So, the whole point of Drive & Dream is to make electric car touring as easy and pleasant as possible, in order that people can overcome their worries and start buying electrics by the million.
This means that we are always doing something for the first time, because after that it’s easy.
On this trip we were to try the first long (24h) ferry crossing with on board recharging. All the rest, I thought, was just routine. Ah, how innocent. 🙂
If you recall, back in September we did the first Tilburg to Southern Europe trip. Then, it was a challenge just to locate and book a hotel or lunch stop with a reasonable (7kW+) charge point. We drove down through Belgium and France to home in a weekend and on the way confirmed places like the Parador in Lerma as great places to stop.
So on this trip day one (Wednesday evening) was a simple drive North in the Easter holiday traffic to Lerma, a beautiful and impressive Palace in a classic old town.
Charging there was as routine as going to the local service station and the staff were totally at ease with it. They even had a sign up announcing the charging facility in the reception.
Day two started with a drive to the Bilbao ferry port in Zerbena/Santurzi. Awesome weather, beautiful Basque Country scenery and excellent highways led us rapidly into the worst traffic jam I’ve seen in years.
The huge google maps display with realtime traffic speeds could have told me about this (apparently an update coming very soon will do so) but it did make it obvious that a detour through the amazingly attractive Bilbao port town would get us to the ferry.
Twenty minutes later, and few brushes with local drivers, and we were at the ferry.
The staff were pretty unflustered by the prospect of charging a car on board. They may have been pre-advised, but, as many trucks plug in on each crossing, it was just a case of putting us near an outlet.
Sometime later after all the “normal” vehicles had boarded we were waved on and up to our spot right beside some alarmingly long high power cables with red 5 pin CEE 32A sockets.
The crew were all French we discover. Hmmmm. Not a problem, although my Scottish high school vocabulary didn’t quite extend to industrial electrics.
Some hand waving and gesticulation later and the electrician and I plugged in my wallbox, and nothing happened.
We discovered at this point that the ferry had a “floating” neutral (how appropriate). For some reason the crew started to apologize and explain that the boat was made in Greece. Lots of head shaking and eyes rolling.
Time for plan B. We had 24h so even a standard European socket could delivery almost a full charge in that time (and I only needed 3/4).
We plugged in… Red light on what Tesla call the UMC (universal mobile charger) meant there was no earth, or live and neutral were on the wrong pins. Thankfully the socket was not French and I could rotate the plug 180 degrees no problem (see our alps trip if this makes no sense) but we still got a red light. No earth connection? Hmmm… I could see there was – the earth goes straight to the hull of the ship!
Then came the wonderful surprise that in fact in this ship both pins were live… 130V or so per pin at 120 degrees (don’t make me explain three phase electrics to you!) makes 220V.
So no charge until we make land unless the team can find a solution, so they took my cables and boxes and disappeared into the bowels of the boat, and we went off to replan our trip over a beer.
To make up for this let down I got a tour of the guts of the boat… You know your glad to have ear defenders when you are standing between two V20 Diesel engines at full blast where each cylinder is larger than a beer barrel and the engine is two floors tall. The fuel is so dirty and thick it is stored at 80C just to help it flow and is heated to 120C before being burnt.
That’s me beside 5 of the cylinders and the supercharger (basts air onto the engine). I have earplugs in.
One day this will be electric.
At this point I have to admit that we did actually plug in and charge… At 4 amps…. Which gave about 1km of range before the voltage fell and the car decided the transformer was going to be a fire risk, and shut down charging.
Maybe next time they’ll have a bigger transformer, but they did assure me that their other ferries do have proper neutral lines (shame we are returning on the same ferry next week).
We drove off the ferry expecting to have to start searching for a charge outlet in nearby Southampton, but Jim, the duty manager, had been warned, and he led us immediately to a spot beside some waiting truck trailers and plugged us in to a solid 22kW outlet, and then took us to the bustling center of Portsmouth.
The sun was shining, the car was charging, and 3 hours later we were off to our next stop. North of Birmingham, in Sutton Coldfield, an already tested and guaranteed charge point in a nice county hotel awaited us…. Or so I thought….