Friday, 27 November 2009

Avocets and Constantan

As one gets older, you have to keep pace with the modern age (well at work anyway), but I have noticed that at a certain point, you start to take interest in old things.

By that, I mean articles from the earlier years of your life.

When young, its quite common to always be pitching at the latest fashion or the latest technology and to dismiss anything from yesteryear.

At a turning point in your life (and you never know exactly when this is), you suddenly start becoming attracted to "old stuff".

When I was 16, I went to radio college to learn about electronics.

For our practical work, we used a black box mystically called an "AVO".

The size of a small birthday cake and heavy enough to give somebody concussion when swung, the AVO was our constant companion and saved us from electrocution.

It's purpose was to measure Volts, Amps, Resistance and so on and it was the "Bees Knees" when it came to fault-finding. It was our shining knight in Bakelite.

30 years on, I still have one.

Its not the one I used at college - that never belonged to me at the time, but the one I have, is very similar. 

They were made in the UK by a British company called AVO Ltd and the Avocet bird was their company trademark.

Just reading the wording of the manual takes you back to the language of the empire.

It has been superceded by modern technology in all respects except class.

If you just want a meter which gives you fast accurate meter readings, then it would be far better to buy a new digital unit - I use several in my everday work.

However, the AVO is an antique and what's more, its an antique that can still be used.

In the same way that you see the guy driving to work in a restored 1970's MGB or a Morris Minor, its possible to get pleasure from using an antique.

There is a simple pleasure in using something that doesn't have PCB's and has CAM switches which make satisfying noises when moved (not electronic beeps).

Anything which uses Constantan and Alcomax in its consistency has just got to be fun.

Electronics in the AVO age was schoolboy physics.

Now its the work of the devil - you can't repair anything in the field anymore.

Unfortunately, I like collecting old electronics.

Recently, I nearly bought an RT144 "Sailor" VHF which is another favourite of mine.
Luckily, common sense, a lack of workshop space and the fact that the boat already has a Sailor RT2048 VHF prevailed.

At sea, one of my more modern ships had a Scopex dual channel 10MHz oscilloscope. I understood that.

Now, looking at the latest ones, they do far too much and are far too complicated for what I need.

I think I will get one, as they are very useful for a wide range of fault finding, but I will either get an old one from Ebay or buy one of the new handheld types.

I've obviously passed my turning point, but at least I can embrace the new with enthusiasm and an open mind, whilst still savouring the simple pleasures of the past.

To be locked into one or the other has got to be limiting and blinkered - surely its better to be balanced and have a foot in each camp ??


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Boxes and Holes In The Ground


The politicians keep telling us that we are coming out of the recession.

I know that's nonsense.

"Are you a master of economics ?" I hear you ask 

"How do you know ?"  you say.

It's very simple.

A recession means that demand falls. 

People lose their jobs, they can't buy things.

Demand for luxury consumer products goes down.

This leads to more job losses and general insecurity on a global scale.

The harbingers of doom in the media who originally started banging on about a recession to match the great depression have managed to unsettle everybody.

Those that do have money, sit on it, to ride out the forecasted storm.

Demand falls further, factories close and the ships that deliver all the widescreen TV's with cinema surround sound aren't needed anymore.

The backwater ports get cluttered up with unwanted and  laid-up container ships like this one.


When this ship and the others like it get taken out of mothballs, I will know that things are getting back to normal.

In the meantime, the drydocks which are nothing more than holes in the ground, are largely empty.

I watched workmen working in this one and pouring cement into cracks in the ground, waiting for better times.


It seems that the only people who can afford a lick of paint and general wash and brush-up is the Danish royal family, who have their yacht in for some TLC.  

Dannebrog, built in 1932 is still the Imperial Yacht.

So, the Danish monarchs, unlike ours, still have their retreat. Mind you, the Danish pay a lot of income tax.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Under The Waterline



Today I got an invite down to the world of Hades from our Chief Engineer.

The subterranean (or should that be sub-mediterranean) engine room is a world I love to visit.

The engineers have been nagging me for a few days to connect up a rudder feedback potentiometer on the rudder stock.

This "pot" basically feeds details about rudder position, electrically back to the wheelhouse.

The steering gear was removed in the shipyard for an overhaul.

Ours is only a small ship of about 80m length, but the steering gear is the size of a smart car.

They cut a hole about ten feet square in the deck above the steering compartment, lifted the steering gear out with a crane and overhauled it ashore.

It was subsequently put back and the deck re-welded into place above it, once again sealing the compartment.

I love going down into the engine room through the watertight doors.

It is deafening even with only one Mitsubishi generator running.
We have two auxilliary gensets, two main engines and two shaft driven generators.

You wear ear defenders, communicate by shouting at each other or using sign language and they have all the tools, workshops and big machinery you could ever wish for.

The engines are started by compressed air, the cylinders are big enough to climb in and they have acres of computer monitors and instrumentation to watch in the engine control room.

The ship has to be largely self-sufficient when at sea, so they carry a full metalworking workshop, spares and a wide range of raw metals - a plethora of cables, steel bars, wood, plating and all sorts.

I really am torn between whether I like to play with electronics on the bridge or the big machinery like shaft generators and three phase switchboards down in the engine room.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Floating High on Tuborg

I'm currently working on a ship which is in a floating drydock in Denmark.

I don't ever remember seeing one of these floating drydocks on the inland waterways, presumably because they need quite a lot of water depth.

In essence, you float the ship above a larger "U" shaped compartmentalised vessel, called a floating drydock, which has already had its compartments flooded with water and partially sunk.

The floating drydock then has all the water pumped out of its ballast tanks, so it starts to become buoyant and rises.

The lifting action then raises the ship out of the water, literally, high and dry, so that it may be worked upon.

The advantage of floating drydocks is that they can be moved to where they are needed and don't need large amounts of earth to be dug out, so are advantageous if land is scarce.


 The ship is largely reliant on shore power and umbilicals for fresh water and waste.

As the engine and generators are raw water cooled, it's not possible to generate all our own power, although we can run the smallest auxiliary generator by using sea water cycled through the fire hose.


 As I've said before, life occurs in cycles and often has repetition and subtle links to it's past.

It doesn't seem that long ago, that we were cruising the Nene and passed the Carlsberg brewery at Northampton.

Today, Tuborg, who are part of the Carlsberg group,  officially release their Julebryg or Tuborg Christmas Brew.

Its supposed to be released on the first Friday in November, but in actual fact, it was released this year on Friday 30th October.

This is known as J-day and is usually the source of much rejoicing in Denmark.

Normally, as part of the promotion, the first "pint" is usually free in most hostelries.

The beer is only available for 6 weeks each year and is a strong Pilsner (5.6%).

For the beer aficionados out there, Tuborg Julebryg is a bottom-fermented, wiener beer brewed on lager, m√ľnchener and caramel malt with English liquorice.

The beer is dark-golden with a fresh aroma of caramel, grain, liquorice and blackcurrant.

There, I'm glad I got that out of my system.