BirdsIf you’ve read my book ‘Ocean Advocate’ and if you haven’t, you should, you’ll remember Jeff mentioning the amazing french shipwright, Auguste Tertu. Well, Auguste was not an invention of mine, I knew him very well when I lived with my family in our old schooner in Camaret, Bretagne. He gave me good advice on how to repair my ship and we had long discussions on how to make sailing craft go as fast as possible. As I explain in my book, he was fascinated by seabirds, gulls, gannets, petrels and others and, where I live now I often think of that old shipwright when I see gulls flying past our house at 50-60km /hour against a wind at the same speed. I have an instrument on top of the house that measures wind speed and as we live on the edge of the Southern Ocean we get fair blows, sometimes over 100km. The gulls like to fly into these westerlies, at times low over the sea, other times much higher, they seem to be able to taste differences in wind as I can taste differences in wine.

But, my old friend Auguste and I could never work out the flight dynamics of these birds although I studied aerodynamics closely when, as a youngster, I wanted to become a pilot and Auguste knew very well how wind acted on a sail. The kelp gulls, Larus dominicanus, that fly past me have a wingspan of about 1-1.2 meters and can’t weigh much more than 3kgs and if you work out the aerodynamics as you would do on a glider they can’t fly into a gale of wind at the same speed as the gale with immovable wings and without losing height. Yet, they do it, without any fuss at all and I think they like doing it.

Their brain can’t be much bigger than a brown bean but at more than a kilometre a minute they see and react with far greater efficiency than us slow land creatures.

Nor should we forget that, with the combined speeds of bird and wind, that bird is tearing into a 120km gale but you as can see on that rather bad photo I took that he or she is cool, calm and collected.

I read the story of a sophisticated chap that kept homing pigeons and who asked a physics professor to explain these birds’ remarkable performances, not so much the homing part but the physical flying part. The professor went about it very carefully and it took him more than six months to come to some kind of evaluation. He measured flying distances, speed of the bird, prevailing winds and temperatures, weight of the bird and its food intake. Anything that could be measured, was measured. At last he revealed the result of his calculations to the pigeon keeper. “John,” he said, “that bird that we took out yesterday for a flight of 120 km is one of your best birds, isn’t she? How is she today?”  “Fine,” said John, “chirpy and she had a good go at her food.” “That doesn’t surprise me,” sighed the prof, “you know that I measured the weight of that bird at 1220 grams before she started her flight. My calculations now show that when she arrived back at your place yesterday afternoon she should have weighed minus 114 grams. I just don’t know how these bloody birds do it, John”.

This is a true story and it shows us how little we know about the life that flies, crawls, creeps or runs around is. Yet, there are plenty of clever people about but they seem to be in the minority. Electricity has been known as a physical phenomena for about two centuries but no one really knows what it is. Flow of electrons, blah blah … even the clever fellows can’t really make it out because then they would have been able to stock the stuff. After 150 years of trying to make a battery to keep in reserve those unseen electrons, the result is still pitiful. However, bunches of politicians and publicity fellows jubilate when a carmaker produces an electric GREEN car for a mere $45 000 and the useless thing can’t go further than 150km on one charge. If you had filled the space that the battery takes up with petrol or diesel fuel and a well-designed engine, that car could have rolled for around 20 000km! That green car is pitch black when you know what materials have gone into its construction. But our world is more and more ballsed up by the politicians, some pretend to know about photovoltaic sun panels, the love beastie of the greens, to produce our electricity. Anyone who has even vaguely studied the laws of thermodynamics, in particular the second law, should know that such panels will never supply a country with sustainable energy. The things cost more to produce and to operate than they can ever produce.

Tell that to the politicians, who hide the real financial figures with subsidies stolen from taxpayers. Also, why are the shares of quite a few solar panel factories in diving mode?

Wind power I won’t discuss here although I know a fair amount about its power having used it a lot at sea.

But here’s a grand idea for the Europeans whose sole claim to fame for the last 60 years has been to impoverish their welfare countries into bankruptcy.                                                                                   
Dam the Straights of Gibraltar!

The in-and outflow between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean is such a colossal quantity of water, more than thousands of Niagaras, that most of Europe and North Africa could be powered by such a dam. It as been done on a modest scale by the French at the mouth of the Rance river near St Malo and it works fine. A large lock must be constructed for shipping. The narrowest opening between the two seas is about 14km with a depth of less than 400 metres and although we may not understand what electricity is, we know how to use it and I think our engineers can build that dam. For obvious reasons it might be a good idea to keep the top of that dam 10 metres below sea level without diminishing its efficiency.


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