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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pleasant Chores

One of the nicest things about living the way we do is the ability to just diverge into doing. . .well. . .whatever the hell we want to do.  One of the things we've loved doing over the last year or so was making our own hard ciders, beers, gruit, and the like. 

We come to it naturally.  We've both been reenactors, and the ciders and what are commonly called "small beers" (so called because of their relatively low alcohol content and that they are meant to be drunk young) were in eras past something you made in the kitchen with no more equipment than a crock and maybe a jug or bottle or two.  They're fun, they're easy, they're delicious, and they're a WHOLE lot cheaper than popping for a bottle of decent wine or a six pack of craft beer.

Doing an initial straining of an oat stout.
What really strikes me is how common and how easy this all was.  Almost anything can be fermented provided it has sugars.  Oats, Barley, Ginger, Apples, Pears, Pumpkin. . . .what do you have?  You can preserve it by turning it into a drink.  You add water, simmer the must for a bit to break it down and kill off any wild yeast, add a sugar like molasses or raw sugar or honey, pitch your yeast,  and in a few days strain it into a bottle with a bit of sugar and cork.  No elaborate measurement equipment, no computer temperature controls, no anything.  Just a daily drink you made yourself.

This is REAL Ginger beer: Ginger, molasses, lime, allspice, cinnamon. . .you WANT this, trust me.
Everything we do, every single thing that we have control of, makes us more and more in control of our own lives and, correspondingly, more and more happy with the way we're living.

Happiness.
We'll be publishing the receipes for the stuff that's worked for us shortly.  Try em.  You'll be happy you did.

Now if you'll excuse me, I feel the need of a libation.

M


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dragging Wire, Brewing Cider

Made a bit of progress on the multiple projects over the last few days while STILL waiting on parts.  Some of what I've been doing is dragging wire for the control systems that we'll be installing shortly.

New outlet in the cockpit, 2 USB plugs and one 12V DC.
I wired in a new set of outlets for usb and 12V equipment by the binnacle and pulled the wire through to wire in the marine radio aft.  When we pulled the mast we were left with the deck mast step and wires, both of which rather leaked when exposed, so we've built a new box to enclose it and contain a wire race for the solar panels and steaming light.

Staining our little cover for on-deck wiring.


We also found time to make a batch of strawberry and apple cider, which is bloopiing away merrily belowdecks.  Kicking bubbles once every five seconds or so, it's a particularly active batch.  Should be able to rack it off and bottle in a day or so.

Of course in the midst of all this, we both came down with some kind of bug, which has left us with a kind of energy-less day today.  Hopefully a good night's sleep will fix that and we'll be back at the motor install tomorrow.

Until Then.

Bloop

M

Monday, September 25, 2017

Intex Kayak K2 Explorer Review

Okay, so in our seemingly endless prep for travel, we were thinking seriously about a tender/dinghy for Tesla's Revenge.  Here's the thing:  while we love our beloved little puddleduck racer, the thing is frankly too broad and heavy to tow easily, and there's no room on the deck for Dharma Duck, so we needed to find another option.
The little puddleduck racer is a great little boat, but a bit too heavy for our needs.
We knew we would only have use of such a boat occasionally, so an inflatable was a good choice.  We had earlier used an Intex Excursion 4 man boat for a time, which worked fine and did well with a little trolling motor, but, again, the thing was a beast when inflated, and a large lump when deflated.  We needed something more compact, something we could inflate on board to make repairs if needed and could use to get to shore when on the hook.

I was delighted, then, when Amazon Prime put an Intex inflatable Kayak on sale.  We had been pleased with the durability of the Excursion, and since the price was under $70, we thought we would give it a shot.

Intex Explorer K2, as it comes, with pump and paddles.
We've been using the boat just as a pleasure craft now for several months, so I thought I would take the time to give you a bit of a review.

Right out of the bag, we were rather pleased that the fabric of the kayak was the same vinyl we had seen in our 4 man boat.  The pump (which was identical to the one supplied with the Excursion 4) seems a bit light and flimsy, but has proven actually quite durable and inflates quickly.  Deploying the boat and pumping it up (once you FIND all the freaking valves. . . we spent forever looking for the one to pump up the sole of the boat) takes about 10 minutes start to finish.  The paddles are fairly stout, and snap together easily.  Apparently an earlier iteration of this boat had a problem with the skeg coming loose.  That has been fixed.  I mean REALLY fixed.  As in, don't plan on ever removing the thing once you snap it in place, not that that matters.

This is the skeg.  you will not be losing it.
The most irritating thing about inflating the boat is that three, count em, three different kinds of valves are used to inflate the thing.  I'm a big fan of the screw in Boston valves.  The rest, not so much, but the pump does have adapters for everything and it's a minor deconvenience.

The seats attach with webbing to support the back and a wide strip of velcro to hold them in place.  There is a nice range of positioning possible for both the front and back seats, which makes them pretty accomodating.  With both seats in place and two people in the boat, there is a fair amount of stowage forward and aft under the spash covers.  The boat is also provided with two stout handles fore and aft to lift and portage the boat.

In the water, the boat handles and points very well.  We both have experience with canoes and kayaks, and the little inflatable moves along smoothly and smartly.  The skeg makes holding your course pretty easy, and we've found we're able to get in and out of the boat even when it's in water too deep to stand on the bottom.  All in all, the little boat is pleasing to paddle and easy to deal with.

Okay, the downsides:

This is an inflatable boat.  You're not going down any class IV whitewater in it.  The vinyl is tough, but if you rammed it into some underwater branches, you would hole it.  Heavy chop is kind of unnerving, as--being an inflatable--the waves move through, not just under the boat.  The paddles are . . . well. . .okay.  They're too short by at least six inches, and replacing them is on the agenda.  Them being short means you drip a lot more water into the boat than you would otherwise.  Some of the valves have to be pinched open to deflate the thing, which is a bit of a pain, and the pump doesn't have a reverse mode, which would help. There's also, sadly, no good way to affix a trolling motor or sail.

All that being said, the boat has a lot going for it.  It inflates quickly, is easy for one or two persons to handle, paddles smoothly, can be accessed from the water, and deflates and stows in about 15 minutes.  Wonder of wonders, the bag supplied is ACTUALLY LARGE ENOUGH FOR THE BOAT TO BE PUT BACK IN IT.  I was stunned.  The stowed package, including seats and pump and oars, is a good sized duffle bag and weighs in the neighborhood of 40 lbs and fits easily in one of our lazarettes.

Alongside Tesla's Revenge.
While our intent for the boat was purely utilitarian, we've had a blast with the little boat.  It's simple to toss in the back of a car and take to local inlets and rivers for exploring, and we've paddled many miles around Marshy Point Nature Center and the Gunpowder River, as well as wandering around our own Middle River in warm, early fall afternoons.

All in all, we remain happy with the purchase.  Find it on sale and grab one.

Back to installing the electric drive in the next episode.....still waiting on a reversing contactor.  Ah well.

Hey would anyone like our little Puddleduck Racer for free?  I just hate to have it sit here if we go traveling.

More Later,

M

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sigh

Waiting Waiting Waiting. . .. .

We're piddling away here waiting on a couple of components that we need to actually do the motor install, specifically the adapter to connect the motor output shaft to the driveshaft and the reversing contactor to be able to reverse the motor.  Until then we've been making some limited progress on the rest of our. . . .stuff.

We had no takers on the old mast for the 2-29 CAL we're rebuilding into Tesla's Revenge, so I finally cut the thing thing up, removed the hardware and winches, and recycled the aluminum, which netted me a massive $45, but hey, that's $45, and now the marina owner is happier.  In the midst of all this the Nimtek power inverter went "POP" one afternoon and then went silent, so we've been in broken English web chat with them trying to figure out if it we can effect a repair or just turn the thing in for a new unit, which is what I suspect is what is going to happen.

If anyone is curious, we've thus far missed all the huge storms battering America lately.  The northern Chesapeake has been actually rather unseasonably cool and placid of late, an early harbinger of fall.

It's beginning to resemble early fall around here.
Still, we're jonesing to get this project in effect so we can travel a bit this fall and early winter.  Hopefully this week will bring the remaining parts we need and we'll give you a full accounting of the install.  Until then, those of you in harm's way, stay safe, don't do stupid risks, and take care of one another.

More shortly.....I hope

M

Thursday, August 31, 2017

More Drive Components Arrive

So a rather heavy box from the fine folks at WildernessEV showed up yesterday with almost all of the components we need to install the motor and controlls.  Thought I would share it with you:

Clockwise from upper left:  Capacitance charger, gauge mount, throttle, volt and amp meter, motor mount, heavy (2GA) cable with terminals, cut off switch, assorted bolts, Kelley solid state motor controller and, at center, adapter sleeve to connect propshaft to motor and an amp shunt..
Our idea is to create a carrier that will sit athwart the old motor bunks in the boat to hold the motor and controller hardware in place.

Here, to give you some idea of scale.  Here's the controller, motor mount and trrottle.
So having taken some measurements, I'm off to get some wood and hardware.  Still to come is the reversing contactor and a few other hang-y on parts.

Stay tuned.

M

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Motor

Well, we came back from shopping and there it was, sitting innocently outside the marina office.

I love to get packages in the mail.
A brown box, and inside it. . . .
Ohh, this thing's heavy.
. . . a white box, and inside that:

Mungo's new toy
4.7 KW of brushed, permanent magnet motor.  Oh this thing is gonna be a beast with which to crawl under the cockpit.

Stay tuned.  More toys to come.

M

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Two steps forward. . . . .

. . . .and one back.  I HATE re-doing stuff, I really do.  You may remember a few posts ago where we replaced the plastic flipper-pump galley pump we had (that had stopped working) with a Whale pump, and spoke glowingly about it's form and function.

Bah.

After less than two months it began to leak like a sieve and get progressively harder to pump.  I followed the disassembly directions.....everything seemed fine, it just wasn't working.

So finally I ripped the thing out and put in a new cheap flipper pump.  Hopefully this one will last more than two months.

So now I have ANOTHER hole to fill. . .and a lot of staining to take care of.  Sigh.
The motor and controller are on order from the nice folks at WildernessEV and are on their way.  Stay tuned for an unboxing.

More shortly.  Back to messing with the wiring.

M

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fabricating an Anchor Light

Of course, with the mast gone, Tesla's Revenge no longer has an anchor/all round/steaming light as required by colregs.  So, having acquired a new LED all around light from them interwebs, we set about to fabricate one.

The light threads easily through PVC pipe fittings and makes for a durable install.
Most of the lights we looked at were in the $12 range, and were basic, bayonet base sockets fitted with all-round LED lamps.  Note if you install one of these, ventilation on the bottom may be necessary to help prevent the buildup of heat within the housing.  make sure if you use caulk or glue that you leave airflow space.

we attached the lamp to a pipe fitting base using 3/4" stainless screws.

The hardest part of this was attaching the 2" PVC upright to the wheelhouse.  I wanted to put stainless washers on the inside to distribute the load, but lining them up was a BEAR.

The final installation.  I'm happy.
Of course then I had to trace back the wiring to figure out which of the multiple bundles of wire running under the settee were part of the mast lights.  This vessel has been rewired at least twice, and BOTH times all the wires were simply left in place.  Figuring out what goes where involved a volt meter, a screwdriver, some wire cutters, contortionist skills, and a good deal of foul language.

Why did I pick one of the hottest days of the year to do this?  Tell me.
But now we have fully functional running and anchor lights.  Yay!  Now I just have to figure out why I suddenly have no cabin lights......

Sigh....always somethin.

More shortly.

M

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Off Gridding

Going off Grid

Boat living, tiny house living, van living, tent living, cave living. . ..one of the advantages of virtually ANY living other than the standard suburban home is that your small spaces and tiny carbon and energy footprint means you can have an unprecedented amount of freedom from utilities, services, and their associated bills. One of our objectives in this livaboard enterprise has always been to get as far off that dependence as was possible.
The Floating Empire's original 200W of solar was fine for electronics and internal lights. . .that's about it.

Our original shantyboat “The Floating Empire” went a long way in that direction. We were able to filter and pump our own water, and our scant 200W solar panels provided enough power for our electronics and interior lighting, but, sadly, not for refrigeration or travel. One of the driving forces behind getting our new vessel “Tesla's Revenge” was to take care of this.

So in our right minds and everything and after large amounts of caffeine, we've begun the process of getting fully off grid, with new components and a new battery layout, with an eye to producing and being able to store enough power to both live and travel unconnected from shore power.
Here's the hardtop, caulked and painted and ready for the membrane covering.  It EXACTLY fits the four new panels. . . .I didn't ask where I as gonna stand to put them on, now did I?

Every solar system is made of two major parts, both of which are limiting factors to what you can do. The first is, of course, the solar panels. Modern panels produce a LOT more than their predecessors, and the prices have plummeted. Our ultimate goal is to have 1300 watts of energy coming in, the limitation being more one of the surface area that we have on which to MOUNT the beasts than anything else. The second part is your storage, how much of that energy can you put away when the sun ISN'T out, and how rapidly can you draw off that energy when you need it. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that our new motor system will run at 48 volts, which means both the solar panels (normally 24V apiece) and the batteries (12V, grouped in series to make 48V) must be wired to match that voltage, and anything like, say, an inverter to produce 110V AC for appliance use must be able to take 48V on the DC side

After a couple of days of the knuckle busting job of rewiring our 8 deep cycle batteries in two series sets of four (48V, remember?) and dragging wire and installing our new 48V true sinewave inverter and the MPPT controller to regulate the power going from the solar panels to the batteries, we embarked on the perilous task of mounting the first two of our four solar panels on the hardtop. Actually, we wanted to do it the day before, but there were 16kt winds, and I figured I'd wind up somewhere over White Marsh hanging from a flying solar panel. Stylish, yes, but the landings can be messy.

One great place to acquire solar panels (if you're looking for large and high output) is solar installers. They buy the things by the palletload, and after they finish an installation, they'll often sell off the remaining few panels at cost or nearly so. We dealt with the VERY nice folks at Ameresco Solar in Chase and managed to acquire a couple of 325 watt, 24 volt panels for a very reasonable price. Great. Okay.

Finding a place to mount the inverter and the MPPT solar controller was a bit of a challenge as well.  We opted for beneath the companionway step.

So now all I have to do is managed to install two 6 ½ by 3 ½ foot, forty pound solar panels on the top of a moving vessel. We are VERY fortunate to have some lovely slipmates who came over to help us get them on top of the wheelhouse, which made life a lot easier. Of course, though I figured my spaces PERFECTLY for the installation, I forgot to ask one simple question: Where the hell do I stand to screw these in? The resultant, somewhat comedic installation routine resembled someone playing a game of “Twister” over a bed of black, hot, potentially shatterable glass with a cordless drill in one hand. This was one of those moments when extra limbs might have come in handy. Certainly, my wife's suggestion that I put on taller shoes (no kidding, it worked) made it possible by about 2/3 rds of an inch. Regardless, we got it done, clipped together the wires, and low and behold, we were powered up and off grid. . . .

Two Down, Two to Go

. . . .sorta. . .

It's been four years since we launched The Floating Empire, and that's about the lifespan of the original bank of deep cycle batteries. Frankly, they're getting a bit elderly and are no longer up to the task. We can produce plenty of power now, but can't store enough of it to reliably make it through all evenings and cloudy days (a problem also faced by municipalities and utilities working with renewables. Tesla's working on it.). So I'm spending my days at the moment shopping for another block of 100AH batteries to replace our old bank. For the moment, though, we have just dramatically reduced any power consumption we had (which wasn't much). The current system can provide power for all our internal lighting, electronic gear, refrigeration, fans, and assorted small appliances without being plugged into shore. As soon as the new battery bank goes in, We'll be completely disconnected. Then we put in our 4.7KW drive motor and other goodies, and another two panels. . .

Yay, off grid.

Where am I STANDING to put in the last two panels? I have no freaking Idea.

Stay Tuned.

M

Monday, August 7, 2017

Tease tease tease

Still no internet at the marina. . .they're working on it. . .but I thought I'd at least upload a bit of  a tease from my phone:

These beasts are 3  1/2 X 6 1/2 feet.  Getting them up was a bear.
Here's a shot of the first 650W of solar panels we installed on the hard top yesterday.  Full saga shortly, but things are working fine :)

More as soon as we can ...LOTS more in fact

M

Saturday, July 29, 2017

We apologise for the inconvenience. . . .

We've a ton of photos and new posts on the current work on "Tesla's Revenge", but our lovely little marina is having some SERIOUS bandwidth problems of late, which is making  uploading just about impossible.  They're working on it, and should have it functional by the end of the weekend, but if not, I'll drag the laptop over to a starbucks and get some of this stuff here on the blog.  Stay tuned.  Lotsa stuff coming as soon as we can.

M

Friday, July 21, 2017

Making a Simple, snap-on Screen

Screening in hatches, ports, companionways, and the like on vessels and tiny homes can be a pain. The surfaces are often uneven, the openings far from square, and, in general, trying to fabricate something like a screen that will stay in place and keep out the native insect life can be as much of a pain as.  .well. . .as the native insect life.

Window screens for the original Floating Empire were never satisfactory, as they involved lots of staples and not a lot of finesse.
We've found that a relatively simple expedient can be created, however, just through the use of screw-in snaps.

These simple screw in snap kits contain all the tools you need, save a hammer.
The method is really simple.  Cut your screening to fit and trim the edges with a stout tape or cloth.  We used Gorilla gaffer's tape.  Set your female snaps per the package instructions into the tape rim, then mark where the snaps will fall on the surface of the window opening and screw in the male part of the snap there.

It makes for a clean, easily removable, bug free screening system.
Since the whole system is non-rigid, it will easily adapt to virtually any opening.  Have a mind:  if drilling the snaps into fiberglass, a pilot hole is recommended as the screws can bind and snap off.

Anyway, just wanted to pass this along.  We've now got a screened main forward hatch and a LOT less mosquito intrusion.

More shortly

M

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Saga of the Great Unmasting

So if you've followed this latest project of ours, you'll know that Tesla's Revenge, formerly a Cal 2-29 sailboat, had some issues that prevented her from being a . . .well. . .sailboat.  The supports that spread the force from the deck-stepped mast to the keel were shot, literally rusted to bits the size of coins, and that was, of course, one of the reasons we got her cheap.

Having re-assembled the interior, rewired stuff out the wazoo, and begun serious work on our wheelhouse, it was time to get rid of said troublesome mast in order to proceed with our conversion of the vessel into an electric cruiser.  Unfortunately, the marina where we're berthed, lovely as it is, lacks a crane to do this, and the nearest boatyard that can handle unstepping the mast is some miles down Middle River and up Frog Morter Creek, and, lacking either sails or a motor, getting over there was somewhat problematic.  But the boat DOES have an outboard mount, and, with an outboard borrowed from the former owner, we decided we could make the trip to Maryland Marina under our own power.

The Captain at his helm, mug of Iced Tea at the ready.  Note how hopeful he seems.
The day started auspiciously, with virtually no wind.  The borrowed motor started up instantly.  We did a wonderfully graceful job of getting out of the slip and into the center of Middle River.  All in all, quite the happy start.  I'd never been by water to Maryland Marina before (we did go to check it out by car just to be able to recognize the place) but I had the Navonics app on my smartphone, a functioning radio, maps on our computers. . . .the cat even seemed calm with his home suddenly deciding to move.  It was all good.

Okay, full disclosure here:  I have this paranoid distrust of internal combustion engines of any kind.  The guys at the marina all seem to love tinkering with them, listening to them, messing with them, talking about them. . . me, I seem to have a native antipathy to them.  I always assume they're going to fail, usually when I least expect it.  One of the effects of this paranoia is that I spend the ENTIRE TIME a motor is running listening for every hiccough, every burp and burble, convinced that something dire is about to happen.

But happily, nerve wrackingly, it didn't.

We even managed to find the Marina with only a minimum of angst.  All in all, the trip over failed to suck.  The Cal's huge rudder made steering a breeze, and the boat proved responsive and easy to manage.

Okay, to the mast.
The mast is a MOOSE.  You can also see some of our gonzo cribbing.
 The mast on this thing is a beast, the Cal being designed for offshore racing.  It's big and it's thick and it's long and the idea we had was to pull the thing and lay it across the new wheelhouse, along with a tripod of cribbing at the bow, then to motor back to Middle River Landing and remove the thing with the marina's sling.

As you can see, this thing is NOT short.
The whole process is kind of daunting.  The Marina made it look easy.

The crane was on it's own truck, and our beloved cat Magellan was totally freaked out by it, by the motor noise, by being off the boat (albeit with a leash) in a strange place.  I don't blame him.  Staring straight up at the mast, you really don't get a sense of how LONG the thing really is.  When they lowered it onto our cribbing, some of which nearly skittered off the deck during the loading process.  We lashed it on to the lifeline stands with some heavy line and managed to get it seated and tied down.

Tied down and mercifully back at our slip.
Of course, the entire way back, every creak and groan of the cribbing and the wheelhouse frame, every wave we hit, every burble of the motor, made me ABSOLUTELY SURE that with the next idiot powerboater's wake we would see the mast crashing into the water, dragging all our woodwork with it, COMPLETELY POSITIVE the motor was going to die any moment, leaving us stranded and void of course in the midst of the mixing bowl that is the lower Middle River.  AAAAAHHHH!   AAAAAHHHH!    AAAAAHHHHH!

It was not restful.

OMFG what an ordeal. 
We arrived back home, intact but stressed to the max and utterly exhausted (cat included).  The next day we pulled the mast off and set it on the hard using the Marina's boat sling.  That, at least, went smoothly.

But it's done.  Now we have a host of wiring and solar panels and electronics to deal with, but THAT, at least, I'm at ease with.

Not doing this again anytime soon, though.....sheesh.

Enjoy the summer.  We hope to be mobile and have lots new and happier stories for you by month's end.

This is a gin and tonic and I've earned it, so there.

Enjoy

M


Slow Progress, but lots more shortly

Apologies for not having posted a great deal lately.  Rest assured we're making progress and taking pictures, but a combination of an insane work schedule and bandwidth issues has made adding things to the blog difficult.  That's all about to change, so please bear with us.

In the recent days we've finished the structure for our wheelhouse, taken the boat on it's first trip, and gotten the mast removed.  Pix to come momentarily.

In the middle of that, our POS hand pump in the galley decided to stop working. . .then to start working. . .then to stop working again. 

I guess this thing was cheap for a reason, hunh?
So of course, I ordered a replacement, this time a Whale galley pump with far better reviews, and set about the knuckle banging task of getting the old one out.   This was complicated by the fact that the old pump required a much larger hole (which had to be filled) and the fact that I'd installed the old pump before putting in the sink, meaning I had to reach under and behind the sink and to the new installation by braille.

The new Whale galley pump.  You can see the repaired opening to the right, which I now have to tidy up.
But it's done.  The Whale galley pump is smooth, and twice as fast as the old one (it works on both stroke directions).  We're quite happy with it and I recommend it highly.

So stay tuned.  I'll be posting our first outing and the great mast removal saga shortly.

Happy summer.

M

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Of Fear and Plywood: More progress.

Most of you who have followed this weblog know, Gail and I are makers. We're artists and tinkerers and designers and fiddlers and we love inventing and making stuff. Four years ago, we built the original barrel shanty," The Floating Empire", in our backyard and lived aboard her for over three years, making constant changes and experiments to the structure before selling her to a new owner and acquiring a used CAL 2-29 hull that we're turning into a solar electric cruiser. So I'm sitting on the dock covered in sweat in the middle of a Mad-Dogs-and-Englishmen noonday sun, merrily drilling away at the beams that will encompass our new, pergola-style wheelhouse, when one of our slipmates comes up and asks me: “Why bother?”

Yeah, it's noon and 92 degrees, so what?
What?

“Why bother? There are three boats up there on the hard you could have for nearly nothing, and none of them need any work, really. I mean, they'll travel too, why do all this stuff?”

I have to admit, I was a little amazed. I mean, NOT doing all this stuff would never have occurred to me. There are a lot of reasons to do all the projects we do. First of all, we know the boats on which we live inside and out, having either built or re-built the personally. We're fearless in chopping into to fiberglass or replacing structural members, because we know the forces involved, we know what pieces have to be strong and what are merely cosmetic and how to deal with those. Second, of course, we get the boat we want, not just something which is close to the boat we want that's commercially offered. If I want a port right there, I'll put one in. If the counter is too low, I'll raise it. We build the space to accommodate us, not content to accept what some designer has created to please the average public. 

 See? Both of those are real reasons, and they make sense.

They are also just so much fish bait.

The real reason we do this is that we love doing it, and the reason I don't have a commercially built vessel is that there's nothing special about owning a commercially built vessel. Everything we have is unique to us, from “Tesla's Revenge” to “The Floating Empire” to our odd little offset rig Puddleduck “Dharma Duck.” Like my writing or Gail's artwork, it bears our stamp, and we love describing the systems and processes and accidents and disasters and successes to folks, and the idea that, somewhere, somehow, someone else may benefit from our experiments. Like artwork, it's a kind of immortality, a way of making a mark on the world in a way that simply buying something does not.

Besides, it's fun.  Don't be afraid.  It's only fiberglass.

Aboard our new shadier cockpit.  The pergola will eventually hold our solar panels.
 We made a lot of progress this week.  The enclosure for the wheelhouse.is nearly complete and perfectly serviceable to shade the cockpit, and we've added some roll-up bamboo blinds to block the morning and evening sun from blasting in.  All in all it'll make things lots cooler and make doing the rest of the work we've got ahead of us.

Stay tuned.

M

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What were they thinking


With me working, we've been making slow, but hopefully sure, progress on "Tesla's Revenge".  We're continuing to stain and seal the beams for the new deckhouse.  If you're wondering why the text heavy posts lately, the marina has been experiencing some bandwidth problems with our WiFi (as in, I think the router is failing) which has made uploads a long and occasionally iffy process.

We've also done some stuff to correct some of the more bizarre features of the Cal 229 hull.  The worst of these sins is that the forward V berth has ZERO ventilation.  No ports, no vents, no hatches, no little air scoops, nada, nunca, nichts, nuttin.  The trouble is, anything we could install would get in the way of the tiny bit of flat deck space we have, so I tried an expedient.

small powered hatch in chain locker cools v berth
IThe large aft hatch is actually in the head.  The smaller, forward one is actually in the chain locker.
In the forward of the V birth was a small door into the chain locker, so I found a small vent with a powered fan and mounted it forward above the chain locker.  It has a screen and a 12V fan, so opening it and kicking it on and opening the chain locker door provides a nice, flow through ventilation to the berth.

Okay, odd, wanky, and not exactly to code, but it works.

We proceed.  This next week I'm hoping to get the mast pulled and the wheelhouse built.

More momentarily.

M

hey, more stuff at life, art, water.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A bit of Progress

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

M

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stateless

Stateless: the downsides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fixing Composting Toilet Issues

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

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

And so it did.  Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOW am i glad that worked.

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

Much more later

M

Friday, April 28, 2017

Aboard the EV Tesla's Revenge

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.  This is just beginning.

M

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bittersweet

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

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

I shall miss her.

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

And now, our new saga begins.

M

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Moving Day

Moving is always such a treat.

Yes, that was sarcasm in case you missed it.

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

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

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

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

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

Then the real fun begins, probably about midsummer.

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

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

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

MUCH more shortly.
Happy Spring

M