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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hot, Hot Summer

Dealing with heat is always an issue, but this summer, limited as we are by the virus lockdown, it seems more acute.  Neither of us was raised with air conditioning, so we're not used to it, but there are some days when the heat index wanders over 100 degrees that it becomes an issue. 

The problem is, of course, power.  Our solar system is just fine for most applications, but it just won't handle them AND an air conditioner.  I could, of course, plug in at dock, but an AC is an awfully large hunk of metal to lug around and store.   I keep getting asked how we fare without air conditioning.  Usually it's okay, but at times it gets to be an effort.  We do have a few things that help us get through the nastier parts of it.

Finding a nice anchorage with a nice breeze can help a lot.
Hanging out at anchor is certainly one of them.  The air can be thermal and dead still at dock, but sitting at anchor there's almost always a breeze.  With a little exploring, one can even find secluded inlets with that most rare of all commodities:  shade, along with a nice little breeze.
Magellan is not amused by the heat.

And hey, we're on boats, right?  In, like, water?  Swimming is always an option, though I have to confess, there are times in summer where the river is at bathwater temperatures.
A simple white tarp can really cut the heat from the sun beating on your boat.
The simplest thing we'd recommend is a white tarp.  Doesn't seem major, but, tented above our boom and with an air gap between it and the bimini and covering at least a portion of the dog house of the boat, it literally drops the temperature by ten degrees or so, especially in the cockpit.

At anchor or underway, there are a number of small, usb and 12v fans available that will keep you cool(er) where your sitting, but at dock, there's really no substitute for the old reliable box fan.  They're big, they're ugly, they collect dust and cat hair (especially the latter) but they move a lot of air and can really help you flush the heat out of the boat.


It's big, it's perpetually dirty, but at dock it sure can move air.
 We've resorted lately to the "hillbilly air conditioner" version of this, parking a bucket full of ice in front of the box fan.  It's wet and ridiculous, but it does keep it cooler in here for several hours, and then you have some lovely cool water to swab yourself with.

Of course, it's occurred to us to give up and just do the "AC in the companionway" thing.

It's an option a lot of sailors use.  Makes getting on and off the boat iffy, but the cabin's cool at least.
But, hey, we're stubborn, and the heat is like to break in a week or so.  So lots of cold drinks, a daily swim, and some cool breezes.....we persevere.

more shortly

M



Saturday, July 4, 2020

Some additional (and important) composting toilet notes.

The new design continues to work well, but here's some things you should know:
The new version of our composting toilet design continues to work beautifully, and to be easy to deal with, but I realized recently that there were a few things--particularly for hot weather--that I should pass along:

First of all, a bit of advice on the urine container:  With the quarantine in effect, we've found we're using our onboard setup a lot more than usual.  Now, typically, we empty the 'pee bottle" as it mostly gets referred to every 1 1/2 to two days.  Now it's every day.  I've found the basic rule is:  Empty the thing even if it doesn't need it.  Dump it when you think of it, and you'll never do the "where did this water come from?. . ..ohhh!" thing.  The Urine container is really easy to deal with, and I give it a quick rinse whenever we empty it just to make sure we don't have any odors (which we don't).

Dumping the new solid waste design is really easy, just pull off the top and urine diverter (making sure that any remaining urine in the hose goes into its bottle) and take  the bucket up and dump it.  When on the hook or at cruise, I keep a second bucket on deck with a lid so they can be switched out and dumped onshore later.  At least once a month, take the whole contraption ashore and hose it off.  That will keep any of the upper parts of the toilet from getting grubby looking and disgusting.  It's a simple, largely no-touch operation and that comprises basically all the minimal maintenance needed for this system.

Speaking of disgusting. . .

In hot weather in some places, flies can be an issue.  Not flies, maggots.  Yes, nothing says "I love my boat" like the possibility of maggots crawling up your butt when you're on the john.  They're attracted by the scent of scat, and, in our case, it doesn't help that the cat box shares the head with our composting toilet.

But fear not, gentle reader, there is a solution to this.  First of all, almost all fly problems are caused by an inadequate amount of dry material in the loo.  The flies require the moisture to lay their eggs, and desiccated droppings won't do it for them.  Just keep up with an adequate amount of wood stove pellets or sawdust, and you shouldn't have an issue (we add a bit more in the warm months or when flies are present, just to be safe).  We will also add a few drops of lemon eucalyptus oil which seems to deter them from even being interested in the space.

After a rather cool spring, summer has come here to the Chesapeake with a vengeance.  The heat index yesterday was 105F with the same predicted today.  They are literally loading the barges for the fireworks display on the river 60 feet behind our stern. (um, no smoking please)

These ominous looking canisters are Forth of July Fireworks, which are being loaded rather uncomfortably close to our stern.  Ah well, it's just for the day.
With the heat and the continued and growing threat of Covid 19, we'll be staying put.  Enjoy your 4th, folks.  Be safe out there.

M

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