Archive for December, 2008
Sources close to EMI Records have revealed the company’s intention to revive its ailing market share by releasing three Thomas Dolby albums in close succession! In the Spring of 2009 EMI plans to release a CD containing all Dolby’s single releases, from ‘Urges’ all the way through to ‘Silk Pyjamas’, in sequencial order. A month later, remastered versions of Dolby’s first two albums will also hit the shelves, along with B-sides and other rarities, plus a quantity of promotional video footage on DVD, some of it also extemely rare.
Unconfirmed rumours will have us believe that Dolby’s first brand-new studio album in nearly 18 years will follow shortly thereafter! (Wind and tides permitting.)
We were awoken in the night by a noise roughly akin to someone revving up a 125cc trail bike with no baffle in the tail pipe. It was a very windy night, forecast at 35 mph but gusting maybe 50. When it got light I realised that my wind turbine was whizzing round at insane speeds, and barking like a dog. It kept us awake, but I was terrified it might also disturb my neighbours, who up to now have been super-understanding through the entire lifeboat restoration process.
In theory the turbine (an Air-X Marine 400W) has a microprocessor-controlled internal braking system which uses torque to slow the blades almost to a standstill whenever it detects high winds. This is to prevent it from vibrating itself to pieces in a gale. And it’s rated to withstand winds up to 110 mph which is higher than has ever been recorded on the Suffolk coast. But it appears the braking system gave out for some reason. I made a frantic call to V3, the gents that installed it for me, but all I got was their voicemail—not too surprising at 7.30am on a weekend. My next call was to Theo Bird, the local large scale offshore windpower specialist who had introduced me to V3. Theo had some ideas, and so he nobly drove over to my place.
Theo pointed out that the barking sound was actually the tips of the turbine blades going supersonic in the gusts! That’s pretty cool. We tried putting a load on the system by turning on a blow heater, thereby lowering the battery charge to the point where the turbine would short out. Then we went the other way and topped up the batteries to maximum charge using 240v, which is also supposed to kick in the braking system. Nothing made any difference, and the noise inside the boat was deafening. We noticed that the LED on the base of the unit was not lighting up either, which made us suspect there’s some kind of a failure in the wiring between the turbine itself and the wheelhouse electrical system.
Our next move was to climb up on the deck and lower the mast to physically stop the blades from whirring around. This was no mean feat. I’ve set up a rigging system which under normal circumstances makes it easy for me to lower and raise the mast on my own. Today it proved exceedingly hard, even with two of us, because of the pressure on the mast and turbine from the 50 mph Easterly. But once we got the mast down close to horizontal, the blades slowed down enough so we were able to stop them altogether, and tie them with rope.
Once V3 get in touch we’ll figure out what the problem is. Could it be something as simple as a blown fuse? I’m not familiar enough with the system yet to draw any conclusions. It’s overcast so the solar panels won’t be much help. It’ll be interesting to see today how long I can work in the boat for on a single battery charge. Hopefully I won’t run out in the middle of an inspired vocal take. Theo said philosophically “welcome to the world of renewable energy!”
So there is such a thing as too much windpower. Who knew?
This is the view from inside the Nutmeg’s wheelhouse. Well, about a quarter of it actually—the vista towards three out of four points of the compass is completely uninterrupted.
I’d like to tell you about the timber we used. Most of it is reclaimed from one place or another. It’s very hard to source good quality marine hardwoods these days. You can get very expensive new teak and mahogany, but its color is not a rich as the older timber, and most of it comes from dodgy countries like Burma where the military junta is systematically denuding the forests. The small islands in the Indian Ocean from which the best mahogany comes, have long since been stripped to bare rocks. So I had quite an adventure scouring eBay (and the English countryside) to find the good stuff. Here’s a breakdown:
–The panelling of the new wheelhouse is made from the mahogany doors to lockers in a boys’ boarding school that closed down.
–The main worktop is a mahogany counter that came from a science laboratory. It has numbers along the rim, presumably to mark out different experiments?
–The upright beams once made up the bannisters to a staircase in a grand hotel.
–The trim is of a beautiful wood called jarrah. I came by a quantity of this with help from a Forum regular named Bawdsey Buoy. He and I went exploring down a former RAF cold war control bunker one night, and found a pile of old floorboards made of the stuff, that was due to be dumped in a skip!Â We asked the owners if they would donate it to my lifeboat, and happily they agreed. Jarrah comes from the North West of Australia. It’s a relative of teak but more brittle. Apparently, convict ships used to fill up with it for the trip back to England; and in the days before paved roads, market towns used to line their streets and town squares with it to keep the merchants’ carts out of the mud. Over the years a lot of it ended up being used as floorboards in mines too. When we found it, it was dull greeny grey. But after machine-planing it, then many coats of varnish, it came up a fantastic deep reddy brown color, with a lovely grain to it.
There’s some new sapele and pine tongue+groove in there as well, but about 80% of the wheelhouse is reclaimed wood. The previous wheelhouse was much smaller—where the inner edge of the worktops is, that was the perimiter of the old wheelhouse, with a walkable deck running round the outside.
I’ll write more about my carpenters and the boatbuilding process, as well as my equipment and wiring choices—the latter being a work in progress, as I have yet to decide exactly what I want in the studio!
I’ll take a series of pics over the next few days and write about different aspects of the lifeboat.
She was built in the 1930′s as one of a pair of ship’s lifeboats aboard the SS Queen Ann, a British merchant vessel serving in the South Seas. If you look at the red stripe down the side, this was her original gunwale: the deck was added in the 1960′s and we built the wheelhouse this year. In the 30′s she would have had a sail, oars and small paraffin engine. It’s carved on her bowpost that she could hold up to 99 souls. The SS Queen Ann was damaged by a German torpedo early in the 2nd world war, and then had a collision on her way to be fixed in the USA, and was subsequently scrapped. After that the lifeboat went to the Netherlands, and may have been converted there to a seagoing liveaboard vessel. At some point she transferred to the UK and was moored for many years on a canal in Nottingham. She has a wood burning stove, galley and hot water head/shower, as well as ‘shore power’, hence was a very comfortable liveaboard.
It seems the boat was either damaged by banging against a mooring, or perhaps dried out regularly on her side at low tide, because she has a lot of rot and weak timbers on her starboard aft hull. The woman who sold her to me (whom I’ll call Paula) had thought she was getting a seaworthy boat, and was very upset when she took on water. The cost of replacing all those planks being prohibitive, she decided to put the boat up for sale on eBay, and failing that, to burn her and sell the very nice brass fittings and portholes. She drove me down to see the lifeboat, which was on blocks in a farmyard outside Reading (about as far from the sea as you can get in England!). She told her boyfriend to show me the boat, and refused to get out of her car. “I can’t look at that boat”, she said, “it breaks my heart.” She’d blown her dad’s inheritance money on the lifeboat and was devastated to have to sell her. Her boyfriend let slip that were planning to burn the boat if I didn’t buy it. I could not let that happen, and it cleearly wouldn’t take a lot of cash for me to take her off their hands. And in any case, she was by far the nicest of the 10 or so boats I’d looked at, so I snapped her up and hired a lowloader truck to bring her to my home on the Suffolk coast. The transportation was quite a lot more than the purchase price, but I felt it was justified so I could rescue this lovely old boat.
After several traditional boatbuilders had told me her dry rot would require her to be totally stripped down and rebuilt plank by plank, I hit on the bright idea of knocking a door through her starboard side, and building a strong doorframe to support her. This would also give me easier access from the house. The next stage was to come up with a good design for the door itself, and this caused us quite a few headaches. I’ll blog about those next time!
By the way, I have sent some photos of the restoration to the previous owner Paula. I hope they make her happy, not sad. I’ll let you know if she responds!
My renewable energy-powered lifeboat studio has a name! At the weekend, the Mayor of Aldeburgh performed a ‘launch’ ceremony, and 80 guests attended.
A lot of people have asked about the name, so I’ll explain. My original dream was to build a seagoing, carbon-neutral vessel, and sail around the world composing and recording music. It became clear I could not pull this off without a major corporate sponsor, and I couldn’t face going to them with my hand out. So I had to water down my plan a bit; but this ended up being just as interesting a project, with the added advantage that Kathleen (aka Mrs Noah) will actually agree to join me on board!
‘The Nutmeg of Consolation‘ is the title of book 14 in Patrick O’Brian’s brilliant Aubrey/Maturin naval fiction series. In it, Jack Aubrey’s ship is wrecked in a terrible storm in the South Seas (where my lifeboat also served.) He and a handful of survivors manage to build a small boat, constructed–like my new wheelhouse–of salvaged timber. After an epic voyage they make it to a Dutch port in Batavia, and are gifted a 20-gun barque, in which they sail back to England. Aubrey is humiliated to have lost his ship, but names his new one the Nutmeg of Consolation, which is one of the titles of the Sultan of Kampong.
I’ll be posting some more pics, and maybe a video guided tour of the boat over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime here’s Kathleen, my excellent signpainter, working late into the night: