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Rough Science 2 Carriacou: Mike Leahy's diary: Time and transmitters

Updated Monday, 28th January 2008

You can use water for telling the time - but it's not so easy when trying to do it against the clock.

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Day 1

Coke, lines, razors and bongs

The challenge - clocks. Could be boring. Mike B and I decided that we would have a laugh and got stuck in - calabashes, sundials, water, compasses, the lot. We wanted to make something that would work, but with an element of humour.

Why equinoctial? Why a syphon? Why not a mechanised wrist watch? I'll explain later. I had the mother of all hangovers but tea and cola - spot on.

Day 2

It nearly goes Cyrano de Bergerac.

Because we had been filming late the previous evening Mike B, myself and the crew left at about 8.30am for the lime factory - a gorgeous lie in which was needed because of the racket made by a regatta party the previous night at the hotel.

Our first job was to lift a huge barrel up onto the top of the lime juice making machine. At first, I thought it was a mad idea but I could see the funny side so we decided to have a go at it. This would need the whole team and Sarah, the director, said that I should take charge of the project. I really wasn't confident about this because the other members of the team can be real 'loose cannons' and Ellen in particular will never do as she is asked.

We set up ropes so that we could lift the barrel and it all went very smoothly at first. In fact, the barrel must have been in position within a minute at most. Up until now the only problem had been the normal fighting for attention among the other contributors who all (Mikey B apart) wanted to be in the camera shot. Ellen wanted to climb up the Dr Zeus machine but there really was no need. I asked her to pull on the rope with J, Kathy and Kate but she wasn't at all pleased. Sarah began to become irritated because no-one ever did what they were asked and everyone seemed to have better ideas and all of them wanted to be heard - bedlam.

Then things began to go pear-shaped. One of the big wooden beams that held the tank up became dislodged. It was still hanging up there but Mikey B, who was at the top, looked to be in a perilous position. We had a very quick debate and I asked Jonathan and Kathy, both good climbers, to lend a hand while Ellen and Kate held the ropes. They climbed parallel to the beam and tried to pull the beam back in place with rope - no good. Eventually, the beam fell and we were stuffed.

More to the point, Ellen who thought that she should have been consulted more, got a strop on. She later claimed that it was because she was worried about safety but it really appeared to be because she had been told what to do by Sarah and hadn't been doing much for the cameras.

Trigger designs - nightmare. It's very difficult to get them to work efficiently with all this friction. Wood and six inch nails don't compare to 17 jewel actions on Swiss watches.

Day 3

Mouth ulcer hurts - no beer for two days.

Task 1: calibrate water clock - tedious.

Had fun filming but Paul swallowed some foul water getting a syphon going - it was full of Rasta pee. Put up two further tracks for the coconuts. Mike B sings "I've got a lovely pair of coconuts". It's all very silly and damn hot. I begin to feel a bit nauseous from the heat. Thank God for tea and cola. Mike B and I did a silly mad professor scene. It looked pretty cool but I felt a little uncomfortable doing it. The clock seems to be working OK and everyone is getting on fine. Ellen's kite won't quite fly, the transmitter transmits, but only 10 to 15 feet, and the clock, whilst working in theory, doesn't tell the time. That's the beauty of edit suites.

Q. Why an equinoctial sundial?
A. Sundials, like the ones often found in gardens - have unequal gaps between the shadow cast each hour. If we make sure that the gnomen (pointer) is aimed at the North Star and we use a ring to read the time which is positioned at the same angle as the equator of the earth, the gaps between the shadow cast each hour will be equal. Cool!

Q. Why use a syphon rather than punching a hole in the bottom of the top barrel?
A. If we use a syphon the flow is determined purely by the height that the water falls regardless of how full the top barrel is.

Q. Why not make a mechanical wrist watch?
A. Too bloody difficult with stone-aged technology.


No vice, no decent metal drill = bloody nightmare, especially in the heat. The humidity makes everything so hard, and the filming makes work even harder. I get dizzy and because I am nervous of heights and Mike B is a good climber so he works 'up top' in the main. There was potential for a real disaster.

It appears that my dizziness wasn't just the heat - I'm rough. Even so, it's great fun working with Mikey B. As we continue to make rails for calabashes and coconuts, boats sail and motor past on their return trip from the regatta. We try to roll a coconut all the way down a set of rails again but as it hits one of the joints in the bamboo, it falls to the ground. By the end of the afternoon over a dozen coconuts are broken but the unexpected feast is popular with the rest of the team and crew. In order to make a side rail, a bit like a banister, to keep the coconuts on the straight and narrow I try to cut the stems off the side of another piece of bamboo.

There's no vice so I try to wedge the stuff in the Zeus machine. It all goes OK until I get loads of sharp bamboo sawdust in my eyes. Agony for half an hour as I try to wash it out using drinking water. Finally, can see again. I have never missed anything as much as a vice - G.cramps don't come close and I've risked my fingers/eyes/legs once too often. Last series I ran a drill into my hand because we had no vice. I don't want a repeat. Mind you, that's the least of my worries after the beam fell down and the filthy water we use for siphoning is even more of a risk (as I was later to find out).

Kate told us how we were going to use our 'inventions'. At 3pm I was to use my 'moderately' accurate wrist watch to tell Kathy and Ellen the time. Then Ellen would fly her kite (which didn't fly so was held up with bamboo) to alert J and Kate (who were all of 30 metres away) to receive a message. At the same time Mkey B could tell the pair because the water clock should chime 3pm.

It all sort of worked after a lot of panicking. Initially, both transmitter and receiver failed - they were notoriously moody but finally Kathy got the message through: daah dit daah daah dit did dit dit. YES. At last it worked. The water clock was iffy because of the difficulty in making a decent 'trip' mechanism at height and because we didn't have enough time to calibrate it.

The kite was erratic, but the solar clock, solar watch, transmitter and receiver all went well enough. Even so, the range of the transmitter and the poxy local Christian radio station which interfered with our signal rendered the transmitter more or less useless. It definitely highlighted the difficulties faced by the early scientists.





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