bridges (18) campsite (28) cartoons (15) centenary (3) discussion (5) experimental (51) gadgets (23) gateways (12) lashings (21) models (9) raft (84) resources (27) sculpture (16) software (22) techniques (42) towers (45) trebuchets (5) treehouses (17) tutorial (9)

May 16, 2024

Instant pioneering ideas: Scouts South Africa Pro-Plan charts

One of the resources on the Scouts South Africa website which is worth exploring is the series of Pro-Plan charts - these are printable sheets for training in various Scouting skills, from Meerkats (our youngest age group in Scouts South Africa) through Cubs and into Scouting topics.

The pioneering projects list is an interesting set to work through, and has been compiled from various sources (including this blog). JP Percival was responsible for compiling this most recent set of Pro-Plan charts but the legacy goes back decades to the original set of 81 charts concentrating on Scoutcraft and outdoors skills.

Here's the full list including links to the PDFs which are ready to use in your Troop or Patrol:

Pro Plan Chart


Pioneering Projects 1

Stilt Tower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 2

Monkey Bridge (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 3

Hour Glass Tower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 4

Drawbridge (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 5

Brynbach Tower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 6

Flagpoles (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 7

Javelin Thrower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 8

The Giraffe (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 9

Monkey Bridge MkII (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 10

Swinging Derrick (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 11

Newmarket Balista (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 12

Guided Missile (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 13

Getting Over (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 14

The Basher (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 15

Bush & Friction Bridges (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 16

Tripod Tower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 17

10 Minute Tower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 18

Simple Log & Commando Bridges (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 19

Trestle Bridge (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 20

Square Tower (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 21

Pioneering Projects (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 22

Tripod camp table (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 23

A-Frame camp table (PDF)

Pioneering Projects 24

Quadpod camp tables (PDF)


May 2, 2024

The Brownsea 66 Tower

Like the tilting mast tower, this is from the Dutch JOTA-JOTI handbook CD, originally in Dutch and published in English here for the first time. Here's a render from my SketchUp model, followed by a translation of the original Dutch article including drawings.


The Brownsea 66 Tower

This tower was designed by the "Brownsea 66" group in Rotterdam and used during the JOTA in 1977. It is a pioneer piece with a modern design and, in addition to its task as an antenna carrier, also works excellently as an "Eye-catcher". 

The construction consists of two tripods that are attached to each other at the open sides with round lashings. Six crossbars keep the three-posts apart and the tower is braced with three guy posts. 

The procedure is as follows: 

 1.Check the six posts that will form the three uprights for cracks and tears. Pay particular attention to damage that is transverse to the grain of the wood, because there will soon be tension on the posts. This increases the chance that new longitudinal cracks will develop. In short, use very good lashing posts for this construction. 

2. Then attach two piles in line with each other using two scaffolding lashings per pile couple and reinforce the connections with wedges. Make sure that the total length of each upright is the same. 

3. The top and the base of the tower are tied with figure of eight lashings. Always work towards the end of the posts. This prevents unnecessary pulling through of the ropes.

4. The cross bars are then pioneered between the uprights with square lashings. The posts will be placed on the outside of the uprights. The starting clove hitch comes on the crossbar because the pressure on the lashing runs in the direction of the crossbar. Make sure that the distance between the uprights is kept the same. 

5. The tower can be guyed with guy lines that are attached to the bottom with pickets or with three-to-one handholds. In the design use was made of guy-posts, which were attached to the inside of the uprights with cross lashings just above the first group of sleepers. Optionally, the diagonal lashing can also be used for the top attachment of each guy-post, because this must after all prevent the tower from giving way. 

6. The tower can be raised with a giraffe (a vertical pole or pair of shear legs which are tied to the tower, and then to a block and tackle to allow the tower to be lifted off the ground). The vertical adjustment can be carried out using the strut posts. It is recommended to bury the foot of the tower. 

diagram of a giraffe in use on a simple mast

7. This tower is very suitable as a carrier for heavier antenna types that can be placed even higher with the help of an extension pole at the top.


April 18, 2024

The First Scout KonTiki event? Brynbach Kon-Tiki, 1951

Here's a report from page 200 of the 1951 Scout Annual - as far as I've been able to discover, the first Scouting 'Kon-Tiki' event.

Here is the article in it's entirety, with text and photographs by Maurice Dybeck and sketches by John Sweet: 

Brynbach Kon-Tiki

Emerson Park full speed ahead in the race
HAVE you ever slept in a floating tent? Deliberately, I mean. Not the sort of tent that becomes water-borne halfway through a thunderstorm, but one actually made to float? Inspired by the Kon-Tiki Expedition across the Pacific on a raft, we decided to run our own little expedition on the boating lake at Brynbach, the I.H.Q. camp site in North Wales. Somehow, a couple of rafts would be built, launched, set adrift, and camped upon, but as by no stretch of imagination could the lake be made to look like the South Pacific, we built up a story about backwoodsmen escaping from a forest fire. Here it is : 

" You are a party of trappers who have been traveling for many days through dense country. You have just discovered that a forest fire will soon be upon you. Your only hope of escape is to take to the water and remain there, as far as possible from the bank, until the fire has passed (noon to-morrow). The fire will reach you at 8 p.m. by which time you must be afloat—or perish. " The natives (your own Troop) are friendly and may assist you in the building of your raft, and you may borrow equipment, including spars, cans, and rope from the Brynbach Trading Post. " You will of course have to cook your supper and breakfast on the raft using an open fire. You will also sleep on the raft. " In order to pass away the time to morrow morning before the fire has passed, you will-1. Have a race round the lake with the other trappers at 11.30. (Arrange this between yourselves). 2 Fish for any items from the bottom of the pond (especially tin cans). All booty to be brought ashore at 12 noon. 3 Make a sketch survey of the lake including all items of interest. 4. If any spare time left, think up and perform any other useful or interesting activity. ' You must be able to swim. A log of your voyage must be kept in proper nautical style. You must not touch land between 7 p.m. and 12 noon, and you must not receive any assistance after 7 p.m. The islands in the centre of the lake are a blazing inferno throughout the voyage. " If the raft capsizes or disintegrates, you must choose between drowning and roasting. There is no alternative !" 

The Troops which accepted the challenge were the 8th Crosby Sea Scouts from Liverpool and the 1st Emerson Park from Hornchurch, Essex.

The start of the race with 8th Crosby in the lead

The lake side at 3 p.m. on the great day was a wonderful sight. Oil drums, tree trunks, corrugated iron, and even a tractor petrol tank had appeared from nowhere and were piled ready for use. The judges strode about with bits of paper in their hands, looking important. The sheep on the hill-side paused in their grazing to stare with glassy eyes. The competition was on. With quiet confidence the men of Emerson Park set about building what looked for all the world like an enormous low altar fireplace with knobs on. A number of five-gallon square oil drums were lashed fore and aft, and the hole in the middle—sorry ! the 'tween decks—was filled with a floor of Scout staffs big enough to take a hike tent. To add dignity a mast was erected, rigged and flagged, and, using this as one tent pole, a two-man hike tent was strung up facing for'ard. The problem of making a fireplace on this highly inflammable structure presented no difficulty to these intrepid backwoodsmen, who calmly laid out a nice lawn at the front door of the tent. Armfuls of bracken were taken aboard with the rest of the cargo, and with due ceremony the mighty vessel was committed to the water. The Sea Scouts meanwhile had been at work on a much lighter craft—built for speed, they declared. Two rows of cans had been lashed to a light framework of spars, with one large open-topped oil drum in the bow, the tractor tank in the stern, and a corrugated iron superstructure. Being Sea Scouts they had scorned the idea of a tent, and had rigged up a rakish looking tarpaulin shelter such as the de-signers of Kon-Tiki would have rejoiced to see. The finished craft had no mast and not much rigging, but it floated very well—and that, as the crew pointed out, was the main thing. After the launching the big oil drum, by accident or design, took on a gentle tilt and looked every bit like a liner's funnel. Rumour spread that there was an engine-room below, but in fact all the oil drum held was the breakfast for the crew and the night's bedding. By eight that night, punctual to the minute, the forest fire had enveloped the lake and both parties of backwoodsmen had taken to the water and were safely anchored in the middle. Loaded to the plimsoll as they were with bedding, cooking pots, fire-wood and provender, yet they rode the waters bravely. The Swiss Family Robinson could not have done better. Senior Scouts Geoffrey Parker and Derek Tyler were the crew of the Emerson Park raft, and like true men of Essex, despite the flaming forest around them their first thoughts afloat turned to the cooking of supper. It was a pity, perhaps, that the flames hadn't consumed the large crowd of spectators on the ' shore of the lake, who were extremely critical of everything they did. How would you like to cook your supper on a floating lawn the size of a pocket-handkerchief, practically surrounded by people whose only desire was to see you sink or drop something overboard? But Geoff and Derek bore up well and were enjoying a good supper with hot Oxo long before the sun had set. On the Sea Scout raft, David Carylon and David Pemberton, with but thirteen summers behind them, had youth on their side, and being considerably lighter in weight were warm favourites for the great race next day. Like all good Sea Scouts they decided to keep a watch all-night—though I honestly don't know what they were watching for. If a raft is going to sink in the middle of the night it will let you know, whether you are awake or not..

Side view of Emerson Park raft

Plan of Emerson Park raft

By midnight, with no greater mishap than a storm lantern overboard, they decided that all was well and turned in. The moon came up over Bryn Ocyn and laid a silver pathway across the lake where the two rafts rocked gently at anchor. An owl hooted in the wood. Derek Tyler snored. Apart from that all was peace. CAME the dawn, and to everyone's surprise the two rafts were still afloat. The crews emerged from dreamland after what must have been the strangest night of their lives. Breakfast, sketching and dredging kept them busy until the time of the great race. And then an unexpected complication arose. The Crosby craft, Robinson Crusoe, had apparently developed engine trouble. Neither of the two Davids could persuade her to move. Then, ten minutes before the race, when almost in despair, they dis-covered the source of the trouble. They had forgotten to haul up the anchor ! Quite a lot of the native tribesmen had survived the forest fire and turned up in force to watch the race. Big Chief Panther (Bailiff of Brynbach and one of the greatest living exponents of the art of producing fire by friction) arrived with stop-watch and starting-pistol. The long-suffering sheep on the hillside looked on with pained expressions on their drawn faces . . . BANG They were off. Almost at once Robinson Crusoe took a half-length lead over her opponent, Queen Mary. At the halfway mark it looked like a walk-over. Here the course narrowed and went sharply round an island. Robinson Crusoe took the bend in grand style and started confidently on the homeward beat. Then disaster overtook c her. A cable's-length from the winning post she ran aground and no amount of punt-poling would budge her. The Queen Mary bore slowly down upon them. Then, driven desperate by the frantic yells and screams from their supporters on the lakeside, the two Davids as one man jumped overboard, heaved the raft bodily clear of the reeds, and scrambled aboard again just in time to finish one length ahead of their rivals. Photographs, handshakes, speeches, and dry land again brought their adventure to a glorious conclusion. Sixteen hours afloat on their own raft ! The honours of the race went to the Sea Scouts of the 8th Crosby but for the rest the men of Emerson Park were declared the winners. A great race, and a great adventure — everyone was happy.


So ends the saga of the North Wales Kon-Tiki. But it may be that others will wish to emulate this great adventure, so let me conclude with a few tips from our own experience. Don't rely on wood alone for buoyancy. This may be all right for a " mess-about ' raft, but is no use at all if you want to keep dry. Use empty oil drums if you can get them—but do test them for leaks before-hand (nothing is more unsettling than to hear your raft going " glug-glug-glug " in the silent watches of the night !) and don't put- them in sideways. Bung-holes don't matter if you have them well above, or better still, believe it or not, right below water-level. Once you know what materials are available, rough out a plan in your note-book or on an odd piece of paper of the type of raft you are going to build, and then set about the job in a workmanlike manner. Finally, if you intend to cook your breakfast aboard, don't forget to take some water !

April 4, 2024

Eastern Cape Kontiki 2024

Rafts launching at Eastern Cape Kontiki 2024. Image credit: Marilize Bouwer

The Eastern Cape South region held their " Heroes & Villians" themed 2024 Kontiki event over 21-24 March just outside East London. Like the KwaZulu-Natal Scout Raft Race, the rafts were built as lightweight racing rafts, rather than 'floating campsites' like the Gauteng and Western Cape events.

Alongside the 12 raft teams, there was a supporters' "fringe" competition and a Cub competition. 1st Knysna Sea Scouts, from the Garden Route region of the neighbouring Western Cape, were the winners - congratulations!

Thanks to Caroline Boshoff and the Eastern Cape influencer team for competition information and photos.

March 21, 2024

The Tilting Mast tower

This design was included on the JOTA/JOTI resource CD, originally in Dutch and published here in English for the first time:

Diagram of a tilting tower
Figure 1


The tilting mast consists of two parts: 

  • The pedestal 
  • The tilting mast 

The pedestal is based on triangular construction, which makes it very stable. Two long posts are connected at the top with a shear lashing to create a trestle. This trestle will be slightly inclined when standing and is therefore held upright by two posts, each of which is attached to one post of the trestle with a shear lashing. 



Figure 2

 These posts are secured at some distance below the top of the trestle. The strut posts must still have some length above the shear lashings, because after expanding the whole, V-shaped openings should be created above these lashings in which the axis of the tilting mast will come to lie. 


Figure 3

The cross girder, which is shown in figure 3 below the fork lashing of the A-trestle, primarily serves as a stopper pole for the mast and then keeps the mast in a vertical position. The location of the attachment on the trestle depends on the thickness of the mast, the thickness of the shaft and the oblique angle of the A-trestle. Hinged through the shear lashings, the A-trestle and the two strut posts are successively extended. In order to maintain the expanded corners, the uprights of the pedestal thus created are connected to each other by means of the cross girders. In figure 1 only the sleepers between the piles of the A-frame and the associated strut piles are drawn. However, the sleepers can also be fitted between the piles of the lower trestle and between the two strut piles. The lashing to be used is the square lashing.

 Figure 4 shows the supporting mast, which can consist of two or even more long poles which are attached to each other in line by means of round lashings. This carrier mast is attached to the axle pole with a square lashing. It should be noted that the bottom part of the supporting mast on which the counterweight can be attached, must be shorter than the distance from the axle to the crossbeam between the posts of the A-trestle - otherwise you won't be able to raise the tower all the way up!

Figure 4


 Figure 5 shows how a trestle is fixed at both ends of the axle-pile, which is perpendicular to the support mast. The distance from the shaft to the top of this trestle must be wide enough to allow passage of the top of the A-trestle, which serves as a pedestal. At the top of the A-trestle attached to the axle-pile and at the ends of the axle-pile, the upper part of the support mast is rigged with three ropes. 


Figure 5

 Next, it is the turn of the pedestal and the mast to slide together. The pedestal is placed on the ground in such a way that the A-trestle rests on the bottom with both posts. The top is now lifted slightly, so that the mast is slid under it lengthwise, until the axle ends up in the two V-openings. This is held in the openings by two guy wires, which are bolted to the ends of the axle-pile and tied to the sleepers at the bottom (figure 5). A rope is also tensioned from the top of the trestle on the axle to the bottom of the tilting mast, so that the last top guy is also under tension. Furthermore, a rope is attached to the underside of the carrying mast with which the mast can be tilted into a vertical position. With combined forces, the trestle is placed on its legs at the intended place. These legs can also be buried in the ground if necessary. During the erection, the trestle will be in a tilted position. It is then checked whether the tilting is working as expected. Then the antenna is attached to the top of the mast. This increases the weight on the load arm. The force needed to pull the mast vertical again can be reduced by attaching a counterweight to the bottom.

December 15, 2021

New Instagram account and site news

QR code linking to @ropesandpoles on instagram

So it's been quiet here for a while... alongside everything that's been going on in the world over the last two years, I'm now the father of a one year old girl! Over the last 18 months, Rovers here in South Africa have been involved in community service, and you can read about some of these projects here:

Coming back to pioneering, I've started an Instagram account for the blog at @ropesandpoles, as well as the existing channels on Facebook and Twitter. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourite projects from over the years on the Instagram feed, and I have a few new posts queued up for you to read in January. As always, I'm interested to hear about any interesting pioneering projects you've seen, so please feel free to contact me with this form and I can share your project with the world.

June 23, 2017

Ropes and Poles at the World Scout Moot, Iceland

I'll be travelling to Iceland for the World Scout Moot from the 25th of July to the 2nd of August this year. I don't have any plans to do pioneering while I'm there (Iceland doesn't have too many trees and bringing my own poles from South Africa would be tricky), but I'm keen to meet up with anyone who'll be there.

I'll be working as a Tribe Advisor, so I'll be based in Hafnarfjörður during the Expedition stage (26th-28th July) and at the main campsite in Úlfljótsvatn the rest of the time. Contact me (as a comment here, via email or on twitter) and we can arrange to meet. I'll have some Ropes and Poles patches to trade, and am looking forward to meeting you.