Challenge Day 4: Wednesday
The part for the battery safety system arrives. I solder it in. It works.
We have a new observer today: we traded out our last one at the checkpoint.
James from Tritium has given me some solder flux and some hints on resoldering fine surface-mount components. I reflow solder on the bits of the driver controls board that I've not yet tackled.
We get another new observer: another team have left the Alice Springs checkpoint without one, and WSC send a vehicle to our caravan park to take our observer to chase them down, and drop us off a temporary replacement.
We take the car for a flog around the Mac Donnel Ranges caravan park's little service roads. It works. The problem with the driver controls board fails to exhibit itself.
In the afternoon, John goes into the Alice Springs control stop. The entire control stop, much bigger than any other because of the externally-imposed requirement to hold cars here, continues to be a giant temple to Eris, goddess of chaos, confusion and discord. He's going in to check that we really will be held here until 5pm this afternoon (which is to say 8am tomorrow, because there's no solaring between 5pm and 8am). He finds that the control stop have changed their mind: another car that has trailered has already been allowed to leave. And they haven't told us, until we actively chased them down and asked them about it. He phones us, but we figure out that by the time we get the car in the trailer, to the check point and out of the trailer again, we'd get maybe 10 minutes of solaring before the end of the day. So we sit.
We get another trade-out of our observer. That's three we've had today; four since our team has moved at all.
Challenge Day 5: Thursday
We take our car back to the Alice Springs control stop, in preparation for our 8am start. Several teams are still camped here, Heliodet and Willetton among them. I chat with Willetton for a bit.
A few minutes before 8am, we're on the line. We turn the motor controller on. It doesn't go.
All my reflowing of solder and test driving at the caravan park has been to no avail. We strap a couple of cable ties around it, restart it, and it goes.
We solar out of town, and onwards the whole day. We finish at what the route notes tell us is the turn-off to Granite Downs homestead, after 406km of solaring, with a dead flat battery. We do the dusk charge, facing the array to the setting sun.
Mysteriously, the driver controls (and the entire rest of the car) have given us no trouble whatsoever since we started rolling.
The local copper stops by and trades phone numbers with us, giving us his home number against the possibility of us running into trouble. We camp, in the exact geographic centre of nowhere.
Challenge Day 6: Friday
Dawn charge, and then out on the road. After a few hours, we solar into Cadney homestead to serve our half hour at the control stop. This is the first time the Leeming team has solared all the way from one control stop to another. There are several other teams here, including Heliodet and Queens.
The homestead roadhouse is flat out serving lunches to the teams coming through; we just manage to get our lunches within our 30 minute limit. As soon as we are released, we zip over to the free air to inflate our tyres. Steve crawls around under the vehicle -- the wheels have been assembled with the valves on the inside face, and so a certain amount of grovelling is necessary to get an air hose onto the valve.
We solar out. Further down the road we run into a problem: a road train with an unusually large profile goes past unusually fast, and the bottom edge of the windscreen blows in. The driver pushes it approximately back into place, and we are able to continue a short distance to find a suitable place to pull over to repair. When we pull over we discover that the lead vehicle has a flat tyre. Half of us pop the windscreen back into place and gaffer tape and screw it in position, and half of us change the tyre. 18 minutes later, we're going again.
We continue past Coober Pedy, with the battery mysteriously refusing to go flat. We score 327 solar kilometres for the day, do the dusk charge, and trailer back to Coober Pedy for the night.
We stay at the same underground backpackers we stayed at in 2005; we eat at the same pizza shop we ate at in 2005. At the next table are some German and Dutch guys; it turns out that we've seen them several times on the road. They're motorbiking south along the Stuart highway at vaguely the same average speed as us, and they've given us a wave each time they've passed.
Challenge Day 7: Saturday
The lead vehicle, with the solar car in the trailer, leaves early and heads back to the point we finished solaring last night, 56km south of Coober Pedy. We set up to charge, but it's cloudy and windy. We get about 0.8A coming in, a tenth or so of peak.
We set out with a heavy tail wind. This saves us some energy, but the car is difficult to position on the road, and there's a lot of dust whipping up. With the cloud, we're only getting about a quarter of full sun. Weather forecasts are for cloud, cloud, cloud, with rain and possible thunder further south.
For the first time we're forced to put people outside the car whenever we're stationary: if the wind catches the hammerhead front that we lift to get the driver in and out, then it will flip up and forward, and destroy our front array. We had a latch mechanism, but it was destroyed in shipping to Darwin. So we hold it down when stationary, and improvise a piece of rope that the driver sits on to keep it down when driving.
We "solar" as far as the Glendambo control stop, though there's not a lot of sun involved. The dust continues to blow up; at one point we lose sight of the lead vehicle a couple of hundred metres in front of us.
At Glendambo, we concede defeat: the sky is getting dustier and the cloud is unrelenting. At the end of our 30 minutes, we put the car in the trailer, and drive on fossil fuel to Port Augusta. By the side of the road, we see other teams coming to the same conclusion: U Chile, Heliodet, Solar Fox. Under a thousand kilometres of dust and cloud, there's nowhere to go.
We trailer south, and the sky gets worse. We trailer past Malaysia and Gwawr doggedly refusing to give up: solaring ever slower as the batteries go flat.
At the Port Augusta control stop we are told that the Challenge has been called: the weather is too severe. Our observer, a local farmer, says he's never seen it worse.
We trailer to Port Pirie, seeking accomodation. Brown rain falls. Port Pirie is full, booked out by two weddings, so we trailer to Adelaide.
50km out, we come across the Willetton team pulled over: the draw bar on the Sungroper trailer has broken almost all the way through. We help them push it clear of the road, and loan them some tools. Phone and radio calls are made back and forth, and two Leeming staff who are meeting us in Adelaide find overnight accomodation for the Willetton team, to get them out of the storm.
We arrive, and do logistics. A new tram line has gone in in Adelaide, and the resulting string of "no right turn" signs mean that we take the very long way around to our accomodation. We're actually split across two backpackers: everywhere is full of solar car teams who got here before us. Nine of us stay at the first one, and the rest of us haul luggage a kilometre or so through the rain to the second one.
-- Doug, Leeming Hammerhead.
Note that links in blog entries are not maintained, so while a link may be verified to work on the day of publishing, this is not guaranteed beyond that day.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Challenge Day 4: Wednesday