I know it has been a while since my last update; I have been busy recovering from a very busy and stressful couple of weeks. I think I left you off just as we were on our way up to Darwin, somewhere in the outback.
I believe that I forgot to tell you about a few things that we did before we left for the great journey to Darwin. While we were waiting in Sydney for the container to be released, we made a trip to the Blue Mountains. An interesting fact is that the Blue Mountains are one of the very few places in Mainland Australia that gets snow. Apparently some of the southerly towns may get a light sprinkle of snow, but usually it disappears in less than a day. We stayed in a city called Katoomba, a nice little town that kind of reminds me of some of the smaller cities in the Rockies. Nothing like Banff, but it was still quite nice. The main attraction of Katoomba is the Three Sisters. The three sisters are a rock formation that has an aboriginal story attached to it. I do not know all the details but it has something to do with an aboriginal father that sent his three daughters into the mountains because some evil people were coming into their region and he was scared for their safety. In the end, the daughters died while trekking the mountains and the legend says that he created the stone formations to represent them.
Regardless of the story, they are quite breathtaking. We did a 10 km hike around the sisters and ended at the world’s steepest railroad. My pictures do not give it justice but the rail road goes up at a nearly vertical 52 degrees. It is more of an elevator then a railroad, but it is a railroad none-the-less.
The next day we traveled to the famous Jenolan Caves. They were absolutely amazing, some of the caverns are bigger then my house! They even hold concerts in some of the big rooms. However, again, my pictures do not do it justice. We headed back to Sydney the next day where we soon received the container and began our trip to Darwin.
…2.5 days later…
We arrived safely in Darwin; no dead kangaroos, just a little covered in red dust. Darwin is a beautiful city: lush palm trees, vibrant gardens, active wildlife, friendly locals and quite tourist friendly but there is just one thing that stops this place from being heaven: it is fucking, and I mean fucking, hot there! Take the hottest day in summer in Ontario, add 5 degrees and 10% humidity and you have yourself a nice spring morning in Darwin. Apparently it gets even hotter in the summer months. Worse of all is that it does not cool down at night time, at least no more than 5 degrees. Most of our days here were spent at the Darwin racetrack, sweating our asses off, where we had a workspace set up to finish off the car. It was a 2.6 km race track with 2 hairpin turns and 12 other turns of various difficulties. Our workspace had two garage doors, one we had, and the other we shared with the University of Western Ontario. The Western guys were extremely friendly but they were not thrilled when I told them that “friends do not let friends go to western.”
Scrutineering went very smoothly; the only thing that was an issue was the fact that we were 2 cm too wide. We incurred a 5 minute penalty for this. Qualifying also went quite smoothly, qualifying 20th of 47 cars. Qualifying was determined by the fastest time you could complete one lap. We finished in 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Unfortunately, western beat us by less than 1 second. Qualifying is used to determine the starting order of the race. On the start line the best qualifier goes first followed by the next, one minute later and the next one minute after that…etc.
We started at 8:19 that morning where we passed about 7 teams in the first 20 minutes. Unfortunately this blazing speed could not be kept up forever. Our batteries died after about 5 hours and we were then forced to pull over and charge. We managed to do just over 200 km in that time. Unfortunately, this stop was just the start of a nightmare of a race.
After a few hours of charging that afternoon, and having all the teams that we passed earlier, pass us again, we discovered that there was a problem with the battery that actually caused the battery to not charge that whole time. We also discovered, upon trying to re enter the road that we had broken something else and that now we could not drive. So, after 5 hours of not charging we were stuck in the same situation as we started in…and on top of that, we could not figure out what was wrong with the car. Later that night, we discovered the problem was linked to a bad connection between the motor controller and the motor itself. So, we replaced the connector and now the car rolls. However, what use is a working car if it has no juice.
So, the next morning we got up at 4 AM to charge as the sun rises until 8 AM when we start our day. All seemed well in the first hour, we were cruising at a decent 60 km/h and had already passed 2 teams; that was until a disaster stuck! Our motor had self destructed! Well, not really. All that happened was a few bolts sheared off in the motor causing a bunch of wires coming from the motor to be cut. Due to the complexity of rewiring the motor and fixing the motor itself we were stuck on the side of the road for the remainder of the day.
Also, because we stopped early on the first day, we missed the first checkpoint. Missing one checkpoint is allowed, but missing two consecutive checkpoints will result in disqualification. Obviously we did not want be disqualified so we were forced to trailer our car to the second checkpoint before it closed. We managed to fix the car that night and we were ready to drive the next day.
Today started out well. We started off driving the car out of the checkpoint and drove for a few hours. All was well until I noticed that the car was leaning to the right. It was definitely a good thing that I did not ignore the slight leaning because upon further inspection, we discovered that the front right suspension had failed. We sheared off one bolt, bent a 1/4″ plate and tore apart a suspension clevis. We replaced all the parts and kept moving. We ran out of juice somewhat early this day and also discovered that the array had not been charging the batteries all day because a connection between the battery protection and the array relay (basically a switch) had been broken. At this point we were pissed at the battery protection, it had been giving us problems from day one, most of which I never mentioned here. That night, we discovered that one of the strings in the battery had under-voltaged. This probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but in my mind it is generally a bad thing. If Lithium cells are discharged too much (under voltaged) they become unstable and possibly dangerous.
Because our battery manager is not qualified and our electrical manager knows nothing about the batteries, I was the only person “qualified” to fix the battery. It was a little scary, but I got it done.
Since we fell so far behind at this point, we were told by the organizers that we must trailer the car to Alice Springs (about half way through the race). Meanwhile, some of the leading teams are nearly done the race. We agreed to trailer but our horrible luck struck again!
Trailering all day, we thought that nothing could go wrong. But Murphy caught up with us and caused one of the trailer tires to blow out. The funny thing is that it did not blow out until we pulled over at a rest stop to take a break. We were not prepared enough for this; we had no spare tire, nor a tire repair kit. So we sent off a few team members to get the tire fixed back in Alice Springs. Some 3 hours later, several Euchre games and a long walk along the “oldest river in Australia” we thought that it may be a good idea to check if the spare tire from one of the other vehicles would fit the trailer. To our surprise, the Van we rented had a spare with the same rum and bore size as the trailer tires, but they were slightly smaller in diameter.
We drove off with the newly acquired tire and met up with the team members we sent to Alice Springs a little later. We stopped in Tennant Creek that night, about 200 km short of Alice Springs.
We reached Alice Springs today and trailered for most of the day. This night we stopped in Kulgara after driving the solar car for a few hours.
We spent almost the entire day today driving the solar car. It was, by far, the most successful day of the race! We drove nearly 400km under solar which, while not the greatest, is pretty good. It is just our luck that we get the car working on the second last day of the race. If the car worked with this same diligence since the beginning, we would probably be within the top 10, if not the top 5.
Tonight we stopped at the side of the road in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It was a pretty nice pad, or so we thought.
This morning we woke to a dust storm. Our tents were blowing around like crazy and everything was COVERED in red dust, even inside the tents. The sun was completely dusted out, and we were getting only about 10% of the solar energy that we would usually get. We were planning on driving today, but with the severe winds, rain and utterly crappy weather I decided it was better not to chance it. It was definitely a good decision, even the normal cars were finding it difficult to stay on the roads.
We trailered all the way to the final control stop, Port Augusta, where we were told that the course had been shut down and that they were telling all the teams to get off the road. Everyone trailered to Adelaide that night.
I decided that we would splurge a little on the accommodations tonight, so I took the team to an area of Adelaide that I visited on the way up. It had a somewhat swanky hotel and some nice restaurants. I slept well that night and managed to clean off all the red dust from my body.
Day 8: Finish Line
This morning we crossed the finish line! It was very exciting and there were still quite a few people there regardless of the fact that it was the last day of the event. Discovery Channel and a film crew from our major sponsor, Hatch, were on site to document our arrival. We had a huge Canadian flag as well as a Queen’s University flag.
That night was the awards ceremony; we did not win anything, but we still got a participation statue. After every WSC, all the teams go to one bar and get extremely drunk, and so we did. The club was quite good, it even had a bull machine. Nick knows the bull machine extremely well. I had a few drinks (ok, more than a few) and went to bed relatively early.
We spent the next week in Adelaide. There was not much to do there. It is a big city, but severely lacking anything interesting to do. I got a bit of shopping done for some much needed new clothes but other than that we did not do much. We also took part in an all day wine tour through the famous Barossa Wine region. It was very interesting but I still do not really like wine. More specifically, I do not like any red wines. Most ports are tolerable, but generally disgusting. However, I can take some white wines, but they generally need to be quite sweet to get me to like them.
We are now on our way to the “great ocean road” which is basically the scenic route from Adelaide to Melbourne, and eventually to Sydney. We rented a car for 10 days to get us to Sydney for the 14th. On the 14th, we have plane tickets booked to take us to Cairns where we plan to take a 5 day scuba diving course which fully licenses us to dive, even in Canada. I am very excited; I hope it as cool as the pictures.
Tonight we are in a quaint little town called Robe. We passed through Kingston today as well. Sorry Lili, you weren’t at home.
Only 1 more month to go!
See you soon,