This two day event is the first one not held in the UK that we have ever been to with Tornado. We were taking a gamble on an unestablished event in a foreign country, and one that was very close to Christmas - but the enthusiasm and welcome of the Dutch roboteers gave us confidence and despite the teething troubles Don and his organising team had, I don't think there's anyone who went along who would not want to go again. But remember - don't mention the sprouts!
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I was probably more closely involved with the event than most who went, as I took over the organisation of the transport and monies from Ed Hoppitt at the start of November. It took a fair bit of organising, but over the weekend very few things went wrong, and if we go again, we know what we need to do! We managed to sort out a 49 seater tourist coach to pick up everyone and their robots, and take them each day to the event and accommodation organised by Don and his team. We chose the Stena HSS ferry to take us from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, because it made the journey as short as possible.
We packed Daves and Bryans cars and headed over to the Travelodge at Beacon Hill near Ipswich, in preparation for the next days trip to the Dutch Robot Games. Met up with the Bigger Brother, Dantomkia, and Wolverine teams in the hotel - and found Napalm 2 sitting in our room! David Crosby had brought it up earlier that day because he could not get both the robot and the team in his car at the same time.
We woke early at 6am and I performed a wake up call for all the roboteers - at least those whose rooms I knew. We managed to distribute Napalm between our cars, and headed over to the BT Adastral Park site at Martlesham Heath, where BT had graciously agreed to allow us to meet the coach and park our cars over the weekend. Also going along from the UK were Bigger Brother, Storm, Napalm 2, M2, Dantomkia, Stinger, Wolverine, Barbaric Response, Grim Reaper, Roobarb and Tiberius 2, plus Chris and Sam from Shredder and a handful of supporters tagged onto the robot teams.
Gradually all the teams turned up and loading of the coach continued - but Roobarb were nowhere to be seen, and as the departure time approached, we all agreed that we would have to leave without them. It was a good thing too, as despite packing the robots in as best we could, there was still not enough space for Roobarb, which of course is not the smallest of machines... We got a call from the team as we pulled away - they had looked at the Dutch time to meet us at the coach, and were an hour late leaving the Travelodge! We met them at Harwich, and as we were 45 minutes early, we had time to pack them and their stuff aboard the coach. With a hasty bit of rearrangement, and some sledgehammer work from myself to remove Roobarb's rollover bar, everything (just) fitted! Mental note - if we ever have a coach trip again, limit it to ten robots...
We got through check in on time, and then into customs - who pulled us over. "Oh dear," we all thought, "here we go" - but as soon as customs saw the robots packed into the luggage bay, they thought better of it - I'm told that the face of the customs officer was a picture...! We had a few minutes to get a coffee etc before boarding the ferry, but when it was time to go, we were still lacking someone - well done to Karl from Stinger! He arrived eventually and we boarded.
The ferry was not busy, but to say the least it was a bit rough - and it got worse. Force 6 winds (that's gale force) and 3 metre waves meant that the ferry had to slow down and thus the journey took an hour and a half longer than expected. It's a miracle that no-one was sick... Everyone was relieved when it came time to leave the ferry in the Hook of Holland, but again we were missing someone - this time Ian from Bigger Brother! We waited as long as we could, but we were in front of a big queue of cars and being waved off the ferry... Ian had to disembark as a foot passenger, but his passport was still on the coach! One of the guys from the Barbaric Response/Roobarb teams (I do not remember exactly who) went back with Ian's passport and got him through, while we picked up Ed from Storm and his girlfriend Dani, who had been holidaying in Holland all week.
The picture on the right shows (from left to right): Andy (Storm), Dave (Tornado), Bryan (Tornado), Tim (Storm), Gareth (Wolverine) and Tim (Stinger).
The trip to Zwolle was uneventful, although our delayed ferry and some bad traffic meant we arrived about an hour later than planned. Don showed us the pits area and arena - it was one of the very best we have seen outside the televised series, with really solid walls and strong bullpen in which to activate the robots.
Don then took us for our evening meal in the IJsselhallen exhibition centre canteen. Being used to Dutch food I just tucked in (my university course included a year at Philips in Eindhoven), however some of the vegetarians and more picky amoungst us took a while to adjust! After eating we unloaded the robots and had our tech checks.
As time was drawing on, we headed off to the accommodation in Oldebroek. It was a youth hostel, not exactly what I had been expecting, but not a problem for most of us. Given how cheap it was, I certainly could not compain - it worked out at under £28 per head for two nights, two breakfasts and one three course evening meal. It was warm, and the beer was very cheap indeed - less than 50p a bottle - and some of our number took advantage of it... Thank goodness I took ear plugs along, as Lee from Roobarb was still awake at 3am, trying to talk to people who had gone to bed long ago...
The morning of Saturday dawned early and bright - but cold! And was it cold - according to a temperature display in Zwolle, it was minus 6 degrees and by the end of the day it had risen to - minus 3 degrees... Breakfast was served at the hostel, and the coach took us back to the IJsselhallen in Zwolle, in preperation for the days combat. In the car park at the IJsselhallen, one of the exhibitors in his hired van had tried to take a short cut out of the hall, and failed to spot (or at least failed to stop at) the concrete step... check out the dent in the sill!
Meanwhile, some of the UK roboteers got into a bit of a snowball fight, while a group of Dutch roboteers took Lee from Roobarb for a few handbrake turns in the icy, empty car park...
There were lots of exhibitions at the RC show - planes, cars, trucks, boats, trains... Sam with Tiberius 2.
Barbaric Response and Stinger.
Tornado, and transmitter control.
Golem (from Germany) and Pika - go-kart rear tyres with 1000W Iskra motors!
Grim Reaper and Dantomkia.
Bigger Brother, and M2 being guarded by Katie Cooper.
Roobarb (Silver Fish!) and Lethal Swan.
Flextreme, and Mario works on his machine.
Twisted Metal, and the fantastic Pulveriser.
Alien Destructor - 6WD with Bosches, an excellent Dutch rambot. Storm, with lifter module fitted.
A rare charity event outing for Napalm 2 - David works while Vikki looks on. And the event announcer - UHU! UHU! D-D-D-D-DUTCH RRROBOT GAMES!!!
The fights started about half an hour late, and were not being got through at the 15 minute intervals that Don had assured us was necessary to see them all completed. The reason? Well, this was the first event that Don and his team had organised, and as he assures us, the last he will organise at a radio control exhibition, because we had only four 40MHz frequencies that we could use! The range of 40MHz crystals that are legal in Holland is a lot smaller than in the UK, and the vast majority of those were being hogged by the RC car and truck racers, who of course had also travelled from another country to be there and had to half dismantle their machines to change crystals... Grrr! We were expecting a few crystal changes, but there turned out to be more than a few...
Our first fight was a little push about demo with Storm. They wanted to test out their lifter, and we were just itching to get going. It's good that we both did however, as Storm lost all the grub screws to one of their drive wheels, and Tornado started making some really horrid noises from one side of the drive when in reverse. So the demo fight ended early...
The problem turned out to be with one of our intermediate gears - the shaft is aluminium, and had been running up against a steel tube - and gradually wearing away. It was allowing the gear to move around and the chain to snag on the bolt heads and kart clutch sprocket teeth. We had spotted it moving before, but hadn't found it to be a problem when we last ran at Technogames. It was a fairly simple thing to fix - we just drilled out some penny washers to make some spacers, to stop the gear moving around.
Stinger got stuck in with Tiberius 2. Tiberius got a good crush in on one of Stingers wheels, but it's crushing arm bent before Stinger was damaged!
Not long after, Storm fought Grim Reaper. Good to see Storm getting stuck in!
Above photos courtesy of Holger/Team Armageddon
Our first fight of the UK competition was against Roobarb. We did our usual trick, pushing them about until we broke one of their gearboxes and immobilised them.
The German robot Golem provided some unfortunate excitement, when its home built speed controllers went up in smoke. All the motor current through a 5mm wide PCB track? Not such a good idea!
Our first fight of the international competition was against Alien Destructor. We were pushing them around the arena and hitting each other pretty hard until one of our chains came off, and we had to conceed the fight. The chains on Tornado were still the same ones that had been fitted since we fought Kan Opener in Peteborough, and were obviously more damaged than we thought. We also found that a motor fan had moved on the other side of the drivetrain, and so we had some repairs to do...
Above photo courtesy of Holger/Team Armageddon
Those repairs took time, and combining them with the crystal frequencies problem, we didn't get to run Tornado again that day.
The coach returned us to the accommodation at Oldebroek in the evening, where Don and his team had cooked a big meal for us all. We all enjoyed it, even though it was a very "Dutch" meal. We all decided to stay at the hostel that evening, despite the offer of an exhibitors party back at the IJsselhallen, because of our drivers hours, and the weather was closing in and it was snowing significantly. But we had our own party in the hostel, drinking way too much beer and getting increasingly silly. Somehow or other the Grim Reaper guys (Gary and Simon) got hold of some squirty cream... I ended up with my hair covered, it was all over the tables, over the wall, and window. Vikki from Napalm got into a beer fight, and between Cath from Bigger Brother, Jackie from M2 and the Grim Reaper guys, a rather bizarre story got written using lots of robot names...
I used my now rather sticky hair as an excuse to leave the party to have a shower and then get some sleep - I was feeling rather tired by now! Thanks must also go to Gareth Dean and Jackie Cooper for helping to clean up the mess, it's appreciated.
Sunday morning was again cold, so cold that my jumper was frozen to the window! Breakfast was served again at the hostel and after packing all our stuff we left for the IJsselhallen.
Our first fight of the day was the semi final fight against Bigger Brother, who was by now on course to win the International competition - so they asked us to go carefully. It was a very boring match in which I kept the scoop to them at all times so they couldn't get under us, and pushed them about a few times. We were given the fight and so put through to the final. Bigger Brother went on to win the International, as expected...
By now the crystal problems were really getting everyone down. There were lots of us stuck on the same frequency (40.815) including Tornado, T2 (Tiberius 2), M2, Bigger Brother, and at times Dantomkia. It was making it hard work for everyone, and transmitter control weren't really in control at all. It meant that few teams got the number of fights they would usually expect at a charity event, but it was the same for everyone, and we had to live with it.
We fought Wolverine and T2 in the UK competition final. Don had intended to run the final as three 2 way play-offs, but there was just not enough time, and his crew were dithering about and not making a decision. So we just threw all three robots in and got on with it... We spent far too long in the fight trying to stage a crush between ourselves and T2, such that when it came to the end of the fight and a crowd decision, only Wolverine had been doing anything that remotely looked like attempting to win the fight! Thus the trophy was deservedly awarded to Gareth Dean and Wolverine. Dave said it was noticeable that something strange was going on, I know by this point I was pretty tired and not thinking all that straight...
Time was getting on, and apart from one last show fight between M2 and Dantomkia, the final was the last UK robot fight. We found our driver and got him to bring the coach round so we could load up - everyone rallied round to be ready to leave on time - I think that no-one wanted to be left in Holland over Christmas, and given the crystal hassles, most of us were ready to go anyway. We were ready to leave 45 minutes early!
Our early departure made the journey back to the port a lot more relaxing, and we even had time to stop off on the way back at a little service station for a break. We spent a lot of time talking about where we see the sport going, and what things we need to do - and it was I believe the first time that some progess was made on an early version of the Event Safety document. There were also lots of discussions about how we could get everyone to Battlebots... I believe Ed was going to blag us an airliner or something... ;)
We arrived at the port with plenty of time to spare. Dutch passport control was hilarious - all we had to do was shout "Merry Christmas!". The break at the port enabled us to have a snowball fight (yes, there was that much snow!), which kept us entertained for a while, but the real entertainment was still to come. Once everyone was back on the coach, Ellie (Watts) decided we needed to do a head count to check if everyone was on board... It's something that will be a lasting memory for many of us, as despite Joe and Charlies shouting of random numbers, the extra person in the toilet, the rucksacks on seats wearing baseball caps, seatbelts across the aisle, people changing seats, the counting of feet and dividing by two, etc, etc etc... Ellie just would not give up - she had to do a head count, even if she was getting a little cross and many of us were in tears and having to hold our sides with laughter. Even typing this up I'm still laughing at it, it was a wonderful moment that went on for nearly half an hour!
Once we got on the ferry work continued on the Safety document, and Ed managed to blag himself (and a group of us) onto the bridge! It was only when we got back to the UK that we learnt a terrorist threat had been made to shipping - we wondered why at one point the ferry had throttled back to a near stop to let a long row of lights cross stop its path - we can only conclude it was an aircraft carrier! Also on board the ferry was "Stingers Bar" - and Tim, Karl and Kevin couldn't resist being the other side for a change!
We got back through customs without being stopped, and Vikki and Sophie Allgood (from Napalm) met their parents at the port. We were unable to get all Roobarb's stuff out of the coach, so they had to follow us back to Ipswich for the coach to be unloaded. It was a bit of a operation to get everything unloaded and distributed to the right car, but I think the only thing that got left was Grim Reaper's duvet, and we were able to give that to the Bigger Brother team anyway.
I cannot finish talking about our trip to Holland without mentioning our coach driver Mark Wigger. He was at all times polite, professional, friendly and flexible, but most of all patient with what at times must have been a rather trying party! We cannot hesitate to recommend his services and those of the company he works for, Happy Wanderer Tours.
Have a look at the official Dutch Robot Games site.
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