Tag Archives: Incept K40

Feathercraft Aironaut IK

Discontinued
Updated summer 2020
Early owner’s review

Feathercraft’s short-lived Aironaut IK was a breath of fresh air. As with their folders, FC managed to turn the usual IK sow’s ear into a very silky looking purse. With all kayaks, it’s the sensation of gliding or responsiveness to forward paddle strokes that’s as much appeal as being in the outdoors, and judging from looks alone, the Aironaut did that better than other IKs even if the concept may have been flawed and the boat was discontinued.

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The Airo was pitched as a convenient, nippy recreational day boat for folks who find Feathercraft folding kayaks a faff to set up on the spur of the moment (left) and a pain to store or transport assembled.
It’s the relative assembly effort and complexity as well as assembly time that can kill spontaneity, especially if you’re at an age when you’re no longer as supple as a leaping salmon. I’ve also encountered the hard rock fragility of ally-framed folders to which IKs are immune, though both are susceptible to cuts and abrasions. With an IK you just tip it out of the bag, fit the skeg, pump up three chambers and get in ~ about ten minutes. But for sea touring I still suspect that once assembled, a Feathercraft Kahuna is easier to manage in strong winds, something which I’ve found can limit an IK.

A few years ago I briefly owned Feathercraft’s Java, what they rightly call a ‘sit on top’ IK, but I didn’t get on with it (read in the link). The Airo was a conventional sit in IK, complete with a fixed deck like the long discontinued but very hefty Gumotex Seakers. By IK standards, even the Aironaut name is clever too, suggesting a light, cutting edge boat. From the images it’s got to be the slickest-looking IK out there, though the competition isn’t that great.

The magic numbers are: 4.5m  (14’ 9”) long,  66cm  (26”) wide, a weight of just 9kg (20 lbs) and a modest payload of 136kg. The rest you read here is my usual speculation based on those details and the photos I have pinched from the Feathercraft Aironaut webpage and ebay.

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As with my old Incept K40, using ‘plastic’ coated fabrics means it can all can be heat-welded together which you presume is cleaner and less expensive than gluing by hand and then squeezing in a press. Urethane-coated nylon may not sound such a ‘high quality, technical fabric’ (to quote the FC blurb), but pack boat manufacturers are notoriously cagey about fabric specifics. As with Alpacka packrafts, exactly what type of urethane is key, as is the composition of the nylon base. Both may be custom specified from a source manufacturer to deliver certain properties. A nylon weave base fabric is supposedly more stretchy than polyester which is good against spikes, but less good in containing a rigid inflatable form. That’s why it needed to run a high pressure.

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My Incept was a fast IK, aided by a notably slick PVC-urethane coating over a ‘1100 polyester dtex’ (= about 1000D)  base. Knowing that, suddenly the Airo’s 420D doesn’t sound so robust, but that’s how Feathercraft managed to halve the weight of a K40 which otherwise has very similar dimensions. Another clue might be in the payload given at 136kg; the Airo’s many tubes may add up to a relatively small volume. The Incept by comparison was rated at 160kg.

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They achieve that amazing weight by fabricating the Airo from 210D urethane-coated nylon on the deck and multi-tubed black sides – and 420D in the hull (hard to tell the later two apart in most pics). So it’s a regular three-chamber IK. When I recall December’s Supai packraft was made from 75D polyester, triple that for the sides and six times for the hull sounds reassuring, though direct denier comparisons are misleading. It’s about weave density not final fabric thickness.

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The Airo had Halkey inflation valves like the Incept, and pressure-release valves on all three chambers. PRVs are vital so the seams won’t stress and pop if it gets hot (as happened to my Java). I’m always a little perturbed that my high pressure Grabner had no PRVs and added them to my Gumotex Seawave’s sides for protection with higher pressures.

However, see the link at the bottom of the page. It seems the combination of a long, solo IK made from a thin fabric needed a high 5psi rating to not fold in the middle, but even with PRVs all round, there were reports of a couple of Aironauts blowing apart irreparably which may be why it was discontinued (FC claimed ‘high costs’) before FC actually closed down for good. You might think: fit lower rated PRVs to spare the hull, but if the boat was designed to work at 5psi, anything less would see it sag like a Sevylor bloat, especially with a girthsome paddler.

Airo+Seawave

Also like my old Sunny, Incept, Grabner and Seawave (left, alongside and Airo), the Aironaut is a European-style ‘tubeless’ IK with no slip-in sponsons (‘inner tubes’) to give a hull shell its form. Perhaps that was necessary to run a high 5psi (0.34 bar) pressure, something which requires a good pump as well as good construction if it’s not to leak at weak points. Once on the water though, high pressure hulls have real benefits in terms of hardshell-like hull rigidity and paddling efficiency. Look at the pictures and see how straight the kayaks appear, even allowing for light paddlers (and compare to my Java here). Then factor in the Airo’s Java-like cheese-cutting bow and I suspect this may a fast IK, and all without clumsy and bulky stiffening rods or D/S floors. It’s no great surprise that it was Feathercraft who managed it, but it seems it was flawed.

FC seem keen on you using their sea sock insert which fits around the coaming and stops the boat filling right up in a capsize. I must say the thought of snagging that while trying to get out in a hurry would be a worry.
It’s also a little unnerving that they include a paddle float in the package (left), admitting perhaps that the 26-inch wide Aironaut is a relatively tippy IK and getting back into the cockpit will be tricky on the high and buoyant Aironaut. I tried it with the Incept once, but as we know, practise near the shore with a mate taking photos is not the same as tipping over out at sea, especially when alone. You would be better off getting the knack of eskimo rolling with this boat.

At 75cm long (26.5 inches) the Aironaut’s cockpit hatch is the same as my mate’s ally-framed Big Kahuna. In all my clobber and fluctuating girth I wouldn’t want it any smaller, though I imagine there is more’ squidging’ space and no Kahuna bars getting in the way; instead there are the thigh straps – essential for rolling and bracing. You also get a spray skirt plus a detachable, low profile skeg which is also a good idea at sea; the latter in my experience is much less faff than a rudder which I’ve found to be inadequate anyway once a tailwind gets beyond a certain strength. Good on FC for including all this in the package. Grabner and others take note.

The Feathercraft Aironaut was made in Canada and went for around CAN$3000 or the same price as the otherwise similar Incept K40 which is hard to find in Europe now.

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Compared directly with the K40, the Aironaut was nearly half the weight, had a fixed deck which to me limited the appeal, had a simple skeg instead of a complex rudder, was a little narrower but a little longer, ran less payload and was supposedly tippy which, however they did it, the K40 never really was. Judging by other FCs I’ve tried and owned, I bet the Airo was better made than the K40 too, though that weight-saving fabric choice appears to be at the a cost of durability.

Airo flaws; a discussion thread – Paddling impression

More kayak disc sailing

The IK & packraft sail Index Page

Windbag update 2016: the 3mm-thick 305cm-long glass fibre rod snapped. Not surprising with the bending it gets to fold down, but I doubt it’s worth repairing. I bought another length via ebay for a tenner. I went for a 3m section which is 5cm short (next length being 5m) but the sail can accommodate dektentthe slack. It felt more flexible but within a couple of days that broke in two places too. If I run 3mm rod doubled up I presume the bending forces will be the same, but if I run thicker rod I presume it won’t fold down three times to the compact 30cm diametre disc.
windppLooking again at the original Windpaddle, it does seem much of the cost is explained by the ‘proprietary’ composite rod they use, and there seem few easily found online reports of breakages. Prices seem to have dropped quite a lot too (as they have for the ebay knock offs by 50%). Could it be you get what you pay for after all?


 

sai01The other evening I hooked my old home-made disc sail onto the Grabner’s bow (left and below) and took it out on a loch to remind myself that it wasn’t really that good. As before, I found it difficult to get a good run before it flapped out or otherwise lost its drive.
sai-discMy Pacific Action V-sail will work better, but fitting that to the Amigo may require more D-ringing. I like the compactness and simplicity of a disc sail, but it was suggested that dishing like a bowl was the key to holding the wind and maintaining steady progress, even if it may be less effective tacking across the wind.
ParachutaiSounds plausible and WindPaddles are clearly made like that for a reason. Since then it occurred to me that’s why classic ‘descending’ parachutes (‘reverse’ sails) are bowls and not flatter discs which would shoot across the sky. Before I set about recutting my disc into a bowl shape I checked WP prices on ebay and spotted what looked like a knock-off: ‘Canoe sail kayak sail wind sail‘, now just £17 delivered. Cheaper than sewing and at 115cm deployed, it was midway in size between WP’s Adventure which at the time was selling for no less than £155 in the UK (now £110 with smaller Scout for £90). Someone assure me that a WindPaddle costs even a fiver to make in China, but see top of the page.
sai10sai-attachAnd better still, the no-name windbag folds down into three hoops of just over a foot in diameter (right – smaller than my red disc sail). Plus there’s an elastic hoop to keep it like that and a carry bag for the long walk back to the van. Out of that bag, the only changes I made were to replace the too-short control strings with my tape off the red sail which I find easier to handle. I reassigned a sling to hook the sail’s base to a floor D-ring back from the bow (above left). That was already fitted and was the only adaption I needed to mount the sail to the Grabner.
sai03The day before, with the visiting Nimbus family we’d paddled round the Ristol isles. Over lunch on Ristol beach I took my new sail for a burn up. First time out, not bad at all. I got a steady run and up to 3.9 mph on a breeze of no more than 15 mph and with very little faffing. The prospects were good. More wind was needed.
Incidentally, on the beach I noticed how very, very much unlike a sea kayak the Amigo really is. Alongside my old Incept, let alone the lethal Scorchio HV (right), the red boat looked sai12like one of those horrible inflatable kayaks you read about, except it happened to be clad in bomb-proof hypalon and pumped up like a basketball. And by the way, I finally fixed the seat in the Grabner with a rather obvious solution. Details on the Mods page if you’re interested.

sai-mullaEarlier on, coming round the southwest corner of Eilean Mullagrach, (right), the swell bouncing off the cliffs and crashing over outer reefs looked intimidating. Though we all managed fine, it was everyone for themselves. With heads bent to the task, the comparative speeds of our four boats was clear to see. Way out ahead and longer than your average four-door car: the cheddar-coloured P&H cheese cutter. No far behind, 12-year-old Boy Nimbus darted along in his 12-foot Carolina (later I GPS’d him at 6mph, same as the HV). sai-2botsFurther back Mama Nimbus and little sister Nima in the K40, all hands on deck. And out back Grabner’s hypalon clog – splish-splosh, splish-splosh Slap. Checking the GPS data (above left), the speeds weren’t so bad, it’s just that in the rough the hardshells cut through some 30% quicker.
A few days later the Solar was stacked on the Amigo (right) and I realised it was only a foot or so longer than the Gumotex. In that case the Grabner does pretty well for a 12-foot four-, 31-inch kayak that hauls two paddlers.
sai-windsBack to the sailing. Next day winds were forecast at over 25 mph (right) but as it was warm and only a 5-minute drive to a Loch Vatachan round the back, it was worth a crack.
sai-splasherA short pre-paddle suggested my cheapo windsail would probably get ripped off and blown to Lochinver, or else see me roll off the back of the kayak as it shot away from under me liked a snatched tablecloth. Upwind I couldn’t exceed 2 mph (left), but skimmed downwind at up to 5.5 mph providing I kept the stern right on the wind. And while I was out here, side-on to the one-foot fetch the Amigo felt secure, so not a completely wasted outing. I’d never set out to paddle in such conditions normally (actually I did once), let alone try sailing (actually I had once) so I called it off. Later, Ardmair weather station confirmed the wind had been howling at a steady 35 and gusting to nearly 50 mph.
sai-boatsWith the Nimbii, we ‘yaked over to Tanera Mor one afternoon; three IKs and two SinKs (left). I can see it from the window now, but realised I’d never actually walked up to the 124-m (400-foot) summit of Tanera Mor for a look around.
sai-tansouthUp on top a string of islets lead to the twin humps of Priest Island, 4.5 miles in a straight line (right). It was a ten-mile round trip I’ve mentioned earlier but may be beyond reach this time round.
Paddling back from the island, Mama Nim found my old Incept had picked up another pin-prick hole in the side. Wtf is happening to the K40? It’s a lot better than the armchair -wide Sevy they were borrowing before, but three holes in four outings? And it gets worse. On leaving the island the wind dropped to nothing so sailing was off. Instead, we were plagued by sea midges which rise from their lairs as soon as the wind turns its back.
Another day and a healthy northerly forecast at 10mph on the BBC which might mean 15 in real terms. I set off with Nimbus in his Scorpio ‘PK’ (plastic coffin) for a look at Tanera Beg’s arch he’d missed on previous visits. It’s a nice arch; we passed it a couple of weeks back, two-up in the Amigo.
sai-keensOnce clear of Old Dornie I threw the sail out and trotted along at 3.5 mph which won’t be giving me any nosebleeds but I suppose must be classified as progress. At least I found a good way of stashing the sail. Seeing as it’s right out on the bow, refolding it down to three hoops isn’t practical on the water without help or taking risks. But I could just pull it back and tuck the squidged sail under my feet and between my legs (left). Down here there’s little risk of it self-deploying and jumping overboard to become a most unwelcome sea anchor, but it can be thrown up in a jiffy to catch a breeze, just as with the PA.
sai-paddOnce we got to the two Taneras’ In-Between islands the wind remained but the waves were blocked so I threw out the air bag and trickled along again at about 3.5mph again. Then it occurred to me I could hold the sail leash in my teeth and paddle. I swear, Da Vinci must have felt like this on his good days. That worked well too: getting on for 5 mph but without the paddling effort to make that speed unaided. Plus it felt better than having the sail hooked to my pfd and stopped me talking unnecessarily.
sai-archersOnce past the In Betweens we crossed over to the arch (left), but found we were a metre short of water. Still, high or low water it’s a great mini-destination some three miles out of Old Dornie (see maps below).
sai-calmacerNow the easy ride was over; it was going to be a solid old hack back into the wind for Old Dornie. As we turned we were a little perturbed by what looked like the  Stornoway ferry heading right at us. I’m sure it never came this far north, was the captain asleep at the wheel or taking a deeper channel on the spring tide?
sai-breakerferryAt the last minute the CalMac turned away and a calamity was averted. A few minutes later its wake rolled in, breaking a couple of feet high just as we  passed a reef. It looked like a good picture so I sent Nimbus back for a shot (left) but by then the best of the surf had passed. If that was the swell kicked up by the ferry from a mile away and before it hit full speed in the Minch then I’m glad we keep our distance.
ferryspdTime to put the camera away and knuckle down for an hour’s bow slapping to Old Dornie. As I’ve observed before in such conditions, Nimbus in his blofieSinK paddled like he was stroking a cat, gliding through the waves in a seemingly relaxed procession. Me? I was loading 16 tons and what did I get? Slipping back further and deeper in bilge. Still, not alone for a change was less unnerving and I quite like a good work out on familiar terrain. You dial in the effort you know you can sustain for the duration and progress at whatever speed that delivers. From the graph above that added up to about 2.5 with occasional surges to 3 mph when my technique briefly hit BCU targets. The P&H PK seemed to hold a steady 3mph without trying.
sai-splarshThe wind had failed to live up to the forecast promise of dropping around 6pm and out in the mid-channel a few white tops developed; for me in the IK usually a warning sign it’s approaching the limits. I will speculate that I shipped less water than I would have in the Sunny which is a similar type of IK. Partly because of the upswept Amigo’s bow that front or rear doesn’t seem to be as much of a wind catcher as it looks. And perhaps too because the boat doesn’t bend with the swell.
In fact it was fun slapping the fat bow against the oncoming waves as I slowly hauled my way closer to Dornie. Old Man Nimbus can read wind speeds like a Tubu hunter reads the sands. He estimated it was blowing at 8m/sec which in English translates to 20mph. I’d angleferryhave guessed a bit less, as with the spring tide at full flow against it, it didn’t seem too much in an IK (as long as land appeared close by). As we neared the harbour a couple of other SinKs slinked by, tucked right under the shore, out of the wind. Get out here you cowards!

No Name wind sail
So – my conclusion of the no-name wind sail? Well, it’s a WindPaddle at the right price. Easy to fit to my boat and doubtless many others, easy to temporarily stash on the move and probably easy to repair. And easy to steer too; pull left to go left, usually. With the window pane it’s much better than my home-made flat disc of course, plus it’s less bulky and complex than a V-sail, even if a V will give you nearly 90° reach either side of the wind.
Surprisingly I haven’t found the lack of a rudder an impediment with the Grabner. Though there’s a bit less directional control, at the typical sub-4 mph speeds you can drag a hand or a paddle blade to bring the nose around. And interestingly, providing you’re close to the wind and holding a steady course, the sail worked pretty well when paddling with the leash in my teeth like the 3.30 line up at Cheltenham. I can’t say I ever managed paddling with the Pacific Action on the Incept for long before it flapped out. Plus there’s plenty of scope for hooking up some self-jamming cleats (left – more here) like I ran on the Incept.
Above all, the no-name air scoop is great value for money for the performance it delivers. For thirty quid it wouldn’t be worth making your own. Next job – see how the little Alpacka handles when yanked along by the wind sail.

Grabner Amigo: sea trials and speed test

spedkevenA couple of years ago I did a speed test on my then new Incept K40 (left) over three and a bit miles from Old Dornie to Badentarbet beach via Tanera Mor island. The data is above right.
I recall setting out flat-out on a cool, calm evening, cruising hard close to 5mph at times, with a burst after a gocomporest up to 5.2, after which my energy levels tailed right off because I was well and truly pooped. I recently decided to replicate that route in similarly calm conditions and see how my new Grabner compared.
grabspodPrior to that we were out yesterday in windier and choppier conditions when, with a 10-15mph back wind I averaged about 4mph with a burst up to 5.3.
Coming back into the wind we decided to try the Amigo two-up, as it’s only requires the front backrest moving forward. Towing the Solar together we managed a steady and sustainable 3mph with a burst of 3.8 into the stiff breeze. And on a quick spell downwind we got up to 4.8mph. It’ll be interesting to see what we can manage two-up when not towing a kayak.
Though twice the weight of the g’f, I sat in the front and got pretty wet from the chop, but up here found the Amigo’s narrowed beam and lack of annoying finger-snagging seat lugs made paddling easier, even without a footrest to brace off. We seemed to clash paddles less than the last time we did two-up in the Sunny on the Vezere in France. Perhaps there’s more space between the seats in the Amigo even though it’s overall 10cm shorter than a Sunny.
410ccAs it happens once back on the beach, a French couple in a motorhome were drying off their Gumotex Solar 410C. They’d also been  put off from exploring the Summer Isles by the offshore wind. They set out this morning and I see that the two seats do look quite close (ropey photo at max zoom on the right). I mention this because, as a reminder, I rate my discontinued Grabner Amigo as very similar to Gumo’s Solar 410C (see table below). Main difference is more pressure in my Amigo make it a stiffer and probably faster boat – but at twice the price of the Solar while you can still buy it. Back to the speed comparison test. Today was a calm day with a light wind from the southwest and when I set off the tide just beginning to ebb.
I’m getting accustomed to the thigh straps and the home made footrest is great. Pulling inwards with the knees to brace off the straps and so transmit more power in the stroke isn’t something I could do for too long, I decided. I think the straps are more useful for last-ditch bracing against tipping in rough seas or rapids. But even then, allied with the footrest they do help connect you as well as you can be in an open-decked IK.
Yesterday I’d found the backrest made my back hurt, perhaps because I have those footrests to push off. I’m still not convinced by this rigid backrest arrangement anyway. The cut-down packraft seat is fine (while it lasts) but that bar keeps disengaging from the rubber lugs (since fixed) and I think I’ve already bent it just be leaning too hard while moving about. It won’t be too hard to either get a thicker-guage backrest bar made or dispense with it altogether and fit something like an Incept blow-up seat using the current lugs (although I see from what I thought here that maybe that’s not the answer). And as mentioned, those forward lugs painfully snag my fingers every once in a while.
g-spedAnyway, with barely a break I belted across to Tanera as fast as I could, leaning on a bit of karrimat taped to the seat back which did the trick. I averaged just under 4mph where the Incept had managed about 4.6. That’s also the top speed I clocked in a flat-out burst in the Grabner just before reaching the island, although on both occasions this sort of effort was not sustainable.
On the second leg back to the beach I had a light wind behind me but as I neared the pier I thought I could feel the pull of the outgoing tide. Unlike in the Incept, my energy and speed didn’t drop off much as I approached the beach and I got across at what felt like an all-day sustainable 3.8, with some spells recorded at up to 4.5mph without trying.
grabincespedgrabsdWhat the heck does it all mean? Well, it’s the not-so-startling revelation that the slimmer and  two-foot longer Incept K40 was indeed a faster IK than the Grabner (two tracks overlaid on the left). Overall the Grabner is around 20% slower than  the Incept.
At times at sea or on near-still rivers I do feel like I’m pushing the wide-nosed Grabner like a packraft. That’s another grabpuschbenefit of twin-side tubes, I now realise: a sharper bow is formed, as found on Grabner’s Holiday models too. On the right you can see that’s more plough than bow and must add up to a more effort over a long day, limiting compatibility with hard-shells for full day runs like this.
grabwakeAnd look at that wake on the left; I recall forming a similar conjecture (picture) about how the Sunny ruffled the water when compared to a hardshell’s sculpted bow. Or indeed look again at the Incept’s moderate wake at the top of the page. But then this is all for flat water operations. In a swift river like those of the Massif I’m sure the shorter Amigo will be easier to handle than a K40 and so the compromise stands. It’s just that up here the best paddling is in the sea. Surprisingly I don’t miss the Incept’s rudder, having spent years in skeg-only IKs before getting the Incept.

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Summer Isles Kayaking ~Tanera Mor

Tanera Beg here

A sunny and wind-free morning coincided with the definitive wrapping up of my current job that’s dragged on for years. I could not pack up the gear quick enough before the calm spell flipped. And this time I wasn’t messing about – I was going to paddle right around Tanera Mor! All of a mile off shore it is, but you never know what to expect on the unseen ‘ocean’ side.
Just before midday I stuck out for Rhuba Dubh Dubh, the island’s most easterly point (see map, above) and would decide how things went from there. Less than half an hour of speedy, flat-water paddling I arrived at the point, the smokey blue Torridons brooding in the background and the creased and weathered sandstone cliffs to my right.
Rounding the bend to Tanera’s the south side I wasn’t hit by the expected churning swell and whirlpools but pressed on, reluctant to relax until there was something to relax about. That turned out to be the inlet of Mol Mor which invited me in for a walkabout.
It has to be said, at lower tide levels these islands don’t make getting ashore easy; a jumble of glistening wet, seaweed-draped boulders as big as melons bite at your ankles. And on proper land it’s no better, with more unseen ankle traps under the thick heather, or plain old sphagnum sludge juiced up from the recent rains. But as always, from a high point the little yellow boat down below looked striking. Green sea-over-sand and the far headlands of Wester Ross backing the tempting (but not today) outer Summer Isles of Eilean Dubh, Bottle Island and Priest Island with the distant strand of Mellon Udrigle shining bright.
I clambered up to a pass for a view back north over the fish farm to Achiltibuie and the loaf of Suilven behind. Must go back up there one time soon. On the water again I turned up between Tanera Beag where a north wind had come up and gave me something to get stuck into. I didn’t want to push my luck but to string things out I popped onto one of the three islands north of Fada Mor which become one mass at low tide. Causing a seabird commotion overhead, I crawled to a high point and took in another great view back at the Fisherfield   and Torridons. As on Tanera, the colours of the vegetation jumped out at me – was it the light, the recent rains after a long dry spell or just my shades?  All that remained was a hack over to Dornie and back to Whalebone beach (now all gone). It was just beginning to whitecap which I regard as the red flag, especially when blowing from behind. The spray kicked up over the sides but at times like these I’m reassured by the K40’s reliable turn of speed – about 3.5mph the read out said. It’s good to know it can be done, even if most of the time I prefer bumbling around in calmer weather, looking at stuff.
Once over, I pottered back tucked under the mainland shore out of the wind. A beaky oyster catcher eyed me suspiciously just as I neared the beach where a guy setting out with his toddler on his Sevy 200, doubtless the only two IKs for miles around. A few more days like that please, Mr Weatherman.