Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Beware the Tides of March

Beware the Tides of March

Okay, so it's a terrible pun, but someone's got to do it. Last episode, I discussed some of the issues with inclement weather, but from our experiences this March, I thought I would do a bit more on the tidal issue.

I meet a lot of folks who think that the tides only matter in the oceans and in oddball circumstances like the Bay of Fundy. They think that rivers and lakes, estuaries and bays are somehow immune. Let me assure you, they aren't. Take a look at the two pictures below. One is a rain-driven high tide at our marina on the Middle River. You may note that the water is within a few inches of swamping the fixed piers. We've seen worse. A few years ago, a November high tide sent the docks a full ten inches under water, which made getting to one's car a bit. . . um. . .more entertaining than usual.
This is about as high as it gets without getting one's feet wet, though we've seen it 10" over the docks.

The second shot is from roughly the same vantage point in our wheelhouse, but this after two days of winds gusting from the NW at 60+ mph. What you are looking at is mud, and yes, the boat in the background is the same boat in the same slip. The disturbing part: This is HIGH tide.
Mud mud mud mud mud

My point is, you're never immune to the effects of tidal and wind driven water, nor of coastal flooding from rains upstream, and if you're wise, you'll plan for it. But how?

There are several tactics to deal with monster tides. The most common being the humble footstool, which is easy to keep on hand and has other uses....they also blow off the dock rather easily. If you'll look next to the dinghy in the low tide shot you'll see a sort of lump just behind it. That is the zebra-mussel encrusted stepstool we lost last year. Caveat. We also use a handy section cut from a discarded ladder to get both up onto dock and DOWN onto the dock. . . .depending. If you cruise, you'll find tide conditions different in every region in every port, from variances of inches to variances of tens of feet. Do your homework and you won't be stranded on the vessel begging people on the cell phone to come and throw you food.
A stub ladder like this is easy to carry aboard, but can get you on and off the boat if the tides get ridiculous.

This late winter has been one of multiple projects, most quite successful. Our enclosure of the wheelhouse with FlexOGlass continues to make for some lovely afternoons sitting in the sun, despite cool temperatures and wind. This month, we designed and added a urine separator to our simple composting toilet setup (for instructions, see here) which has made a HUGE difference in how often we must empty the waste (we're now getting ten days or so between having to dump the bin), so I recommend that highly.

The weather has been hugely erratic of late, but spring is only around the corner. Slip mates are popping up like crocuses to look at their boats on the hard with longing. The marina is doing repairs and making ready for the boating season. We can't wait.

More shortly


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rather a Lot of Updates

What a calm sunset should resemble.

 So, with so many projects in the offing, I thought I should do a post to bring you guys current with a bunch of them.  Here's a lovely evening shot at the marina.  The last few days were NOT like this.  The winter storm that went through bombification and unloaded on us here in the east was one of the worst we've experienced here at the marina.  Chief among the effects, aside from knocking the boat around quite a bit in the slip, was to blow virtually ALL of the water out of the upper Middle River and left us stranded in the middle of a mud flat, sitting some five feet below the dock and rather stuck on the boat.

This not water.  This is wet mud, and we're embedded in it.
Fortunately, it only lasted a day.  Now, I know half of you guys are asking yourselves, "with 65mph winds, how did the plastic glazing on their wheelhouse hold up?"  See, I do pay attention.  The answer is:  amazingly well.  We had no apparent damage of any kind to the FlexOGlass sheeting or our Gorilla Tape seams.  It was noisy as all hell, but it seems to have held up just fine.

The urine diverter we fabricated for the composting toilet was a real lifesaver during the storm.  It kept us from having to get off and dump the toilet during some really nasty weather.  At present, we're having to empty the 1.5 gallon pee bottle about every two days and the solid mass from the toilet itself about every 10, which beats the hell out of what we were having to do beforehand.  In summary:  if you're on the boat more than two days running a week, build one.

Now the water has--mercifully--returned to the river and we can get off the boat without a ladder, the winds are fading, and life is returning to some semblance of normal.  Looking forward to some calm days, some decent writing time, and the coming spring.

Much more coming,


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

DIY Urine Diverter for Composting Toilet

For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you'll know that, all the way back nearly 5 years ago when we built the original Floating Empire, we opted for a simple bucket composter instead of a blackwater system for the boat.  I had originally designed a urine diverter for the system, but . . .um . . .it didn't. . . .well. . .work.  The bucket system, using compostable bag liners and largely wood stove pellets for compost mass, served us well for nearly four years.
The original composting head going in Floating Empire.  Note fitting for our original, failed diverter.....ah well.

This winter, though, on moving to our new boat Tesla's Revenge, we began to get increasingly, not unhappy, but tired of dealing with the bucket composter.  This isn't to say we don't like using composting toilets.  We do. They're simple, inexpensive, and unlike every blackwater system I've ever seen, they don't smell and there's nothing to break.  I can't imagine using anything else.  Unlike Floating Empire, though, the new boat was a traditional sailboat hull (a former CAL 29) and dumping the bucket meant taking it out of the head, climbing up into the cockpit with it, then up onto the dock, then. . . .you get the idea.  This winter's weather has been unpleasant here.  Unpredictable, wet, and windy, and that's meant spending a lot more time on the boat, which means we've been filling up the john far more quickly and having to empty it. . .well. . .a lot.

But dealing with that led me to revisiting the idea of a urine separator.  Here's the thing:  MOST of the waste coming out of people is pee.  Pee is what smells, and it's heavy (over 8 lbs per gallon) and takes up a lot of room.  Separating the urine into a different, watertight container meant that we could empty the toilet far less often, which, since I'm the one that gets to drag five gallons of the stuff up and out of the boat, is something I kinda wanted to see happen.

There are a lot of diverter toilet parts available on the market, and, like all good Americans, I went immediately to the web to look at them again.  Immediately I encountered two issues:  First, most of them made the toilet a lot longer front to back, designed as they were to accommodate a traditional toilet seat.  We use a snap-on toilet seat intended for use with 5 gallone buckets and really don't have that kind of room, and I wasn't anxious to totally rebuild our current toilet housing (for instructions on how to build the basic bucket composter, btw, click here). Second, the things were damned expensive, and, IMHO, weirdly so.  I did, however, stumble across a few sites that had some nice gonzo diverters made from the same 5 gallon buckets we were using for the toilet.  Now if I could just figure out how to make them fit into our existing bucket composter housing.

So, dear reader, below is the instructions on how to do what I came up with.  It fits inside the basic bucket composter, you can still use your existing snap on lid, and it's monstrously inexpensive.  We are currently testing it out and it seems to be working beautifully.  You will need:

(In addition to your bucket composter set up, as detailed here)

A 5 gallon bucket (preferably one identical to the one use used for the composter)
A few feet of 3/8" ID (1/2" OD) tubing
A screw fitting for the tubing
A container (Milk jug, cat litter jug, water bottle, soda bottle, whatever) for the pee.
Three stainless steel (trust me) screws, about 1/2"
Some plumbers caulk

That's it.
You're gonna be cutting a wedge out of the bucket bottom, and, yes, these were once the same color. Amazing, hunh?
Here's a little better shot of the piece with the drain fitting in place.  I left the little "wings" on either side in case I needed some extra plastic to screw it in place.  I wound up not needing it and trimmed them off.

First, measure off a distance on your bucket from the bottom and up the side which is about equal to half the opening of your bucket composter.  You're going to be cutting a wedge shaped piece out of the bottom and side, using about half of the bucket bottom.  Cutting this polyethylene can be a bit of a challenge.  The material is sticky, and can both flex AND shatter, an unfortunate combo.  We used a jigsaw to do the cut, moving slowly and trying not to overstress the material.
here's the wedge piece with the hose fitting in place.

Drill a hole for your fitting in the bottom and screw it directly into the plastic.  I recommend using plumbers caulk on the threading.  We tried using a silicone caulk on the bottom around the fitting and it didn't stay. Hardly surprising.  Virtually nothing will stick to polyethylene plastic, including paint, barnacles, glue, even permanent marker has issues.
Snake the tubing trough the outside of the housing and through the side of the upper bucket half (that holds the seat).

Drill a hole in the upper bucket piece for your hose to exit.  Note that it needs to be up high enough that the lower composter bucket won't pinch it when you stack the two.  it's okay if there's a bit of a downward bow to the tube before it exits the bucket(s).  That will just provide a way for any leaking urine to drip into the composter bucket and not run down the tube.  Run the tubing from outside your composter housing, through the upper bucket side, and force it onto the fitting for your diverter.  Then put the diverter in place and screw it to the bucket. Pilot holes are recommended.  Note that you'll be screwing the piece in canted, so it forms a sort of "V" with the drain fitting at the bottom.  Use stainless screws if at all possible as urine is really corrosive.
Here's the diverter screwed into place with the tubing press fit in place.  Note that it doesn't interfere with snapping on the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

It took a bit of tweaking to the system, moving the diverter down a bit so your bum didn't hit it and fiddling with the tubing so it didn't kink on it's way out of the bucket, but once we got those few bugs out, the system works spectacularly.  We initially ran the tubing into a half-gallon milk jug just as a test and wound up emptying it on a daily basis.  We've substituted a 2 1/2 gallon container for that one, which is much more convenient.  The big surprise has been just how seldom we've had to dump the solid waste part of the toilet (it's looking like 5-7 days at least), and how little biomass we're now using to keep it covered and odor free.  We use a small squirt bottle of bleach water to keep the diverter and tube flushed after most uses so there's not even a whiff of urine odor.

In general, I'm wishing we'd done this a lot sooner.  It would've saved me a lot of hauling.

Let me know if you try this.  it's a simple fix.

More shortly


Monday, February 5, 2018

A little Wheelhouse update

Several of you folks have expressed an interest in how the FlexOGlass was going to hold up, along with our use of Gorilla Tape as edging, so I thought I'd give you a bit of an update.

4Mil FlexOGlass with Gorilla tape edging and snaps set therein.
We started this project a bit before Thanksgiving 2017 and have now taken the enclosure though two of the worst months of the winter, high winds, snow, sleet, rain, and sub-freezing temperatures.  The only thing we haven't had was massive waves crashing over the bow into it (and if we have that, I'll have a lot more problems than "will the snaps hold" ).  On the whole, we've been very pleased.  The enclosure runs 20+ degrees above the outside temperature on sunny days, and running lanterns or cooking in he cockpit heats it up pretty quickly as well.  None of the screws or snaps has pulled away due to wind and the material remains crystal clear.

We managed to poke one small hole in the FlexOGlass when a rolled up matchstick screen fell over into the membrane (it was easily fixed with a bit of clear tape).  We've had two of the snaps fail, both on the doorway cover that we go in and out many times a day.  One came apart because I failed to seat the snap properly on installation.  In the other case, the Gorilla Tape tore slightly due to an unfortunate tendency I have in pulling on one edge of the glazing to unsnap a whole side of it rather than to unsnap each of the closures individually.  I suspect we'd have the same problem were they set in canvas.  As it is, the snap was easily repaired, the tape easily patched, and I won't do that again.

Would I do this again?  Yes, I would.  The membrane will clearly make it through winter with minimal problems and it has made our lives aboard much more pleasant.  I'll do an update in the spring when we reopen the wheelhouse and make ready to set sail, but for now, I would happily use this product again, and our simple method of attachment seems just fine.

More shortly.  We're in process of ordering a new bank of 100AH batteries and making ready for the motor install.  Stay tuned.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mungo and the Sunny Day

It's been kind of frustrating lately due to the cold weather.  I really like to tell you guys about all the things we've been doing, but, frankly, of late, mostly what we've been doing is trying to stay warm and dry.

Today, though was amazing.  The temps spiked into the low 60's, there was no wind, the sun was shining.. . . .in our enclosed wheelhouse, the temperatures were in the mid-70's.  We took the opportunity to go hiking at Marshy Point Nature Center, one of our favorite spots.

Marshy Point is one of those little gems hidden away in Chase, MD.  It has a great nature center, miles of hiking trails, and a passel of programs for adults and kids year round.  Here's some cool shots of the Ice on the upper part of Dundee Creek, strange patterns made by the currents before they froze.

So we've got a few weeks of weirdly warm weather in the forecast, daytime temps in the 40's or 50's, which is. . .well. . .just wrong for the end of January.  Not complaining, mind you.

In coming weeks we'll be adding additional battery power and finally installing our electric drive.  Feels nice to be able to feel my fingers.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

A little temperature update

I said I would give some stats on the cockpit enclosure once we lived with it for a bit, and I'm pleased to report that it's working well. 

At night, the temperature runs about 6 degrees (F) above ambient, likely from capturing heat coming from inside the boat.

During the day, as long as there's direct sun, we can impound as much as 22 degrees above ambient.  That means, basically, that a 40 degree (F) day means the cockpit will be a pleasant 62 degrees (F).

This has been a great addition.
The FlexOGlass continues to hold up well, even in some pretty nasty winds, and the gorilla tape seams we've used seem to be holding up as well.

All in all, we're pleased.  Occasionally I win one.

Happy New Year, everybody.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Okay, so I lied. . .

One more little post about dealing with cold.  One of the issues with any fiberglass vessel (and this also applies to anything that can't breathe) is, of course, condensation.  We've written about this before, and have used a lot of techniques to try and deal with the damp.  The V berth is a bit of a problem aboard Tesla's Revenge as there's not a lot of space for insulation, and the interior walls can, under some circumstances, get sheets of moisture coming off them. . . .and into the bedding.


So in search of something that might work, we returned to our old friend EcoFoil (silver mylar coated bubblewrap).  We dried the space as best we could and used a combination of gorilla tape, which will stick to damn near anything, and double sided rug tape to do the sides of the V berth.  Not liking the bubble wrap as a surface, we were casting around when we saw these cheap yoga mats at a 5Below for a couple of bucks apiece.

So we picked up a few and double stick rug taped them to the EcoFoil.  I think you'll agree it looks rather nice.

The foam Yoga mat stuff going on over the Ecofoil
Putting this on was a pain, but I think it looks pretty nice.  The mattresses go on over it, obviously
The added insulation hasn't solved the problem entirely, but it has really cut down on the moisture and made the sides of the hull a lot more pleasant to touch with your bare tush in the middle of the night.

The enclosed wheelhouse with its clear FlexOGlass sides has proven to be a joy.  During the day, we're running some 20 degrees above ambient, and a good clear, windless day can heat the whole boat.

Having this space through the winter is going to be just wonderful.
 If you've been thinking about this kind of enclosure, do it.  Note in the above picture we're in shirtsleeves and there's snow on the docks.

We progress.

More shortly.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Dealing with Cold, the final. . .for now.

So, yesterday, after a week of beautiful weather, we mostly completed closing in our cockpit/wheelhouse.  The effects have been immediate.  Last evening we were able to sit in the cockpit in our shirtsleeves comfortably with no other heat on (outside temperatures were hovering around 50F at the time.)  In the mornings, the moment the sun is up, our new floating greenhouse begins to warm and by mid morning the place is quite comfortable.  We don't have hard temperature data yet but I'll be supplying that shortly.
This stuff is so damn clear it's hard to take a picture of it.  You can see the substantial size o our winter greenhouse, though.
To recap: we decided to enclose the wheelhouse in a product called flexoglass from a company called Warp Bros in Chicago, Il (we purchased ours through Amazon here). The product is a tough, amazingly clear vinyl glazing sold in 25 yd. by 48" rolls (other sizes are available) and used primarily for enclosing screen porches and greenhouses.  It is a great deal cheaper than the "eisenglas" typically sold for boat enclosures.  We chose the 4mil variety (It also comes in a stout 10mil). The roll we bought cost us a bit over $80, and was enough to do the entire boat.

After measuring and in some cases creating a paper template to match irregular openings, we laid out and cut the material (scissors work just fine)and reinforced the edges of the material by folding 2" of Gorilla Tape over the edge. We finally figured out that the best way to do this was to lay out the Gorilla Tape sticky side up, held in place on either end by a bit of blue painter's tape (which is easy to remove).  Then we stretched out the Flexoglass and stuck it down halfway across the tape, then folded the edge over.  Please note, the Gorilla Tape is VERY FREAKING STICKY.  It will stick to anything:  itself, the floor, you, your clothing, the cat. . . .and once it does stick, you aren't pulling it loose, PERIOD.  This makes sticking the tape to the edges a matter to be undertaken with some care.  We might opt for something simpler, but we used the same technique in creating screens for our hatches, and were impressed by the strength of it (including supporting our 17 pound boat cat who loves to sleep on top of the hatch screen).

We then set screw snaps around the Gorilla Tape edging.  While most of the big box stores have screw snap kits, with the stuff to set them, they usually only include about 6 snaps, so after we had the kit, we went on the web and ordered a larger amount of the snaps themselves. Trust me, you're gonna use twice as many of these as you think you are.  Places we didn't intend to open, we used small stainless screws and washers instead as a cheaper, faster alternative.

Most of the big box hardware stores carry these, but once you have the setting tools, it's much better to buy the snaps in bulk.

The paper backing is rolled up with the Flexoglass and not only helps keep it clean and unscratched, it also helps you SEE the damn stuff.
No way around it, setting the snaps is tedious.  There are pliers designed for this, but they're REALLY pricey, so unless  your setting hundreds of snaps, you're likely stuck with a hammer and this stuff.
If you're careful, though, the look is pretty clean.
Attaching the male part of the screw snaps is a matter of holding the glazing in place to make sure where the snaps fall and screwing them in place.  There is VERY little wiggle room here, if you want the stuff to lay flat.  The next time we do this I might consider edging the glazing and screwing it in place with screws and washers, then removing it and using those holes for the snaps, both on the glazing and on the boat.  Yes, that would probably work pretty well.  Duh.

About 3/4 way through the install, we had a night of VERY high winds, gusts in the 50mph range.  We got knocked around pretty good, but if I had any doubts about the strength of 4mil Flexoglass, they were assuaged that night.  No damage, nothing pulled through, nothing even came unsnapped.  Lesson learned.

We're not fully finished yet.  The front is probably going to be rigid lexan, and right now it's enclosed with a blue tarp, and there are still some gaps around the top of the Flexoglass for which we still have to fabricate a fill, but the enclosure has already made a huge difference. I can see that we'll be able to use the cockpit as another living space through most of the winter, and that pleases me.  As I sit here at the laptop, it's 42F outside and we're both sitting here in our stocking feet with the main companionway open to the wheelhouse and the heat off.  Interior temperature is a bit over 60F. Actually it's warmer in the cockpit.  Not a sauna, but I'll take it.

It's been a beautiful, mild late fall here.  Some days have hit the 60's and we've not had really any terrible weather of late, which has let us get a lot of things done that might otherwise have been miserable and problematic.  The boats are coming out of the Marina and being stored up on the hard apace, and very soon, it will just be about 20 livaboards afloat here on the middle river.

Within a few weeks, the lovely water will still be here, the boats will not.
Also our favorite local farm Zahradka's  has been cranking out some truly amazing local, sustainable produce.
George Zahradka does some great growing here in MD
So all in all it's shaping up to be a warm and yummy early Winter.  More shortly.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Dealing with Cold III

So we wound having an amazingly  F*%*%*^ing irritating and frustrating day today.  You know the kind.  Tools you needed seem to have dropped into a black hole and reemerged in Calcutta, you discover you've mismeasured, miscounted, and misappropriated just about everything, and you woke up in a pissy mood to begin with.  You know those?

We began working on cutting and seaming and reinforcing the edges of the Flex-o-glass to enclose the pilot house.  It was freaking miserable.  No fault of the materials mind you.  It was a combination of poor planning, general irritability, and Waaaaaaaay too much wind to make doing this comfortable.  Still, we persisted and got one of the panels in to figure out how to proceed.

We've used GorillaTape to rim and reinforce the edges of the Flexoglass and then punched snaps through the tape to be able to connect to screw snaps on the boat.

Snaps set into the gorillatape.
Weve used the GorillaTape/snaps trick before to make screening for our hatches, and it's held up really amazingly well.....I mean our freaking 17 pound cat sleeps on top of the screen and it hasn't collapsed so I count that as a success.  Anyway, the actual installation of the tape and snaps on the Flexoglass is really pretty simple.  The Flexoglass is 4mil, surprisingly tough, amazingly clear, and really pretty simple with which to work.  After many trials and tribulations with which I shan't bore you, we managed to position the snaps on one of the correctly cut panels and install it on the screw snaps on the boat.

See it?  No?  That's the Idea.
The above picture shows what we like about it.  The middle panel is glazed.  No, really, it is.  The stuff is damn near invisible.  You can see against the boat's fiberglass surrounding the cockpit the black outline of the glazing panel, and that's about it.

So apart from being in a crappy mood, hating the wind, and not being well enough organized (which is, apparently, my hobby) we actually did get some decent things done.  We now know how to do this, and will hopefully get lots more done tomorrow, and we learned that. . . .well. . . .the stuff will work.

Okay, we didn't actually know that going into this.

So dinner and a bottle of wine is in order.

More tomorrow


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dealing with Cold II

Well today, finally--FINALLY--the flexoglass showed up for enclosing our wheelhouse.  Flexoglass is a VERY clear plastic sheeting, about 4 mil, that is often used to enclose porches and the like.  We'll be using it to turn our wheelhouse into a greenhouse for the winter.

New support struts to our solar roof to facilitate the enclosure.  Dealing with the weird angles on a sailboat hull can be a challenge.
We spent most of the day installing a series of new support struts to which we'll attach our new, clear membrane around the wheelhouse.  Since this is an old sailboat hull (a cal 2-29 to be specific) some of the angles are, to put it mildly, bizarre.  The Flexoglas turned up way too late today for us to do much about it, so that's the agenda tomorrow.  Will give  you a full report, but, from sitting in the cockpit this afternoon in the sun, the whole concept looks promising.

We've finally gotten a bit of cold weather here on the Chesapeake, but the last couple of days have been beautiful, so we took the opportunity to go hiking in one of our favorite spots, Marshy Point Nature Center.  It's really beautiful this time of year, and, frankly, we need to get out of the boat and get some exercise that didn't involve construction.

Where ever you are, there is a place like this near you.  Take advantage of it.
We love Marshy Point.  It has a great staff, a cool little interpretive center, and miles of well maintained and marked trails through some of the most varied flora and fauna I've encountered.

Really a lovely day to do some hiking.
 This time of year, in particular, the lycopodium stands out.  The club moss looks like tiny pine trees.  It's cheerful, evergreen, has lots of medicinal uses, and is vaguely explosive. . . .

One of the few explosive plants of which I am acquainted.

. . .no kidding about that last one.  The spores were used in flashpans for early photography and are still used for magician's flash powder.

So tomorrow we begin closing in the wheelhouse, which should make for a MUCH more pleasant winter.  Will give you pictures and a description of how we're doing it shortly.

Stay Tuned.