It has been quite a while since my last update. Unfortunately there has not been much to report.
Brisbane is a dull city. I wish that we didn’t stay there as long as we did but unfortunately we had to wait in Brisbane in order to pick up a rental truck that will tow our trailer with the solar car in it. There was not much to do in Brisbane other then walk; and so we did. In fact, we walked for 10 hours on one day and 6 the next. The other 4 hours of that day were spent getting on and off the river ferry system they had and watching the movie “Superbad”. Contrary to the title, the movie is not super-bad, but rather it is a comical look at the last few weeks of high school when everyone is trying to get laid before going to college. I did, however, manage to get most of my souvenir shopping done in that time. On Monday, October 1st 9AM we picked up the truck and got the fuck out of that damn city.
We rushed back to Sydney (about 1600 km south), stopping in Port Macquarie, where we met up with Neil, another team member, and headed to our hostel in Dulwich Hill, a suburb of Sydney. Our container was due to arrive in Sydney on October the 1st, and it did. However, as we made arrangements to unload the container and head up to Darwin, we were told that there was some paperwork that never got filled out before it left port in the US. Without this paperwork, as far as Australia Customs is concerned, our container never left the US, and yet it is sitting in their damn port. Doing some further research, we found out that we could still get our container by paying the duties and GST for the value of its contents. The duties added up to $12,000! So customs gave us two options: 1) Pay the $12,000 or 2) Send the container back to the US, get the paperwork filled out and then bring it back to Australia (this would take 3 months to complete). So we decided to try and pay the $12,000. Of course, luck was not on our side because the day that we needed the money is thanksgiving in Canada, so there was no one at financial services at Queen’s to help us get this money. Well then we thought that we would just take a cash advance on the Queen’s credit card for $12,000. We went to 8 different banks in Sydney and not even one of them would take our American Express card so taking the cash advance on the Queen’s Credit card was VITO’d. Then we decided to try and get $12,000 out of Eric’s personal credit cards but again, no dice; VISA Australia will not issue cash advances to international cards. We thought that we were FUBAR’d! So after spending a day and a half trying to get $12,000 we decided one last option: see if Customs will take credit card directly. And they do! So we head down to the customs building and, upon meeting with a customs official, he took a closer look at our paperwork and said that not only do we not have to get a customs inspection done, we do not even have to pay the $12,000. So, in the end, if the customs official had of taken a closer look at the paperwork when we sent it to him, some 6 days earlier, we would have had our trailer much sooner.
Another good piece of news came later the next day: we do not even need to get a quarantine inspection done! This was good news because it meant that all we had to do is unload our trailer and get going. And we did! On Tuesday October 9th, 2007 we unloaded our trailer. At first glance the trailer appeared to be in impeccable condition that is until we took a closer look at the jack. The jack was all bent out of shape and would not move. We tried to bang the bar back straight but it still did not work. We thought that is was high enough that we did not have to worry about it, so we asked the guys at the shipping company to use a fork lift to hitch the trailer onto our rental truck.
Before I go any further, I should probably explain a few details. The trailer that we brought to Australia is 33 feet long and weighs 1300kg empty; add about 1500kg of cargo and you have one heavy trailer! Now, back in Canada, our mighty Ford F250 (500 HP, 6.0L Turbo Diesel with the towing package) had a little trouble towing this beast. In Australia, we rented a Toyota Land Cruiser (300 HP, 4.0L, Diesel designed for off roading, not towing huge ass loads).
Anyway, we used the fork left to lift the trailer onto the hitch on the back of our rental vehicle. As the trailer was lowered, the truck lowered with it and it didn’t stop lowering until there was only about 3 inches between the hitch and the ground. It looked kind of funny, kind of like a V shape. Obviously we could not drive like this, not to mention that we had no trailer light because the plug they use in North America is different than that in Australia. That is OK though, we thought of this ahead of time and went out and bought a plug that fit into the Australian vehicles. What we didn’t expect is that the trailers themselves were wired differently. In Australia, the trailers a wired with a set of yellow turning signals and a set of red brake lights however, in Canada we only have a set of red brake lights and to indicate turning just one of the red lights flashes. Since we could not drive anywhere to get parts for the trailer, I jerry-rigged something up such that we had brake lights, but no turning signals. It was kind of funny, if you turned on the turning signal, it would flash like your hazard lights. One problem down, one to go: the severe weight of the trailer. Neil and I spent about 2 hours reorganizing the trailer to move some of the weight from the front to the trailer to the back in order to shift weight away from the hitch. The truck not rides with about 8 inches of clearance between the hitch and the ground. Still a little sketchy, but drivable. So off we went (about 3PM) and headed for Adelaide.
Adelaide lays about 1700 km west of Sydney, through the Blue Mountains. We decided to drive it straight and we arrived in Adelaide about 9 AM the next morning. We decided to make the trailer less sketchy by adding an extra set of turning signal lights and wired it up appropriately. We also met up with one of our sponsors (EMS Satcomm) and picked up equipment for satellite broadband (or so they call it, it only achieves slightly better than dial up). We spent about 3 hours there getting it all installed and they showed us how to use it. Apparently there is a problem in the Sydney office which is why I am not using the satellite right now. It should be up in the next few days and we will have 24 hour internet. That day we stopped in a city called Port Augusta (about 300 km north of Adelaide). We got 8 hours sleep and started our trek through the Australian Outback the next morning. Navigating our way through the “Willie Willies” (Tornadoes, but are not dangerous for normal vehicles, maybe for solar cars) and dodging the kangaroos, lizards, cattle and countless birds we arrived in a city (if you want to call it a city, it consists of a gas station, restaurant and a camping ground with a few cabins; population 3) called Kulgera. This morning we departed Kulgara and started another long day of driving. Again, dodging the kangaroos, lizards, cattle and countless birds we made our way north along the Stewart Highway also avoiding the dingoes, wild dogs, and bush fires. We are now going to finish our day in a city called “Daily Waters”. We are now only about 600 km from Darwin, and should be there tomorrow around noon!
All the driving that we have done over the last few weeks adds up to over 8000km, roughly the distance from Vancouver to Halifax! Anyway, soon we arrive in Darwin where we meet up with the other 8 team members and race the car all the way back to Adelaide.
That’s enough from me.