Tuesday, 7 July 2009

We did mean to go to sea

Recently at bedtime I've been reading my son Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, in particular the excellent "We didn't mean to go to sea". The four children go on a sailing trip in the care of Jim, an experienced sailor aged 17. Jim moors them in the mouth of the River Orwell, rows off to get some petrol for the engine ... and doesn't come back. Fog descends, the anchor starts to drag, and before they know it the children are fighting to get the yacht under control as they drift past "Beach End Buoy" into the North Sea with a storm rising. Exciting stuff!

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend sailing in the North Sea, and around the Rivers Orwell and Stour, which is the setting of the book. We saw the buoy and we even saw Arthur Ransome's yacht "Nancy Blackett", which inspired the story, sailing past us - it's now owned by a trust.

The mouth of the river is bracketed by the busy container port of Felixstowe and the old port of Harwich, and on Felixstowe docks I was intrigued to see a pile of wind farm pillars and turbine blades stacked ready for installation. We then sailed south down the coast close to the Gunfleet Sands Offshore Wind Farm, where 48 turbines are being installed.

The process is fascinating to watch. A massive floating platform called the Titan 2 is used to ferry the parts out to sea and then fix them to the sea bed. Self-powered, it can manoeuvre in any direction, and when it reaches the destination it lowers its legs onto the sea floor, raising it up into a stable platform, from which its cranes can lower the parts and assemble them. I was told that a sister ship capsized and sunk in high seas a few years ago - it must be extremely unstable with the legs all lifted - although I admit I haven't been able to verify this story!

These turbines are HUGE - and when the entire farm of 48 turbines is fully operational (summer of 2010), they will deliver enough power for 120,000 homes. It's at once very exciting to see some real action on delivering renewables, and yet also puts it into perspective that this will provide less than 0.5% of our domestic requirements. Still, it's a start, and it shows leadership. More please!