we finally discovered what the string was for. If we had it with us during scoring it was worth a thousand points. No points lost at any of the tables.
We were in the middle of our dinner when Phil came over and said he’d like us to come back to the rally room. Uh oh, something missing? Kevin thought it must be the Vauxhall Bridge photo and said I should go on my own as he still didn’t think it should be allowed (he’d kept quiet during the earlier discussion as we didn’t want to disagree at the scoring table).
When I got into the room I was horrified to be told there was a problem with our sleep bonus. The receipt for the start was no good as it had to be 23:00 or later and it was timed at 22.45. I explained that I had checked the receipt in the call to the rally master but was told he’d been asleep when my call had come in, was still sleepy at the time we were talking and he hadn’t realised the implication of what I was asking. The sleep bonus is the highest scoring bonus by a significant margin and was worth 10,000 points which were going to be deducted. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I’m sure you can imagine how I felt. Paperwork, receipts, checking things are all my job and I felt that I’d let Kevin down badly. He’d ridden his socks off and we were going to get a poor result because I had screwed up a receipt.
When I went back to the dining room and explained to Kevin what had happened he agreed he’d heard me discuss the receipt with the rally master on the call and supply the time on it. He didn’t blame me for the loss of the points at all but I was still upset. After the points had been deducted our final position was 22nd.
If the sleep bonus points hadn’t been removed we’d have finished 2nd but still nearly a thousand points behind Rob Roalfe who won for the fifth consecutive year; that’s the closest we’ve ever got to him. Yes, I know everyone’s stories about rallies are full of ifs and buts but while we’ve certainly made our own mistakes in rallies we don’t feel completely responsible for this one.
After this year’s event Rob said he was going to retire from them. It will be a shame if we don’t get another chance to compete with him; let’s see if he sticks to it. Well done on your fifth win Rob.
So that was our BBR2012. From an IBA UK organisational viewpoint it was excellent and we were pleased with our route planning and riding. We didn’t get the result we had hoped for but at the end of the day we have to take responsibility for our own decisions and what seemed a perfectly reasonable question about the sleep bonus when we were tired seems maybe less so after the event in the cold light of day. Do we think we deserved a better outcome given what I was told during my ‘phone call with the rally master? Absolutely, but as one of our friends said afterwards when we explained what had happened “I can’t believe you risked taking spoken word over what is written down in the rally book”. He has a point. We thought checking with the rally master removed any risk but that’s obviously not the case. I did appeal but it was not accepted and we recognise and accept the decision is final. We don’t like it but that’s tough. We’ll know better next time and we’ll get over it…eventually!
Our route is below: Yellow – what we did, Black – what we originally planned.