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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Things we've successfully used in a composting toilet.

Since someone asked, here are the things we've successfully used as biomass in our composting toilet setup:

1) Wood shavings.  A slip mate gifted us with like eight garbage bags of em after doing some dock work and we used them all winter.  They work well, but are somewhat messy.  Avoid stuff from treated lumber.

2)  Peat Moss.  This works beautifully, comes in huge compressed bricks, and, in general suits the composting process well.  It is also damn messy.  It's a fine brown powder that finds its way everywhere in the boat.  I'd use it if I had few other choices, as it does work, but it can be a pain.

3)  Wood Stove Pellets.

Yep, these guys.
Wood stove pellets in the US are primarily compressed sawdust.  They are compact, store well, and neat to use and, in general, our our fave for the composting toilet.  At something like $5 a bag, they're also pretty cheap.  Try for the ones that don't look like they're oiled or coated.  Broken bags are fine (and dirt cheap) but make sure the stuff isn't damp or you'll find your head abruptly starts smelling.

4) "Natural" cat litter.  AKA  Wood stove pellets.  Same thing generally in a smaller, more expensive bag, but available all summer, which wood stove fuel generally isn't.  Please note:  You can NOT use regular, clay-based cat litter.  It turns into cement and will not compost.

5)  Wood smoker pellets:  AKA Wood stove pellets.  These things are used in automatic meat smokers and are identical to the ones used for heating except these are "food grade."  They work fine and are available all summer and in all climes, but at around $16 a bag, they're pricey.

6)  Sawdust.  Yep, messy, but works fine.

7) Pet bedding:  AKA wood chips.  See #1.

8)  Crushed, dried leaves.  Works in a pinch.  Tends to be a bit high in tannins for the composting process, but works.

Things we have not tried :

Coir (coconut fiber).  I've seen it recommended.  Available in some garden centers in compressed bricks.

Shredded cellulose (wood, paper, etc).  Should work.  Never tried it.

So we're waiting anxiously for our motor mount to get welded so we can get it in and get on the water.  We've gotten a bunch of small stuff done:  installed the transducer for the depth finder, built a small table for the cockpit and, in general, tried to tidy stuff up and make ready to get this beast mobile.

Can't wait.

More shortly.

M

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A quick update

Got the speed controller in today.  All the wiring is now in place and all we have to do is get in the motor mount and we should be good.

Magellan just wishes we would stop moving stuff around.  It's cutting into his nap time.
In addition, we finally got the name and home port on the stern.  It feels oddly fulfilled.

She has a name!


Photos shortly.  Back at it.

M

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Rather Good Day

You know, today went rather well.  Today dawned beautiful and rather cooler than the last few days.  The new power controller for the motor turned up today.  Disgusted with the thing WildernessEV sent us, I just went ahead and ordered one of these Chinese jobs for light electric vehicles.
What the hell?  We gave it a shot.
The unit supposedly will handle 100A at 48 volts  (they say 5000 watts).  When it arrived I was rather surprised how light it was, but then realized that the old unit was one massive aluminum heat sink and this little guy has it's own fan.

Anyway, we hooked it up for a test, and behold, it worked fabulously. Wonderful control of the motor and no over heating, even using paltry 16 Ga. wires for the test.

And, yes, I know the wires are too small.  This was a test to see if it worked, and it did.
Forward, stop, and back.  It all functioned beautifully.  We celebrated by taking a lovely afternoon kayak sortie and by making a great meal:  grilled country ribs with fresh local tomatoes and corn.

All in all, today worked.  Tomorrow, I'll go get some heavier wire for the installation and the iron for the motor mount.

So close I can taste it.

more shortly

M

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wiring Hell

Ugh.  Okay, so this has been a week of progress and setbacks and frustrations and triumphs and not nearly enough alcohol.  Let me say this up front:  If you were ever considering it (and I know I've spoken kindly of them in a couple posts a few months ago) I don't recommend you do business with WildernessEV.  We purchased most of the drive components from them, and are regretting it now.  With the exception of some wire connectors and the motor itself (which was shipped from the factory directly), everything we received from them was a piece of utter crap.  The motor controller, on careful examination, had been used and mounted before, and when we wired it up, it simply wouldn't power up.  The throttle control had been wired with used speaker wire--no, I'm not kidding--and we never received the reversing contactor for which we paid, despite assurances from them.  Now they won't answer emails or phone calls.
See this lovely motor?  It's the only goddam thing they sent me that worked.

Live and learn.  There's several hundred dollars I'll never see again.

So I bit the bullet and ordered a new motor controller and while we were waiting I figured I would go ahead and pull and mount the lug connectors on the 4ga power cables we need to power the motor.  So right in the middle of doing that, there was a pop and a fizz and the smell of something burning and we suddenly didn't have a working 12 V system.

Sigh.
Place is a wreck while we drag new wiring.

This boat has been rewired something like three times, and each time the former owner LEFT ALL THE FREAKING WIRES IN PLACE FROM THE PREVIOUS WIRING JOB.  As a result, in places there are wrist-thick bundles of wire.  Somewhere in there is one you need.  Get the picture?

I finally got pissed off, and we dragged half of our stuff out of the lazarettes and storage cubbies, ripped out lots of dead wire, and ran new, color coded cables for our 12v system.  In the midst of that we discovered that the step down transformer that drops our 48V system to 12 volts for interior lighting, navigation, etc., was the WRONG UNIT, which is why it fried.

Sigh again.

So I've spent the last three sweaty days crawling through bulkheads and under cabinets running new wire.  My knuckles look like I've been prizefighting and everything else hurts, but now we have working lights, working running lights, a working radio and depth finder, some lovely 12V and USB outlets in the cockpit, and a wiring system that can be comprehended in an emergency.
Finally got the Chartplotter mounted.

Ah well.

There is some good news.  The new motor controller arrives tomorrow, and we got the motor mounts (big chunky neoprene things intended for an air conditioner compressor) yesterday.  We'll be running a test of the motor and controller and then, the gods of electronics cooperating, we'll be doing the install of the motor and it's mount, for which I'll supply full details and pictures.

Today, since stuff was still in shipment, we took the day off.  We went for about three or four miles of kayak ride down the Middle River (visiting our old shantyboat Floating Empire in the process, but I'll save that for another day), and tonight I'll be grilling some bison burgers with fresh local corn from Zahradka's farm and a tomato salad and a nice red wine.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we do this.
The river at nightfall.

More shortly,
and more stuff over at Life, Art, Water

M

Monday, July 9, 2018

More Drive Train Progress

Thought I would give you guys a quick update on some of our recent progress.  Here's a shot of the 4.7 KW motor with the shaft adapters in place.  I was delighted to see they actually fit.

The shaft adapters fit, wonder of wonders.

Here's one with the motor mount fitted.  This thing is gonna be a beast to drag under the cockpit and hook up.
We've got a few nice, less than the center of the sun heat days, so I'm hoping to get all this stuff together and tested.  Today we'll be attaching the connections to the motor controller and checking it out.  Wish us luck.

More shortly

M

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dealing with Heat

The weather this year has been nuts (and I'm afraid that may be the new normal).  We had something like 14 days of rain in a row, and now we're going into our eighth day of heat warnings, with heat indexes that have soared into the 116-degree (Farenheit, that is.  That's over 46 degrees Celsius) range.  Neither the wife nor I were raised with air conditioning (she in Wisconsin, me in Florida) and neither of us really like it.  As a result, Tesla's Revenge  like Floating Empire before it, has no AC.

yeah.

In any case, weather can change the way you deal with your daily routine, and living on a vessel and that much closer to nature, you feel it more.  Wind knocks you around in the slip or at anchor, heavy rain makes conversations aboard impossible, cold can rather trap you aboard in winter.  As with everything, you adapt, you take the conditions into consideration.  It's a part of living aboard.

Now as to heat:  you have to watch your butt with heat.  It's exhausting. It, like extreme cold, makes even the simplest things more difficult, and like extreme cold, it can kill.  I was returning to the boat yesterday and ran into one of our slip-mates.  He looked like absolute hell.  "I got sick." he said.  He'd been working in the sun, re-doing his hull, sanding, painting. . .he got overcooked.  It happens, but heatstroke is nothing to fool with.  In our friend's case, he retreated to the cabin of his air conditioned boat to recover.  Mulling on it, I realized, we don't have that option.  So I thought I would pass along some of  the ways we deal with the heat, some of the ways we modify our behaviours and schedules to make life livable.

First of all, it must be said, most of the year it isn't an issue.  Water tends to come with it some lovely breezes and moderates the temperatures, even in the tropics.  This week-plus blast of temperature has been an anomaly.   Most of the time, spring, summer, and fall, the temperatures are moderate, the waters refreshing, and it's pretty pleasant.  Sometimes, however, nature fails to cooperate.

We try not to be stupid.  When the heat index is over 100, you're not going to be working on deck, or in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces.  I don't care how much you "need to get things done" or how much free time you may have to work on the boat, you're not immune to the heat.  Worse, when you do get heat-affected, you tend to get stupid and make poor choices that are at best counterproductive and at worse, dangerous.  When the forecast is "this week, expect the third ring of hell during daylight hours" you need to re-make your schedule accordingly.  Do paperwork.  Read. Nap.  Just accept the fact that, living aboard, you live closer to nature and have to partner with it, even if inconvenient.  I watch our beloved ship's cat Magellan in the heat.  He naps up on shore in the shade and the breeze, or parks himself on the galley table in front of the fan.  I make sure he has lots of water when he needs it.  You need to do the same for yourself.  If you're not behaving like your pets in the heat, you're doing too much.

Magellan is disamused by the heat.
One of the other reasons we have no AC is that Tesla's Revenge is all solar-electric, and power management is an issue.  Air Conditioning compressors eat a lot of power (as does refrigeration ).  We were afraid, with only so much deck space for solar panels, that the draw would be excessive.  Fortunately, there are some simple, low power options.  The market has recently be flooded with a plethora of USB powered fans that can efficiently provide you with spot cooling and can clip anywhere on the boat.

These little 5V USB fans can clip anywhere, take little power, and can make the difference between typing and sticking to your keyboard (which this one is doing at the moment).
 Another great option is the venerable box fan.  They don't eat up a lot of power, move a lot of air, and can flush the hot air out of your entire vessel.  Just position at one end, open the hatch at the other, and let her rip.

A staple in pre-AC days, the box fan is still a durable and effective way of moving air about.


Nights can be a challenge.  There are few things more unpleasant than being there in bed naked, uncomfortable, and bathed in sweat.  Fans, of course, help.  We have, at times, resorted to the "redneck air conditioner" technique of sitting an ice block (frozen water in bags from wine boxes work well btw) in front of a fan.  It's short term and inefficient, but it works.  The heat has led some folks to creating some great DIY versions that are far less wanky and more usable .


.

There are even commercial versions available now


We've used a lot of other techniques, from soaking hats to draping towels over the fans.  All of them work and can make your nights a little less miserable.

And remember, if things get nasty, you're on a BOAT for pity's sake.  MOVE!  Go find some nice cove with a nice breeze and anchor out.

Stay cool, guys.

Of course, some cooling options are better than others. . . .
 More shortly

M

Friday, June 22, 2018

A compendium of small and useful things

Well, having done with my tenure at a big box store to build up some cash for boat revisions and whilst waiting for parts and paperwork to arrive and for my knee to recover from the concrete floors (ow) at work, I thought I'd reflect on some of the small things we've learned this year.  Little stuff, but nontheless important.  Ready?  Here we go.

On Composting Toilets
This was so easy, why didn't we do it sooner?

It really amazes me, now that we have a functioning urine separator, how much of the bulk of human waste coming out of the boat is pee.  Not just by volume, but the bulk of the odor, certainly, is urine.  By comparison, solid waste is virtually undetectable, smell-wise. We wind up emptying the 1.5 gallon urine container about every two days, but the solid waste can go ten days or more, depending on how much we stay on the vessel.  Like I said in an earlier post, we shoulda done the separator ages ago.

On Solar Systems
When it comes to solar systems, size--or at least capacity--DOES matter.

The addition of the new, heavier battery bank has been a bit of a revelation.  Since it's installation, our system has only needed once to go back onto shore power, and that was before the last four of the 100AH batteries were installed and at the end of a period of ten days of rain and overcast this spring.  We were clearly wasting power before, our 650W system generating more power than we could store.  Currently, we're running our lighting, electronics, and refrigeration 24/7 without taxing the system.  So if you're wondering about the configuration for your boat or tiny home, put your cash in the storage.

On Water Systems
Both the pump in the background and the one in the foreground failed within a few months.  Bah!

Manual marine potable water pumps suck (both literally and mechanically).  In The Floating Empire, our water system was a traditional, cast iron pitcher pump, which worked beautifully and without complaint.  We have now been through FOUR hand galley pumps in our current vessel, one piece of Chinese-made crap after another.  None of them has lasted six months.  Some didn't make it six days.  It's dispiriting.  In the next iteration, it's either going to be a pressurized system or back to the cast iron pitcher pump.  At least you can count on them.

On Boat Cats
Magellan rocks.

Get one.  They're adorable.

We're both jonesing to get the boat up and at sea.  More in a couple of days as we get closer to this.

M

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Magellan Speaks

It's about TIME you got off the computer so I can use it.
Magellan here, first Ship's Cat of the Tesla's Revenge. I thought, since the Captain and First Mate were off ashore doing human things that I would address the sad lack of articles in this column about. .well. . . .me!

I came to life aboard as a mature cat, a “rescue” in human parlance. I had been living with a family that dumped me when they bought a couple of obnoxious Corgis and was fortunate enough to have run into my new people at the shelter. Their former Ship's Cat, Kallisti, had just passed on and they were in dire need of a new companion. I made it clear to them that I was a people person, the perfect personal assistant for two artists living on a boat.

Fortunately, they bought it.
Sometimes living with artists can be a challenge.

I had never lived on a vessel before, but was surprised that they seemed tailor made for cats. Boats have lots of little spaces to explore and into which one might tuck ones self. During the days I can sit in the sun and watch all manner of birds and fishes. The ducks are especially friends of mine, which I refrain from trying to eat. Frankly, we get along splendidly. At night I can sit in the cockpit and watch the water and stars, or go belowdecks and sleep with my people. I have my own litterbox, which they keep (mostly) fastidiously clean. I have a waterbowl which I love to drag around, and the food is good. It is, all in all, a wonderful lifestyle for a cat.

But there are some challenges to being a truly great Ship's Cat (and I suppose, by extension, Ship's Dog, though I can't imagine that) that I thought I might detail to those of you of the furred persuasion that aspire to this life.

First of all, boats are small spaces. For my part, I genuinely like my people and like being around them. Even when they are off the boat, I follow them about to make sure they stay out of trouble. Like I said, I'm a wonderful personal assistant. If you are of a more solitary bent, though, or dislike constant human contact, this might not be the life for you.

Then there is the matter of the space. As I said before, boats seem created just for cats, with so many interesting crawlspaces, defensible positions, and overlooks available for our use. But the small space means you've got to be good with your aim vis-a-vis the litter box, and consistent in it's use, or you will most definitely come into conflict with your humans.

The water and weather can be an issue as well. Rain on a boat can be LOUD. Wind can knock us about, which I do not like at all. Though I've never suffered from it, some Ship's Cats (and presumably other pets) can become seasick, which would be unpleasant. The weather is just something with which one deals on a vessel, but it bears considering. As to the water: I am a sveldt (okay so I'm big boned) graceful creature of amazing coordination, but occasionally—just OCCASIONALLY, mind you—the boat moves just the wrong way when I'm coming aboard or walking down the gunwale and I, um, miss. Living on a boat means you really need to know how to swim, and being able to climb up the dock pilings is also a plus. As I say, it doesn't happen often, but it can happen. As it is, the few times the misfortune occurred to me, I just swam over to one of the pilings, climbed up to the dock, got aboard, and spent the next few hours putting my fur back in order.

Then there is the matter of other people, other spaces, and travel. First of all, Marinas are full of other folk, other cats, even dogs, and you need to be okay with that. People may, of course, want to adore you. That's only right and proper, and you need to be friendly and not a threat to them and their often clueless offspring, but you need to set limits and you need to be happy with staying close to ship when appropriate. Marinas can also be full of large, dangerous, terrifyingly loud equipment that could crush a kitty in a heartbeat. Even if you get to go ashore—and many of my compatriots do not—you need to be comfortable with keeping close to home. Losing your people or your people losing you would be awful.
The collar is not merely a fashion accessory:  It give me the power to locate my humans.

In that regard, if you'll notice some of my more handsome portraits in this fine publication, you may note a stylish diamond shape hanging from my collar. As fashionable as that is, it has a purpose: its a Tile, a bluetooth tracking device. With it, the captain can always find me with his phone if he needs me (and, not unimportantly, I can help him FIND his phone by a simple tap on the tile). It makes us all feel much more secure.
But taken all into consideration, if the minor downsides don't bother you, being a Ship's Cat may be a wonderful life choice for you. I feel fortunate that my people found me and gave me this opportunity to be with them in so beautiful a place. We're happy here aboard ship. I think you might be as well.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the ducks need me for something. They're amazingly stupid, but I'm happy to help. All part of the Job.

Magellan

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Of Progress and Experiments

So, nursing some cracked ribs, the work has rather slowed here aboardship.  Did manage to --carefully-- get a little bit done over the last two days.  I wired in our antenna, which I'd been meaning to do forever, and mounted our marine vhf radio by the binnacle.

This has only taken me. . .what. . . a year?
I was rather pleased with myself as I was able to trick up a mount for the radio using an old antenna rail mount.  Works pretty well, and as soon as I get the wires all wrangled, should be a pretty neat and convenient installation.

Here;s the new mount from the back.  Once I get the wires tided up it should be perfect.
That's about all I had the energy for, frankly.

Early on in designing The Floating Empire, we were casting about for refrigeration options.  Fridges are a problem.  They require power, have a surge of power at startup, they're bulky, and they often require ventilation around the sides and back.  It's an issue.  For a bit of time on Empire, we ran with just a cooler and ice (NOT economical), then installed a fairly efficient fridge, which served us pretty well, though it did tax our solar system.

Moving aboard Tesla's Revenge, we had to downsize our little fridge to an even smaller one (with a pretty useless freezer), and had been relying on freezing bottles of water on land to keep a cooler chilled to handle the overflow.  Meh.  It worked, but not conveniently.  A slipmate loaned us an ice maker, which was convenient, but also a major power hog.  In planning on doing some travel, it was clear that NONE of these options were really workable.

Then we remembered something we'd contemplated early on in the planning of our original vessel.  One of the most efficient of small cooling units you can find are small medical freezers.  They're REALLY cold (-17 fahrenheit or so), and well insulated and highly efficient.  We decided to give the idea another shot.

A large cat sleeping next to our new 2.1 Cu Foot Freezer.  The cat is on the left.


Accordingly, we've gotten a Whynter 2.1 Cubic Foot freezer (the same size as our original fridge) and put it in the cockpit where the ice maker usta live.  We'll be using it as a. . .well. . .freezer, freezing foods, making ice for drinks, and making ice to keep a new 40QT supercooler cold for our non-frozables.

We'll let you know.  I'll be ditching the fridge and turning that space in the galley into much needed storage.

Need a refrigerator?

More later.

M

Monday, May 14, 2018

Of Batteries and Damaged Ribs

. . . .not the boat's ribs, mind you, mine, but we'll get to that.

In the process of getting Tesla's Revenge ready for travel, we knew we had to replace the battery stack.  The current stack, composed of eight, 35 AH batteries ( and somewhat elderly ones at that ) was inadequate even for staying off grid most of the time, let alone powering the drive of the boat.  Accordingly and in our right minds and everything, we measured and, debit card in hand, ordered in 8 new, 100 AH deep cycle batteries.

Now before I get any further, yes, I know lithiums would have taken up less space and yes I know they weigh less and yes I know they have greater energy density, etc.  Yep.  Got that.  We just don't have the cash to lay out for Lithium-Ion cells at present.  Also I found a good deal on the lead acid gel cells we're installing.

But these things are a MOOSE.  Below is a photo of the new batteries next to one of our old ones:

They weigh like they look, just short of 80 lbs. each.
So we cleared out space for them in the bilge, putting in some new supports and anchoring in battery boxes to protect them.

Here's the center battery compartment.  The remaining four will go in the stowage compartments port and starboard.
Wiring up the new stack was a cinch since we already had the connectors, but lowering these monsters into place was another thing entirely.  Dropping in the third one, I slipped, came down hard on the compartment edge on my side, and something went "grunch".

Ow.  So now the next four are gonna have to wait a bit as I'm in pain and wrapped in elastic bandage.  The good news is the four we have wired in are working spectacularly.  We're off grid 24/7, just went through some major cloudy days with no problem, and, in general, we're really pleased.  Should have done this ages ago.

Lots more to do, of course.  We've four more to load and wire in, we're replacing our fridge with a medical freezer (surprisingly more efficient ), and then, of course, there's the drive, but we're making rapid process. . . .

. . . If I can just stay in one piece.

More shortly.  Enjoy the spring.

M