More exploding boules

We’ve blogged before about exploding leisure boules, but until now no-one has been killed or seriously injured by such an explosion. Today, however, a Thai newspaper reports that a player in Thailand has been killed by an exploding petanque boule. The story is rather bizarre.

Apparently some Thai players believe that soaking boules in water and then heating them can somehow improve a player’s ability to put spin on the boules. In preparation for an after-work game with his buddies, a firefighter named Decho Phetchnin had been heating his set of 3 boules on an “Ang Lo” burner for about two hours when one of the boules exploded, blowing the burner apart and scattering debris in a 10-metre radius. The explosion occurred while Decho was bending over the burner stirring the boules. A metal fragment from the exploded boule struck Decho in the forehead, piercing his skull and killing him instantly.

The photo that accompanies the story looks like the boule might have been a leisure boule (rather than a competition boule), although it’s hard to be sure. The dust visible in the picture suggests that the boule (like many cheap leisure boules) was filled with sand.
CLICK for a larger image


Mondial des Volcans

It is summer, which means that it is time for international petanque tournaments in France, including the Mondial des Volcans.

The Mondial des Volcans is held in the city of Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Puy-de-Dôme département. Geologically, it is located in the Massif Central, a high plateau surrounded by a chain of dormant volcanic mountains, the Chaîne des Puys, for which it is famous. Hence the name: Mondial des Volcans.

The man behind the Mondial is Fabrice Bouche. As a young man he loved sports, played football, discovered boule lyonnaise, and eventually discovered petanque. He was chairman of the Puy-de-Dôme Committee of the FFPJP from 1998 until 2008, during which time he organized several major tournaments in Clermont-Ferrand and founded the Clermont Pétanque Auvergne club. On behalf of Clermont Pétanque Auvergne, he organized the first Mondial des Volcans in 2013. This year, 2017, it is five years old.

Bouche has a grand vision for the Mondial— “Today there is La Marseillaise in early July, the Mondial de Millau the week of August 15. And there will be the Mondial des Volcans the first week of August.” William Dauphant, a talented young French player and one of the sponsors of the Mondial, speaks of an “initiative to create a third event in the French boulistique landscape.”

My impression is that the Mondial des Volcans might have a vibe a bit like the Amelia Island Open— the videos seem to show players of all skill levels, with a sprinkling of really world-class players. It is much bigger than the Amelia Island Open: several thousand players. Apparently there are seven venues, including a couple of big ones— an indoor boulodrome (temporarily displacing the basketball court) in the Maison des Sports, and an outdoor boulodrome at the Place des Bughes.

Unlike the Petanque America Open, but like most French tournaments, it is single-elimination. There seem to be four or five different tournaments: singles, doubles, women’s doubles, veteran’s doubles, and men’s triples.

It is the French version of an open tournament, which is to say: if you are an “occasional player” (i.e. not a member of the FFPJP), you can buy a day license (basically, a one-day FFPJP membership,une licence à la journée) for 15 euros on the first day of the tournament. A medical certificate will be provided free by the Mondial’s doctor.

Mondial des Volcans 2013 — photo by Jacpetanque (Jac Verheul)

For more information, see the Mondial’s web site and its Facebook page. There are also a few (not many) YouTube videos. For a couple of nice photos of the first Mondial, look HERE.

Shooting practice with a wiffle baseball

Here is an easy and inexpensive way to make a very effective target for shooting practice.

  • Buy a 5- or 6-foot length of light bungee cord (elastic cord) at your local hardware store. (Lightly melt the ends with a match or soldering iron to keep the ends from fraying.)
  • On your practice area, lay out the bungee cord in the same way that you would lay out boundary strings for a marked terrain, stringing it between nails driven into the ground. Pull the bungee cord tight enough to keep it straight, but don’t stretch it.
  • Buy a wiffle ball (baseball size, not softball size). Mine cost $2.50.
  • Use some string to tie the wiffle ball to the middle of the bungee cord.

That’s it. You’re ready to start your shooting practice. You can see that the wiffle baseball is almost exactly the same size as a petanque boule. Here’s a short Youtube video that shows how the wiffle ball acts when hit.

You can do the same thing with a real boule, but it is more difficult to do, and I personnally think it is quite clumsy compared to a wiffle ball.

Measuring your skill level

It would be useful to have a simple, standard method for assigning a numeric value to a player’s skill level. A player could measure his (or her) improvement as he (or she) practices. Players seeking partners for a competition could use the measurements to help them find suitable partners. The method could also be used to measure the skill-level of a team before the start of a competition. With such measurements available, a competition organizer could seed teams without playing qualifying rounds.

Here is one way it might be done. There could be two measures, one for pointing and one for shooting. A target circle would be drawn on the ground. It would be 1 meter in diameter. A throwing circle would be placed 8 meters from the target circle. The terrain should be as similar as possible to the terrain that a player would encounter in a competition.

  • A successful pointing throw is one in which the thrown boule rolls to a stop inside the circle.
  • A successful shooting throw is one in which the thrown boule hits and knocks a target boule (located in the center of the target circle) out of the circle. A shooting attempt is NOT considered successful if the thrown boule hits the ground outside of the target circle before hitting the target boule.

If any part of a boule or divot overlaps the target circle, the boule or divot is considered to be inside the circle.

A player’s score (as a pointer or a shooter) is expressed as a percentage— the number of successful throws compared to the total number of throws. For the number to be precise enough to be useful, there must have been at least 20 throws.

With these measures in mind, a player might express his skill level as 80/5 (80% successful as a pointer, and 5% successful as a shooter) or 90/60 (90% successful as a pointer, and 60% successful as a shooter), and so on.

The easiest way to make the measurements is with two people. While one person throws, the other resets the target area between throws and tosses the thrown boules back to the thrower.

Admittedly, such measurements would be very rough. Still, I think even such rough measurements would be useful. I can also imagine that it might be useful to have these measurements at a shorter or longer distance, so a player might rate himself 90/60 at 7 meters, or 75/20 at 9 meters, and so on.

Proper use of the boule towel

Most players are familar with the requirement in Article 16(c) always to carry a boule towel in order to be able to remove (enlever) any mud or foreign substance clinging to a boule before throwing it. The rules, however, do not contain precise specifications for boule towels, so it is hardly surprising that the most frequently-asked questions about the rules of petanque are questions about the boule towel— What kind of fabric should it be made of? How big should it be? How should it be held and used?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about boule towels is that the usual English translation of the French word (chiffon) is “boule towel“. In fact, toweling material, thick and fuzzy, is completely unsuitable for use as a boule towel. It quickly picks up stray bits of leaves, twigs, and thorns and is almost impossible to clean. Instead, we recommend a fabric with a much smoother, harder texture— a patch cut from the leg of a worn-out pair of jeans does the job nicely.

There is no regulation size for a boule towel. A towel that is too small to do the job is obviously undesirable; a towel that is too large will be clumsy to use and carry. We have found that a rectangle of fabric approximately 29cm x 43cm (11.5″ x 17”) works well. A cloth table mat makes an excellent boule towel.
Some so-called “experts” advise a player with a larger (or smaller) hand to use a larger (or smaller) towel. That’s rubbish, of course, since the relevant factor here is not the size of the hand but the size of the boule. A player who uses a larger (or smaller) size of boule should use a larger (or smaller) towel.

Finally, there is the question of how to carry and use the boule towel. Here, there are two basic requirements: one legal, the other practical. The boule towel must NOT be carried in such a way that it hides any boules that the player might also be carrying in the same hand. And, as a practical matter, the towel must be carried in a way that it can be conveniently used when needed, while not interfering with a player’s grip on any boule(s) that he may want to carry in the same hand.

The traditional provençal method of using the boule towel is to fold the long edge over the short edge, and then pinch the end of the towel into a small bunch,

The pinched end of the towel is then threaded through the fingers in the manner shown in the photograph (below).

When the hand is closed and holding a boule, the fingers naturally and effortlessly grip the towel firmly, and the tail of the towel falls cleanly away from the hand. When the towel is needed, the long loose tail can easily be folded up and over a boule in the hand in order to wipe the boule thoroughly. While doing this, it is easy to clean and dry the fingers and palm of the throwing hand by rubbing them vigorously with the cloth-covered boule.

Once you have found a boule towel that perfectly fits your hand and your playing style, you should treat it like what it is— a piece of personal hygiene equipment. Never lend your boule towel to another player; you don’t want to catch their cooties.

NOTE I am not a certified umpire. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and do not represent official rulings or rules interpretations of any organized petanque federation, national or otherwise. Posted April 1, 2017.

Are your boules toxic?

The answer is: No, they aren’t. But I wanted a headline that would grab your attention because there is an interesting story here. Read on.

There are basically three kinds of boules: boules made of stainless steel (inox), boules made of carbon steel (acier au carbone), and boules made of carbon steel that is then coated (revêtu, or chromé) in chrome to make the surface of the boules tougher and more resistant to rust (rouille). Some competition boules (e.g. Obut Match TR), but virtually all inexpensive leisure boules, are chrome plated.

Chromium is one of the elements; it is atomic number 24 on the periodic table of elements.

There are a number of different forms of chromium; some are helpful to human health, others are dangerous and harmful to the environment. The worst of these forms is hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. Chromium 6 is a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory problems, rashes, ulcers, allergic reactions, kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and death. Its use in any industrial process creates a dangerous work environment and serious toxic waste disposal issues. (Do you remember the movie “Erin Brockovich”? It was groundwater contamination with chromium 6 that Erin uncovered.)

Naturally, chromium 6 has started to attract the attention of environmental protection agencies and health and safety regulatory agencies around the world. Governmental regulations are still much looser than they should be, but things seem to be getting better.

So— what does this have to do with petanque boules?

Well, nothing and everything. On the one hand, the chrome plating on your leisure boules is perfectly harmless. No worries there. On the other hand, the process that is used in chrome plating (of boules and other kinds of chrome-plated objects) uses hexavalent chromic acid— chromium 6. Bad news there.

Because of the health and environmental issues associated with chromium 6, at least some manufacturers are moving away from chrome-plated products. One of them is Obut. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Obut is no longer making its line of “Tatou” chrome-plated leisure boules. Starting about a year ago, Obut’s new line of “Obut Loisir Inox” leisure boules are stainless steel. Conçues sans chrome, contrairement aux Tatou, ces boules de pétanque Loisir inox sont écologiques. And in its lines of competition boules you now have only two choices: stainless steel or carbon steel.

I learned about this recently when I noticed that Petanque America seemed no longer to be selling La Franc boules. In response to my email question, Phillipe Boets told me that Petanque America had indeed stopped selling La Franc boules about a year ago. Apparently La Franc has been getting orders for 30/40 thousand boules at a time from French sporting goods stores. (One wonders if news of exploding leisure boules might have something to do with that.) In any event, La Franc seems to be slacking off on its service to smaller vendors— Phillipe reports that its deliveries had become unpredictable and unreliable. So now if you go to the Petanque America web site, you won’t see La Franc competition boules for sale. You will see only Obut competition boules. Phillipe sees the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules as filling the niche that La Franc boules once filled.

With the Euro taking a dive, the price difference between La Franc competition boules [which are made in Thailand] and French competition boules has become smaller. Obut also came out with a new line of leisure boules in stainless steel, about 73mm, 660g, in 8 different designs. At $64, they’re the perfect “middle-of-the-road” boule, between the cheap chrome Chinese boules and the range of competition boules.