August 10, 2008

Why Not Return to Sail Power?

I was reading the biography of the great engineer Sir Harry Ricardo and I reached the point where he started his first commercial venture in production of a car in 1907.

For various reasons, which had nothing to do with the technical merits of the car itself, the venture was not a success.

The engine, however, of the car was seized on by that fisherman of Shoreham-on-Sea, where it was produced, as a particularly suitable power unit for their fishing boats as it provided sufficient power to overcome the five-knot tide when returning to harbour with their catch and could idle economically at just 120rpm for hours just keeping the nets extended.

At the moment, all over Europe, the fishermen have been complaining about the increase in the cost of fuel making the fishing industry unsustainable. The point that I wish to make is that until early in the 1900s the fishing smacks had to rely entirely on wind to ply their trade.

The biography states that steam power was not found to be suitable but, of course, I would not be at all surprised if some local historian writes to inform us that there were small fishing boats employing steam propulsion operating out of Brixham or Dartmouth before the internal combustion engine replaced them.

I am curious as to why, with the price of fuel being as high as it is at the present time, there is not a return to the use of sail power when fishing. Some would say that the use of the sail is not viable for fishing but, in reply to that, I would draw your attention to the life of Brixham's beloved 'Vigilance'.

This boat was built in 1926 but it did not have an engine installed until about 1939. So 'Vigilance' paid her way fishing for some 12 years without an auxiliary engine.

I am not for one moment suggesting that working boats should return to the practice of putting to sea without an auxiliary motor as the engine is so useful in operating in confined waters in adverse conditions and, of course, improved safety for the crew.

I am suggesting, however, that sails could be used when conditions are suitable in open water as this is what my grandfather would do when I spent my holidays with him just before the war.

My grandfather was a fisherman fishing out of Lympstone and Topsham and when he took me fishing as a young boy the engine was used to get us into open water and then we fished under sail.

About some 30 years ago a gentleman attempted to interest me in the purchase of shares in a company that he was forming to use sail power for the transportation of goods.

I think that this company had its base in the West Country somewhere. I believe that the company went bankrupt after a few years. This particular company was formed in response to the full shortage when the oil-producing nations suddenly increased the price of furl in the early 1970s.

On that occasion pumps ran dry throughout the country. I and many others are justifiably angry that the government did not learn from this experience and, under the influence of various protest groups, successive governments have let the country remain so dependent on fossil fuels.

I also feel strongly that we should leave some of our natural reserves for our children and so far the only idea that the government can come up with is to ration by price. I think that most will agree that this is a very poor, unfair system but I suppose that it is better than nothing.

We do not want to squander our oil reserves like we have our gas reserves, which are running out fast so that we now have to pay the same for our gas as other European powers and we can all feel the pain of that.

At the moment it is under consideration for the construction of expensive wind generators in coastal waters to harvest the power of the unobstructed wind to produce electricity without the use of scarce and expensive fuel. But in close proximity a fishing boat is using up fuel to catch fish when, for hundreds of years, they caught fish without the use of our limited fuel reserves. This seems a bit silly to me.


Oakland Road

Newton Abbot

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