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Saturday, June 20, 2020

This month in 2014. . .

This month in 2014 we splashed the original barrel shanty The Floating Empire, beginning our long and happy life on the water.
The Floating Empire, the day after we splashed her.
This part of June seems to be auspicious for us.  A year ago, literally today (6/20) we also splashed our current vessel, the SV Constellation.
Constellation going in.
 It's been a glorious pack of years, and the best is yet to come.  Today is also the Summer Solstice.  Blessed Litha to all you Pagans and Witches out there.  Lift a cup with us tonight for a great rest of the year.

M

Sunday, June 14, 2020

NOT what we had planned.

So our lovely sailing trip to the Sassafras river came to an abrupt halt when we motored into a fuel dock and, just as we reached it, the motor stopped and would not be restarted.  This resulted in a wild, six hour tow back to home port, definitely a "Ride em Cowboy" event.


Yep, that's a towboat up there.
Our tow driver Mike and his dog Diesel were fortunately knowledgeable and competent, so they got us home right at at sunset without further incident. but we're both feeling more than a little beat up right now.  So after a day's rest or so, I'll tie into whatever fuel line problems we appear to be having and get us up and running again.  Bear with us.

We did get some wonderful photos, though, and some nice new locations for anchoring, so stay tuned.  Back with you quickly.

M

Monday, June 8, 2020

A quick note on works of fiction.

My publisher, Wild Shore Press, is running a discount on all my fiction works this weekend (June 10-14).  All the electronic editions of my novels on Amazon/Kindle will be available for download for $.99 each.  Just a little boost for your quarantined summer reading.  You can find my stuff HERE.
Rush right out in a downloading Frenzy!
We're headed off sailing again for a week or so in the morning, so I should have some great new pictures and stories for you.  Stay tuned.

M

Friday, June 5, 2020

Sailing the Farm

(With Apologies to Kenneth W. Neumeyer)

I mention his name because in 1981 or so, Neumeyer published a book of that name, "Sailing the Farm" on how to raise sustainable foodstuffs on a small sailboat.  Neumeyer had sailed the world, and the book, by turns pragmatic, apocalyptic, and hippy-tastic, served as a great guide for those who wanted to be on the water but not be separated from fresh foodstuffs.  The book is long out of print, and extant copies cost a mint, but it is available as an online PDF HERE if you're interested.

Fresh food, let's face it, be you aboard a watercraft, in an isolated cabin in winter, or headed to Mars, is an issue.  It's not just the scruvy-avoidance and other health issues.  If you cook and appreciate good meals, a little fresh green can make a huge difference in the results of your galley.  Plus, a little green is just nice to have about.

So we thought we'd let you in on a few of the things we've done of varying success to bring a little fresh greenery (no, not that kind) into our lives, going from the ultra simple to the easy and plentiful.  Ready?

You want to talk easy?  You want to talk "takes up no space"?  Try this.  The next time you get a stalk of celery (carrots and onions work too, as will most brassicas like bok choi) chop off and reserve the bottom two inches or so and place it in a shallow dish of water (if carrots or onions, save the tops where the leaves come out instead).  That's it.  In a few days, you'll be greeted with a surprising little fountain of green leaves suitable for garnishing your salads and soups as well as lending some welcome living stuff to your galley.  Really, it's quite pretty.

This pretty little guy will give you a month of tasty garnishes.
When it gets a bit too rangy looking (but has developed a bit of root), just stick it in a pot and it will continue to grow.  We've had a dockside pot of herbs, mainly rosemary, for six years now, providing no end of sauces and marinades (it's also been the nesting site for 35 ducklings over the years, but I digress.)

Wonderful, edible thyme flowers in a dockside pot.
Now, lets grow some crops shall we?  The best, simplest option we've found is the growing of what are typically called microgreens.  Okay "microgreens" is kind of a trendoid sales job.  All these things are normal crops, picked very young.  You can get some wonderful "microgreen mixes" on the web, a blend of seeds of things like arugula, mustard, basil, dandilion, cilantro, kale, lettuce, chard. . . .some of the mixes may have upwards of thirty different plants, running heavily to the earlier mentioned brassicas.  They require only a shallow pan of soil, and that you give them water and a periodic haircut of the bigger leaves to keep things from getting too mature or crowded.  A teaspoon of the seeds can get you literally weeks of fresh greens.

DeadKitty loves his microgreen garden.
Make the clipped greens into a wonderfully rich salad, or as a bed for other dishes.  They can be added to stir frys and soups, egg dishes, pastas, and all manner of things.  I know of no gonzo food raising you can do that creates so much wonderful food so easily.

So a bed of fresh, slightly bitter greens goes down to make a home. . .

. . .for a wonderful dish of sauteed sea food and fresh veggies.
Last, but not least, let's talk sprouts.  Sprouting stuff is really easy.  First of all, make sure you get a mix made FOR sprouting (garden seeds may have fertilizers and fungicides on them that you don't want to ingest).  Dump them in a jar, put a cloth over the top, and give them a rinse and a drain every day.  In a couple of days you'll be greeted with a wonderful wad of sprouts suitable for salads, stir frys, and omlettes, all of them bursting with vitamin C and a host of other nutrients.  Mung beans are the classic for sprouting, but fenugeek, radish seeds, and garbanzo beans work beautifully.


Asparagus and green pea soup with fresh thyme flowers and fenugreek sprouts.  It doesn't get any fresher than this.  Yeah, we made the bowl too.
Neumeyer died in 2013, at shore at last, surrounded by family.  He inspired generations of farmers, cooks, and iconoclasts.  The book is a monument to him.  Give it, and the veggies a try.

Summer is on us now with a vengeance, and we've been doing a bit of cruising, checking out systems for a longer trip this fall.  Life on the water is just splendid.  Get out there and enjoy it.

M





Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Incredible Bucket Laundry system

Okay, I don't know how "incredible" it is, but it does work.  Laundry is always a challenge, even for apartment dwellers, if you don't have your own facilities  For liveaboards, especially those on the cruise, it's even more of a bother.  If you're like us, you wind up waiting until you just can't wait anymore, then you put on the tux, an old wedding dress, and a tutu, those being the only things left unsoiled, and truck bags of often sodden clothes to the laundry and then sit there with Dr. OZ blaring from five TV screens, until your stuff is done, then fold it and truck it back home again.  As not fun as that is, it's simpler than what you can do at anchor.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post.  We've tried, over the years, a number of things to do small batch laundry aboard.  While there are a lot of commercial options, ziplock laundry-ing bags, small spin dryers, etc., this is the simplest and most compact that we've found and what we use most often.

You will need:  Two 5 gallon buckets...

That's about it.

They need to be able to nest.  Drill a bunch of holes in one of them so it can drain.  I've seen folks on them interwebs that use this system that drill hundreds of small holes, but we've found a smaller number of large ones drains faster and keeps your laundry in just as well.
Here you go:  Two buckets, one drilled out so it will drain, and a bunch of dirty laundry.
It works like this:  put your dirty things in the solid bucket and fill it up with water and laundry soap and agitate it a bit to mix.  I know some folks who use a small plunger to do this ( I know, I know. . . ).  Then ignore it for about ten minutes.  More if you like.  Soaking it for a bit really helps.  You'll find you can fit in a couple of day's clothes:  T-shirts, underwear, maybe a pair of jeans.  We have done sheets and towels, but that tends to need a wash session all their own.

Agitate and soak the clothes, then dump them over into the drilled out bucket to drain.
After a bit, further agitate the clothes, then drump the whole lot, water and all, over into the drilled out bucket to drain.  Then take the solid bucket, put it into the top of the drilled out one, and press down.  This will compress your clothes and squeeze out a lot of the water.
Stick the solid bucket on top of your clothes and press down.  This will remove a lot of the water.
Then dump the clothes back into the SOLID bucket and refill with water.  Agitate and repeat.  Keep doing this until the water is clear, usually 2-3 rinses.  Then you should be able to hang up your clothes.  You will probably need to wring them out a bit more.

This works well for day to day wash, and can be done in the cockpit (use non-polluting soaps that will break down) if you absolutely have to.  We try to go ashore up onto grass or something that can deal with the greywater.  You'll also find the drilled bucket useful for draining rope and a whole host of other duties, and the solid bucket is. . .well. . .a bucket, so that's useful as well.

Try it.  It works.

It's finally gotten warm here on the Middle River, and we're doing boat stuff in preparation for going back out for a couple of weeks.  I'll be pulling down our ratty Genoa Jib today and replacing it with a newer working jib we've acquired (hopefully it'll fit with the roller furling).

Stay healthy out there.  Next up, boat farming, so stay tuned.

M

Worton Creek.



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Gone Sailing

Hi folks, just a quick note:  We've taken the opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge and go sailing for a few days, which has delayed our posting for a bit.  At present, we're at anchor at Worton Creek (with some VERY limited wifi signal), and are planning on heading up to Still Pond or the Sassafras River in a day or so.  We'll be back in a few with LOTS of new pictures, some new ideas, and more stuff for you, so please stay tuned.

Got to use our improvised cockpit shower for the first time on the hook today, and it was delightful.  Al Fresco bathing at it's finest.  No, you're not getting pictures of that.  Trust me.

So we're spending the day just kicking back and relaxing.  There's something wonderful about anchoring in a secluded little nook and just chilling out.  We got lots of opportunities to try out Gail's new 300mm lens, our new monocular, and some new navigational software, which we'll be dutifully reporting on upon our return.  For now, it's five o'clock somewhere.  Enjoy your weekend.

M

Friday, May 15, 2020

Hosing off

We finally got away from the dock after dealing with some engine issues and spent last night out on the hook for the first time this year, which was wonderful.  There's something amazingly peaceful about anchoring in a secluded cove and just kicking back, reading, napping, or daydreaming.  We've both missed it.  This was our shakedown cruise to make sure we were ready for a longer session on the water.  Boy are we ready.
Back on the water where we belong.
One of the challenges of living aboard, particularly for those of us cruising or living on the hook, is just keeping clean.  Too many days at sea without some semblance of a shower can leave the cabin and bedding a little. . .well. . .ripe.  Add to that the vaguely corrosive effect of salt water on the skin, and you have a formula for some really funky crewmembers.

A lot of vessels, even rather small ones, have showers, generally of the "wet head" variety, but, to be honest, a lot do not.  Constellation is one in the "do not" category. While at dock, we can always use the opulent showers at the marina, but frankly, with the whole Covid-19 thing going on, we're trying to keep as far from public spaces as possible.  Besides, with the return of warmer weather and Maryland's release of boaters from quarantine rules (mostly) we're planning on being away from dock a lot, so what to do?

Our solution was to create our own privacy stall in the cockpit for bathing, and thus far, it's working pretty well.  We used a couple of long bungee cords, threaded through some inexpensive polyester shower curtains, to enclose part of the bimini.
A bungee threaded through a couple of shower curtains makes for a simple privacy screen.
In looking for a shower source,  you have several choices.  You can, of course, go with one of the ubiquitous hanging solar bag showers.  They do work, but they're heavy, and most bimini's won't gracefully take that kind of load.  We opted to go for a small electrically driven unit.  There are several of these on the market.  They're inexpensive and work pretty well.  Some are USB rechargeable units, but we opted for one that plugged into the 12V outlet we have in the cockpit.

This simple 12V pump just drops in a bucket and provides you with a pretty decent amount of water pressure.
We use a 5 gallon bucket for water, either using tap water or river water, and adding about a half gallon of boiling water to heat it up.  You could, of course, solar heat the water or just take a cold water shower (not my fave).  The full bucket gives the both of us a decent shower without doing much scrimping, and it sure feels good after a few days on the water, and the cat no longer objects to the smell.

Total cost of the setup was probably about $60 including the water pump rig (do a search for "camping showers" and you'll find lots of options), and a couple of discount shore shower curtains.  On a side note, I couldn't tell what the bizarre pattern on the ones we got was from the package.  Once we opened them, it turned out they were--ready?--Constellations!  Hows that for kismet?

Next up:  Laundry!  Stay tuned.

Be safe out there.

M

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Some Minor Notes on the New Composting Toilet Design

Having lived for a bit with the new version of our DIY Composting toilet, I thought I'd share a few things that we've found.

The new iteration of our DIY Composter
First of all: Overall, this is the best one of these we've built.  It's compact, easy to deal with, far easier to dump than earlier versions, and the urine separator works VERY well, taking a minimum of fiddling about with to make drain properly.

I had been afraid that the notch we put in the holding bucket would either leak or weaken the container too much, but that hasn't  been the case.  The Bucket pulls out of it's base just fine, is simple to dump, and easy to return to service.

The slightly lower exit point for the urine tube, combined with the right angle fitting means the tube is far less likely to kink and that the flow to the diverter container is a relatively straight shot, with no urine being left in either the diverter itself or the tube.  This means no smell and no discoloration, which is great.

As with our previous design, we're finding that we are emptying the urine container every day or every other day and the dry solids every week to ten days.   If this seems a bit shorter than usual, the current quarantine means we're spending a LOT more time together on the boat and very little elsewhere, so all our . . .um. . .business gets done on the boat and almost none in stores or in the Marina bathrooms.

Some minor, mostly easily fixable, drawbacks:  The notch in the containment bucket is a bit sharp, which means if we're using a liner, it's prone to being punctured or torn by the plastic as it's put in place.  A bit of sandpaper should fix this.

I still need to find some better sealant for the threads of the right angle fitting on the diverter.  It drips a bit into the dry solids, which I'd rather it didn't.  Will be trying some 4200 later this week, which I suspect will clear it up.

The snap on toilet seats all seem to have the same problem:  The pins that act as hinge for the seat cover are too short, and the cover often disconnects from them.  I really wish Reliance or one of the other companies would fix this.  As it is, it's a minor annoyance.

The main thing I think I like about this version is that. . .well. . .it just LOOKS nice, aside from working well.  It looks like it belongs there, which pleases us.  Unlike some of our other versions, this one also gives you an option as to where to place the urine container, which i can see being a plus.

All in all, this one is a keeper.  The build will take you all of about half an hour and cost well less than $50 US.   You can find the instructions on this new build HERE, along with links to our original build and to the booklet we've published on Amazon about making these things.

More shortly

M

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Making a stable composting toilet base.

okay so we're really pretty happy with the new composting toilet build.  It works well and frankly looks nicer than any of the other versions of this design that we've played with. It's easier to dump and clean, and far simpler to route the urine diverter hose.  It's a keeper.

This one has worked out really well.
The only drawback is, of course, it's a bucket, and the sailboat moves.  We needed some way to anchor it securely to the cabin sole without making it difficult to remove and dump the waste.

We have, of course, done this before.  One of our first builds aboard Floating Empire was a similar bucket composter, but that one was without a urine diverter.  You can read about that build Here. if you're interested.

The method we finally fell upon to secure the head is a simple one: we use the bottom of yet another five gallon bucket to make a holder for the composting head.  It's pretty simple.  Wanna see?

Start by cutting off the bottom 6 or so inches of a bucket.
Begin by marking off the bottom five inches of another 5 gallon bucket.  The best way to do this is to lay the bucket on it's side and rotate it against a sharpie or something until you have an even line all the way around the base.  Then drill a starter hole and use a pvc cutting blade to cut the thing off.  Can you use a knife?  Yes, but it's hard to make the cut straight and, frankly, the chances of you cutting yourself are not insubstantial.

Here we go, the bottom five inches or so of the bucket.
Once you have that cut off, mark three relatively equidistant places along the rim and cut out three slots.  This you may need to use a blade for, because the jigsaw is kinda awkward.

This is pretty easy
You want something that looks like this.
The reason we're doing this is from horrible experience.  In our earlier build, we affixed the bottom foot or so of a bucket to the deck and dropped the composting bucket toilet into it.  It worked beautifully, keeping the john stable and stationary.  It was perfect. . . .

. . . until we went to dump it.  The polyethylene from which these things are made is slightly sticky, and the buckets had been pressed together repeatedly by . . .well. . .body weight.  When we went to dump the thing, it wouldn't budge.  Not an inch.  Not a freaking centimeter.  It was an airtight seal between the two of them and the air pressure didn't allow them to separate, which ordinarily wouldn't have been much of a problem, except one of the buckets was screwed to the freaking deck and the other one was full of . . .well. . .crap.  I wound up drilling holes into the base of the outer bucket to free it, and even then I very nearly collapsed the full bucket in the process. 

The cutouts are to allow air to get between the buckets and to allow some wiggle room to un-socket what is essentially your composter holding tank.

Check your placement, then just screw in place.
The new base holder can just be screwed to the deck with stainless screws and fender washers.  Then just drop the composter setup into it.  Voila!  You now have a slide proof, tip resistant john setup for boat or tiny home.

See the seam?  That's where they meet.
This has really been such a great version of our composting toilet, and with a total cost well under $50, it beats the living hell out of shelling out a grand for a commercial composter.  Nuff said.

As the weather has begun to cooperate a little, we've been using some of our time in Quarantine to do small projects and tidy up stuff, making ready for travel.  I installed grablines to the inside of the salon, which turned out well.

The new grablines.
If they look familiar, they're actually the underside of the identical grablines I installed on the top of the deck.

We just replaced the nuts holding these lifting bolts with ring nuts.  Took all of five minutes.
We're jonesing to get out on the water, waiting on the weather and to see what we can do during the Social Distancing.  I mean, what's more socially distanced than being anchored in the middle of the water?


Because nothing says Social Distancing like a few hundred yards of water.
Be sensible and safe, guys.  We'll all get through this if we just act like responsible adults.  Admittedly, I'm bad at that, but for all our sakes I'm willing to try.

More shortly,

M

Thursday, April 16, 2020

New Composting Toilet Build and Install (with Improvements) Pt. 2

So having finally ripped out the old blackwater system from Constellation, we braved the virus to go get some parts and put together our new composting toilet.  If you'd like the basic design and construction, you can find our pamphlet on the thing HERE or check out our earlier build on the blog HERE.

You will need:
Two, 5 gallon buckets.
Some 1/2" ID tubing
A right angle fitting for the tubing
Some very short stainless steel (trust me) screws
A "Luggable Loo" or other snap on seat for bucket toilets.

While you can do this with a knife, I strongly recommend using a jigsaw with a PVC cutting blade.  It will make VERY short work of this project and save you a lot of frustration.  It's also quite a bit safer.  You'll also need a 3/4" bit to cut the opening for the fitting in the urine diverter.

Okay, ready?  Here we go with the basic construction.

First, cut the top part off of one of the buckets.  Typically these things have two built up bands that re-enforce the top rim.  You want to be about three or four inches below that, about eight inches or so below the top rim.  You'll need to remove the handle.


Here's the cut of top of the bucket with the urine diverter in place.  Notice my elegant and regular cut.. .  .not.
 Cut across the bottom of the bucket just short of halfway and cut an arc from that out of the sides of the bucket to make this kind of wedge shape.  There are some more detailed photos of this piece in our original article HERE.

Here's the wedge shaped cut from the bucket bottom that comprises the urine diverter.  This is where to drill the hole and screw in the fitting.

Drill a hole in what will be the new urine diverter next to the edge of the bottom and screw in the pipe fitting.  In the photo above, the fitting is a straight one with a 1/2" barb connector for the tubing.  I changed that for a right angle fitting, which prevents the hose from kinking quite so easily.

Screw the diverter wedge in at a slight angle a couple inches below the rim (it has to clear your bum after all).  The fitting, obviously, has to be at the lowest point.  


Screw your diverter in a couple of inches below the rim at an angle, so it forms a "V" with the pipe fitting at the bottom.  Note, you'll need some pretty short screws or be willing to cut them off, and this process will slightly deform the bucket.  That's okay, it'll flex more than enough to still fit into the lower bucket.  Go ahead and attach a couple of feet of your tubing.  You can always trim if off later.

Now here comes the new bit.  We cut a groove down about five inches in the side of the lower bucket for the tubing to set into.  Like this:

Notch the lower bucket out like this.  The groove should easily accommodate your tubing.

Put in your liner (we use biodegradable trashbags).   Push the liner down into the little groove you just cut out.

Push your liner down into the cut.  The tubing will sit in this groove.
Now put the top part with the urine diverter onto the lower bucket.  The groove you cut should be on the side and the diverter to the front.  Putting in a bit of sawdust or wood stove pellets (which is what we use) at this point will help hold the liner down and in place.

Tidy, hunh?  feel free to trim off the liner bag if you dislike the aesthetics, but I like having the excess to tie off when dumping the compost.

Now put your tubing in a container (we used a cat litter container, but anything that's short enough to be below the diverter will work).  Trim the hose as needed.  In a permanent, on shore installation, you can leave your tubing long and just run it into a dry well or into the garden (most plants will love the nitrogen).  Try to avoid kinking the hose as this will make the thing drain rather slowly.

It makes a rather tidy installation. 

Now, snap on the seat and give it a try. ..no, really.  You'll need to make sure the back of the urine diverter doesn't hit your butt.  If it does, you can either rescrew it on a bit lower or take a pocket knife and cut down the back a little.  Once you're sure the back of the urine diverter doesn't touch you when you're sitting there, you're done.

This entire thing takes about a half-hour to build, works beautifully, will last for literally years, and costs about $30 to put together, less if you have the buckets.

Next up, I'll be making a mount to secure the thing in place.


Stay tuned

M