Early Birds

The Early Bird catches the worm; so goes an old saying.

In the middle of the Bay of Biscay it’s a little hard to catch a worm, but as reward for early rising and also not drawing the cabin curtains, I was able to see something very special.

I was disturbed from a very nice sleep by the light of a full moon shining brightly into my cabin window. It was 04:30 local. Lying in bed pondering whether to turn over and sleep on, it suddenly struck me that I really should get up and watch the moon set into the Atlantic Ocean and if I was very lucky I might also see the sun rise up as well!

Yeah, I know, crazy, but hey…I got the worm and saw the beauty of our solar system working right before my eyes.

On the Starboard side of the ship, that’s the right to land-based folk, I watched the moon sink slowly beneath the waves and at the same time, sure enough, the sun rose out of the Eastern horizon!

It was beauty beyond words, a little less cloud in the East would have been even better, but I’m really not complaining at all.

As far as I could tell, I was the only person on deck to enjoy this cosmic show and that’s pretty mind blowing when you think how far that light had travelled to be seen by only me! (93,000,000 miles from the sun and 250,000 miles from the moon, to be exact!)

As the book says,
“Don’t Panic!”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

“There’s Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today!”

So said Admiral Beatty at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 as the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet clashed in a bloody, yet indecisive battle in the North Sea near the coast of Denmark.

Well…. fast forward to today and again there is something wrong with a ship, my ship!

It’s nothing unexpected, the MV Pont Aven has been beset with problems in 2019. Earlier in the year she suffered a fire in one of the engine rooms and then just as she got back into service a steering gear problem caused an extended visit to dry dock for repairs. She came back into service only last Friday.

As a result of the engineering issues, Brittany Ferries have been forced to modify the timetables for Pont Aven as she’s running at reduced speed.

This is undoubtedly an issue for some folk, but for me, with little reason to rush it’s OK. Our trip across the Bay of Biscay may be taking a few hours longer, but the sea is relatively calm the sky is blue and all is well in the world.

My engineering mind does however ponder exactly what is going on with the ship? Our wake is decidedly “lop-sided” and it seems to me that one propeller is doing the work whilst the other is seemingly along for the ride!

If you look at the photo, you can see where the cavitation (that’s the white frothy water) is stronger on one side than the other; that means that the propeller on that side is working harder. Pont Aven is fitted with twin variable-pitch propellers and I would normally expect two prop wakes.

Just a little thing, but I find it interesting!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Something to Think About

Tomorrow, Harls and I are off on our latest adventure…a little trundle around the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to The Mediterranean Sea and largely form the border between France and Spain.

The first leg of our trip will be by ship from Plymouth to the port of Santander on the North Coast of Spain.

It’s all very routine really.

You turn up at the departure port, complete formalities of tickets and passports, pass through security and then roll onto the ship, secure Harls, find cabin, book table in the restaurant for dinner and relax.

Easy.

It wasn’t always like that and today is a good day to remember just how far we have come and how much we take travel for granted.

Exactly 100 years ago today the very first non-stop transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean took place. British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland to Ireland. In doing so they won a prize of £10,000 (roughly equivalent to £1million today) that had been offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for the first to achieve the crossing in less than 72hours.

John Alcock (right) and Arthur Brown (Left).


At 13:45hrs on 14 June, the pair took off and headed East. The aircraft was powered two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines and carried over 850 gallons of fuel.

It was to prove a difficult flight. The heavily loaded aircraft had difficulty taking off and only missed the tops of nearby trees by a few feet.

They recorded in the log that at 17:20hrs their wind-driven electrical generator had failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating, which in an open cockpit must have been difficult to say the least!

An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterwards, causing a deafening noise which made conversation impossible and they had to communicate by writing notes to each other.

They encountered thick cloud and for hours flew on blind and without instruments.

Shortly after midnight Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, to check their position, which proved to be spot on course.

At 03:00hrs they flew into a large snowstorm. Ice formed on the wings and twice they nearly lost control and crashed into the sea. The carburettors also iced up. Some reports say that that Brown climbed out onto the wings to clear the engines, although there is no mention of that in their log.

They made landfall in County Galway on the West coast of Ireland and crash landed at 08:40hrs local time, just less that 16hours after taking off. It was unfortunate that the smooth grassy field that they chose to land in was actually a bog and their aircraft was badly damaged as it’s wheels dug into the soft ground, fortunately neither man was seriously injured.

Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail prize of £10,000, they also were awarded £2,100 from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British Subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean.

Both men were later knighted by King George V.

Sadly, Alcock was killed on 18th December 1919 when he crashed near Rouen whilst flying a new aircraft to the Paris Airshow. Brown died on 4th October 1948.

Eight years after Alcock and Brown’s pioneering flight, American aviator Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight. Upon landing in Paris after his own epic endeavour he told the crowd welcoming him, “Alcock and Brown showed me the way!”

Over the years I have flown many times across the Atlantic and as I cruise in air-conditioned comfort at altitudes around 30,00ft, I have often thought about those who flew before me.

The Vickers Vimy aircraft in the London Science Museum. Photo:Oxyman.


Today Alcock and Brown’s valiant little aircraft takes pride of place in the Aviation Gallery of the London Science Museum and serves as a reminder when travel really was a much more hazardous business than just checking in and off we go!

“This time tomorrow where will we be?
On a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea.”

Catch you soon, on the road in the Pyrenees hopefully!

Dookes

It’s Engineering Baby!

It’s one of those lovely early summer mornings here at Dookes H.Q., the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze and all seems well in the world…until some crazy person messes it up.

Mrs Dookes is out, which means I can play a Jethro Tull album without snarky comments and grumbles; no, she really doesn’t appreciate Prog-Rock!

I’m also studying maps because trip planning time is here, actually that really came long ago, this is more like “Contingency Planning Time.”

This year’s adventure should see Harls and I heading off to the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain in a couple of weeks, we have unfinished business in those mountains.

There is, however, a slight spanner in the works.

We are due to sail from Plymouth to Santander on Brittany Ferries lovely flagship and one of my favourite vessels, the MV Pont Aven. Unfortunately the lovely white lady is currently dry docked in the port of Brest with fairly major problems in her starboard steering gear.

The poor ship has been a bit unlucky this year, back in April she suffered a fire in one of her engine rooms which led to a spell in the shipyard for repairs. Then, only days after her return to service, this fault in her steering system appeared.

One of the problems with modern transportation companies like Brittany Ferries is they operate on very tight margins, meaning that the assets are “sweated.” In plain language, they don’t have spare ships standing around doing nothing and those that they do have are kept earning revenue with minimal downtime. One breakdown can and usually does cause chaos to schedules. It’s difficult for operators to accurately predict when things are going to be back to normal and putting pressure on the engineers to get the job fixed as soon as possible can be counterproductive; better to do it once properly than to need to return through rushing or corner cutting.

Years ago a late friend and I undertook engineering services for a cross-channel ferry company operating out of Portsmouth. One of the jobs that we did was a repair on a vessel’s steering gear which necessitated a visit to dry dock in Southampton. One day I’ll dig out and scan the photo’s of that and maybe do a retro post about it. The job was straightforward enough, but getting all the parts, labour, heavy-lift equipment and inspection agencies together in one place when the dock was available was a logistical nightmare! I share the pain that the BF engineering team are going through.

Brittany Ferries operate a number of routes across the English Channel between the UK and France, plus serving Spain and Ireland. The impact of this breakdown has reached far and wide.

I have read some affected passengers grumbling that the company has not offered them good customer service by way of alternatives or compensation. From a personal point of view I do not agree.

Yesterday, I called into the Brittany Ferries offices in Plymouth to discus options for Harls and I. Basically, in the event of the ship not being back in service by our departure date, I was offered the option of being booked onto an alternative ferry to France, with costs if I have to travel to a different departure port and then provided with onward travel costs to get me to Santander as well as a refund of the difference in fares; or I could have a complete refund if that meant that I was unable to travel.

This I thought was perfectly reasonable and I’m probably going to accept the former, after all it’s no hardship for me to have to ride Harls for an extra two days!!

I did offer my engineering services as well, I was told to pop home and get my spanners; at least the staff haven’t lost their sense of houmour!

In the meantime, I’m really hoping that the MV Pont Aven is repaired as I do love sailing on her and best of all she has a fabulous restaurant.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

On The Road Again

Good morning everyone, it's a decent day here in Brittany on the North West corner of France.

The ferry crossing last night would have pleased Mrs Dookes, had she been with me; the sea was glass smooth and the ship had very little motion, a bit disappointing really!

I woke with the first ray's of morning streaming through my cabin window and just had to get up on deck to watch the sun rise out of the Eastern sea.

I had an old dear friend who has sadly "gone on," he spent many years at sea, both in the Royal Navy and then the Merchant Marine; Tony always used to say that dawn was the best time to be at sea on a ship. I think he nailed that pretty well!image

I’m just South of Rennes now, 140 miles in two hours, not bad! Traffic was nice and light until the Rennes Rocard, then we hit the shoppers…

Ok Baby is fuelled and I’m topped up with espresso; screw it, let’s ride!

Catch you soon.

Dookes