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


Saturday, January 19, 2019

an unexpected benefit

If you read the last post, you'll know we've recently added a compact dehumidifier to the mix, and we just encountered a rather unthought of benefit there.  Yes, the boat is slowly drying out, but that's not it.

One of the pains in the butt in winter is:  the dock water is shut off to keep the pipes from freezing.  That means I have to drag containers of water down to the boat to refill the water tank by hand, not my fave.  For the last few weeks or so, though, the tank has been getting empty less often, and we couldn't figure out why.  I mean, we're using the same amount of water to do dishes, etc., right?
Eurgreen compact compressor dehumidifier

The difference has been that we'd taken to dumping the water bin of the dehumidifier into the washwater basin.  The water may have a bit of dust, but it's essentially distilled water, and fine for washing stuff.  Tallying up how much that amounted to, it's been around a gallon a day, all told, which has made a significant difference in how much water I've had to drag down an icy dock.

So, for winter at least, my plans of just piping the condensate into the sink or the bilge have been changed.  That water is too valuable to waste.

Just another little lesson learned.

more shortly


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Mungo and the Tropical Rainforest

or:  the Condensation follies.

I was in one of the big box hardware stores the other day, and I saw a couple wrangling over what humidifier to buy.  I found myself wanting to go grab them and say "Are you out of your minds?  That thing puts water IN the air!!!"

Okay, so we've lived on a boat for a bit.  It's kind of odd, when normal homeowners are looking to put water INTO the air, we're looking to take it out.

In winter, the air outside is bone dry.  Inside, not so much.

For those of you ignorant of the joys of living aboard (and I kid, there are many), if it's a modern vessel you are living in an impermeable shell of fiberglass.  The purpose is, of course, to keep water out, which it does admirably. One of the side-effects, though, is that it also keeps moisture in the boat.  You exhale, the moisture goes into the air.  You make dinner and reduce an inch of soup stock, that inch of moisture goes into the air.  You turn on a Propane heater, it pumps moisture into the air as well.  You use the composting toilet, some of the moisture goes into the air.  No big deal, of course.

Until it's winter and the outside air chills the hull and the deck house.  Then the moisture condenses. .

. . .in the main berth. . .

. . .right over your heads.  The long and the short of it is, it can literally rain inside.  It can do it on some of the coldest, most unpleasant days of the year, and it can make your bedding and clothes sodden even though you have refrained from using the squirt guns in the boat all year like your wife told you she'd leave you if you didn't do....

Nuff said

Over our five years aboard, we've tried a number of solutions with varying success, so I thought I would detail a few of them to help get you guys into spring without your bedding rotting or you contracting pnumonia.

First and foremost--and this is a simple one--occasionally vent the boat.  Just open everything up, even if it's cold outside.  You shouldn't leave it open long enough for surfaces to cool off (which you would then have to heat back up again) but enough to flush out the warm, wet air with dry, cooler air from outside.  Doing this periodically really helps, but obviously you can't do it too often or you'll wind up with a heating bill approaching the national debt.

Adding more insulation helps quite a bit as well, preventing  the creation of cold surfaces on which water may condense and has the side advantage of making your vessel warmer and lots more cosy.  This doesn't, however, remove any water from the air, and in a lot of vessels there just isn't the room to add a lot of new insulation.  Things like ecofoil (metalized bubblewrap) are a decent option for oddly shaped, hard to get at spaces.

Small solid fuel stoves can really help dry out the air, but their mere presence alarms a lot of Marina owners.
Solid fuel stoves--Charcoal, wood, wood pellets and the like--are great at drying out the air.  They pump a lot of damp interior air up their chimneys and draw in dryer outside air to replace it, and that works.  The times we've used a wood burner aboard the air has been pretty much bone dry.  The problem is: a lot of Marinas and insurance providers are terrified of wood burners, fearing the sparks (frankly, I think propane is far more dangerous) and won't allow them.

Small USB fans are great for drying surfaces prone to condensation.  Plus they help when it's hot too.
Next up--and this one surprised us--fans.  This last winter we tried pointing a few low wattage usb fans at the places that were condensing the worst and, lo and behold, they dried off.  For such a low cost, low power alternative, they have been amazingly effective.  Presumably the water condenses elsewhere, like in the hull, but at least it's not over the bed.

Lofting your bedding so some air can get underneath the mattress can really help keeping the bottom of your cushions from getting drenched.  It doesn't have to be much, just a few millimeters, just enough so any water under there can evaporate and escape.  The water is coming from you, and it can eventually utterly saturate your mattress.  Caveat.

Chemical dehumidifiers like DampRid do work and pull a surprising amount of water out of the air, but they're disposable, fill up quickly, and are expensive over time (and often rather messy to deal with).  Not our fave.

Small, compressor-less Peltier device dehumidifiers are a low power option for small spaces.

They don't however, remove a huge amount of moisture.  Here's the removable water tank.  Not large.

We have also used a couple of small, Peltier device dehumidifiers currently on the market.  The things are very small,  have no compressor, and consume very little juice, but they only can remove a very small amount of water from the air.  They're ideal for small, enclosed spaces like lockers, but not really terribly well suited for larger, wetter spaces.

In the past, true compressor based dehumidifiers were kind of out of the running for a lot of vessels.  They were too big and ate too much power (a 40 pint dehumidifier is almost the size of a small refrigerator and uses a lot more juice.)  Lately, though, we've seen a number of 20 pint or less units hit the market.  These gizmos are very quiet, small enough to sit on a counter, and can pull the same amount of water out of the air in a couple of hours as one of the Peltier device units can do in a month.  They do, however, consume a fair amount of electricity.

New, 20 pint and less compressor dehumidifiers can sit on a counter.
In a few months, the weather will turn, the air will warm, and condensation won't be an issue.  We'll forget all about it until the first frost of next fall, when our own little rain forest will trigger a mad scramble to dig up one of the above solutions.  Living aboard a boat, you live with nature, good and bad, and have to adapt as best you can.  It's a small price to pay to wake up on the water.  Wouldn't have it any other way.

More shortly.  Enjoy the coming spring.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year, Folks

May this one be your favorite of the ones so far!
The dock at Marshy Point Nature Center, Dundee Creek.
LOTS more shortly.