Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Process

 It's odd how things repeat themselves.  In 2013 when we started gearing up to build the original Floating Empire, we began acquiring the things we thought we'd need for the boat, slowly filling up a little unused office space in our apartment with sinks, batteries, solar panels. . .all manner of things to go on the new vessel.

A room full of stuff destined for Floating Empire in '13

Now history is repeating itself.  We're gradually acquiring all the things we think we'll need for this new build, so into the storage locker are going tarps and solar panels, solar generators and fiberglass cloth, and a half ton of epoxy resin, house paint, bottom paint, windows. . . 

Ecoflow Lithium Battery system that will be the heart of our new electrical system.

Of course, living aboard, there's no spare room to put stuff. . .there is, of course, our storage locker. . .and the car. . .and the bilge.

All that being said, we can't wait to get this thing under construction.

Seriously, stay tuned.


Monday, August 1, 2022

Building Floating Empire II


Alright, so it's time

So we've decided to actually bite the bullet and build a new vessel.  We've spent the last month going over and over photos, plans, sketches, and a host of construction videos and we've finally distilled down what we think we want to build.

Floating Empire II--which will tell us her real name eventually-- will be a 24 foot shantyboat, a riverboat designed for thinwater exploring and comfortable living.

Simple designs like this EcoCat shantyboat most appeal to us.

The result will be a barge-hull box on a raft, drawing only about six inches of water and requiring almost nothing to move her.  We hope to begin construction in September and be in the water some six weeks later, weather permitting.

Wish us luck.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Things they Don't tell you

 Ah the things that no one told us about becoming livaboards.  I was musing on this while driving back from our storage locker the other day.  Don't get me wrong, we love our life aboard.  It's just that there are a few things it might've been nice if someone had mentioned, like, for example:

1)  No, you're never getting rid of all the stuff you put in storage.  A lot of that is going to wind up being memorabilia, family stuff with no one to give it to, and things that are "too nice to get rid of" even though you have absolutely no way to use them right now.  That's why you got the storage locker, right?

2)  Your car is a closet.  It's an accessory wing on your boat, home to stuff you use occasionally but not often enough to be willing to trip over on a daily basis.  For this reason, the cars of most liveaboards look like homeless people are living in them, or that you just got kicked out of your apartment.

3)  If you can't find something, it's generally because of one of two reasons. A. It's such a large space that it could be anywhere or, B. Its under/over/behind something else.  Virtually everything on your boat falls into the "B" category.  All of the storage lockers on any boat are weirdly shaped.  Absolutely nothing is square.  The thing you're looking for is the thing that's behind those other two things that are currently wedged into that trapezoidal storage space. 

4)  Yes, it's going to get damp.  Wrap it in plastic.  Then you will have a damp thing wrapped in damp plastic.  It's just the way of things.

5)  Anything with "marine" in the name will cost 200% more than the same thing without "marine" in the name.  Hence:  brass bolt $.50, brass marine bolt $1.50.  This becomes more pronounced the more expensive items become.

6)  Yeah, that's damp too.

7)  You have plenty of room in the freezer/fridge/cooler for all the foods that you just don't feel like eating tonight, guaranteeing that they'll go bad by the time you do feel like eating them.

8)  There is, however, no room for the roast that you got on a bargain that you wanted to cook this weekend.

9)  Yes, it's damp in the cooler too.  Sensing a trend here?

10)  The night you desperately needed to sleep, the wind will kick up and slam you into the dock every six seconds for the next five hours.

11)  The boat will leak.  Not from the bottom.  Boats almost never leak from the bottom.  No, it will leak from the top.  Every rainstorm, the hatches, the deadlights, the place where the grabrail is bolted in. . .all of them will suddenly decide to leak.  You will never find where the water is actually coming from.  Slathering it with caulk is ugly and will work until it decides not to, usually on the hatch that's directly over where you're trying to sleep.

12). . . .which is now damp.

13)  The outside of boats get dirty, especially if near highways or cities.  They get dirty for no damn reason at all.  They get dirty just sitting there.  They get dirty and then they get algae growing on them.  That's because they're . . .well. . .damp.

14)  There is no way to avoid having to get up an move every time anyone else needs to get up and move.  It's a kind of weird ballet everytime anyone needs to get up in the galley to use the head.  The only one who won't get up on a bet to get out of the way is the cat.  We like to refer to him as "ballast".

15)  Look under the mattress.  For some reason, it's damp down there too.

All that being said, there is no place else we'd rather be living.  At least I don't have to cut the grass.


Friday, April 8, 2022

Ride 'Em Cowboy


Ride Em Cowboy

We've all spent those evenings at the dock or at anchor, when the weather, the wind and water, conspire to slam the boat in a whole host of interesting directions. The lines creak and then slam tight. The boat rebounds and bounces off the fenders. Wind howls through the rigging. It does NOT, you may remember, make for a peaceful, sleep filled night.

These happen occasionally to all of us, but of late, they've almost been more the rule than the exception here on the Chesapeake. I've looked over our logs for the last eight months or so and I'm hard pressed to find a single freaking week where there wasn't at the very least a small craft warning, and the number of Gale warnings has been truly epic.

Why is this? We've been at the same dockage for eight years now, and have seen the weather become steadily warmer, more erratic, and occasionally more violent. And, yes, it's climate change and yes, for all our denials, it's global warming. There's just too damn much heat energy in the weather systems and it's not going away any time soon. In fact, it's likely to get more pronounced and more in your face. Bearing all that in mind, I thought I'd do a bit of a review of how we deal with weather here at dock.

Here's the thing, every boater spends quite a bit of time tweaking the dock lines until they're just right, until the boat will ride true under most if not all conditions of tide, wind, and weather. Once we get them adjusted, most of us are loath to mess with them again. The trouble is, of course, that no tying of dock lines, however well conceived and executed, will ever do for every conceivable condition.

There are, of course, a few things you can do to make the lines more forgiving. Snubbers of various sorts can really help soften the blow when the boat suddenly hits the end of her tether, and banked fenders can help allow for wide tidal variations. Criss-crossing the lines at stern and bow will help keep the boat centered in the slip (though it can make exiting off the swim platform a bit of an adventure) regardless of tide conditions.

Ultimately, though, we have to get over the idea that there is a one-tie-fits-all solution for you and your boat. This will, of course, inevitably mean that there will be those inventive, leisurely, 3AM its-pouring-rain-and-we're-hitting-the-dock lurches on deck in your skivvies out of a sound sleep evenings.

So how to make that less than awful?

First things first. Find out—now--which lines are the most likely to need emergency alteration when the tides and the wind cease to play nice. It's likely that it'll be the same damn cleat you're addressing every time, so plan on that. Tape marks or loops tied in that line can help you let the line out or pull it in a predictable amount, regardless of the foul conditions, which can save you another trip. Putting in an additional spring line that can be easily manipulated from the cockpit is also helpful and can keep you from having to do a full-scale remake of how your vessel is moored.

Also, just for safety's sake, remember that these scenarios and a bunch of others may entail you charging onto a dark deck in the middle of the night in foul weather. The wise expedient of having decent deck shoes, rain gear, a working light, and a marlinspike easily available in a place that you'll remember without having to search for them can save you a lot of cursing, and, possibly, danger.

So, yes, the weather is getting worse, it's not your imagination, and, yes, we're all going to have to deal with it. Take some decent precautions and you'll find you'll sleep a lot better.

Don and Gail Elwell

And first Cat Magellan

aboard the MV TARDIS

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Winter into Spring. . . at last

Winter in to Spring. . . At last.

I'll be honest, these last two winters as a live-aboard have been, well, difficult. Winters are always somewhat of a challenge: Going anywhere can be a problem, and the weather isn't condusive to the usual sitting out on the docks and watching the world go by. These last two winters, though, have been a challenge. First of all, there was the virus. Usually in winter we can count on going out to our favorite pub to have a libation or a meal, do a bit of conversation and people watching, and then stagger home to the marina. It was almost a weekly ritual in the dark months. These last two years, though. . .

The Drinking Trees await

The virus closed most of the public spaces, places we took for granted, places we went to meet neighbors, to get a bit of exercise, to just get the hell off the boat for a bit. Those places.

Then there was politics. Places we loved before, places we always considered a home away from home, were suddenly hostile territory. We felt unwelcome. We felt unable to speak, to share, to even be there for fear of conflict, and who goes to a neighborhood dive looking for conflict?

I think these last wnters for most of us—regardless of our stripes—were a rather lonely and isolating time.

But this year, for all the international turmoil, feels different somehow. This year, the trees are budding out early. Our usual hikes through Marshy Point are already quietly met with the murmuring of frog song, the weather is warming fast ( a little TOO fast, but that's another issue ) and friends and fellow live-aboards are already talking BBQ, talking game night, talking road trips.

This year feels different.

We live for that first couple of days of spring, when we can sit in the cockpit, or up on the hard beneath what has been dubbed the “drinking trees”, with a glass of decent wine, watching the birds come and go and feeling the warm sun on our faces. It's coming, and I've already made my reservation.

There's always so much to do in spring, boat travel notwithstanding. Tarps come off and maintenance you've been putting off suddenly wanders to the front of the cue. The boat can finally get a good airing, paintwork gets done, and the cat discovers the dock again.

And we discover one another again as well. Our dock is a particularly convivial one, with live-aboards and boaters all of which have become good friends. Only now, we will begin to see each other on a daily basis, rather than just noting someone in a coat going by. Now there will be music and movies and games and . . .well. . .alcohol, and the warmth of community and friends as close as family.

Now there will be spring.

And we can't wait.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Perfect Live-Aboard

 As we head into our first decade on the water, we've been talking about the limitations and advantages of some of the vessels we've inhabited.  More to the point, if we build another boat like we built the original Floating Empire, what would it be?  What elements would we include or carefully dis-include?  This is of course a highly individual list, but here are a few of the things we agreed that we definately want to address on any new boat.

First of all, Choke Points.  One of the reasons for moving aboard our current Carver dock queen was the major series of choke points that made living aboard Constellation, our beloved Pearson 30, a pain in the tuckas through the winter and pandemic.  Specifically, the boat had a great drop down table, perfect for us to sit across from one another and write or work on projects, but unfortunately, in order to go to the head, one of us had to get up, completely, clear off whatever they were doing, and fold away half of the table.  During a winter of few choices of just places to BE, it got to be a bit much.  When we moved aboard the Carver we went "Wow, there's a lot of room in here.  No more dancing around each other."


Anyone standing at the sink in the galley completely blocks going in and out of the boat in the Carver, and the dining table, though  wonderfully huge, is in the way of anyone getting in or out of the V-berth.  Did we spot these things immediately?  Nope.  

So when designing a new vessel, bear in mind that with anyone using any counter space or when tables are deployed, you're going to need an additional eighteen inches or so just to get buy without knocking someone over.

Second,  Storage.  Surprisingly, sailboats tend to have a LOT of storage.  Really.  Some of them have a stunning amount of storage.  The problem is, it's all behind something else, in the bilge, under cabinets, behind hatches.  None of the spaces are in any way rectangular, tending to be disused space matching the curve of the boat.  As a result, yeah, you can store a lot of stuff, but it's going to be buried, often in damp bilge spaces, fraught with condensation and mildew, and plan on moving five things to get to the one thing you want, which is now wringing wet for reasons that supasseth understanding.   In a new live-aboard, we would be shooting for orderly, rectangular spaces, with more shallow surface area so that you can actually SEE what's inside them.

Third, Light.  Man you would think the sailboat companies were being charged by the lumen.  Intially, our older boats featured dim, rather lame interior 12V light, which we replaced immediately with uber-bright LED fixtures.  Therein we discovered a problem:  just because the light is bright it doesn't mean it's in the right place to. . .well. . .actually illuminate anything.  In Constellation I installed an over galley counter light that you could tan by, and it was wonderful for cooking, but left the rest of the boat in shadow.  The problem is rarely encountered in houses, mostly because movable lighting fixtures--I think they call them "lamps"--are apparently pretty common.  Of course those would just fall over in most vessels, and where would you plug them in?  The solution in planning is to assign a lighting fixture for each and every seat and work space, and then add a dome light for general lighting.

And, next up, the DREADED SNAKE FARM.  This has been a constant issue on every vessel on which we've lived.  On our current boat, we have five small appliances, two computer power supplies, two cell phone power supplies, two usb power supplies for headsets, a power supply for a kindle reader. . . .you get the idea.  Add to all that the rather limited set of outlets with which boats tend to be provided and everything looks like the floor of Medusa's hairdresser.  I did help the matter somewhat by replacing outlets with 110V plus USB outlets, which cut down on the bulky power supplies all over the damn place, but it wasn't a solution.

The solution is, of course, to figure out where things are likely to live and then over-outlet those positions so you can have the fewest and shortest lines possible.  Plan on it still not being enough.  Install a few more 12V and USB outlets just in case.

And, finally, the cat.  Understand that your beloved ship's cat will want to be in the ABSOLUTE FREAKING MIDDLE of everything so they can keep tabs on stuff.  It sounds adorable, but Magellan is twenty five freaking pounds of fur covered ballast bag who will not hesitate to touch you inappropriately if preturbed.  

The solution is, of course, to create wonderful spaces for you furry crew member.  Alcoves, padded shelves, and spaces by the portholes are a wonderful idea.  You can use them for storage as no self respecting cat will want anything to do with them. least we enjoy planning.

Don and Gail Elwell

and first Cat Magellan

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Why are we here?

 The Wife and I were sitting on the back deck the other afternoon, talking about or adventures living aboard, talking about why we do it.  It was rather a revelatory conversation.

So why do we do it?  Why do we stay on the water?

Living on the river, of course, has some distinct drawbacks.  Wet is as much a state of mind as it is a lifstyle, and the weather can be a bother.  In cold weather the docks can get slippery and in hot weather, they can burn your feet.  Morons in go-fasts persist in ignoring the no wake rules around marinas and can create a "ride-em cowboy" moment at the worst times, ususally when you're doing something precarious with something droppable, fragile, or edible.  Every action involves multiple trips up the docks to the parking lot for tools, garbage, groceries or to deal with sanitation.  Boats can be stifling in summer.  They can be freezing and damp in winter.  With the internal humidity in cold weather, it can sometimes literally rain inside a fiberglass boat.  

So Why do we do it?

We started ennumerating the reasons.  It's cheaper of course, at least the way we do it.  Our lives are simpler, and that's a plus.  We both love the water--we grew up on it, though in different regions--and it feels like home.  We love watching wildlife and the parade of the seasons along the river banks.  We both love the ego boost and uniqueness of telling people:  "no, we live on our boat year round" and watching the often envious responses.  All that is true, all those are plusses.

But none of those are enough.  So why do we do it?

It's rather like sitting on your front porch in a small town.

A number of years ago a friend of ours--a sociologist and former colleague--was down visiting with his wife at the marina.  Everyone was laughing and eating and drinking and talking, but I noticed he was completely absorbed in watching the docks, looking at people coming and going.

"What are you watching?" I asked.  He smiled.  "I didn't expect this."  he said, "It's like a small town.  Each of the docks is a street, and each one has its own character, its own residents.  It's like a little town."

It was then that I got it:  It's the community that keeps us here.

Those of us who live on or have boats in the marina are constantly engaged with one another.  You're always helping someone come into dock or pull an engine, or someone is helping you mess with the rigging.  We've gifted people with dinghies and pumps and dock cables.  We've been gifted air conditioners and once even a sail boat that we lived aboard for several years.  In the evenings, we often gather on the dock, share drinks and stories and food.  It's a community.

Like any community, its not immune to conflict and controversy.  The 2020 election was hard on us here, friendships were lost, families were split, and we considered leaving.  We've got a pretty good group here on "S" dock right now, though.  We all get along, we help one another.  If I fell in the water there would be eight people trying to pull me out, and that's a comfort.  It's also a part of boating culture: the piching in, the familial feelings of friendship and responsibility and charity.

So it's the people that keep us here.  While other forces in society seem bent on driving folks apart, the livaboard life is an intentional community that the water draws together.  It's why we stay.

If you'll excuse me, now, I promised to check in on a slipmate's cat.


Sunday, June 6, 2021

IF you're wondering where we've been. . . .

(aside from surviving the pandemic)

We've just acquired an older Carver Santego and have been making her ready for the water.  Don't get me wrong, we love our Pearson 30, but spending a winter in lockdown in 55 square feet had us longing for a bit more living space.

Gail gets her first dedicated studio since we build Floating Empire.

Over the next months or so we'll be refitting what will be our new floating residence with an extensive solar system, setting up a studio for Gail, and, in general, making her into a home. 

After living aboard a 30 foot sailboat for two plus years, it's like being in a ballroom.

 Much more soon.  BYW, the Pearson, complete with workind A4 motor and large solar system and inverter, is for sale.  Drop me a note ( if you're interested or leave a comment below.


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Eternal Spring Question

 So yesterday was the first really nice day we'd had this year.  We sat in the sun in the cockpit with a glass of wine and contemplated the coming year.  It's always the question, isn't it?

Where do you want to go?

I'm so done with this bit
This led me to ponder on all the options available to us h
ere in the north end of the Chesapeake, and, boy, are there a lot.  I started thinking about the kind of decision tree we always go through before making plans.

In our case its more like a decision-shrubbery, but I digress.

Here in the upper Bay, we have a glut of wonderful places to explore.  This is Gunpowder Creek.

So I thought I'd lay out the kinds of things that go through our minds as we contemplate setting out for the spring.

First and foremost:  How much do I trust the boat right now?  It's not an idle question.  Your faith in your boat tells you how far you're willing to go away from civilization, how far off shore, and in what kinds of weather.  For us, we've gotten our venerable Atomic 4 cranking along beautifully, but our sails are iffy, and the Genoa is trash.  That, for us, means light air and more an eye to gunk holing than to any grand cruising.  

Be realistic.  How far do you really want to go?

Second, how long can we be away?  In my case, I write, and my wife is an artist, so we work from where ever we happen to be, so schedules aren't an issue.  Things can get in the way, though, even without work commitments.  Family events, doctor's appointments, any number of must-do social events (rather done in this year by the plague), all have to be figured in.

Third, what does the wallet look like?  How much fuel costs can we bear right now, how much provisioning.  Not so much an issue on a liveaboard sailboat, but if you're cranking twin 450's on a Sea Ray, you could discover yourself washing dishes on the Eastern Shore in order to get home.

Then there's the raw question of how long we feel light being away from dock?  How long without a proper shower, easy internet access, and the occasional pizza.  Living aboard, there's frankly not much difference for us, but there may be for you.

And finally:  What haven't we seen?  What sounds like fun?  What would we like to revisit?  What sings to us this year?

The answer to that last one is:  A lot of things.

We can't wait!

This spring is shaping up to be lovely, weather-wise.  We're getting our inoculations this month, so we're feeling a bit better about calling at strange ports (and we're smart enough to be careful and take precautions, and you should as well).  After a long winter and the lockdown, a few weeks on the water sounds like just the ticket.


Friday, February 26, 2021

A small Live-Aboard compendium

 Sorry we've not been much in evidence of late.  The truth is between winter and the Covid-19 lockdown, there frankly hasn't been a great deal on this end of things of which to report.

Ah, winter.....

We finally got a break in the weather the last few days and got to take a couple of nice walks, which improves one's mood quite a bit.  All in all, this winter here in Md hasn't been anywhere near terrible but still, you wind up spending a lot of time inside, and days you'd normally get bored and go up to the local pub our out to' a film, now with the virus, one rather thinks twice about doing so.  We're making plans for travel in a few weeks when the weather becomes a bit more stable.  We've even talked about changing to another vessel.

With that in mind, I started thinking about the things we'd want to shift over, which led me to thinking about the differences between being at dock and being on cruise and being on the hook.  

Here's a couple of little things you might wish to include in your DOCKside living.  

First and foremost, the single plug-in appliance we use the most is a hot water kettle.  Literally, three or four times a day for Tea and Coffee in the morning, hot water bottles (which I highly recommend, because they can also warm your hands and toes at anchor), and hot chocolate in the evenings.  Wonderful things, and well worth the space.
Winters make the galley all the more important.

This year, on a whim, we got a slow cooker.  I know, I know, the things are heavy, but they do well at dock to make soups and stews without burning up propane that I then have to haul in.  Lately, rather randomly, we discovered you can actually BAKE in the things.  I mean, as in breads, rolls, lasagnas.  We've been surprised at how well things turn out in them, all on only about 150watts.  They even brown, which was kind amazing.  Thus far we've turned out scratch made rolls and soda breads and herb and onion bread which was superb. 

Electric blankets!  Can I sing enough of the praises of the humble electric blanket?  After an evening watching movies on the laptop, or sitting and reading, to be able to curl  up in a V berth that is dry and toasty warm is a true treat.  

Yesterday was the first day since November that felt warm enough to sit in the sun in the cockpit and just enjoy being aboard.  With the current plague--finally--beginning to wind down and boating season coming on, we're looking forward to getting out, to seeing friends once again, to lifting a glass at a dockside tavern, and, in general, to an easier life.

You know, what we started boating to do in the first place.

More shortly, I promise