Saturday, August 19, 2017

Two steps forward. . . . .

. . . .and one back.  I HATE re-doing stuff, I really do.  You may remember a few posts ago where we replaced the plastic flipper-pump galley pump we had (that had stopped working) with a Whale pump, and spoke glowingly about it's form and function.


After less than two months it began to leak like a sieve and get progressively harder to pump.  I followed the disassembly directions.....everything seemed fine, it just wasn't working.

So finally I ripped the thing out and put in a new cheap flipper pump.  Hopefully this one will last more than two months.

So now I have ANOTHER hole to fill. . .and a lot of staining to take care of.  Sigh.
The motor and controller are on order from the nice folks at WildernessEV and are on their way.  Stay tuned for an unboxing.

More shortly.  Back to messing with the wiring.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fabricating an Anchor Light

Of course, with the mast gone, Tesla's Revenge no longer has an anchor/all round/steaming light as required by colregs.  So, having acquired a new LED all around light from them interwebs, we set about to fabricate one.

The light threads easily through PVC pipe fittings and makes for a durable install.
Most of the lights we looked at were in the $12 range, and were basic, bayonet base sockets fitted with all-round LED lamps.  Note if you install one of these, ventilation on the bottom may be necessary to help prevent the buildup of heat within the housing.  make sure if you use caulk or glue that you leave airflow space.

we attached the lamp to a pipe fitting base using 3/4" stainless screws.

The hardest part of this was attaching the 2" PVC upright to the wheelhouse.  I wanted to put stainless washers on the inside to distribute the load, but lining them up was a BEAR.

The final installation.  I'm happy.
Of course then I had to trace back the wiring to figure out which of the multiple bundles of wire running under the settee were part of the mast lights.  This vessel has been rewired at least twice, and BOTH times all the wires were simply left in place.  Figuring out what goes where involved a volt meter, a screwdriver, some wire cutters, contortionist skills, and a good deal of foul language.

Why did I pick one of the hottest days of the year to do this?  Tell me.
But now we have fully functional running and anchor lights.  Yay!  Now I just have to figure out why I suddenly have no cabin lights......

Sigh....always somethin.

More shortly.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Off Gridding

Going off Grid

Boat living, tiny house living, van living, tent living, cave living. . of the advantages of virtually ANY living other than the standard suburban home is that your small spaces and tiny carbon and energy footprint means you can have an unprecedented amount of freedom from utilities, services, and their associated bills. One of our objectives in this livaboard enterprise has always been to get as far off that dependence as was possible.
The Floating Empire's original 200W of solar was fine for electronics and internal lights. . .that's about it.

Our original shantyboat “The Floating Empire” went a long way in that direction. We were able to filter and pump our own water, and our scant 200W solar panels provided enough power for our electronics and interior lighting, but, sadly, not for refrigeration or travel. One of the driving forces behind getting our new vessel “Tesla's Revenge” was to take care of this.

So in our right minds and everything and after large amounts of caffeine, we've begun the process of getting fully off grid, with new components and a new battery layout, with an eye to producing and being able to store enough power to both live and travel unconnected from shore power.
Here's the hardtop, caulked and painted and ready for the membrane covering.  It EXACTLY fits the four new panels. . . .I didn't ask where I as gonna stand to put them on, now did I?

Every solar system is made of two major parts, both of which are limiting factors to what you can do. The first is, of course, the solar panels. Modern panels produce a LOT more than their predecessors, and the prices have plummeted. Our ultimate goal is to have 1300 watts of energy coming in, the limitation being more one of the surface area that we have on which to MOUNT the beasts than anything else. The second part is your storage, how much of that energy can you put away when the sun ISN'T out, and how rapidly can you draw off that energy when you need it. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that our new motor system will run at 48 volts, which means both the solar panels (normally 24V apiece) and the batteries (12V, grouped in series to make 48V) must be wired to match that voltage, and anything like, say, an inverter to produce 110V AC for appliance use must be able to take 48V on the DC side

After a couple of days of the knuckle busting job of rewiring our 8 deep cycle batteries in two series sets of four (48V, remember?) and dragging wire and installing our new 48V true sinewave inverter and the MPPT controller to regulate the power going from the solar panels to the batteries, we embarked on the perilous task of mounting the first two of our four solar panels on the hardtop. Actually, we wanted to do it the day before, but there were 16kt winds, and I figured I'd wind up somewhere over White Marsh hanging from a flying solar panel. Stylish, yes, but the landings can be messy.

One great place to acquire solar panels (if you're looking for large and high output) is solar installers. They buy the things by the palletload, and after they finish an installation, they'll often sell off the remaining few panels at cost or nearly so. We dealt with the VERY nice folks at Ameresco Solar in Chase and managed to acquire a couple of 325 watt, 24 volt panels for a very reasonable price. Great. Okay.

Finding a place to mount the inverter and the MPPT solar controller was a bit of a challenge as well.  We opted for beneath the companionway step.

So now all I have to do is managed to install two 6 ½ by 3 ½ foot, forty pound solar panels on the top of a moving vessel. We are VERY fortunate to have some lovely slipmates who came over to help us get them on top of the wheelhouse, which made life a lot easier. Of course, though I figured my spaces PERFECTLY for the installation, I forgot to ask one simple question: Where the hell do I stand to screw these in? The resultant, somewhat comedic installation routine resembled someone playing a game of “Twister” over a bed of black, hot, potentially shatterable glass with a cordless drill in one hand. This was one of those moments when extra limbs might have come in handy. Certainly, my wife's suggestion that I put on taller shoes (no kidding, it worked) made it possible by about 2/3 rds of an inch. Regardless, we got it done, clipped together the wires, and low and behold, we were powered up and off grid. . . .

Two Down, Two to Go

. . . .sorta. . .

It's been four years since we launched The Floating Empire, and that's about the lifespan of the original bank of deep cycle batteries. Frankly, they're getting a bit elderly and are no longer up to the task. We can produce plenty of power now, but can't store enough of it to reliably make it through all evenings and cloudy days (a problem also faced by municipalities and utilities working with renewables. Tesla's working on it.). So I'm spending my days at the moment shopping for another block of 100AH batteries to replace our old bank. For the moment, though, we have just dramatically reduced any power consumption we had (which wasn't much). The current system can provide power for all our internal lighting, electronic gear, refrigeration, fans, and assorted small appliances without being plugged into shore. As soon as the new battery bank goes in, We'll be completely disconnected. Then we put in our 4.7KW drive motor and other goodies, and another two panels. . .

Yay, off grid.

Where am I STANDING to put in the last two panels? I have no freaking Idea.

Stay Tuned.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Tease tease tease

Still no internet at the marina. . .they're working on it. . .but I thought I'd at least upload a bit of  a tease from my phone:

These beasts are 3  1/2 X 6 1/2 feet.  Getting them up was a bear.
Here's a shot of the first 650W of solar panels we installed on the hard top yesterday.  Full saga shortly, but things are working fine :)

More as soon as we can ...LOTS more in fact


Saturday, July 29, 2017

We apologise for the inconvenience. . . .

We've a ton of photos and new posts on the current work on "Tesla's Revenge", but our lovely little marina is having some SERIOUS bandwidth problems of late, which is making  uploading just about impossible.  They're working on it, and should have it functional by the end of the weekend, but if not, I'll drag the laptop over to a starbucks and get some of this stuff here on the blog.  Stay tuned.  Lotsa stuff coming as soon as we can.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Making a Simple, snap-on Screen

Screening in hatches, ports, companionways, and the like on vessels and tiny homes can be a pain. The surfaces are often uneven, the openings far from square, and, in general, trying to fabricate something like a screen that will stay in place and keep out the native insect life can be as much of a pain as.  .well. . .as the native insect life.

Window screens for the original Floating Empire were never satisfactory, as they involved lots of staples and not a lot of finesse.
We've found that a relatively simple expedient can be created, however, just through the use of screw-in snaps.

These simple screw in snap kits contain all the tools you need, save a hammer.
The method is really simple.  Cut your screening to fit and trim the edges with a stout tape or cloth.  We used Gorilla gaffer's tape.  Set your female snaps per the package instructions into the tape rim, then mark where the snaps will fall on the surface of the window opening and screw in the male part of the snap there.

It makes for a clean, easily removable, bug free screening system.
Since the whole system is non-rigid, it will easily adapt to virtually any opening.  Have a mind:  if drilling the snaps into fiberglass, a pilot hole is recommended as the screws can bind and snap off.

Anyway, just wanted to pass this along.  We've now got a screened main forward hatch and a LOT less mosquito intrusion.

More shortly


Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Saga of the Great Unmasting

So if you've followed this latest project of ours, you'll know that Tesla's Revenge, formerly a Cal 2-29 sailboat, had some issues that prevented her from being a . . .well. . .sailboat.  The supports that spread the force from the deck-stepped mast to the keel were shot, literally rusted to bits the size of coins, and that was, of course, one of the reasons we got her cheap.

Having re-assembled the interior, rewired stuff out the wazoo, and begun serious work on our wheelhouse, it was time to get rid of said troublesome mast in order to proceed with our conversion of the vessel into an electric cruiser.  Unfortunately, the marina where we're berthed, lovely as it is, lacks a crane to do this, and the nearest boatyard that can handle unstepping the mast is some miles down Middle River and up Frog Morter Creek, and, lacking either sails or a motor, getting over there was somewhat problematic.  But the boat DOES have an outboard mount, and, with an outboard borrowed from the former owner, we decided we could make the trip to Maryland Marina under our own power.

The Captain at his helm, mug of Iced Tea at the ready.  Note how hopeful he seems.
The day started auspiciously, with virtually no wind.  The borrowed motor started up instantly.  We did a wonderfully graceful job of getting out of the slip and into the center of Middle River.  All in all, quite the happy start.  I'd never been by water to Maryland Marina before (we did go to check it out by car just to be able to recognize the place) but I had the Navonics app on my smartphone, a functioning radio, maps on our computers. . . .the cat even seemed calm with his home suddenly deciding to move.  It was all good.

Okay, full disclosure here:  I have this paranoid distrust of internal combustion engines of any kind.  The guys at the marina all seem to love tinkering with them, listening to them, messing with them, talking about them. . . me, I seem to have a native antipathy to them.  I always assume they're going to fail, usually when I least expect it.  One of the effects of this paranoia is that I spend the ENTIRE TIME a motor is running listening for every hiccough, every burp and burble, convinced that something dire is about to happen.

But happily, nerve wrackingly, it didn't.

We even managed to find the Marina with only a minimum of angst.  All in all, the trip over failed to suck.  The Cal's huge rudder made steering a breeze, and the boat proved responsive and easy to manage.

Okay, to the mast.
The mast is a MOOSE.  You can also see some of our gonzo cribbing.
 The mast on this thing is a beast, the Cal being designed for offshore racing.  It's big and it's thick and it's long and the idea we had was to pull the thing and lay it across the new wheelhouse, along with a tripod of cribbing at the bow, then to motor back to Middle River Landing and remove the thing with the marina's sling.

As you can see, this thing is NOT short.
The whole process is kind of daunting.  The Marina made it look easy.

The crane was on it's own truck, and our beloved cat Magellan was totally freaked out by it, by the motor noise, by being off the boat (albeit with a leash) in a strange place.  I don't blame him.  Staring straight up at the mast, you really don't get a sense of how LONG the thing really is.  When they lowered it onto our cribbing, some of which nearly skittered off the deck during the loading process.  We lashed it on to the lifeline stands with some heavy line and managed to get it seated and tied down.

Tied down and mercifully back at our slip.
Of course, the entire way back, every creak and groan of the cribbing and the wheelhouse frame, every wave we hit, every burble of the motor, made me ABSOLUTELY SURE that with the next idiot powerboater's wake we would see the mast crashing into the water, dragging all our woodwork with it, COMPLETELY POSITIVE the motor was going to die any moment, leaving us stranded and void of course in the midst of the mixing bowl that is the lower Middle River.  AAAAAHHHH!   AAAAAHHHH!    AAAAAHHHHH!

It was not restful.

OMFG what an ordeal. 
We arrived back home, intact but stressed to the max and utterly exhausted (cat included).  The next day we pulled the mast off and set it on the hard using the Marina's boat sling.  That, at least, went smoothly.

But it's done.  Now we have a host of wiring and solar panels and electronics to deal with, but THAT, at least, I'm at ease with.

Not doing this again anytime soon, though.....sheesh.

Enjoy the summer.  We hope to be mobile and have lots new and happier stories for you by month's end.

This is a gin and tonic and I've earned it, so there.



Slow Progress, but lots more shortly

Apologies for not having posted a great deal lately.  Rest assured we're making progress and taking pictures, but a combination of an insane work schedule and bandwidth issues has made adding things to the blog difficult.  That's all about to change, so please bear with us.

In the recent days we've finished the structure for our wheelhouse, taken the boat on it's first trip, and gotten the mast removed.  Pix to come momentarily.

In the middle of that, our POS hand pump in the galley decided to stop working. . .then to start working. . .then to stop working again. 

I guess this thing was cheap for a reason, hunh?
So of course, I ordered a replacement, this time a Whale galley pump with far better reviews, and set about the knuckle banging task of getting the old one out.   This was complicated by the fact that the old pump required a much larger hole (which had to be filled) and the fact that I'd installed the old pump before putting in the sink, meaning I had to reach under and behind the sink and to the new installation by braille.

The new Whale galley pump.  You can see the repaired opening to the right, which I now have to tidy up.
But it's done.  The Whale galley pump is smooth, and twice as fast as the old one (it works on both stroke directions).  We're quite happy with it and I recommend it highly.

So stay tuned.  I'll be posting our first outing and the great mast removal saga shortly.

Happy summer.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Of Fear and Plywood: More progress.

Most of you who have followed this weblog know, Gail and I are makers. We're artists and tinkerers and designers and fiddlers and we love inventing and making stuff. Four years ago, we built the original barrel shanty," The Floating Empire", in our backyard and lived aboard her for over three years, making constant changes and experiments to the structure before selling her to a new owner and acquiring a used CAL 2-29 hull that we're turning into a solar electric cruiser. So I'm sitting on the dock covered in sweat in the middle of a Mad-Dogs-and-Englishmen noonday sun, merrily drilling away at the beams that will encompass our new, pergola-style wheelhouse, when one of our slipmates comes up and asks me: “Why bother?”

Yeah, it's noon and 92 degrees, so what?

“Why bother? There are three boats up there on the hard you could have for nearly nothing, and none of them need any work, really. I mean, they'll travel too, why do all this stuff?”

I have to admit, I was a little amazed. I mean, NOT doing all this stuff would never have occurred to me. There are a lot of reasons to do all the projects we do. First of all, we know the boats on which we live inside and out, having either built or re-built the personally. We're fearless in chopping into to fiberglass or replacing structural members, because we know the forces involved, we know what pieces have to be strong and what are merely cosmetic and how to deal with those. Second, of course, we get the boat we want, not just something which is close to the boat we want that's commercially offered. If I want a port right there, I'll put one in. If the counter is too low, I'll raise it. We build the space to accommodate us, not content to accept what some designer has created to please the average public. 

 See? Both of those are real reasons, and they make sense.

They are also just so much fish bait.

The real reason we do this is that we love doing it, and the reason I don't have a commercially built vessel is that there's nothing special about owning a commercially built vessel. Everything we have is unique to us, from “Tesla's Revenge” to “The Floating Empire” to our odd little offset rig Puddleduck “Dharma Duck.” Like my writing or Gail's artwork, it bears our stamp, and we love describing the systems and processes and accidents and disasters and successes to folks, and the idea that, somewhere, somehow, someone else may benefit from our experiments. Like artwork, it's a kind of immortality, a way of making a mark on the world in a way that simply buying something does not.

Besides, it's fun.  Don't be afraid.  It's only fiberglass.

Aboard our new shadier cockpit.  The pergola will eventually hold our solar panels.
 We made a lot of progress this week.  The enclosure for the nearly complete and perfectly serviceable to shade the cockpit, and we've added some roll-up bamboo blinds to block the morning and evening sun from blasting in.  All in all it'll make things lots cooler and make doing the rest of the work we've got ahead of us.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What were they thinking

With me working, we've been making slow, but hopefully sure, progress on "Tesla's Revenge".  We're continuing to stain and seal the beams for the new deckhouse.  If you're wondering why the text heavy posts lately, the marina has been experiencing some bandwidth problems with our WiFi (as in, I think the router is failing) which has made uploads a long and occasionally iffy process.

We've also done some stuff to correct some of the more bizarre features of the Cal 229 hull.  The worst of these sins is that the forward V berth has ZERO ventilation.  No ports, no vents, no hatches, no little air scoops, nada, nunca, nichts, nuttin.  The trouble is, anything we could install would get in the way of the tiny bit of flat deck space we have, so I tried an expedient.

small powered hatch in chain locker cools v berth
IThe large aft hatch is actually in the head.  The smaller, forward one is actually in the chain locker.
In the forward of the V birth was a small door into the chain locker, so I found a small vent with a powered fan and mounted it forward above the chain locker.  It has a screen and a 12V fan, so opening it and kicking it on and opening the chain locker door provides a nice, flow through ventilation to the berth.

Okay, odd, wanky, and not exactly to code, but it works.

We proceed.  This next week I'm hoping to get the mast pulled and the wheelhouse built.

More momentarily.


hey, more stuff at life, art, water.