mammals, who would have thought that? Their furry bodies could be confused
with mice; mice with giant teeth. Other species are more identifiable with foxes, still fur
covered, and it was inevitable that giant hops aided with skin flaps would
lead to full blown wings and flight. It was exactly the same with
archaeopteryx, though scales turned to feathers added a new dimension for
is more amazing is the ferocity of the, typically, insect hunter and one
better than that, sonar vision via enormous ears with extremely sensitive
Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera (/kaɪˈrɒptərə/; from the Greek χείρ - cheir, "hand" and πτερόν - pteron, "wing") whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels, gliding possums, and colugos, can only glide for short distances. Bats do not flap their entire forelimbs, as birds do, but instead flap their spread-out digits, which are very long and covered with a thin membrane or
Bats represent about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide, with about 1,240 bat species divided into two suborders: the less specialized and largely fruit-eating megabats, or flying foxes, and the highly specialized and echolocating microbats. About 70% of bats are insectivores. Most of the rest are frugivores, or fruit eaters. A few species, such as the fish-eating bat, feed from animals other than insects, with the vampire bats being
Bats are present throughout most of the world, performing vital ecological roles of pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds. Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds. Bats are important, as they consume insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides. The smallest bat is the Kitti's hog-nosed bat, measuring 29–34 mm (1.14–1.34 in) in length, 15 cm (5.91 in) across the wings and 2–2.6 g (0.07–0.09 oz) in mass. It is also arguably the smallest extant species of mammal, with the Etruscan shrew being the other
contender. The largest species of bat are a few species of Pteropus and the giant golden-crowned flying fox with a weight up to 1.6 kg (4 lb) and wingspan up to 1.7 m (5 ft 7 in).
LUNA Chapter 6 – Bat Cave - 330 20’S, 1520 E
It was a clear night outside the lecture hall at Brisbane University, the stars were shining brightly and the smell of wax polished woodwork had been replaced with a cool moist floral aroma. John Storm had said his goodbyes and was considering going back to his hotel for another night, since it was by
now rather late. But, he wasn’t ready to crash. Feeling inspired from the buzz in the lecture hall, he wanted to do something to round the evening off. He walked for a bit in the grounds, the evening dew on the short cropped grass making his shoes wet, then he suddenly made a
mental connection that had eluded him for days: his Uncle; the mysterious note and the key! It must have been something to do with his work, not just a legacy, and John’s curiosity finally got the better of him in a sudden urge to find out what the old eccentric had hidden away from the world for him to find. He headed for the car park.
John clicked the button on his key fob, and the central locking on his Jeep clunked open. He loved his custom
four by four, a classic dark blue number from the
1990s and still going strong. It was solid and reliable, a workhorse
that had been fully restored several times. What’s more, it could do things most other vehicles would fall far short of, and when he needed it, it had a turn of speed. Especially, with the all terrain oversize tyres he’d fitted. Good move that. The only bad news was that it was petrol powered and a guzzler. He turned the ignition key and the engine fired with a powerful whoosh. Into gear and off he went. He spoke the area code into his TomTom, He’d kept the envelope and note in his glove box thank goodness. The journey distance was calculated as 320 miles.
“Take the second exit on the roundabout for twenty miles,” said the smart little GPS
box of tricks in an authoritative female English accent.
“Happy to ma’am,”said John out loud.
Much of the coast road south was motorway. The first long leg to Coffs Harbour took two and a half hours. Port Macquarie took another hour to pass. Nelson’s Bay came into view in record time, just 55
minutes, necessitating a reverse leg from the A1 motorway to
circumnavigate Port Stephens via Medowie. By all accounts a rapid journey time and just as well, John was getting stiff and sleepy, sitting so still in his lecturer’s evening attire. Fortunately, the Jeep was also comfortable with
softly cushioned fully adjustable leather seats, which extended journey times and staved off fatigue. Now he had to find a hangar in the cove in the dark. Well, not actually dark; dawn would be breaking in a couple of hours. John drove around the cove anticlockwise slowly for five minutes. Suddenly, TomTom announced:
“You have reached your destination.” I have?
John parked and got out, taking a torch from the glove box. He slipped out of his jacket and trousers, placing on a hanger, and put on a comfortable pair of jeans and his sheepskin flying jacket, then locked the Jeep. He took a pair of soft leather gloves from the jacket pockets and pulled them on. The silence was spooky, the air laden with moisture. He half expected to find smugglers unloading contraband in the shadows. There was a bright mist clinging to the shore and the sea was shimmering close to the horizon. It reminded him of John Carpenter’s film: The Fog. He walked for about 100 metres
warily, coming to a galvanised wire-mesh fence three metres tall. His first instinct was to climb over it. Then he spotted the dark thin wire supported in nylon
carriers above the wire fence line. An electrified fence. He came to a gate locked with a large billet steel padlock through a slide bolt. Would one of his keys fit? The first one he tried did. This must be the place. John twisted the key to open the padlock. He closed the gate and slid the bolt back leaving the padlock open.
Once inside, John realised that the compound was quite large. Another fifty metres and he made out a hangar wall. Closing on that, and on came a security light, which made him feel both vulnerable and clumsy. The light illuminated a doorway, but curiously the door had no lock. It was a heavy steel security door. To the right of the doorway was a flap. John lifted the flap cautiously, which revealed a thumb scanner. No, couldn’t be. He took off his right glove and placed his thumb on the pad, which sensed the heat and pressure and initiated a scan, when the pad lit up
red for a few heart stopping moments. The red changed to green and a solenoid activated the door’s unlock mechanism. It swung open by about 100 millimetres from inbuilt springs. His Uncle was more unfathomable than he’d anticipated. But his sense of the dramatic was appreciated. I’d have done the
same he thought smiling to himself.
John was comforted by this thought, as he stepped into the darkness of the
building and was hit be an acrid odor that he vaguely recognized. His body heat triggered a low wattage light above a bank of switches. Am I ready for this? John switched on the
middle switch. A bank of fluorescent lights flickered into life in the centre of the building, revealing three long cylindrical objects covered in
a faded white twill cloth and bound by ropes. The longest was some 35 metres. There were other tubular structures, what looked like a bit of a crane and two large boat shaped objects, also covered in cloth and roped tight. John pulled aside some of the cloth to reveal a shiny silver coloured metal. He could smell that it was an aluminium alloy. In fact he’d worked with this metal some years ago. It was a premium quality marine grade alloy, with a high magnesium content. It did not corrode in seawater. Holy shit, he thought to himself, I don’t know what it is, but this is great. His heart was pounding – what had he discovered?
Looking above John noticed some substantial sized bats clinging to the
roof frames, looking down at him with their sienna brown eyes glinting
from the strip lights. They were strangely fox like creatures, and that
explained the acrid odor that of course he recognized from his boyhood
days when he curiously studied a bat in a local belfry, that came out at
dusk every evening to hunt insects. There was no time now for nature
study, no matter how fascinating the upside down mammals were.
Outside, the sun was melting away the morning mist to a glorious new day. John decided to regroup. He needed to secure the area and be sure of his ground before getting too stuck into this mystery. It was big. John reached for his mobile and
dialed George Franks; Franks, Swindles & Gentry. The phone purred. He looked at his watch, a stunning piece of modern craftsmanship which could do just about anything but make dinner. The Casio Explorer limited edition showed six thirty-five Australian time. Whoops! John closed the phone and slid it back into his coat pocket. Looks like breakfast then before I investigate further.
Surveying the scene, John noticed that the huge hanger fronted onto the cove, the sea going right up to the roller shutter doors and underneath, with concrete sides projecting forward by another twenty metres. The door was thirty metres wide at least. The hanger building was a good eighty metres wide in total. The fencing folded back along the side projections to the roller doors. Hence, to gain entry by this route, would mean getting
seriously wet. John wondered who owned the building. His mobile played a blues riff.
“G’day.” The words were out almost before the phone was opened. “Good morning to you John.”
“Is that you Mr Franks?”
“You called me first John.”
“That I did, and I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”
“That’s not important John. More to the point, are you in the cove?”
“That I am and I’ve got some questions. What is the aluminium structure? Who owns the building and how long have I got to do whatever it is uncle wanted me to do?”
“Well John, I know it’s all quite a puzzle at the moment, but the answer to your second question is rather dependent on what you make of the first.” “I’d take a week or two if I were you, to assess the situation. It’s very early, and I know you gave a lecture last night, so you must be tired.”
Crikey, the old duffer knows exactly.
“Get yourself a nice English breakfast. They do a decent spread
4 miles up the road. ‘Henriettas’
just off Soldiers Point.”
“Good advice George, now you go back to sleep.” Without waiting for an answer, John closed the phone. Heriettas sounded just the ticket, followed by a tour of
He parked up, reclined his seat, pulled his leather hat over his eyes, determined to get thirty minutes shut eye. In minutes he was in a deep sleep. Three hours and twenty-five minutes later he woke to a tapping on his door window. He felt dehydrated, because he was. John wound down his window with the touch of a button. A man wearing a checked shirt, a Breton cap and matching jacket greeted him.
“Howdy mate, I’m the skipper of the ‘Mary Belle’,” he said motioning to a well-ordered fishing rig. Obviously, thought John.
“Morning matey.” John looked over to the Mary Belle past the fisherman’s golden beard. It was a fine looking craft in every respect; everything neatly stowed and smartly painted in off-white and fern-green with varnished wooden decks and wheelhouse.
“That’s a fine looking vessel you have.”
“We like things shipshape around here. The bloke owned that hangar was the same, everything just so. We don’t like strangers neither.”
This guy didn’t mince his words.
“That’s no problem blue, John’s the name. Now we’re not strangers.”
“Guess not. I’m Roo” he said with a toothy smile.
The two men shook hands, a hearty clutch that told the other man he was solid.
“It’s early for visitors is all? Nice wheels by the
way. My granddad had one on those new.”
“Thanks Roo, I’m having a look around. Someone said Henriettas was a fair place to water.”
“That it is, run by a friend of mine. Funny though, only locals know about it?”
“As I said a friend of mine recommended it.”
“Guess he must be local,” said the fisherman. That told John that George had spent some time here. It could only have been with Uncle Douglas! Roo looked around fifty-five. He was ruddy tanned with light hair; he was of heavy build from years of hauling nets and fish. The fact that John knew about Henrietta’s was enough for Roo to quit his interrogation.
“I’ll be off now, good to meet you John.”
“Likewise,” said John raising three fingers in a casual hand salute.
Roo headed for the Mary Belle and John headed out to
Soldiers Point for what turned out to be the most delicious sweet cure back bacon rashers and free-range eggs he’d had for many a year; generous portions as well and a tangy rye bread toast. The coffee was also fresh ground and orange juice squeezed that morning. He was being spoiled this restaurant was a find. The manageress, a homely brunette, seemed to know he was coming and welcomed him with open arms, a charming smile and very few questions.
“That was pucker,” he said to his hostess finally.
“I wondered if you’d come up for air,” said the lady in a broad country outback accent.
“I’m Henrietta, are you just passing through?”
He had rather tucked in, maybe giving the impression he was starving, rather than relishing the fare.
“More having a look round; I’m John.”
“How’d you hear of us John?”
“Err….. a friend of mine mentioned Soldiers
Point,” said John.
“Well. I’m pleased to cook for you anytime, you should try my spicy chicken and
cheesecake some time.”
John returned to the cove two hours later armed with supplies of Henrietta’s spicy chicken, a large portion of chocolate fudge cheesecake and several cans of drinks, still thinking of his delicious breakfast. This time he opened up the gate wide and parked inside the complex, closing up behind him. No point playing secret squirrel. Roo would see his Jeep parked in there, so know a little of John’s visit. But at least the ice had been broken locally. John was sure that Roo would spread the news and save him a lot of PR work.
On went the lights and off came the covers with clouds of choking dust soon filling the building completely. John looked about for the windows and extractors and found the
roof lights that could be opened for ventilation and natural light. A powered rolling hoist dangled from the substantial peak ridge ‘I’ beam, directly over the gleaming alloy fabrications. There was also a function to move objects sideways, with another substantial ‘I’ beam at ninety degrees to the ridge-mounted beam. The hanger was divided into flat workspace and dry dock, which could be flooded, leading out to the cove and the sea. Finally, John found a bank of extractor fans and switched all of them on full blast, which cleared the hangar
of dust in minutes.
The alloy sections were on rolling supports some of which could be manually pushed about. John set about trying to sort the sections into some logical order. He moved the two smaller tubes to the sides of the building, then used the overhead crane to position the largest alloy tube in the centre of the flat workshop
floor section. That made sense, but the space-frames and boat hull sections remained a mystery no matter how he positioned them on the concrete.
Fatigued, he went outside into the brilliant sunshine. Six hours had just flown by. A rather beautiful two-tone silver and grey patterned cat sat atop a pile of pallets cleaning itself; obviously curious at the noises coming from inside the building. How’d you get in here puss, John thought to himself? He unwrapped some of the spicy chicken and began eating and cracked a can of Solar Cola. The chicken was mouth-wateringly succulent and very more-ish. The aroma wafted across the yard making the cat’s nose twitch. It got up and paced about excitedly. Five minutes more and the cat jumped to the floor and padded over to John. He smiled and watched amused as it slowly worked its way closer. It couldn’t take its eyes off the chicken wrappings.
“I know what you’re after.” Said John placing some scraps in the wrapping on the ground. The cat guardedly moved closer, sniffing the air.
“Bye, bye kitty,” said John as he carefully stood up and went inside to continue to unravel the giant metal puzzle inside, “knock yourself out.”
John closed the door behind him, getting back to work. He needed some clues. He knew it was a marine alloy structure, which meant either a floating rig or a boat. A computer took centre stage of a control console, left of centre along the far wall – he switched it on. A few seconds later a message was displayed: ‘Hello John.’ In a box on screen a password was requested. He typed in his date of birth which failed. He typed in his passport number and that failed. Then he typed in his mother’s maiden name and the computer sprang into life. John searched the folders for boat drawings, which pulled up several dozen files in CAD format. Double clicking on the biggest brought up the plans of a vessel named: ‘Navigator ST.’ He had no idea what that meant, but it had three tubes at its base, which matched those in the hanger.
A huge locked red tool cabinet was on the right of the console and mounted on the walls at various key locations were flat locked doors to other
board mounted hand power tools. The other key in the envelope fitted these locks as well.
After carefully studying the plans, John worked out the sequence for bolting the lightweight structures together. Several hours later and having demolished all his snacks and drinks, there before him sat a rather unusual looking boat. It was obviously designed for speed, but he’d not found the engine yet.
In the southeast corner of the building was a partitioned room in which John found a pile of wooden packing crates; again covered by dusty sheets. This time he removed them carefully, folding then stacking. He went to his Jeep for his general-purpose canvas tool-bag, which contained several gorilla bars ideal to
pry open the boxes. John was rather disappointed not to find a huge marine diesel in the biggest crate. He did though find some elegantly machined water-cooled electric motors and a brilliantly engineered transmission.
He set to work opening the other crates and found they contained solar panels. It was like a treasure hunt. One case was crammed full of instruments and computer equipment. Another had glass, another leather seats and so on.
Six more hours slipped by while he was sorting the fittings out and he was getting thirsty and tired, so he decided to call it a day for now, locked up and headed back to Henrietta’s. As he drove off, the silver-grey cat meowed from the yard pallets as it watched John disappear into the
whalers V conservationists
a $billion dollars riding on the outcome.
Helpline 0845 1300 228
is answered until 11pm during the summer and is the best number to call if
you have found a bat and need help. It is charged at local call rate.
250 Kennington Lane,
London SE11 5RD
Office 020 7820 7183, Abi McLoughlin firstname.lastname@example.org
of hours press queries 079845 45531
/ National Conference ONLY (for
regional conferences please see Bat Group Officers contact details)
020 7820 7165
Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP)
020 7820 7179
Donations and Community Fundraising
020 7820 7181
(individual and organisations)
020 7820 7168
020 7820 7167
Worledge (England or UK-wide enquiries)
020 7820 7176
Scottish Bat Officer
Wales Bat Officer