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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?
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 wheelhouse.is 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.

M

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.

M

hey, more stuff at life, art, water.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A bit of Progress

A rare day off and a rare clear day and we finally got a bit of work done on the revisions to Tesla's Revenge.

The new hardtop, the roof that will enclose the cockpit into a wheelhouse and support the solar panels, will be a pergola-styled structure, stained to match the teak on the rest of the boat.  So on a cloudy day and in our right minds and everything we ventured out and purchased wood for the top.
Shaping the beam ends for the pergola roof.
One of the purchases we've made recently was a suite of cordless power tools, including a jigsaw and mouse sander.  The sander, particularly, proved useful in dealing with this project, but in dealing with the 1 1/8" holes in the beam ends, I was forced to resort to the massive drill I purchased to drill the holes in the support beams of Floating Empire nearly four years ago.  The little 20V drill just wasn't up to the task.

Stain going on.
So after the insanity of Memorial Day weekend, we'll be getting more lumber and fabricating the rest of the top and, hopefully, removing the mast before all this happens.

Stay tuned.

Hey, more stuff over at Life, Art, Water.

M

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stateless

Stateless: the downsides.

As we renovate and prepare the new boat, Gail and I were discussing the pros and cons of our livaboard lifestyle. So much of what I've put on these pages has been in glowing reference to the joys of the way we live, the place and the people. I thought, perhaps, it might be good to temper that with a bit of reality. . . not TOO much reality, mind you. Reality and I have always been barely on speaking terms, but here are some considerations you might take into account before taking to the water.

Sigh...here we go again.
First and foremost, as a livaboard, you are relatively stateless. Living on a (potentially) moving platform, your mailing address, your utilities, your “home” anything is largely a fiction. Slip four lines and shove off and you're somewhere else. By and large, this isn't a problem, but you will find, occasionally, that “we can't verify that address” will come up as the marina, a commercial address, can't be verified as a residence. 

Of course, the bug out potential is there as well.

Living on a vessel, you are living effectively in a floating tinyhome. Boats, particularly sailboats, can have a surprising amount of storage, but it's mostly “dead” storage. Want the tupperware? It's right there, under the cushion, under the hatch, underneath the extra life vests, the bagged catfood, the box of DVD's, my dad's photos, a box of tools that we had no place else to store, a bin of art supplies, and the peat moss for the composting toilet. No problem. But having to move six things to get to anything you want can be a hassle, and takes a bit of forethought when you arrange your storage.
It's also a compressed space. I'm fond of telling people that I don't take up any more room in a phone booth than I do in a stadium, and it's true, but this is, after all, a tinyhome. In a boat, Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones could reach each and every top shelf. From where I'm sitting right now, I can open the fridge, reach the wine glasses, type of course, reach the battery bank, the towel storage bin. . . .all without getting up. It's a convenience. If you're claustrophobic, it's the third ring of hell.  Your new "kitchen range" is likely a single burner stove, your refrigerator, if you have one, is likely the same one your kid has in her dorm room at college.  Hot and cold running water?  You must be kidding.

On a boat, you just can't “let things wait”. Like houses and apartments, of course, they can burn, gas leaks can make them explode, shorts can cause fire. Unlike houses and apartments, boats can sink. They can ram the docks in high winds. They can leak around the hatches. They can break free of their moorings and go drifting off uncontrolled, with you sound asleep belowdecks. You have to be a bit more proactive, and no one is going to do it for you. 

Boat repairs can be expensive. I once asked a distributor what was the difference between a $.40 stainless steel bolt and a $2.30 Stainless Steel Marine Bolt. He said, candidly, the word “marine”. Tack “marine” onto anything and you're likely to pay at least 40% more for the same stuff.
Not that “marine” is a vain piece of marketing, not entirely. Marine environments are damp, corrosive, full of stresses that no landlocked construction would ever experience, and you don't DARE let that slide. One good wake from a drunken powerboater, one grounding, one lightning strike, and you are, figuratively and occasionally literally, toast. You have to pay attention. You have to keep yourself safe, because no one else will.

Having said all that, here we sit. We're up to our butts at the moment in new wiring and making decisions about motors and solar panels and where what goes and what we keep, but here we are.
We're free. I can slip the bonds of this dock at will. The cat loves the place. We wake in beauty every morning, and no amount of wind and rain and dryrot can ever change that.

We live aboard. Neither of us would have it any other way.

Don and Gail and Magellan aboard “Tesla's Revenge”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fixing Composting Toilet Issues

The composting toilet aboard Tesla's Revenge
For those of you who have followed this column for a bit, you'll know that we're big fans of composting toilets for vessels.  After years of dealing with smelly, wanky, miserable to service blackwater heads, the simplicity of a composting head--even a simple bucket composter--is a joy.  They have very little to go wrong, and they NEVER stink.

So imagine my surprise when, just a few days ago, my wife and shipmate goes "wow, the toilet stinks".

And so it did.  Why?

I looked inside.  Source of the stank was pretty apparent:  urine was pooled in the toilet.  Liquids=anaerobic bacterial action=stank.  I tossed in some more biomass, in this case some rather disintegrated wood stove pellets, and forgot about it. 

And yet the stink persisted.  I kept adding more stuff.   What was going on?  This is EXACTLY the same setup we'd been using for near four years now.  It never smelled before, not ever.  What the hell, man?

So, being a good American, I turned immediately to them interwebs.  At first, nothing.  Then on a forum for one of the self contained composting heads, one of the commercial ones, I ran across a statement to the effect that "the finely ground peat moss sold in some garden centers is far less effective than wood chips or coarser biomass."

Finely ground.. . . .hmm.  I looked at our woodstove pellets, the stuff we'd been using for years as biomass.  The last two bags I'd gotten--the last two available at the end of the wood stove season--had been sold to me for, well, nothing, because they had gotten damp.  As a result, what I had was essentially two big bags of very, VERY fine sawdust as the pellets had disintegrated.

If you're using wood stove pellets, they should look like this, not like powder.
So we trucked off to the garden center at one of the big box stores and came back with a 3 cubic foot block of compressed sphagnum moss peat, broke some of it off, and tossed it in.

Bingo.  Urine absorbed instantly, smell completely gone.  This is a very good thing as the head in the new boat is RIGHT next to OUR heads as we sleep.

So, what have we learned today, kids?  We've learned that liquid is not your friend in composting toilet land, and that bulky and absorbent is waaaaay better than fine and powdery.  The object is to create the circumstances for aerobic decomposition, the stuff that happens on a forest floor, and avoiding the cirumstances for ANaerobic decomposition, the stuff that happens in a septic tank.  This means locking up the liquids and providing a way for air to circulate in and among the waste and biomass.

WOW am i glad that worked.

More really cool stuff over at Life, Art, Water, check it out.

Much more later

M

Friday, April 28, 2017

Aboard the EV Tesla's Revenge

Madman in the Galley
I'm sitting here in the galley of Tesla's Revenge, sun streaming in the open hatchway.  The coming weeks are going to include a massive amount of work on the new vessel that we hope to share with you, including:

Pulling the Mast.
Construction of a new wheelhouse.
Installation of a rather large number of solar panels.
Installation of a new battery bank and inverter.
and, of course,
Installing and testing our new electric drive system.

All this mess should take us about three months (he said, being wildly overly optimistic) and then we should get to take you folks along on some travels, first around the Chesapeake, then into the Erie Canal system and the Great Lakes and Canada.

This is gonna be a metric craptonne of work (that is, of course, the technical term) but we love making things. 

Stay tuned.  This is just beginning.

M

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bittersweet

Here's a shot of The Floating Empire, making her voyage to her new home, witnesses in attendance.

The Floating Empire sails off on her new adventure.
I'm sentimental about stuff in my life, and this is no exception.  The Empire has been our home for going on four years.  We built every inch of her, sweat and blood literally in every screw driven, every board cut.  I'm so very happy not to have had to break our little ship, and delighted that she's in the hands of someone who will give her the care she needs.  We're off to new adventures with Tesla's Revenge, new creations, new places, but still. . . .

I shall miss her.

Many more photos over at Life, Art, Water of her departure.

And now, our new saga begins.

M

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Moving Day

Moving is always such a treat.

Yes, that was sarcasm in case you missed it.

Be it house to house or boat to boat, moving is a pain in the butt. You get to wonder such imponderables as “where did all this stuff COME from?” and “what is this and why did we save it?” among other favorites. Yep, it's a joy.

For those of you who have followed this blog you know that we're leaving our beloved barrel shantyboat Floating Empire, and moving aboard a new vessel, now dubbed Tesla's Revenge, an electrically driven solar boat with which we want to do some traveling. We'd been afraid that we would have to demolish our shantyboat, but, happily, a new owner has emerged to give Empire the TLC she needs and she'll be off on a series of new adventures.

But that leaves us downsizing yet again. I kid my wife that we're going to keep doing this until we can fit our possessions into a single briefcase. She says it'll just make it easier when we go to Mars.

The slow, sad work of disassembling parts of our home.

The new vessel is coming along. . . .clumsily . . . as we're having to continue rebuilding and refitting the boat while we're living on her. Tesla's Revenge is a former Cal 2-29. We've shifted over the Empire's battery bank (all eight o them), and will be pulling the mast (the mast supports have some issues), building a pilot house over the cockpit, and equipping her with a 5KW motor and 1000 watts of solar panels.
New homes for old stuff

Then the real fun begins, probably about midsummer.

As we reflect on Floating Empire and our last three years on the water, its amazing to think what a wonderful choice moving aboard proved to be: the adventures had, friends made, and all surrounded by the beauty and grace of the water. We wouldn't have had it any other way.

The Floating Empire, now off on a new adventure.
On to the next adventure.

Lots more photos over at Life, Art, Water, check em out.

MUCH more shortly.
Happy Spring

M

Thursday, April 13, 2017

This just in....

We have found a new and happy home for our beloved Floating Empire, (allowing us to complete work on Tesla's Revenge with a clear maritime conscience. )  Stay tuned.




whew
M

Saturday, April 8, 2017

SPLASH

We'll it's official.  Tesla's Revenge is in the water.  Now the real work starts.

Touching up the keel is a wee bit unnerving, being under 8000lbs of boat in the sling.
Here she sits, afloat and upright and everything.
Magellan, true to his name, was quick to come explore.  Not sure what he thinks of it all.
Many more pictures of the splash and christening over at Life, Art, Water.  Check em out!

MUCH more later. Stay tuned.

M