Ruling The Waves
The East Yorkshire seaside resort of Bridlington was today the scene of the latest experiment conducted by the redoubtable Sheffield engineer and inventor, Kevin Spout. This time he has turned his attention to seafaring matters, hence the coastal venue. Once again, a number of representatives of the media had been invited, among them Madazine’s science reporter, Axel Griess. Many local people also attended, hopeful of seeing something spectacular.
Before carrying out the trial, Kevin explained the train of thought that led to it. He said that he had been wondering for some time why it takes so long for ships to get from one place to another. In particular, he had been thinking of the time, some years ago, when he crossed the North Sea from Hull to Rotterdam. “It took ages,” he groaned. “I embarked at about six o’clock one evening and reached my destination at eight the following morning. I found that ridiculous then and I still do, but I’ve only recently been able to deal with the matter.”
Spectators were then asked to examine the result of Kevin’s work. This took the form of an open sailing boat, fifteen feet long. The mast and rigging had been removed and Kevin had fitted to the flat stern two rocket engines, designed and manufactured by himself. They were mounted in parallel, port and starboard, above the rudder. He has plans for much larger vessels, including freighters of several thousand tons, and he claims that there is no obvious limit in terms of size.
When he first announced what he proposed to do, Kevin attracted some scepticism from several marine engineers, perhaps foremost among them being leading German expert Hans Poopdecker. “I cringe in anticipation,” he said. “Mr Spout declares that he wishes to demonstrate that Britain still rules the waves. He is more likely to show that it waives the rules. How is one of his contraptions going to cope with forty-foot Atlantic rollers?” Kevin dismissed this pessimism, saying that he has studied oceanic conditions and that the ships he intends to produce will cut through the billows like knives through butter.
After the public inspection, Kevin continued his address, saying that one of the biggest problems confronting rocket engineers is throttling. Traditionally, their machines were either on at full power or off completely. He added that some progress had been made by large companies in recent years, but that he was far ahead of the field, in that he had perfected a system by which his engines can be controlled to any desired level of output, from very low up to maximum.
With regard to fuel, Kevin said he had opted to use a liquid oxygen/methane combination favoured by some experts for a Mars mission, but had added ‘a touch of Spout magic’ which ensured that his engines greatly outstripped the performance achieved by anyone else. He claimed that he had demonstrated this to his own satisfaction with extensive bench testing. When asked to disclose details concerning the nozzle exhaust velocity his method had attained, he declined, saying that such information is vital and might be helpful to anyone wishing to emulate his results.
For the maiden voyage of his craft, Kevin had decided to travel alone. The boat was towed to a spot just outside the harbour mouth. Having satisfied himself that his course was set for the European mainland, Kevin opened the propellant and oxidant feed lines and, with a cry of “Holland, here I come,” he pressed the starter buttons for the two engines.
What happened next will long be remembered by those who witnessed it. The boat zoomed off – in circles. Close observers noticed that the starboard engine had blazed into life, but that the port one had not. After the craft had, so to speak, chased its own tail for about a dozen rotations, Kevin got the recalcitrant unit going, albeit at far less than full thrust. This resulted in the boat moving in a tight arc. It hurtled towards Sewerby Head, a mile or so from the harbour, with Kevin trying to get control. He failed, and with the vessel heading for disaster, he leapt into the sea. The boat sped on, hitting the foot of a cliff and disintegrating into what one onlooker described as pieces the size of confetti.
As soon he had been hauled ashore and changed his clothes, Kevin conducted an inquiry. Within minutes, he was able give a summary of what had occurred. “There were two problems,” he said. “First, I gave my cousin Donald the task of ensuring that the feed lines to the engines were clear. I had devised a special tool for this operation, but Donald mislaid it after using it on the starboard side. He concluded that he would have to improvise and as he is a smoker, he tied together a number of the cleaners with which he rods out his pipes. After using them, he forgot to pull them out of the port fuel tube. When the propellant began to flow, it caused the cleaners, which are of cotton-covered wire, to wad up and block the flow. Eventually there was a partial clearance, which explains why the port engine operated at reduced power.
“The second point was that pressure and downdraught from the starboard engine forced the rudder leftwards, so the boat’s motion was circular until the port engine began to fire. When that happened, there was still a strong bias from the starboard side, so the course changed to a curve, as you saw. I was unable to correct the snag in the short time available. Overall, having established what went wrong, I regard the test as a qualified success.”
Madazine’s Axel Griess gave his brief and scathing opinion of the proceedings, saying: “I was not surprised to see Kevin going round in circles, nor was I taken aback by his being completely at sea.”
A date for the next trial has not yet been fixed.
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