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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

Friday, May 4, 2018

Turning a Futon into V Berth bedding

V berth bedding from futon

Liveaboards, in my experience, fall into two categories: 1) We have enough money to do this, so we're doing it, and 2) We don't have any money so we're doing this. We rather fall into the second category.

One of the greatest discomfitures of living aboard boats tends to be bedding. The reasons are many: Weirdly shaped spaces mean traditional mattresses often simply won't fit (and often won't even go belowdecks). A thick mattress takes up space you don't have, and, let's face it, most boats are regarded even by their manufacturers as pleasure craft, intended for only temporary habitation at best, and if your drunken friends wind up passing out on a three inch mattress, so be it. None of the preceding are conducive to a good night's sleep.

So it was with Tesla's Revenge. We've been sleeping in the V berth on 70's era foam which was, to say the least, beat down. It was long past time to do something. After casting about and looking at the amazing expense of foam, let alone the cost of custom cushions, we decided to take matters (and mattresses) into our own hands and try to find a mattress we could modify for the space.

Both being a fans of futon mattresses (okay, so we're old hippies), we thought we'd bite the bullet and see if we couldn't modify one to fit our V berth bedroom. After a bit of casting about, we managed to find an inexpensive, American-made (how the hell did THAT happen) futon mattress at a Big Lots for just under $100. The conversion proved to be surprisingly simple, and the results surprisingly comfy, so we thought we'd share.

Here are the two halves of our old, beat to crap V berth cushions and a new, American made futon mattress from Big Lots.

Peel back the cover, clipping the places where the mattress is sewn through the cover.

Here we go.  Here's the old cushions atop the stripped mattress.

Using a long carving knife and scissors, cut away the excess mattress stuffing.  Some of these mattresses are just filling, some have a foam center.  Either way, the process is the same.

Cut the excess mattress material away to match the original cushions.
Here's the trimmed mattress batting.  We left the top intact as we didn't need to cut it.

Pull the mattress cover back into place and fold it over the removed sections of the stuffing. . .

...and stitch the mattress cover back in place.

So here's the cut mattress with the cover stitched back into place, folded over the removed sections.
And here we are in the V Berth.  MUCH more comfortable.
The whole process took only about half an hour and I'm amazed we hadn't tried it before.  We slept on the new bed last night, with plenty of padding and no low spots.  This really worked well.  We're contemplating trying the same idea for new galley cushions.  Give it a shot.  There's really nothing to it.

We got lots done today on Tesla's Revenge, setting in new snaps on our roll-up plastic glazing (okay, so I miscounted when we installed it and wound up just screwing some of it in place), and putting in new lifelines to replace the nasty plastic covered stainless steel cable ones we inherited with the boat (the new ones are an aramid, and just as strong).  The new battery boxes showed up yesterday, and the new batteries Tuesday.  We're getting there, folks.

More shortly.

M

Monday, April 30, 2018

Apologia again

Sorry for the lack of activity of late.  I've been working at a big box store to be able to order some new batteries for Tesla's Revenge.  New batteries, new solar panels, and the final construction of our electric paddlewheel drive are coming up toward the end of May, and I promise to be better at posting in the near future.  For the moment though it's ten hour days and not a lot of movement on the boat.

So here's the cat tax.  Talk to  you shortly.

Magellan just wants to get back out onto the water.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Beware the Tides of March

Beware the Tides of March

Okay, so it's a terrible pun, but someone's got to do it. Last episode, I discussed some of the issues with inclement weather, but from our experiences this March, I thought I would do a bit more on the tidal issue.

I meet a lot of folks who think that the tides only matter in the oceans and in oddball circumstances like the Bay of Fundy. They think that rivers and lakes, estuaries and bays are somehow immune. Let me assure you, they aren't. Take a look at the two pictures below. One is a rain-driven high tide at our marina on the Middle River. You may note that the water is within a few inches of swamping the fixed piers. We've seen worse. A few years ago, a November high tide sent the docks a full ten inches under water, which made getting to one's car a bit. . . um. . .more entertaining than usual.
This is about as high as it gets without getting one's feet wet, though we've seen it 10" over the docks.

The second shot is from roughly the same vantage point in our wheelhouse, but this after two days of winds gusting from the NW at 60+ mph. What you are looking at is mud, and yes, the boat in the background is the same boat in the same slip. The disturbing part: This is HIGH tide.
Mud mud mud mud mud

My point is, you're never immune to the effects of tidal and wind driven water, nor of coastal flooding from rains upstream, and if you're wise, you'll plan for it. But how?

There are several tactics to deal with monster tides. The most common being the humble footstool, which is easy to keep on hand and has other uses....they also blow off the dock rather easily. If you'll look next to the dinghy in the low tide shot you'll see a sort of lump just behind it. That is the zebra-mussel encrusted stepstool we lost last year. Caveat. We also use a handy section cut from a discarded ladder to get both up onto dock and DOWN onto the dock. . . .depending. If you cruise, you'll find tide conditions different in every region in every port, from variances of inches to variances of tens of feet. Do your homework and you won't be stranded on the vessel begging people on the cell phone to come and throw you food.
A stub ladder like this is easy to carry aboard, but can get you on and off the boat if the tides get ridiculous.

This late winter has been one of multiple projects, most quite successful. Our enclosure of the wheelhouse with FlexOGlass continues to make for some lovely afternoons sitting in the sun, despite cool temperatures and wind. This month, we designed and added a urine separator to our simple composting toilet setup (for instructions, see here) which has made a HUGE difference in how often we must empty the waste (we're now getting ten days or so between having to dump the bin), so I recommend that highly.

The weather has been hugely erratic of late, but spring is only around the corner. Slip mates are popping up like crocuses to look at their boats on the hard with longing. The marina is doing repairs and making ready for the boating season. We can't wait.

More shortly

M

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rather a Lot of Updates

What a calm sunset should resemble.

 So, with so many projects in the offing, I thought I should do a post to bring you guys current with a bunch of them.  Here's a lovely evening shot at the marina.  The last few days were NOT like this.  The winter storm that went through bombification and unloaded on us here in the east was one of the worst we've experienced here at the marina.  Chief among the effects, aside from knocking the boat around quite a bit in the slip, was to blow virtually ALL of the water out of the upper Middle River and left us stranded in the middle of a mud flat, sitting some five feet below the dock and rather stuck on the boat.

This not water.  This is wet mud, and we're embedded in it.
Fortunately, it only lasted a day.  Now, I know half of you guys are asking yourselves, "with 65mph winds, how did the plastic glazing on their wheelhouse hold up?"  See, I do pay attention.  The answer is:  amazingly well.  We had no apparent damage of any kind to the FlexOGlass sheeting or our Gorilla Tape seams.  It was noisy as all hell, but it seems to have held up just fine.

The urine diverter we fabricated for the composting toilet was a real lifesaver during the storm.  It kept us from having to get off and dump the toilet during some really nasty weather.  At present, we're having to empty the 1.5 gallon pee bottle about every two days and the solid mass from the toilet itself about every 10, which beats the hell out of what we were having to do beforehand.  In summary:  if you're on the boat more than two days running a week, build one.

Now the water has--mercifully--returned to the river and we can get off the boat without a ladder, the winds are fading, and life is returning to some semblance of normal.  Looking forward to some calm days, some decent writing time, and the coming spring.

Much more coming,

M

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

DIY Urine Diverter for Composting Toilet

For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you'll know that, all the way back nearly 5 years ago when we built the original Floating Empire, we opted for a simple bucket composter instead of a blackwater system for the boat.  I had originally designed a urine diverter for the system, but . . .um . . .it didn't. . . .well. . .work.  The bucket system, using compostable bag liners and largely wood stove pellets for compost mass, served us well for nearly four years.
The original composting head going in Floating Empire.  Note fitting for our original, failed diverter.....ah well.

This winter, though, on moving to our new boat Tesla's Revenge, we began to get increasingly, not unhappy, but tired of dealing with the bucket composter.  This isn't to say we don't like using composting toilets.  We do. They're simple, inexpensive, and unlike every blackwater system I've ever seen, they don't smell and there's nothing to break.  I can't imagine using anything else.  Unlike Floating Empire, though, the new boat was a traditional sailboat hull (a former CAL 29) and dumping the bucket meant taking it out of the head, climbing up into the cockpit with it, then up onto the dock, then. . . .you get the idea.  This winter's weather has been unpleasant here.  Unpredictable, wet, and windy, and that's meant spending a lot more time on the boat, which means we've been filling up the john far more quickly and having to empty it. . .well. . .a lot.

But dealing with that led me to revisiting the idea of a urine separator.  Here's the thing:  MOST of the waste coming out of people is pee.  Pee is what smells, and it's heavy (over 8 lbs per gallon) and takes up a lot of room.  Separating the urine into a different, watertight container meant that we could empty the toilet far less often, which, since I'm the one that gets to drag five gallons of the stuff up and out of the boat, is something I kinda wanted to see happen.

There are a lot of diverter toilet parts available on the market, and, like all good Americans, I went immediately to the web to look at them again.  Immediately I encountered two issues:  First, most of them made the toilet a lot longer front to back, designed as they were to accommodate a traditional toilet seat.  We use a snap-on toilet seat intended for use with 5 gallon buckets and really don't have that kind of room, and I wasn't anxious to totally rebuild our current toilet housing (for instructions on how to build the basic bucket composter, btw, click here). Second, the things were damned expensive, and, IMHO, weirdly so.  I did, however, stumble across a few sites that had some nice gonzo diverters made from the same 5 gallon buckets we were using for the toilet.  Now if I could just figure out how to make them fit into our existing bucket composter housing.

So, dear reader, below is the instructions on how to do what I came up with.  It fits inside the basic bucket composter, you can still use your existing snap on lid, and it's monstrously inexpensive.  We are currently testing it out and it seems to be working beautifully.  You will need:

(In addition to your bucket composter set up, as detailed here)

A 5 gallon bucket (preferably one identical to the one use used for the composter)
A few feet of 3/8" ID (1/2" OD) tubing
A screw fitting for the tubing
A container (Milk jug, cat litter jug, water bottle, soda bottle, whatever) for the pee.
Three stainless steel (trust me) screws, about 1/2"
Some plumbers caulk

That's it.
You're gonna be cutting a wedge out of the bucket bottom, and, yes, these were once the same color. Amazing, hunh?
Here's a little better shot of the piece with the drain fitting in place.  I left the little "wings" on either side in case I needed some extra plastic to screw it in place.  I wound up not needing it and trimmed them off.

First, measure off a distance on your bucket from the bottom and up the side which is about equal to half the opening of your bucket composter.  You're going to be cutting a wedge shaped piece out of the bottom and side, using about half of the bucket bottom.  Cutting this polyethylene can be a bit of a challenge.  The material is sticky, and can both flex AND shatter, an unfortunate combo.  We used a jigsaw to do the cut, moving slowly and trying not to overstress the material.
here's the wedge piece with the hose fitting in place.

Drill a hole for your fitting in the bottom and screw it directly into the plastic.  I recommend using plumbers caulk on the threading.  We tried using a silicone caulk on the bottom around the fitting and it didn't stay. Hardly surprising.  Virtually nothing will stick to polyethylene plastic, including paint, barnacles, glue, even permanent marker has issues.
Snake the tubing trough the outside of the housing and through the side of the upper bucket half (that holds the seat).

Drill a hole in the upper bucket piece for your hose to exit.  Note that it needs to be up high enough that the lower composter bucket won't pinch it when you stack the two.  it's okay if there's a bit of a downward bow to the tube before it exits the bucket(s).  That will just provide a way for any leaking urine to drip into the composter bucket and not run down the tube.  Run the tubing from outside your composter housing, through the upper bucket side, and force it onto the fitting for your diverter.  Then put the diverter in place and screw it to the bucket. Pilot holes are recommended.  Note that you'll be screwing the piece in canted, so it forms a sort of "V" with the drain fitting at the bottom.  Use stainless screws if at all possible as urine is really corrosive.
Here's the diverter screwed into place with the tubing press fit in place.  Note that it doesn't interfere with snapping on the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

It took a bit of tweaking to the system, moving the diverter down a bit so your bum didn't hit it and fiddling with the tubing so it didn't kink on it's way out of the bucket, but once we got those few bugs out, the system works spectacularly.  We initially ran the tubing into a half-gallon milk jug just as a test and wound up emptying it on a daily basis.  We've substituted a 2 1/2 gallon container for that one, which is much more convenient.  The big surprise has been just how seldom we've had to dump the solid waste part of the toilet (it's looking like 5-7 days at least), and how little biomass we're now using to keep it covered and odor free.  We use a small squirt bottle of bleach water to keep the diverter and tube flushed after most uses so there's not even a whiff of urine odor.

In general, I'm wishing we'd done this a lot sooner.  It would've saved me a lot of hauling.

Let me know if you try this.  it's a simple fix.

More shortly

M


Monday, February 5, 2018

A little Wheelhouse update

Several of you folks have expressed an interest in how the FlexOGlass was going to hold up, along with our use of Gorilla Tape as edging, so I thought I'd give you a bit of an update.

4Mil FlexOGlass with Gorilla tape edging and snaps set therein.
We started this project a bit before Thanksgiving 2017 and have now taken the enclosure though two of the worst months of the winter, high winds, snow, sleet, rain, and sub-freezing temperatures.  The only thing we haven't had was massive waves crashing over the bow into it (and if we have that, I'll have a lot more problems than "will the snaps hold" ).  On the whole, we've been very pleased.  The enclosure runs 20+ degrees above the outside temperature on sunny days, and running lanterns or cooking in he cockpit heats it up pretty quickly as well.  None of the screws or snaps has pulled away due to wind and the material remains crystal clear.

We managed to poke one small hole in the FlexOGlass when a rolled up matchstick screen fell over into the membrane (it was easily fixed with a bit of clear tape).  We've had two of the snaps fail, both on the doorway cover that we go in and out many times a day.  One came apart because I failed to seat the snap properly on installation.  In the other case, the Gorilla Tape tore slightly due to an unfortunate tendency I have in pulling on one edge of the glazing to unsnap a whole side of it rather than to unsnap each of the closures individually.  I suspect we'd have the same problem were they set in canvas.  As it is, the snap was easily repaired, the tape easily patched, and I won't do that again.

Would I do this again?  Yes, I would.  The membrane will clearly make it through winter with minimal problems and it has made our lives aboard much more pleasant.  I'll do an update in the spring when we reopen the wheelhouse and make ready to set sail, but for now, I would happily use this product again, and our simple method of attachment seems just fine.

More shortly.  We're in process of ordering a new bank of 100AH batteries and making ready for the motor install.  Stay tuned.

M

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mungo and the Sunny Day

It's been kind of frustrating lately due to the cold weather.  I really like to tell you guys about all the things we've been doing, but, frankly, of late, mostly what we've been doing is trying to stay warm and dry.

Today, though was amazing.  The temps spiked into the low 60's, there was no wind, the sun was shining.. . . .in our enclosed wheelhouse, the temperatures were in the mid-70's.  We took the opportunity to go hiking at Marshy Point Nature Center, one of our favorite spots.

Marshy Point is one of those little gems hidden away in Chase, MD.  It has a great nature center, miles of hiking trails, and a passel of programs for adults and kids year round.  Here's some cool shots of the Ice on the upper part of Dundee Creek, strange patterns made by the currents before they froze.


So we've got a few weeks of weirdly warm weather in the forecast, daytime temps in the 40's or 50's, which is. . .well. . .just wrong for the end of January.  Not complaining, mind you.

In coming weeks we'll be adding additional battery power and finally installing our electric drive.  Feels nice to be able to feel my fingers.

M