Friday, September 6, 2019

In High Panic

So we've been enjoying sailing in our new (to us) 30' Pearson "Constallation" these last few weeks, getting the thing ready for some fall travel and doing minor tweaking to systems that had . . .well. . .deteriorated over the three something years the boat sat on the hard.  It has been a mercifully small amount of work, and not a lot of things we've found that needed fixing, which is great because we're both looking forward to doing some fall travel.

Was that just the bilge pump going off?  No worries, it's been raining.

Anyway, between that and getting my new book out, we've been a bit. . .

Was that just the bilge pump again?  Well, I just moved back to the cockpit, so the boat shifted, that was probably it.

Anyway, with the new book and the weather finally cooling. . .

Um, that was just the bilge pump again.  Um.  Okay, so maybe we need to check the. . .

<<Pump kicks on again>>


It has to be the stuffing box.  Everything else is fine, so it MUST be the stuffing box.  It was dripping a little when we first splashed but I figured that was just because it was dry, but. . .

<<Pump kicks in again>>

AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!  So we jerk all the carefully stacked boxes out of the quarter berth, pull out the teak slatting that closes off the engine compartment.  I grab a huge pair of water pump pliers, and, with a flashlight in my teeth, I crawl into the dank, uncomfortable space to find. . .

. . .nothing.  It's dry.  It's absolutely dry.  Dry as a bone.  Mojave dry.  Sahara Dry.  Dry Martini with a sawdust chaser dry.  Dry.

To quote Deadpool, "What the actual hell?"

We begin working methodically from the stern forward.  Engine throughhull is dry.  Water jacket is dry, muffler is dry.

Sink drain throughhull is dry.  Water line is dry.  Head water intake is dry. . .

Head waste throughhull is dry.  Head sink throughhull is dry.  Dry Dry Dry.  WTAF?

What's left?  Are we holed?  What's left?  I remembered there was, all the way forward, a transducer mount.  Maybe that.  I pulled out the drawers under the Vberth and played the light on it.

Dry.  But right below where I was looking was the head sink foot pump.  That was NOT dry.  It turned out to be the culprit, slowly leaking all the water in our fresh water tank into the bilge.  I pulled it out.  I've a rebuild kit on the way.  Whew.

Really?  The foot pump?
My point of bringing up this little exercise in aquatic panic is this:  With apologies to George R. R. Martin, Winter is coming.  A lot of us will be putting our boats on the hard (we liveaboards, of course, will not) for months on end.  Boats do a lot of things brilliantly, but sitting around not being used is not one of them.  This might be a great time to consider replacing washers, gaskets, hoses and the like so your spring doesn't include episodes like the one detailed above.

Aside from the minor heart attack, it's shaping up to be a really fine fall.  My new book, "Zarabeth's World" is out, (I know, I know, I keep posting this.  We're excited.  Gimmee a break) and the proofs from the publisher were unexpectedly lovely.

Just in time for fall reading.
Feel free to rush over to Amazon in a buying frenzy (but if you love it please make sure you leave a review.  We live and die by those things).  At any rate, the weather has finally cooled a bit, the winds are freshening, and we're looking forward to what are usually the two or three best months of sailing on the Bay.


Got the proof today

Got the proof of the physical copy of my book today.  I'm ecstatic, it's really well done.
Wild Shore did a great job on this one.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

All my books on sale (almost)

Just a quick note, Wild Shore Press is celebrating my new release (Zarabeth's World) by putting all my other novels (or the electronic copies of them anyway) on sale for just $.99 on Sept. 1st.  So you should definitely go over to my Author Page on Amazon on the 1st and download  yourself some fall reading materials (that is, assuming you like my writing.).
I love the cover art for this one.  Odile did a great job.
Anyway, the sale starts at 8AM PDT on the first and ends at 8AM PDT on the second.  Just wanted you folks to know.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Solar system is in effect!

So as we ease into the new boat, we've been installing our new solar system using components from Tesla's Revenge and The Floating Empire.  The biggest challenge is to site the rather massive (6 1/2 foot, 325 Watt) solar panel in a way that it will work and still not get in the way of running the boat.  We finally hit on the idea of installing it on the stern, braced off the stern rail.

Rich working on the rather hefty aluminum supports.
So we drafted our friend Rich who is talented at such things and contrived a set of rail clamps and supports for the panel, and after much wrestling, the beast is in place and hooked up.

It's the only place we could find that wasn't in the way or in the shade.

Yeah, it's a freakin moose.

We just have to be careful docking
So the system now is comprised of this monster, 6 100AH deep cycle batteries, an 1100 watt inverter for 110, and 40 watt MPPT controller.

Art making on our first anchor out.
So our first anchor out, in blistering hot weather, the system performed beautifully, running our freezer, interior (USB) fans, lights, and keeping the phones and computers charged, all without a glitch or draining the batteries.

One step at a time, we're getting there

More shortly.

Oh, hey, Wild Shore Press is putting all my Kindle editions on sale on Sept 1.  If you like my writing, it's a great way to pick up some cheap reads for the fall.  Mark your calendars and wander on over to Wild Shore Press for details.

And do check out the new novel.  I'm quite proud of it.


Monday, August 19, 2019


Available in ebook and hardcopy form
The new novel is out and available.  I'm so very proud of this one, folks.  It's available on Amazon as both a kindle ebook and as a regular hardcopy quality trade paperback as well as at Wild Shore Press.  Free, of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited.  If you do decide to get a copy (and by all means do) don't forget to leave a review.

The Amazon link is HERE.

Yay.  Finally!


Saturday, August 17, 2019

New Book comes out in 72 hours!!!

And boy am I stoked.  I'm really proud of this one, guys.
Stay tuned, bragging to commence shortly.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

But on What shall we cook?

You know, It's rather odd that I get asked that question so much, especially from wannabee liveaboards, but it does rather seem to be a matter of concern.  Cooking is one of the ties that bind, and has, especially in America, become a bit of an obsession with a lot of folks (us included, I'm afraid), and the idea of just what to use to make a glorious meal in the confined and energy-limited space of a boat is a matter of some concern to folks.

But never fear, gentle reader, because we aboard The Floating Empire/Tesla's Revenge/Constellation have tried just about every freaking thing you can imagine to make a decent meal.  Here's our rundown of cooking aboard and the stuff to make that happen.

First up, Electricity:

The humble hotplate can solve a host of ills when at the dock.  At sea, not so much.
Of all the fuel sources for cooking, electricity has the distinction of being about the only one that stands a chance of being carbon neutral or even carbon negative (depending on where your marina gets it's power).  Electrical cooking comes in three varieties:  Resistance (hotplates, electric skillets, and the like), induction cooking, and microwaves.  Of these, the resistance devices are the most versatile (they'll heat up absolutely anything.) and the cheapest, but the most energy inefficient.  They'll work fine at dock, but don't plan on using them from your solar array (unless its huge) and using it from a generator is flat out wasteful.  The induction cooking hotplates are more efficient, but require magnetically conductive cookware (your cast iron will work, your aluminum pots and pans will not).  A low wattage microwave might work off your battery system (some are in the 500-750 watt range) but not for very long.  Still, if you're heating or reheating prepared food, they'll work fine.

We use a hotplate (resistance) when at dock. It saves on using other types of fuel and works just fine, thank you.


 Alcohol stoves were the bomb on board for years (no pun intended).  The pressurized alcohol stove was a standard on boats and in ice fishing shacks for decades, as well as for campers and backpackers.  More recently, non pressurized stoves from companies like Origo have dominated the market.  Alcohol has a lot of advantages.  It burns clean, and is wildly available in many forms, from isopropyl alcohol from the pharmacy to denatured alcohol from the hardware store to Everclear and high octane Rum from the tavern, all of them will burn just fine.  Alcohol is the darling of the sailing set, and has been for some time.

It has--surprise!--some drawbacks.  First of all, alcohol burns cooler than other fuels.  It takes longer to cook, and uses more of the fuel to do so.  It's also relatively expensive compared to Propane or Kerosene.  Second, the flames are invisible in daylight.  It's hard to tell if the damn thing is lit or not, and that can be an issue.  Some care is clearly indicated.  Thirdly, the sticky sweet smell of it burning drives some people to nausea.

My wife included.

Which brings us to:

Kerosene (and Diesel) 

Butterfly unpressurized Kerosene stove.

Of all the things with which we've cooked, we like the cooking process with Kero the best.  It's hot, it's cheap (Kerosene is very energy dense), and unlike almost any combustible fuel, Kerosene (Paraffin to those of you outside the US) is non-explosive and almost impossible to set fire to unless its saturated into some kind of wicking medium.  With the availability of biodiesel and biokerosene, you even have the option of using a renewable resource aboard.  It really does a great job, cooks controllably, stores compactly, and can be used for stoves, ovens, lantferns, and heaters.  It only has two drawbacks for us:  1) it does rather tend to blacken the bottom of the pot and

2) the smell.

If the odor of diesel or kerosene doesn't bother you--and to be honest in a properly functioning stove, it's far from overwhealming--then it would be both our recommendation.  If, however, you have a sensitive nose, there really is nothing for it.  It's not for you.

St. Paul Mercantile on the web (and in MD) is a great source for Kerosene stoves and ovens and are lovely people with which to deal.  Check them out.


These little butane stoves are the darlings of the catering set.
Butane is another wildly convenient fuel.  It's clean, most of the small butane "catering" burners are self contained, self-lighting, and highly portable and easily stowed.  They cook cleanly and controllably, without odor.  They have two drawbacks.  The first is that the small, non-refillable butane canisters, resembling a hairspray can, are wasteful and occasionally difficult to find.  The second is that below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the gas just doesn't vaporize very well, The cup of tea that takes you six minutes in summer can take you 20 minutes on a chilly December morning.  Still, for warm weather and occasional cooking, they're really easy.

Propane adapter for Butane stove.
Some companies sell the stoves with an adapter and pressure regulator for use with the far more available propane canisters.  These work well. . . for a while.  The regulators we've run into are plastic and cheap and tend to fail after about six months.  There's a pop, the pressure cover is on the deck in the galley, and you don't have a stove.  It's not impossible that there are better made ones than we've encountered, and we did use them successfully.  So, while we're on the subject:


Propane. . .keep it outside if you possibly can.
Propane is a comfortable, familiar, and very useful fuel.  Propane stoves are ubiquitous, you can get propane ovens, propane heaters, even propane refrigerators.  It is clean, controllable, and widely available in the US and elsewhere.  It's a lovely fuel.  It has two drawbacks. . .maybe three.

First:  It can be rather hard to find in some of the Caribbean, if that's an issue.

Second:  It is, after all, a fossil fuel.

And Third:  It's heavier than air.  If that doesn't sound unpleasant, let me elaborate.  If  you have a leak in your stove or line, the gas will settle.  It will settle into your bilge, especially in deep hulled vessels without a lot of air circulation like sailboats.  If your bilge pump then kicks on, there can be a spark.  You get the idea?  Boom.  Every year a number of vessels are burned to the waterline because of propane fires.

Do we use it?  Yes, we have and probably will again, but you must be extremely circumspect about your hose fittings and gas lines.  Keep the bottles in their own housings with ventilation, keep them on deck if possible.  Caveat.


"Tent" stove ready to install aboard.  There are also a number of specialty stoves designed specifically for vessels.
I love wood stoves.  I love the smell, I love the fact that they dry out the air aboard in winter, cutting down on the "interior rainforest" effect we sometimes get when it's cold out.  I love the fact that the fuel is carbon neutral, often free in the form of scrap or deadfall, and can do so much.  There are even table top burners, sometimes termed either "rocket stoves" or "wood gasifiers", that can be used for indoor cooking without smoking up the place or heating anything more than the pan.

Some "wood gas" burners can even use wood stove pellets.  They're smokeless as you can see, and REALLY hot.
The drawbacks of wood, though, make it a difficult choice in some circumstances.  The stoves, of course, heat up the whole space when  you light them, fine in Nova Scotia in fall, lousy in the Tropics.  The chimneys, which are smaller than usual typically, need frequent cleaning, which is a pain.  The smell of woodsmoke gets in everything. The ashes have to be dumped. . .

All of that is, of course, do-able.  The more recent problem is that wood burning stoves absolutely FREAK OUT some marina owners (or, more likely, their insurance companies), and the mere sight of a trail of white smoke from your chimney can prompt a visit and, on occasion, an eviction.  I understand it, of course.  Sparks do exist, though the danger is far overrated by people unfamiliar with burning wood, but still.


There are other options, of course, CNG (Compressed natural gas) is a fuel on par with Propane, but far trickier to find.  I've not dealt here with solar stoves and ovens (and dehydrators) which are used successfully by a lot of long term cruisers, nor mentioned more exotic fuels like Hexamine fuel tablets (used by some militaries), or radioactive Thorium (long lasting but the chicken tends to grow extra drumsticks).


 So what do we recommend?  We recommend what works for you, what you can afford and is safe and useful in your vessel.  For us, we will probably wind up using propane again aboard Constellation mostly because of the galley set up and the volume of our cooking.  Do the research and do what suits your needs.  Happy to help if we can.

More shortly


Monday, July 8, 2019

We acquire a new boat

So, only about two weeks ago one of our slip mates stopped by and, in the course of conversation, says "Hey, you guys want a boat?"

A what?

Turns our that yet another of our area marinas was closing--yet another victim of condo development--and all the boats have to go.  Some were taken by their owners to other places, but for some folks, that just wasn't either temporally or financially possible.  Either they basically gave the boats away or the marina would crush them up with a back hoe.

I'm not exaggerating.  I've probably seen twenty crushed up and disposed of at our marina alone.  Some weren't functioning and the owners simply couldn't afford to get them fixed, others fell far behind on slip rental, some owners became ill or died.  Every marina winds up with a stock of vaguely functional abandoned boats.  But back to the story.

"It's a Pearson" says our slipmate.  "The motor works and it's got sails, and they just redid the upholstery." 
Marinas wind up with all manner of vessels, some of which can be  yours for the taking.

So we go and have a look.  It's a '70's Pearson 30, racing rigged.  The interior was newly painted and re-upholstered.  The motor, one of the ubiquitous Atomic 4's, fired up instantly, the main appeared good, the jib iffy, and the whole thing too good a deal to pass up.

So we said yes.  We spent a few days painting the hull with a new coat of anti-fouling, rebuilding the tiller which had delaminated, and the like.  We met the owner at the soon-to-be-gone marina (WHERE, parenthetically, are we supposed to do our boating when all of the marinas have been turned into doomed particle board townhomes, I ask you?), splashed the boat (making sure it was floating and floating upright, the two basic boat requirements), transferred the title for the princely sum of $1, and,  after a wait of a couple of days for the freaking weather to settle down, we brought her home under her own power.  So in the midst of some of the most miserably hot weather we've had here on the Middle River and in the middle of trying to get ready for a major art show at the Liriodendron Mansion (more at if  you're interested.  Strong show) we've been transferring stuff from Tesla's Revenge onto the new boat.  We're exhausted, but a lot more comfey

It got me to thinking.

One of the major arguments I hear against living aboard is "I could never afford to do that."  The rather daunting idea of the average, non 1%er American being able to afford a boat AND a home while making that transition is what seems to scare off a lot of people.

Yet from where I'm sitting here aboard Constellation, I'm looking at the bows of at least six boats up on the hard in the boatyard that anyone could have for--pretty much literally--a song, just to get them out of the marina's hair.  Some are cabin cruisers, mostly with one functioning and one dead engine.  Some are sailboats that haven't seen water for three years.  At least one I know of had the owner die and the family wants nothing to do with it.  All could be made into rather nice floating homes while  you got them functional and mobile, and the price, as I said, is right.
We've watched our marina go from 2 liveaboads to something like 20.  It's not an accident.

As the seas warm and rise, more and more of us will be going to the water for living space.  I just look on us as ahead of the curve.

We've had seven days in a row here on the Chesapeake with heat indexes above 100F, which was perhaps not the brightest time to be moving things over, but we're settling in to the SV Constellation as our new home and should be done within the next several weeks.  I'm waiting for a few parts for our rather massive electrical and solar system to get it all wired in. 

Dammit, somebody make me a catnip and tonic.  It's too freaking hot in here.

Stay tuned.  And, while you're doing that, contact your local Marina and go get a boat.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Dock Line Heroes

So, a few nights ago I'm sitting in the galley doing what I do best:  wasting my time surfing the web, when the boat starts rocking a little.  I had been aware that the wind had come up a little, but this was different.  I started hearing voices and a boat motor revving and falling off and going quiet and restarting and revving again.  Okay, somebody's having trouble coming in.

So I stick on my shoes and go topside.  It's dark out, but sure enough, one of my slip mates is having trouble getting in.  He was coming back in late and had lost an engine and, on top of that, the wind had unexpectedly kicked up.

Here's the thing (which, of course, those of you with multi engine cruisers will know already), the rudders on most inboards are quite small, just intended to vector the thrust from the propellers. I can just about scull the boat with a massive sailboat rudder, but not on power boats.  At low speeds, they're not terribly effective, and with one engine out and engine steering impossible, your ability to manouvre is more than limited;  It's damn near nonexistent.  A bunch of us in the marina had gathered on the dock to try to help them get in.  It took a couple of tries, fighting a broadside wind, to get them in line-flinging range.  It was then that we discovered a problem.

See this stylish black dockline?  You won't after sundown.

The docklines on this stylish gofast were stylishly basic black.  They looked wonderful against the blue and white hull in the daytime.  At night, they didn't exist.  We missed the line being tossed again and again.  The only way we could tell when and where it was coming was by trying to judge the throwing gesture of the guys on board.  Even flashlights didn't help.

Finally the now-soaking-wet line quite literally swatted me in the face and I caught it.  Never did see the thing.  We got them in safely, but it started me thinking:  We see a lot of questionable things here in the marina when folks tie up their boats.

The black or dark and speckled dock lines (not to mention the ones using camo rope, which, to me, is an error right up there with camo-pattern keys.  Why on earth would you do that?) are, of course, an obvious problem, as is the use of a line too thin to realistically hold a 36,000lb boat in a wind or boat wake.  However, most of the difficulties we see stem from the fact that folks just aren't thinking through how these things are to be used.  It's basic:  lines have to hold securely, but need to be able to be freed rapidly in case of an emergency.  Let's say, for instance, that your boat is next to mine, and a fire breaks out on the dock.  We've got to get your boat out of there.  I go to untie it.  Time is of the essence.

Is this a dock line or macrame?
That mess above can take minutes you may not have to get free.  Similarly, folks trying to be really tidy can create an orderly pile of line that might take you a weekend to get unlaced, even if you can figure it out.

yeah, it's orderly.  It also will take you ten minutes to unwrap.
Another way to court disaster is to wrap things on the cleat along WITH the line.  Electrical cables, crab trap lines, fender lines, any number of things can get wildly in your way just in that moment when it's raining cats and dogs, flashing lightning, screaming windy, and you're trying desperately to get a line free or tightened.

I can think of a whole raft of reasons why this is a bad idea.
So what should you do?  Think about it.  Secure the line on the cleat with a simple, secure figure eight wrap, then neatly put the excess line on the dock, but away from the cleat.  Keep the cleat clean of other lines, wires, and excess line.

Keep it simple.
Then I get to be a hero and leap from my boat and free yours, saving your beloved vessel from certain destruction.  No need to thank me.  Oh, sure I'll take a beer.  All the day's work of a liveaboard.

more shortly, and lots more over at Life, Art, Water.  Gail's got a big show coming up.  You all should come.


Friday, May 10, 2019

Working from Boat

(as opposed to working ON boat, which is another thing altogether.)

One of the perennial conversations I get into on the liveaboard forums is the whole unpleasant business of making a living while on the water. “I would LOVE to do this” the conversation usually goes, “but how would I LIVE?!” So I thought while sitting here working that I would take the opportunity to discuss some of the factors governing working from floating home and how (or if) one might do that.

Full disclosure: both the wife and I are semi-retired at this point. A substantial portion of our incomes come from social security and previous investments. That is, of course, never enough. At any rate, Here are some of the things we've learned working aboard.

First of all, don't assume you can keep doing what you've been doing, even if working from home. I'm rather fortunate in that I've been a writer and publisher for some years (after a life in the theatre), but my wife is an artist, and in her work as a sculptor she has sometimes been engaged in making truly HUGE, room-sized sculptures and installations. In 29 feet, that wasn't going to happen.

You may have to scale the work you're doing to the space you have.

So you adapt. You scale your work to those things you can do in the space and with the resources you can carry with you. In Gail's case, most of her work of late has been collage work, much smaller and more compact than a lot of her previous efforts, but beautiful nonetheless.

Next, consider boat services—hull painting, hull cleaning, fiberglass repairs, and the like—are also a common option, especially if you find yourself moored in areas where such services are difficult to find or majorly expensive. I know a number of folks online who do a good deal of marlinspike work: making rope fenders, splices, and line repairs. Look at it this way: you're in a boat, you're around places where there are boats, what are the things you have to do for yourself that you might also do for others. Many marinas and marine service companies are more than happy for you to do work for them under the water table, as it were, in exchange for slip rental, power, or other services. Don't discount in-kind exchanges.

Telecommuting is, of course, also an option, but only if you have reliable internet access. You may discover that a lot of online jobs like customer service or teaching online might work for you, but that the bandwidth at your marina or aboard if cruising isn't fast enough or reliable enough to let you take the position. When not near a WiFi note, we have to use one of our phones as a tether to access the net. It works, but it's not quick and can burn up your data plan way quicker than you'd anticipate. Satellite internet works, but is beyond a lot of folk's income. . . ours included. If you can't find a position that will let you do your work via some occasionally indifferent internet connections, you may have to create one. Don't shy from this. It's entirely do-able. Think about it this way: if they searched to find your service through an agency or online company, they can also find you at your own website.
Can't find a company that will support your working from the boat?  Create one!

Being able to do the work is only a part of the story, though. You've got to get it to market, and let the market get to you. The internet has certainly made this a great deal easier. I have an online publishing site for a lot of my work, and my books are sold through Amazon and other outlets, but in the case of those needing a physical address, it can be an issue. Certainly, a lot of marinas—provided you stay mostly in one place—will allow livaboards to receive and send mail directly from the marina. Post office boxes, too are a good option (the USPS just began a mail imaging service, which will provide you with an image of the outside of your first class mail to give you an idea of what might be waiting for you.). Long term cruisers may want to look into mailing services like St. Brendan's Isle, ( that will not only forward mail, but will open it on your instructions, scan it, and forward the image to you through the web.

Then, of course, there's the landside option: tourist towns are always in need (in season) of waitstaff, bartenders, housekeeping services, dishwashers, auto valets, and a whole host of jobs of that ilk. A few weeks waiting table can help underwrite a few months on the hook.
Remember why you're working at all:  to be here.

But whatever you do, remember why you're doing this: to live the liveaboard life. The worst thing you can do is let a job or on board business so eat your life that you have no time for the water, and no joy left with which to greet the seagulls in the morning or the herons at sunset. Then what would be the point?

Don and Gail Elwell
and First Cat Magellan
Aboard the EV Tesla's Revenge

Friday, April 19, 2019

And more Fiddling

So while we await the new motor controller, we've been doing projects we'd long talked about.  My latest, since I still had a piece of somebody's discarded teak hatch cover, was to make a box for our electronics in the galley to try and wrangle the snake farm of power cables, adapters, headphones, battery chargers, and associated detritus.

Turned out rather well, I think.
The box will sit on the galley bench between where we usually sit and house our laptops, phones, etc, when not in use.

More or less it's new home
Big enough for the laptops, and I wired in a power strip to charge 'em.
We also took the time to rack and bottle a new batch of hard cider.  7.89% abv, and some really nice flavors.  Decided to leave this one a still scrumpy since we like the tastes so much.

Color's nice too.
Tonight it's rain and another tornado warning until Midnight, but the weather is warmer and spring has finally turned the corner around here.

Controller supposedly shows up tuesday.

More shortly


Friday, April 12, 2019

Fiddling About

Does it seem like we're always fiddling about with this boat?  That's probably because we're. . .well. . .always fiddling about with this boat.  This week while waiting on a new motor controller so we can FINALLY get this thing on the bay, we took a hard look at how we were using the cockpit and decided to make it more useful to us.

So what we finally decided to do was to basically cover over the cockpit forward of the binnacle and cover it with cushions as a larger lounge/summer sleeping area.

Laying out the new cockpit cover.  The hatch will provide access to the former forward part of the cockpit for dead storage (also there's some wiring down there to which we'll need access)
Another shot of construction in progress, with the access hatch open.
We also decided that we needed at least some kind of removable table for our dining and imbibing pleasure.  Someone at the Marina had thrown out an old teak hatchcover last year, and, being a pack rat, I snagged it on the off chance that we might have a use for it.  We used some piano hinge and attached it to the forward part of the binnacle, using a chain to support the forward end so we could do without putting legs under it.

Table from scavenged teak.  Doesn't get much better than that.

We hit it with some teak oil this morning, and it popped right up.

You can't beat good wood.
First usage last evening was a rousing success.
As for the new lounging platform, Magellan has thoroughly adopted it.  We've covered it for the moment with disused lounge chair cushions, and it's exactly the space we've needed.  Later on we may do some more permanent upholstery, but for the moment, it's lovely.

Magellan loves the new space.  Good lord this is a big cat.
The spring has hit in earnest this last week, with beautiful days and mild nights.  We've taken long walks out a Marshy point, grilled some amazing food, used our little smoker, and, in general, tried to shake this last winter out of our bones.  Middle of next week, we should get the new motor controller and wiring harness.  Stay tuned.

New stuff over at Life, Art, Water, check it out.

Much more later


Saturday, April 6, 2019

"Just one word"

If you're of a certain age or just a buff of classic film, you remember the scene from "The Graduate" in which a very serious looking adult takes a very young looking Dustin Hoffman aside with "just one word" for him.


Here's the clip if you wanna relive the moment.  It's pretty funny. (and no, I don't own this, this is a reference for educational purposes only, so there)

I remember laughing my butt off at the scene, the sheer seriousness of the well intentioned elder, Hoffman's polite but baffled response, and the weird inappropriateness of it all.  But lately, I've come to realize that the guys that DID take that message to heart are doing a real number on the waters in which I live, and I find it's not so funny anymore.

It seems every day I'm seeing articles about floating islands of plastic crap in our oceans, of whales washing up dead with fifty or more pounds of plastics in their guts, of MolaMola floating belly up from eating plastic bags ( they mostly feed on jellyfish, so you can see the similarity).  We can't take a walk around the river without coming across seagull cadavers.  The skin and feathers and bones are rotting away, but the pile of plastic in their guts seems immortal.  And, to be perfectly blunt, I'm tired of fishing the crap out of the water.

This crap is everywhere.  You know it and I know it.

In response to communities trying to actually. . .I dunno. . .DO something about this, the industry and their pet legislators have scattergunned a plethora of laws designed to make it ILLEGAL to ban plastic crap.  My favorite is  Florida Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini's bill which says that “a municipality, county, or other local governmental entity may not adopt, enforce, or implement any ordinance, rule or law that would further restrict a food service establishment from distributing single-use plastic straws to a customer."  Great. One wonders how much in contributions he pocketed for that.

So, rather than driving from state to state and punching these legislators (and the lobbyists that hold their leashes) in the face (the wife disapproves for some reason), we decided to do something about it, at least in our own lives.  I thought I would give you a small list of some of the things we've been trying, and thus far, it's been no hardship at all.

First of all, we dug out all the cloth carry bags we had accumulated from stores, events, publications, holidays, political campaigns, conventions, LARPs, marine suppliers, orgies, pet stores, boat shows,  and shopping centers, cleaned out all the old receipts, candy wrappers, bottle caps, washers, and illegible grocery lists, and actually started USING them.  Living on a boat and having limited storage, we tend to do what's often called "market shopping," that is to say we go and buy pretty much what we need for that day or that weekend, use it up, and then go back for more.  It's really a great way to keep fresh foods around, to know your grocers, and to get exercise (we walk when we can), but it does have  the effect of sending you home with five or more plastic bags every day.  Now we come home with none, and it's made the galley a bit more tidy.
Admit it, you've got about 12 of these carrybags stuffed in back of a lazarette somewhere.

We also give preference to things that don't produce waste.  Given two products of equal value, if one has a box and a bag and another box and a pouch and a billboard attached to it, and the other is just a bag, we go for the bag.  Pretty simple.

Our marina, sadly, doesn't recycle, but an organic grocery we occasionally visit ("Moms" in this case) does have a recycle center.  So we dump our remaining recycles in a couple of buckets in the back of the car and dump them whenever we're out that way. 

We yell at our favorite bartender when they give us straws (who USES those little things anyway?), we make the inattentive clerks take BACK their bags that we asked them not to give us, and, in general, we make a nuisance of ourselves for the sake of the fish and the birds and the aesthetics of where we live.

It's not a lot, I'll admit.  But if we all did it, and if we all refused to put up with shennanagans like those of Rep. Sabatini and company, there would be a lot less of this crap around with which to deal.

Just sayin.
Yes, the humans make me correct their spelling.  Sad, really.

It's spring, finally, and we're making the boat ready to travel, re-staining and varnishing the wheel house, changing out some cushions, and getting the drive working properly.  Hopefully my next missive will come from us out on the water.

Stay Tuned
Enjoy the Spring
And, dammit, pick that up.  You know better.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

in summary

I realized when I sat down to write this that we had crossed a Rubicon of sorts with this article.  It was March of 2014 that we first began construction on the original Floating Empire and began to document things in this blog.  I had another article in mind for this time around, and you'll get that one, I promise, but I thought it might be useful to look back on the last five years we have spent on the water.
The shantyboat Floating Empire under construction in our backyard in Westminster Md, 2014.
Five years on the water.  Five years of experiments and writing and artwork, five years of sunrises and sunsets on the river and nearly 400 blog posts and thousands of photographs.  In the process, we built or re-built three boats, I published a novel, a how-to booklet on composting marine toilets, and Gail has done literally hundreds of pieces of artwork.

The electric paddlewheel drive has been just one of our projects on the water.
We've done dozens of projects and experiments, from drive systems to wheelhouse glazing to brewing to food preservation.  We've done scads of reviews of products for the boat and for living, and made evening after evening of spectacular meals, our single burner stove notwithstanding.

Good food is a passion.

Let me make this clear:  virtually none of this would have been possible had we not made our move to the water.  Had we stayed ashore, renting an apartment, driving to and from work, we would simply never have had the time nor the inspiration to do most of these things.

It's amazing all the things we've learned how to do.
Once we made the water our home, the sheer number of possibilities that opened up for us was truly astounding.  This spring will be a big one for us:  I have a new novel coming out, Gail is prepping for a big art show at the Lirodendron mansion (in Bel Air, MD), and we're planning on doing quite a bit of water travel, but little of that would have presented itself had we not, some five years ago, sat in the living room with graph paper and a laptop and worked out that, yes, we could indeed do this. . .

. . .and so can you.  We hear so many people saying "you guys have such a great life, but I could never do that".  Why?  You have no money (neither did we)?  You're too old (we were both in our 60's before we started this mess)?  You have kids (there are lots of livaboards here in the marina with children, and they love it)?  Lets be honest, the only thing that is likely stopping you is you.

So take the leap, dammit!  Build the shantyboat, go get a cheap hull and make a home of it, build the vardo wagon or the tiny home, buy the land and start the homestead.  If it doesn't work out, you'll do something else, you'll have learned lots, gained a bunch of confidence, and you'll have some great stories.

And isn't that what it's all about?

This is where we live.  Enough said.

Don and Gail Elwell
and First Cat Magellan
Aboard the EV Paddlewheeler Tesla's Revenge.

Monday, March 4, 2019

By Popular Demand

By Popular demand, we've collected all the materials on the blog regarding composting toilets, including some new material, and put it into an Ebook available on Amazon for the Kindle reader.  A number of folks have written me lately requesting we put all that information in one place and the interest in the DIY Urine Diverter remains astonishingly strong. The booklet is 21 pages of photos, drawings and text.  If you have Kindle unlimited, it's a freebie. If not, it'll set you back $.99 (of which you'll be giving us $.35 to help further our work with this stuff).

Interested?  Just click the image below 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Playing Catch-Up

Okay, apologies for not posting for a bit, but we had an issue with our wireless router here at the Marina and it's put us a bit behind.  More stuff in the pipeline soon, so stay tuned.  In the meanwhile :  Cat Tax.
Just get on with it, humans.

Friday, February 8, 2019


You may recall back in December or so of 2017 we tried an experiment to enclose our wheelhouse, using a plastic material glazing called FlexOGlass.  If you're interested, that thread is about here. We used stainless steel snaps and gorilla tape edging to put together the panels and affix them to our wheelhouse structure.

setting snaps in the FlexOGlass panels.
We were quite impressed with the FlexOglass.  The stuff was incredibly clear and seemed quite strong.  In fact, the first month the panels were up--in face we didn't even have them all installed--the things endured 50kt winds without a hitch.  They provided a sun-warmed, wind-free space through the winter and helped keep the rain from blowing in during the summer.  That part worked well.

As we've lived with the panels, though, we began to notice some problems.  First, using the Gorilla tape as edging was quick and easy, and worked fine on those panels that didn't ever have to be removed.  But when the doorway panels were rolled up, the tape bunched, having the effect of shortening the spaces between the snaps and making them an absolute bear to attatch.  The tape adhesive may also have deteriorated the vinyl of the glazing, causing it to crack or tear at the attachment point.  In addition, summer heat made the tape crawl and slip.  Less than optimal. 

Still, the material continued to endure direct sunlight without yellowing and stood up to deep cold and high winds without a complaint.

Until this winter, when it got both at once.

A brief period of single digit temps, coupled with high winds absolutely destroyed the FlexOglass.  The cold apparently made it brittle enough that the gusty winds--50kts at times--made it virtually shatter into strips.  Literally, there was just about nothing left.

In retrospect, the FlexOGlass is most often used for enclosing porches that are already screened, and that screening would supply a good degree of support for the vinyl.  Unsupported, the stuff was fine until the temperatures got down in to the  6 degree F. range.  At that point, all bets were off with the wind.

So, for next time:  The FlexOGlass is a fine material.  It's rugged and inexpensive and VERY clear and I'd use it again in a heartbeat.  I would, however, stitch a cloth edging in place rather than relying on an adhesive like the Gorilla tape, and I will probably use grommets and ties instead of snaps so the expansion and contraction of the material may be compensated for easily.  The FlexOglass comes in 4 and 10 mil thicknesses, so we'll probably go with the heavier 10 mil in the future.

Sigh.  Live and learn.

We've had an amazingly beautiful couple of days here on the river, Temperatures in the 60's some days (F of course), and sunny and clear.  Rather weird for February, but I'm not complaining.  The ice is gone from the river and now we can begin to think about the drive and travel again.

Much more Later