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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, (https://www.sbimailservice.com/) 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

www.Thefloatingempire.com
lifeartwater.blogspot.com

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

M

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

M

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.

"Plastics"

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.

M






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.

www.thefloatingempire.com
lifeartwater.blogspot.com
wildshorepress.com

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
https://www.amazon.com/Floating-Empire-composting-toilet-book-ebook/dp/B07P8JLF1J/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=the+floating+empire+composting+toilet&qid=1551729996&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull
https://www.amazon.com/Floating-Empire-composting-toilet-book-ebook/dp/B07P8JLF1J/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=the+floating+empire+composting+toilet&qid=1551729996&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull 

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

FlexOFail

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

M

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

M

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.

M

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.
M