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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The End of Amphibear Journey

We have reached some of the most beautiful lakes in the world, which are situated near the Argentina-Chile border. We prepared the car to be launched into water. Here we had the opportunity to cross the border by travelling from one lake to another, as it can be done only with an amphibious car. This is the southernmost place where we planned to go and one of the highlights of the trip. I decided to check my emails once more before launching onto the water. Perhaps the Canadian pontoon manufacturer has informed us of the precise schedule of the production of pontoons.
I had indeed received an email. The email stated that they agree to manufacture pontoons only if I submit a type approval of a modified and strengthened version of the pontoon suitable for open water use. In actuality, their pontoons are meant only to be used close to the shore. Granting such an approval is impossible keeping in mind the content, the financial side and the schedule. The pontoon manufacturer is probably aware of this too. From their lengthy letter it can be deduced that they do not dare to produce and purvey the pontoons as they fear the potential liability. Obviously, I have the opposite opinion - they would be liable for leaving me stranded with broken pontoons. In order to avoid remaining too general in the eyes of supporters and followers, here are some extracts from our correspondence (names have been excluded).
Before the trip I asked the manufacturer if my pontoons would hold out, 16/10/2013:
As aluminium welding does not tolerate vibration, or repeated bending forces, some engineers have proposed it can crack as a result of repeated wave forces (develop micro cracks that later lead to a structural break in a pontoon). But practise is usually a better criteria – have you ever had these kind of issues over the years, that welding between pontoon chambers will crack eventually as the result of lengthy use of a boat?
I had previously approached them with an overview of the journey and an application for sponsorship, so they knew what was under discussion. The manufacturer's answer to my question: 16/10/2013:
In 14 years of supplying our pontoons we have never had a warranty claim on any of our pontoons and I have never heard of any structural cracks of the welds in the baffles. 
Vibration is the big enemy of aluminium welds and most of this type of damage occurs when transporting / trailering the boat or lifting the boat with a fork lift and then having it drop. For your application, I am very confident that the welded baffles will not be an issue. 
We started the specification and production planning of pontoons in the beginning of January. At first, everything went smoothly, but now we are suddenly presented with new information and a new viewpoint. Extract from an email, 15/02/2014:
Round aluminium pontoons are not meant for open water use and are only meant for use within one nautical mile from shore in open water. I know and understand that vessels that are privately owned for personal use do get used in open water conditions but it should be determined if your vessel is for private or commercial use. It might be determined it is for Commercial use. 
For a Commercial application like your application, the vessel gets evaluated under a different ISO standard.
The stricter operating conditions for commercial vessels operating in open water have to meet such restrictions as.....
~ being able to operate safely in wave heights up to 2m
~ being able to withstand wind speeds up to 33 knots for example and there are also limitations on class of voyage
Round pontoons do not meet these conditions. 
An extract from another email, 16/02/2014:
My main fear is liability against (pontoon producer name) and I understand very well what you are attempting to achieve and I respect your decision. It has nothing to do about me blaming anyone, or any project management decisions past or present and it is everything to do with moving forward safely. 
That is also another type of fear and that is fear of knowing beforehand that our round pontoons are going to be used for a Commercial application where our present round pontoons do not meet the ISO standards. You or I don't need any help from a Naval Architect or Marine Engineer to tell us that is not a good idea with regards to protecting (producer name) from liability.
Additionally, today's correspondence conveyed clearly that the experts who helped me are not considered competent and, for safety reasons, they are not willing to manufacture the pontoons on the basis of the specifications, since I have not submitted new drawings that would meet the requirements. There is no point in referencing from that email, it does not add anything here.
All in all, the manufacturer is afraid of responsibility and is not willing to purvey pontoons, unless a marine engineer has submitted drawings and thereby taken the responsibility upon themselves. Unfortunately, in Europe such type approval is the responsibility of the manufacturer and it cannot be delegated to someone else. Thus, I do not know of a way to provide the necessary documents, even though I have received qualified help when it comes to the strength calculations of the new pontoons.
It is not hard to guess how I feel when announcing that this journey will be not completed. There is a possibility that we will find an alternative manufacturer, who can make the pontoons by focusing on the content instead of the juridical aspect. We need them in Peru by the end of March. This means that there is very little time. This also means that it is unlikely to find a suitable manufacturer in the Northern hemisphere. However, I do not even know who to ask in the Southern hemisphere. Over here, the end of March might mean the end of April in some cases, and this would not work.
We decided not to go to the most beautiful lakes of the world. Although, this is why we left the old pontoons attached. But if some chance of manufacturing remains, we must have access to email, even though there might not even be any mobile reception in the mountains and on the lakes near the border. Furthermore, Peter has to be taken to Cusco in ten days for his flight, and it is necessary to start thinking of ways to somehow get Amphibear back to Estonia. And to be honest, this kind of information overshadows the beauty of these lakes.
Amphibear travelled over three continents and crossed the Atlantic from St. Louis to Praia without a hitch. It is probably the first amphibian built on a base of a conventional car to accomplish this. That is an achievement in itself, although, it makes up only a fraction of the initial plan.
This does not bring the blogging to an end as there are a couple of posts about South America waiting for their turn (i.e. availability of time and Internet access). Additionally, it is quite tricky to transport Amphibear home without the cost of an arm and a leg. Ironically, the cost of shipping Amphibear to Estonia is in the same price range as the cost of new pontoons.

I want to thank all the followers, supporters and sponsors! Without you this journey would have found its untimely ending a long time ago as it has not been easy. We have received a warm welcome in all parts of the world that we travelled through and in many cases the help received has been invaluable. Despite this, I do not believe that I will be able to embark on a similar journey, even if it would be possible to attach world class pontoons. Unless a miracle happens, this journey will be permanently halted.

Translated by Luisa Translation Agency

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lost and Found

The city of Maringa was just 80 km away when we started driving in the morning. We tried to locate a Toyota service outlet with the navigator to no avail. There did not seem to be one on the side of the road either. That is until we reached a roundabout where I managed to get on a new road, cross a bridge and of course, drive the wrong way. Mistakes happen. Then I made a u-turn and managed to get off the roundabout the wrong way. The navigation device got fed up with my circling and it calculated a new route. We joked that it could only be fate at play if that road led us to a Toyota service outlet. A giant Toyota service outlet appeared a minute later.

As usual, no-one initially understood what I wanted. But as usual, they soon found English speakers in addition to Google translate on the computer and it was understood what I wanted. Television and newspaper reporters were present the next day as well. Much to my delight, in addition to implementing the Toyota quality system, Nova Motors turned out to be open-minded as well. There were no extra fans - but they were quickly located in town. There was no Prado battery, but Hilux has a more powerful version over here. And everything worked. The job took a day and a half as the remodelled front end of the car had to be torn apart as well. The owners, who appeared to be Japanese, only charged us for the cost of direct materials. That was their support for the trip, similar to what I have often encountered along the way. Thank you, Nova Motors!

Amphibear now has three fans cooling its radiators. Another big one is at the back.

There should be no more starting trouble. 180Ah batteries.

We could not leave without seeing the greatest sight in Maringa - the largest church in South America. There was a beautiful view of the town from the church. Life is more peaceful around here than it is in the big cities, and to my surprise, it is completely European as well. The traffic is calm during the day and night alike. There are a lot of people in the city who are light-skinned or appear to be Japanese. Somehow everything is clean, tidy and calm. Leonardo from the car service, who could speak English, only confirmed what we had seen. When Brazil was colonised, it was the Europeans, Japanese and Chinese who came here. After all, there is a German-speaking town near by that is familiar to Estonians as well.

The church was so big that it could not fit in the picture. Kind of like a big upside-down ice cream cone. Made out of concrete.

Maringa - a pleasant city in southern Brazil. Tall buildings, not as tall as the church though.

But we got going towards Cascavel in the evening as the waterfalls awaited. Although the two hotels that we found late at night were no good, the grand Prix that we finally found had affordable prices, parking in a secure area, an air-conditioned room and a good choice of breakfast - all this made it just the right place to spend the night. 

Translated by Luisa Translation Agency

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Southern Brazil

Headed to airport cargo terminal for our long waited equipment on Monday morning. Port Logistics was also there and we started the process of waiting. I counted eight interactions in total with officials. Luckily, with help of Bianca and Andre officials were friendly. They accepted my list of used equipment with marginal prices and calculated the fee smaller than expected. At 15:00 we had our stuff and just stacked it into the car to a big pile. Started our drive out of Rio, coastal road towards Sao Paolo. Rio treated us for good-bye yet another 39 Celsius in the suburb.

Coastal road offers nice views and lower temperatures.

For motorcycle travelers this is the road to go. Curvy, good asphalt, and not obscured views to the bays and sea. Every next bay offers something new, either pretty yacht harbor or ship dock or factory or just beach. Temperature was moderate 28-32 Celsius. Our goal was to find nice camping to lay our equipment around the car and re-pack it sensibly in again. Close to Paraty we found the campsite. In rural village, surrounded with horses one side goose the other and chickens the third. As Peeter said: "I met a horse on the street. It was followed by a barking dog. There was nobody else. This is real countryside" We were only visitors in campsite, so it was excellent place for our re-packing, finalized next day afternoon.

Cozy campsite with no other car than Amphibear.

Now we had courage to set our destination to a distance. So we set it to Foz city, close to Iguacu Falls. To our surprise GPS guided us not back but ahead of small village road. Road headed to hills. Car started to overheat. Air conditioning stopped working. Then asphalt road ended and gravel continued. Then gravel ended and pure rocks and holes continued. And then road construction on the way. But roadside with most diverse jungle we have seen so far. After every few kilometers we stopped to let the car cool down a bit. And then waiting two times for road builders to free the road. Good for the overheated engine and gearbox but bad for our planned distances. Finally at the top of coastal mountains height was 1500 m and temperature was welcomed 24 Celsius. Landscape offered pleasant views to forests and farms.

Waiting for road did take some time, but was useful to cool the engine

Views across the mountains were pleasant and restful

To overheating problem there was added strange noise from front right wheel. Roadside under the car crawling's did not resolve this tingle-tangle. As late afternoon already we decided to look for campsite for repairing the front wheel. By roadside sign we found one. Road to it was more like old riverbed and campsite gate too low for Amphibear. No problem, the host dug out part of fence and we drove in. If last place was rural village, then this one was pure nature. We stopped between ponds and frog concert for free for all night. Car repair was simple, just loose wheel-cap inside of cover cap. For variety I slept in car, but temperature 32 was too much for comfortable sleep, so I listened to the frogs.

Ainsad külastajad ka siin. Tiigi ääres põnev õhtune kontsert - konnade poolt.
Only visitors here also. Free entertainment by ensemble "Frogs and Frogs"

Looking at odometer in the morning realized that this way Brazil distances will not be quickly.
Headed on to Rio De Janeiro - Sao Paulo highway. Road and roadside were continuously nice until highway. Highway, as they are all over the world - fast and boring. Reached Sao Paulo and had idea to find Toyota service there. After tens of wrong turns in city we had new idea to find it in some smaller place. Sao Paulo is just too big metropolis to find anything quickly. Headed on inland of Brazil. Brazil agriculture started. Only fields, few gasoline stations and nothing more. At evening the GPS suggested closest hotel in 250 kilometers. So did take our driving in darkness. Finally found nice hotel next to Londrina. Name Solarium did met our expectations in heat of 35-37, but hotel did. Nice air-conditioned and with fast internet.

Straight road to horizon. Not Argentina yet, Brazilian agriculture instead.

Follow the Sun, in case you circumnavigate from east to west.

Hendrik Ross form design bureau Aramet OÜ, did strength calculations for pontoons and some important design changes are planned, as I need to keep the weight, but get much stronger pontoons. Voluntary help without any fee as Amphibear has met so many times. Without this kind of help the journey would be much more difficult. Than you Henrik Ross, Mihkel Güsson and all the rest for your work for Amphibear!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The other side of Rio

International Bossanova day was in Sunday. To take part of celebrations we visited concert, given in park between famous beaches Copacabana and Ipanema. First band was enthusiastic, but not professional. Second one was on level of expectations. Beautiful vocal and performer.

Professional Bossanova performance close to Rio beaches.

Concert time and place allowed to enjoy sunset together with concert.

Last week postponed welding was done in Monday morning quickly. Welders were on place before me, and to lunchtime the pontoons had drives attached again. We were ready to head for Toyota service in other side of Rio. Not matter the soft brakes due to rusty brake disks, this 40km of ride went well. Service was offered by Rodobens Automoveis. Correct, clean and friendly as other Toyota services we have seen. They promised work done in two days with friendly price. Promise kept.

Restored brake disks and new brake pads installation at Rodobens Automoveis

Instead of hotel we chose nearby hostel Adepta, Daniel from Rodobens recommended. So we had close look on Rio south district also. Nice, clean, green, wide streets, big shopping centers and safe. Like in America. Where we are of course. As result hotels are double expensive and our friendly hostel did cost us price of hotel. Only problem here was mosquitos, resolved with repellent.

At the same time Milena, assistant of Estonian Honorary Council, delivered signed authorization to Port Logistics for getting our equipment from customs warehouse in airport. We had great hopes to get our stuff in Thursday, but Port Logistics customs broker was busy. And planned visit in Friday, was postponed again, as customs officer needed for clearing all out was not in place. We can get our luggage in Monday only. No need to tell how disappointed we were. So far so professional Port Logistics now delayed as 4 days.

For avoiding hot and expensive Rio, we headed to Teresopolis, small town close to Rio. In other side of small mountains, little cooler, with nice natural park and campsite. We do not have camping gear, but some random items. However, it is warm, not raining, we have mosquito repellent. No problem to spend few nights in campsite.

Amphibear on move again, still tied to Rio. Immediately after getting the equipment we head south as Peter has to fly home by his tickets in Chile. View from mountains towards Rio

Beautiful Teresopolis in mountains near Rio. Road toll is among highest in Brazil per kilometer.

Local campsite had kind hosting and nice pool. As Peeter remarked: Nobody swims, all jump up and down here in water.

Meanwhile some information about new pontoons production and delivery got got time and price tag. Factory can deliver new pontoons at the end of March to Lima in Peru. Pontoons will cost about USD 14 000 and delivery USD 4 000. Funds provided by current sponsors allow us to over about half of the cost. For other half I need new sponsors and donators. Now is the right time to support the journey!

Some new donator names added to pontoons, there is still room for your name.