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.


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.


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


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,


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., 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


Thursday, April 9, 2020

THE BEAST IS OUT: Diy composting toilet install pt1

I really wish I had more photos to show you of the removal, but we wound up taking the blackwater system out during a driving thunderstorm (at the moment we have winds gusting to 71mph.  Not restful) but we managed to get the old blackwater toilet and holding bladder out without too much difficulty.
I feel like I should say something like "thank you for your service," but truth to tell i think the thing was just exhausted.
A couple of notes on removal:  in most of these systems, the pump and most valves in these systems are designed to be placed ABOVE the water line, so that, in case of a failure or needed repair, you won't flood the boat.  If, as in our current case, you can't close the seacocks and there's nobody working in the marina to pull your vessel, you can use that to your advantage and relocate the open ends of the lines to above water level and cap them.  As it was, I put some oak bungs in the intake water hose and in the outlet hose right below the valve that sends the waste either to the holding tank or overboard, and then ripped out the rest of it.  Some stout pipe clamps and I'm comfortable enough with it to live with it until this plague is over and I can get a haul and hang to address the through-hulls safely.

The old head location is now occupied by our redoubtable camping toilet, pending the new composter.
So, one more thing off the list.  Over the next couple of days we'll complete our measuring and arguing over the new layout, and then we'll build in our new DIY composting toilet with urine diverter.  Wow, I'm so glad that went as well as it did.

Windy here tonight, with gusts into the 70's (MPH) and we're probably stuck with this weather for the next two days, but stay tuned for pictures of the new install.

More shortly.

Stay safe everyone.


A tiny little hack

Isn't this sweet?  Yeah, that's celery.
Just a little short one today, though lots more to come.  See the pretty little plant above?  That's just the bottom of a bunch of celery cut off, put in a very small amount of water, and left to sprout, which it does very quickly.  Not only is it a little bonsaii-like splash of green in the galley, the everbearing little leaves are great additions to stocks and salads.  This little trick can be done with lots of plants, including carrots, garlic, and onions.  It's not a lot of food on the hook, mind you, but it's a bit of green for the galley and a bit of fresh flavors to add to your food.

I just thought it was kinda cool.

Today we start ripping out the old blackwater toilet system from the head and replacing it permanently with a composting toilet using the design we developed.  It's going to be a pain in the butt, but it will free up a lot of storage space in the bow and get rid of the smelly thing.

Photos as we go along.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Great Marine Sequester

You would think, living on a boat, that the time of Quarantine wouldn't really be all that big a thing.  I mean, we're used to the small space, used to being off the dock and away, surrounded by water and our own thoughts, for days or weeks at a time.  We're self sufficient, can generate our own electricity, we can fish, we're both great cooks.  I mean, the peace and quiet alone is worth the hassles, right?

But here's the thing:  This isn't normal circumstances.  If we're feeling a bit boat-bound we can't just pop down to the local pub for a drink and a dinner.  We're having to limit our shopping to stay safe, and we're loading the larder with far more than the market shopping we usually do, and that's changing what we cook and how we cook.  It's an odd time.
Social Distancing anyone?
You would think we'd just load up the stores and head out, spend a few weeks cruising or on the hook, and get shed of crowds and the possibility of infection, but a couple of things have given us pause:  First of all, what if one of us comes down sick?  Or both?  How would we manage getting to a port?   How much help could we count on on the water?  Second, if we had a breakdown, in normal times, I'd just call up marine towing and get dragged back in, but is that still working?  Is it still working everywhere

You see the dilemma. 

So we determined, for the moment at least, to stay in dock (and largely on the boat) and shelter in place rather as if we WERE out on the hook.  It gives us, at least, the opportunity to take walks and go ashore and stretch a bit.  We've also taken here among the liveaboards to having "cockpit parties", otherwise known as you stay in your cockpit and we stay in ours a discrete distance apart and have a libation in the afternoons while conducting rather overloud conversations from boat to boat.

Well, at least it's social contact without. . .well. . .social contact.

This enforced pause has given us the chance to do a bit of maintenance on the boat and complete a few projects, but I do confess to finding the whole situation enervating.  Maybe in a few days we'll restock the larder and just putt up the bend and anchor out for a bit just for the change of scenery.

Magellan, as usual, has the right idea.
When all this is done, I sincerely hope things DON'T go back to normal.  That "normal" is what got us into this mess in the first place, with the greed and toxicity of our culture poisoning everything it touched.  As I sit here in the Middle River, the water is as clean as I've ever seen it.  The air is sweet,  the Ospreys have just come back for the season and are filling the air with their familiar shrieks.  I hope when this is over that we remember just how important life is, and how important this world is.

nuff said.

Be safe


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Some Free Reading Material for Your Quarantine Needs

Since a lot of us are hiding out from the Virus in our homes and boats, I've conned Wild Shore Press into putting a lot of the electronic copies of my books out for free this weekend.  If you go over to my Amazon Author Page or Wild Shore Press after 8AM PDT this coming Friday (March 27) you can pick up most of my books for free until Sunday and the rest are on discount (which was already in process).

If you do snag a copy and like it, though, I'd really appreciate  you leaving a positive review on Amazon.  I'm trying to get all the titles up for free for the duration of this mess, so stay tuned.  For right now, "An Alien's Guide to Sears and Roebuck", "In the Shade" , "The Ganymeade Protocol" and our composting toilet book are going up for free and "Zarabeth's World" on a discount... .at least I think that's what we did.  Discount may not show up until you get to the shopping cart, btw.


Monday, March 9, 2020


Spring has come early to the Chesapeake. . . really early in fact.  Not that we're complaining, mind you.  The trees are already in bud weeks earlier than usual, and cold weather has disappeared from the long term forecast.

One of the great joys of living aboard (or of any kind of cruising for that matter) is the opportunity to get off the dock and explore.  So we've been taking sojourns to one of our favorite places here on the upper Bay:  Marshy Point Nature Center.  The place is accessible by bus, car, or boat, has several miles of really nice, marked hiking trails, and a wonderful educational center with some really fun and interesting programs open to the public, that and a cool osprey-cam on a nest out in the middle of a platform in dundee creek (at

So on a pretty, warmish morning in our all too early spring, we went hiking.  The Vernal Pond is full of peepers at the moment, the cacophony of frogs and toads and other critters can be deafening in the early mornings.

It's amazing the racket a bunch of little frogs can make.
Green is breaking out all over.  The lycopodium, a type of club moss and one of the only explosive plants of which I'm familiar (look it up), are starting to cover the wet forest floor.
Lycopodium is one of the first real signs that warmer weather is just around the corner. 
Take the opportunity to get out and off the boat for a bit after the winter's chill and stretch your legs.  Its a good way to limber up, get some exercise, and avoiding crowds right now with the Coronavirus spreading is probably a good thing.
This is one time of year that "take a hike" isn't insulting someone.
We're deep into spring prep here aboard Constellation, chasing down an irritating little fuel leak on our old Atomic 4 engine, figuring out how to store the dockside amenities that we've used all winter, and, in general, planning on destinations.  In the coming weeks we'll be doing a haul and hang to pull out our old Blackwater system (I despise the things) and replace it with a composting head, tuning our standing rigging, and making ready for sea.

So it's spring?  Where will you go?  We can't wait to be back out on the water.  See you out there.