How NOT to fly with boules

With the Petanque Amelia Island Open coming up next month, and players from all over the world planning to fly to the event, the following news item is worth noting.

For a long time we’ve warned players not to put their boules in their carry-on luggage when they fly. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers consider boules to be dangerous objects (like hammers) and will not allow them to be carried onto a plane in carry-on luggage.

The other issue is that, to a TSA officer who has never heard of petanque, a boule looks like nothing so much as the stereotypical image of an anarchist bomb.

That was emphasized today when a 63-year-old petanque player from Jersy (in the UK) attempted to fly to a competition in Denmark with his boules bag. The bag contained, along with his team uniform and his set of personalized boules, a phone changer and its cord, some kind of white electronic device (perhaps a voltage converter to go along with the cell-phone charger), and (something that older and arthritic players will immediately recognize and sympathize with) three containers of Biofreeze.


The Jersey TSA officers thought that the assemblage looked like a collection of bomb-making parts. They seized the bag. Since the player was an experienced veteran, I think that the bag must have been in his checked (not carry-on) luggage, but the bag was seized anyway. The player had to fly on to the competition without his bag. He played in a borrowed uniform, with borrowed boules, but didn’t play up to his usual level. His bag finally caught up with him, but too late for it to make a difference.

Apparently most players at the competition found the story amusing, but there is a serious lesson here. The TSA is (rightly) paranoid about containers that contain any kind of liquid. Electrical timers and wires are stereotypical parts of a bomb. (“Should I cut the red wire or the blue?!”) TSA officers must process a lot of bags quickly— they don’t have time to stop and carefully analyze something that on quick inspection looks like it might be suspicious. So they just act.

For petanque players the moral of the story is—
When flying to a competition:
(a) put your boules in your checked (not carry-on) luggage, but also
(b) in the same bag, don’t put anything that contains liquid, looks even vaguely “electronic”, or has wires.


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Unboxing Obut order from PetanqueAmerica

I ordered some jacks, an umpire’s folding ruler, and a set of the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules from Petanque America.

jacks
The first item in the order was several orange Obut jacks. I’d seen the orange jacks on Youtube videos and the color seemed to be easy to see. I’d describe the color as matte (not glossy) flourescent orange.

umpire’s folding ruler
The second item in the order was the Obut fiberglass folding umpire’s ruler. The best way to compare distances is with a folding ruler with an extension. I’d been using a carpenter’s ruler; it worked well but the shortest length it could compare (between boule and jack) was about 18cm. The segments of the umpire’s ruler are shorter (10cm) and it can compare lengths as short as 11.5cm. It is marked with numbers on only one side; the reverse side is blank. The extension isn’t loose in the channel and it doesn’t bind; it has a smooth action and I’m looking forward to using it.
Click below to see larger images.

boules
The third item in the order was a set of the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules. I was interested in getting a set because I was under the impression that the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules are smaller and lighter than Obut’s previous line of chromed carbon steel leisure boules.

The boules came in a nice cardboard box, similar to the box used to package competition boules. The box described itself as a “ready to petanque” set, and in the box, in addition to the three boules, I found an Obut jack (varnished but not painted) and a light cloth bag for carrying the boules.
Click below to see larger images.

The boules themselves consistently measure very close to 73mm in diameter (vs 74mm for the old chromed boules) so they are a bit smaller than the old chromed boules. The old chromed boules averaged about 625g per boule, while the new stainless steel boules average about 650g per boule, so the new stainless steel boules are a tad heavier, but still very much on the light end of the range.


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.