Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 31 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 31 -- Juice
Tommy sat up from his rest and looked at his watch.
“Would someone please get the wheel?”
Marvin dashed back and turned off the engine. “Sorry.”
He smiled at Bree. “Actually, I am pleased. Since we started this trip, it’s been a nagging worry that if I fell overboard, no one would know what to do. I’d drown and you’d run the Marissa onto the rocks.”
He picked up the lifejacket and draped it over the railing to dry out. “And we didn’t lose this, which I wasn’t at all sure about.”
“So? Did we pass?”
He tilted his head in thought. “Not bad, considering your experience level, but considering that ‘I’ was in the water for nearly twenty minutes, and that it was blind luck, rather than a good search pattern that ‘I’ was found at all, I’d hardly call it a passing grade.”
“But it’s not fair! You didn’t teach us what to do!”
He nodded. “Right. Let’s do that now.”
Twenty minutes of intense observation had given him a checklist. And both Bree and Marvin were very focused on learning -- after the experience.
He told them about marking the spot. A button on the GPS, pressed twice, put a man-overboard marker on the screen. Tommy pointed at the blinking MOB label. “Make that your first order of business. Unless you’re in a raging storm, the ship is very forgiving. You won’t swamp her. But if you lose sight of the victim, especially at night, you won’t ever get a second chance.
“And look at this.” He pointed at the trace the GPS had made of their path, an erratic loop out and back. “Neither of you looked at the marking of where we’d been. You should have retraced this path closely. ‘I’ wouldn’t have drifted too far off of this line.”
He commended Marvin for dropping the sails. They just didn’t have the experience for making sharp turns under sail. “But you, rather than Bree, should have been the one making the recovery. If it had been me, rather than a lightweight jacket, she’d never been able to pull me in. 
“As it was, she could have gone in the drink herself. In bad weather, you might have followed her, trying that diving rescue. What then? Wait until Marilu realized she was the only one left on board -- totally untrained and having no idea where everyone went?”
He could tell that went straight to the gut. Both of their faces had the same drawn expression as the idea hit home.
He covered more details, praising as often as he could.
And then he told them the story of when Nick did the same thing to him. “We were on our old boat. It was a smaller and rode lower in the water.” He gave them a good tale, and they all had a good laugh at his expense.
Wet and exhausted, Bree went below to dry off and he took over, putting them back on course for Muskegon. They’d lost a lot of travel time, and he wanted to make anchor by sunset.
Marvin asked, “How did Bree do, really?”
Tommy shrugged. “Not bad. I’d planned to put you through this eventually, but she was bragging on her skills and the time seemed right. She fumbled badly, but the smartest thing she did was ask for help. That’s where I messed up when I was a kid. It was an emergency situation -- not a school quiz. Nobody said you had to do everything yourself.”
Marvin seemed satisfied with that.
After a lunch of grilled ham and cheese on rye, Tommy let Marvin handle the wheel, and finally began asking questions that had nagged at him since his discovery the night before.
“Marvin? You said you were ‘advanced electronics’. What does that mean?”
Even now, the man struggled with talking about it.
“Oh, there were a lot of things. Some of them were pretty weird, things that would need another ten years to ever make into a commercial product.”
“But there were others?” he prompted.
Marvin nodded. “Yeah.” He sailed in silence for a minute. “A couple of them were revolutionary.”
“Like what?”
“Like a battery beyond anything on the market. Like a superconductive motor that was... it was just breathtaking.”
“Batteries? I bet Nick had uses for those.”
“Oh, you bet. Once we made the first prototype, Nick changed all my priorities. He had to get a limited run in production. He had plans, he said.”
“What made it so good? Better efficiency? How much better than, say a Lithium-Ion?”
Marvin laughed at the comparison. “Efficiency? How about in the high 99’s? But that wasn’t even the most important thing.
“Think energy density.”
Marvin almost forgot he was sailing. He waved his hands as he explained.
“You know the chemistry of a battery, right?”
Tommy nodded. “Roughly. Dissimilar electrodes in a solution or paste. The chemical reactions drive ions to the appropriate electrodes.”
“Okay, what about fuel cells?”
“Hmm. I guess, pretty much the same, except the working solution is replenished as a fuel. I’ve heard of hydrogen and various gasses like methane.”
“Good. Okay, what about hydrogen storage?”
“Um. I’ve heard carbon nanotubes mentioned, but it was just in one of Nick’s high-tech car magazines.”
“So you know the basics already. We took several different discoveries from the archives and put them together to make a super battery -- or super fuel cell if you’d rather.
“It’s a hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell with an embedded matrix of titanium-doped carbon nanotubes. In effect, the fuel cell’s fuel tank is inside the cell. Sitting on the shelf, storing only the hydrogen, it’s got an energy capacity well beyond any other chemical based storage system.”
“Oxygen from the air?”
“Right. It produces water as it runs, of course.
“And what’s most exciting -- it can act as a rechargeable battery. Run electricity into it, and assuming there is pure water available, it’ll recharge the hydrogen matrix in place.”
Tommy stood up. “Hang on a minute.”
He went below, and when he came back, he was carrying a glossy black object about the size of a brick.
“Is this one of them?”
“Yes! Where did you get one of my batteries?”
“Down below, in storage. It’s a spare. You know the Marissa’s engine is a hybrid electric didn’t you? Nick used these for the batteries.”
Marvin was ready to drop anchor and crawl down below with him to see it.
Tommy shook his head. “Are you sure you want to see? There’s more down there than batteries. I’d love to pick your brain, but think about it. You said Nick kept a lot of stuff compartmented away. Do you really want to know everything?”
Marvin’s enthusiasm sagged at the question. He looked down at the deck. “No! I wish I didn’t know any of this stuff. It’s been nothing but disaster for me and my family.”
“That’s why I asked. I’m in this for the long haul. Nick asked me, and I’m doing it. But you and your family are different. In a few days, you’ll go ashore and into your new life.”
Marvin nodded, “And the more I know, the more the risk.” He looked at Tommy, straight in the eye. “We’re still keeping secrets, aren’t we?”
Tommy gave a little nod. Marvin sighed.
“Then I’ll stay up here and hold the wheel. It’s a nice day out, isn’t it?”
Tommy took the battery back below. There was a lot left unsaid.
If they catch me and drug me, I’ll be able to tell them that Marvin only knows about the batteries that he invented, and his family knows nothing.
But there was no protection at all for him.
They talked more.
“No. I had no idea why he wanted so many of the batteries in that first production run. I suspected Nick was going to install them in his car. There were plenty of test projects he could have done. I certainly had no idea he had a Sterling hybrid on his boat.” He chuckled at that.
Tommy had a lot to think about.
“Marvin. Put it on autopilot for a minute and come help me with the dinghy.”
They propped the little boat against the railing. All this talk about batteries had brought it to mind.
Tommy opened up the standard red and white waterproof container that contained the dinghy’s battery.
“Look what we have here.” Marvin commented, as the lid came off. Instead of the heavy lead-acid marine battery that used to run the electric trolling motor, there was a pair of the glossy black bricks wired in its place.
“See here.” He pointed at a thin little water hose. “He’s set up a reservoir of distilled water, so they’ll recharge like the standard battery they replaced.”
He ran his fingers over the heavy 8-gauge wire that ran to the motor.
“You mind?” he asked.
“Go for it.”
They took the housing off the control box, but it wasn’t factory Minn Kona insides.
“And I bet the windings in the motors are all hand wound as well.”
“Tell me.”
Marvin grinned. “This little boat of yours can probably outrun anything in the harbor, if the props don’t tear themselves apart from the force.
“You’ve got a superconductive motor that can take any amount of current you can dump into it. And that’s hooked to my super batteries that can give it a good run for the money.
“See here.” He tapped a slide switch that was concealed under the edge of the housing. “If you slide it forward, the motor will loaf along, pretending to be a standard fisherman’s motor. Slide it back, and you can dump the full power of the batteries into it.”
Tommy laughed hesitantly. “I’m glad I didn’t switch it on by accident.” He remembered the jagged rocks at the Racine jetty.
They put it back together. Tommy checked the water level and made sure the charging cord was still connected. He just might need that speed someday.
“I wonder.” He went to the motorcycle and unscrewed the mounting bracket holding its battery.
“Sorry, Tommy.” Marvin watched over his shoulder. “Standard Nickel-Metal Hydride. Respectable, but not a super battery.”
He nodded. I knew that. It had given out on me. But with so much hiding under a false skin around here, he had to check.
“Hey! Who’s driving the boat?” Bree appeared at the hatchway.
“Sorry! Just checking out Tommy’s motorcycle.”
Bree went to the wheel, clucking at them as she checked the settings and turned off the autopilot. By the time they’d put the motorcycle back together, she’d trimmed the sails and added a notch to their speed.
The wind died down all afternoon, and Tommy seriously considered dropping the sails, but they made it to Muskegon shortly after sunset. He was tempted to anchor inside the breakwater, or even move into Muskegon Lake, but in spite of the Reprisal’s new markings, he wasn’t willing to deal with harbormasters or neighbors anchored close enough to see and remember faces.
His passengers had gotten used to the lake’s waves and it looked to be a very calm night.
After supper, he sat up on deck and monitored the weather on the radio. Winds would be different for the next few days. He pulled out the charts.
“Hi! What’cha doin’?”
He waved to the bench. Bree plopped down and crossed her legs on the stern rail, right in his line of sight.
“We’re going to get some good winds from the south for the next couple of days. I’m just checking our course.”
“Oh.” She seemed content to watch him work.
He estimated distances by the navigation lights, using the flashlight to read fine print. Travel by sail was so slow compared to plane or car. It was a completely different mindset. Miles were important -- things to be earned, not just transient numbers on the odometer.
But it was a different world, and that was probably the only reason the company hadn’t caught them by now. They were living at a different pace, and it made them invisible to their hunters racing past.
“Hey! What’s that?” She sat up. Staring off into the lake.
He looked up. Lights from a boat were approaching. It was a big boat, and very fast.

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