Windmills whirling in his mind

M Bradley
Between the mundane and the bizarre lies the world of the possible, filled with unorthodoxies that range from the unconventional to the heretical.

This is the world that Michael Bradley inhabits, and from it he has brought back many offerings, including 17 published books, and one of the most innovative designs for a windmill that I’ve seen. It’s capable, he says, of generating two kilowatts of electricity in a 25-kilometre-an-hour wind, and is made from tubular steel and sailcloth. He’s selling a limited number — he says he doesn’t want to be a manufacturer — for about $4,000 (not including batteries and cables), and he claims anyone can build one for $1,500 or less.


The last time I saw Bradley, before meeting with him recently at his apartment in  Toronto’s High Park area, was about 15 years ago when he was leaving to trap Loch Ness-type creatures in Lake Champlain, Lac Memphremagog (southwest of Sherbrooke), and Muskrat Lake (north of Renfrew). He didn’t catch a creature, but he did publish a book about his efforts.


His latest book, Grail Knights of North America, and its predecessor, Holy Grail Across the Atlantic (Hounslow Press $24.99 and $22.99 respectively) deal with the legend of the Holy Grail which, as anyone familiar with the tales of King Arthur will know, is supposed to be the chalice used to catch the blood of Christ at His crucifixion.


In Bradley’s reckoning, however, The Grail was not a chalice, but a metaphor for the descendants of Jesus, who Bradley argues, was married and had children. Moreover, he claims the Knights Templar, who were protectors of the chalice (and hence the holy bloodline), fled to North America, before its « discovery’’ by Christopher Columbus, to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Bradley has identified archeological finds, maps, and other scraps of evidence that show, he suggests, that the Templars settled in Nova Scotia before spreading westward.


But I digress — although only to give a sense of Bradley’s restless intellect.


The idea for his windmill was born in response the need of Sri Lankan fishermen for a way to sail their boats during monsoon transition periods when the winds are so changeable that they make conventional sailing impossible.


In cooperation with a British boat builder who was designing an inexpensive catamaran for Sri Lankan fishermen, and with money from the Canadian and British governments, Bradley created a « vertical axis’’ windmill to power the catamaran.


It’s called « vertical axis’’ because, like helicopter blades, the the vanes whirl parallel to the ground, around a vertical pole. But there’s one major difference. The two vanes in the windmill don’t stretch outward, like helicopter blades; they stretch upward, and they’re shaped like aeroplane wings, humped on one side, flat on the other.


In the version Bradley is using to generate electricity, the « wings’’ are six metres high, and 1.2 metres wide, made of sailcloth stretched over tubular steel frames. The « wings’’ face each other — flat side toward flat side, 1.5 metres apart. They taper toward one end, and the tapered end is at the top, giving the windmill a slightly conical shape. If you want more detail, you can visit his website at


The beauty of the design is that no matter which way the wind is blowing, or how frequently it changes direction, the windmill keeps turning. Technically, it’s called a Darrieus windmill.


The difficulty with Darrieus windmills is that they are not self-starting. So Bradley has incorporated another type of windmill into the design. It operates on the same principle as the cup-shaped arms of a meter to measure wind velocity. This type of windmill is called Savonius, and it starts up with the slightest breeze. In Bradley’s version, the Savonius « cup’’ extends the full height of his windmill, and folds back onto the flat side of the « aeroplane wing’’ once everything starts turning.


The arrangement is ingenious. I must admit that some of Bradley’s ideas give me pause. But not this one.

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