Tuesday, July 29, 2014


or the son of the return of the revenge of the vampire hippy electricians from mars in the land beyond the valley of

I lost my train of thought there somewhere..

oh, yeah, Awareness.

One of the issues in an affluent society is being blissfully unaware of where things come from and where they go.  I'm reminded of a black and white short called "When you throw something away, what does AWAY mean?"
Still pretty effective.

It's been a real experience here on Floating Empire to HAVE to become aware of .....well....everything.  What is the weather doing?  How much power is in the batteries?  When will we get sunlight to recharge them?  How much water is on board?  How much food?  Not only how much, but WHERE, the weight distribution being an issue.

Everything from laundry to contact lens solution, you have to be aware of.  Run out of fuel, you don't cook.  Run out of cold, things spoil.  You take nothing for granted.

Interesting object lesson.

Our recent experiences with managing battery power (see IceCapades I and II) are a great example.  We've learned by experience and liberal use of a volt meter how much power we have to play with, when the sun will actually provide us a boost, and how to preserve what we've got.  The inverter, it turns out, consumes power all on it's own.  So to charge, say, your phone, if you use a traditional plug-into-the-wall charger, means you turn on the inverter (to make 110v, AC, which consumes power) then plug in your power adapter (to make 5V DC, which consumes power) to plug in the phone (which, of course, consumes power).  In a modern American dwelling, this is inconsequential.  You just plug the damn thing in and worry about the miniscule amount of power it draws when the bill comes.

But if you're GENERATING that power, and have a limited amount, everything:  phones, tablets, computers, radios, navigational gear, lighting....everything you plug in is one less burst of wattage that you have available for, say, refrigeration, or the blender, or the sabresaw.

You become aware.

In this case, we've found this little toy useful:

Recognize it?  It's a 12V car adapter for USB plugs (which, happily, run and charge most of our electronics).  Plugging it into a 12V circuit on the boat means no inverter and no adapter to suck down voltage, and saves us...well....a little.

But a little adds up.

So we charge the phones and tablets and other detritus of modern communication using this directly linked to the 12V system, and keep the inverter for refrigeration and blenders and saws and the like.

Like I said, you become aware....aware and really freaking frugal.

stay tuned.

And check out Morgainne's blog by clicking HERE


Monday, July 28, 2014


Or Son of the Revenge of the Return of the Valley of the Iceman Cometh

…..or maybe-eth don’t-eth, if we don’t pay enough attention.

So it’s been a couple of days of bright sun, and our batteries are up pumping over 13 volts.  We had made the mistake, as previously cited on this blog, of plugging the new fridge (Edgestar 3.1CU Foot) in after 4 days of rain and clouds when our batteries were already depleted.  Of course, in initial cooldown, the fridge ran constantly for hours and our batteries were not happy with the situation.  So we shut down the refrigerator, let our batteries recover for a few days, and used block ice to cool down the fridge, a practice we recommend when you have small solar and a new refrigerator.

So for the last few days we’ve been using the edgestar fridge as a glorified ice box, keeping block ice in the freezer.  I see now why this thing is as efficient as it is.  The ice lasts forever compared to in our coolers.  The insulation seems to be in excess of other compact refrigerators.

We waited in the morning until the voltmeter reading was over 13 volts to kick on the fridge again.  As a note, what you’re seeing coming off your battery bank in a solar system is a combination of the actual battery output and the input from the solar panels.  We figured, based on times the panels were occluded by clouds, that our actual battery output was around 12.7 volts at the time.

The difference is interesting.  The output from you panels can be quite a bit higher than what your battery system is actually producing.  For example, here’s a meter on the input from the two 100W solar panels.

And the output of the battery stack was 12.72 volts at the same time.

On plugging in the fridge, voltage from the bank dropped to 12.6V and held there for most of the day.   As clouds rolled in, that dropped to 12.5 and then all the way down to 12.3 by late afternoon.  Following some practices we’d picked up from Solar Cabin and others, we had put a large bottle of water in the ice box as thermal mass, which was frozen by the afternoon.  A bit after 3PM, we turned off the fridge to let the system recover while there was still light and so we could charge some of our electronics.    By sundown, the system had rebounded to 12.7V and the fridge….now a passive ice box…..was holding at 39 degrees F in the refrigerator section and 30 degrees F in the freezer.  (as a note, food safe practices recommend that foods be held below 41 degrees F or above 135 degrees F). By 8:00 this morning, the fridge was still below 40 degrees and most of the ice in the freezer was….well….ice.

So we’ll be following a pattern on the next few days of turning on the fridge when we hit 13V output on the batteries and back off in the middle of the afternoon so the batteries can recover a bit.  We’ll see how this works, but for now, we seem to be keeping safe temperatures and to be able to maintain frozen foods without depleting our battery bank.

If you have any ideas or better practices for small solar, please leave em in the comments below.

Stay tuned.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Quest for Quiet, or...

The Tyranny of Tiny Motors....

This is more a musing than a blog post, but I was sitting on the bow the other day, realizing that all I could hear was a cacophony of small motors.  In our insistence that nature, if we see it at all, must be controlled, groomed, trimmed, and otherwise held at bay, we surround ourselves at all times with a plethora of weed wackers, lawn mowers, string trimmers, grass gougers, chain saws, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and suchwhat.

"I only do that once a week." you say?  True.  So do your neighbors, and their neighbors, and the business next to them, just none of you on the same day at the same time.  The result being that there isn't a waking daylight moment that you can't hear a freaking twostroke engine rattling away somewhere.  Add to that, boat motors, the grinding of the travel lift engines, and the usual human automotive detritus, and even the quietest marina becomes anything but quiet.

So here's my idea:  We all agree on a day: one day a week where we will run all our grass gobblers and weed grinders and tarmac tornados.  The rest of the time, we get to have quiet, the sounds of birds and wind and insects and the sounds of our own thoughts...... bout that?

By the way, the top picture of the 5 guys with leafblowers is from : which you can read by clicking :
an article which I heartily recommend.

Friday, July 25, 2014

SEQUELS II...Return of the revenge of the sequel...

SEQUELS II, The Sequel

In the recent Hollyweird tradition, I bring you Sequels….lots of em.

First and foremost:


Now with even more and bigger snakes.

I am, of course, referring to the wiring patch sprouting around our battery bank.  When we first wired up, I used what I thought was 10GA wire to connect things.  On our trip up from Sue Creek, though, the power handler on the aft motor kept telling us that, while it had enough voltage, it couldn’t draw enough current from the batteries to run full blast, which made for somewhat of a harrowing…..and rather leisurely….voyage.

On examination I discovered that I had, in fact, connected stuff with 12 GA wire.  Not, IMHO, heavy enough for the tasks at hand.

So, like every good American, I went on the web: finding a site for pre-made, 4 GA battery connectors, which I figured would be good for anything including welding and operating the Tesla quantum death ray new lighting on the bow. We received the parcel from the vendor in due order (they sell parts and connectors for electric golf carts) with 10, 14” cables with heavy insulated fittings on each end for about $38 bucks.

See the difference?

So here’s the new and improved snake farm

And the banished weenie snakes, overworked and deserving of our praise and a long rest.

It remains to be seen if this solves any of our problems, but the system certainly looks a heck of a lot more robust.  Will do a followup in a few weeks on this.

We also have for your viewing pleasure:


You may recall a few entries ago we install a new fridge on Floating Empire.  The trouble was, it was after two days of clouds which followed two days of heavy rainstorms.  As a result, our battery bank was in a lame condition.  Pluggin in the new gadget, the fridge of course had to run continuously for hours until it cooled down, and by that time, the power controller on the batteries was giving us a low power warning……

….so we shut it off…

…..only to go through the whole thing the next day…..

See, the problem is, our battery bank wasn’t getting a chance to recharge.  We’d be showing 12.4 volts only to have the fridge and inverter combo knock it down to 12.1 when they kicked in……then 12, then 11.9…….

So I finally just went, bought some ice, and left the system off until my batteries are back up to their healthy, normal 13+ volts.  Then We’ll try it again, starting the system around 10AM, shutting down for the night, …..lather, rinse, repeat.  This seems to be working for a number of folks with solar cabins, so it should work for us, right?

If you do get a fridge for your small solar system, do yourself a favor, make sure you battery bank is up and use block ice to cool the fridge down initially rather than draining your system to do it.  You’ll be glad you did.

And of course, Finally:


In which we had to go back to our storage locker, dig out half a ton of stuff to get to a box we needed, put it back together, only to discover when we got home it was the wrong box….


Stay tuned.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A tool you'll need

Just wanted to pass this along.  IF you use barrels for floatation, you're gonna need a bung wrench (also called barrel stopper wrench, barrel stopper tool, and a number of other more confusing terms.).  It's cheap (the plastic ones, which are all you need, run around $10) and looks like this:

It will let you get in between the barrels, even when in the water, to loosen or tighten the bungs, adjust floatation, see if they're unaccountably full of water, etc. etc.

I mention this because we DIDN'T have one until today, and were using all manner of inappropriate and half-witted things to make do.

Get one.


No S**T, The joys of the composting toilet.

Okay, first of all, I'll say this again, what I have to tell people, ad infinitum ad nauseum:  No, it doesn't smell.
The composting toilet setup aboard Floating Empire

It amazes me why on earth anyone would mess with blackwater systems, pumpouts, incinerator toilets, luggable portapotties with holding tanks you have to empty, when they could just use a bucket and a sawdust toilet.  This thing has proven so very easy to live with, so very easy to do, that I'm almost surprised anything else exists.

Our toilet is simple:  We have a 5 gallon bucket.  We cut off the top rim of it so it would sit inside ANOTHER 5 gallon bucket.  So the top 1/3 or so bucket is affixed to the toilet box cover and the lower one sits below, kept aligned to the upper one by the nesting design of these things.  This also keeps the liner in place.

The cut off half bucket...okay, so I was a little jagged.  The fitting is from the urine diverter that we ultimately decided we didn't need.  The rim of the upper bucket keeps it from popping through the plywood and it's taper keeps it nested in its lower cousin.  Apologies for my arm being in the way, but I had to hold the thing open somehow.....

We line the lower toilet with a biodegradable bag and put 2" or so of either sawdust or wood pellets (more on this later) in the bottom.  We have a snap on toilet seat and cover made by LuggableLoo on the top bucket section, which gives us both a toilet seat and a snug closure.

Here's the snap on toilet seat from LuggableLoo.  You can also see the upper and lined lower buckets.

Whenever  you use the toilet, you throw in a handful of absorbent material.  We've used crushed dry leaves, sawdust (not from treated inhibits the decomposition process), pine based cat litter (don't use the clay stuff), and wood stove pellets.  As long as you throw in enough to lightly cover what you just...uh...left, there's no odor except one of damp wood.  No, really, it doesn't smell.  It doesn't.  Not at all.  My Cat box smells more than the toilet does.

When the lower container is 3/4 full, we pull it out and either put it in the compost bin or throw it in a dumpster (can you do that?  What do you think happens to all those disposable diapers?).  The last time I tossed it in a dumpster, the bag broke.  It looked like a pile of wet oatmeal, no odor but one of decomposing wood, no loose liquids at all.

So then you reline the lower bucket, toss in another 2" of material, and you're ready to continue.  With the two of us living on the boat, we dump the thing about every 5 days or so.

As for the biomass, our big accidental find was the hardwood pellets for pellet stoves.

Yes, these things.  Compressed hardwood sawdust made for pellet stoves.

We got a bag of the stuff for use in our gasifier stove, and when we ran out of sawdust, I remembered what happened at the big box store at which I had been working when one of the bags of the stuff broke and got wet.  The compressed pellets, made of hardwood sawdust, expanded as they absorbed the water.  As a result, the pellets are a good deal more compact than sawdust to carry and store, but expand rapidly to absorb any moisture from the compost and seem to decompose just fine.  Better, a bag of the stuff is about $5 for around 40 lbs., which will last you months.  Be sure to get the "natural" kind that doesn't use oil as a binder and has no other additives, and be aware that not all the pellets are compressed hardwood.  Some are cherry pits or other materials.  Read the bag.

Seriously, folks, this is the absolutely easiest way to deal with your leavings and to meet Coast Guard regs.....

and, doesn't smell.


(check our Morgainne's companion blog to this one,

Monday, July 21, 2014

The secret to living large is.....


I know, I wouldn't have believed it either, but that seems to be it.  Not money, not position, not location or fame or seems to be mostly a matter of having your own time at your own disposal.  When we were both working, we very much didn't have that as an option.  When you have no time, you have to settle, you have to eat what's quick (and often what's more expensive) because that's all the time you have.  When you have no time, you have to travel fast, talk fast, live fast, and at the end of the day you find you can't remember what the hell you did all day because it was just the same as yesterday, and none of it....the time, I mean, which is, after all, your life....was yours.

Take a look at this:  This is a simple, robust stew, made from locally sourced ingredients:  local potatoes, local smoked sausage, local carrots and onions, all from local farmstands we bothered to discover.

You may note it's being cooked in a legged dutch oven, cooked slowly, with time to adjust spices.

We topped this off with a dessert of local cantaloupe, wild raspberries that we picked ourselves, and shaved dark chocolate and a glass of Cabernet. Nice, eh?  My point is this:  we had the time to find the farmer's markets, to start the coals, to take our time cooking the stew, to forage the berries.....we had the time at our disposal.

The results were delicious, healthy, and satisfying.


Carpe Diem

Seize the day.

(check out Morgainne's companion blog at, you'll be glad you did )

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Plea for not the financial kind..

....though of course if you'd like to contribute to our efforts, we'd be happy to have it.

We've just learned we can't stay here in Middle River through the winter due to icing concerns and Floating Empire will need to be moving to a new home over the next three or four months.

Doggone it I was just getting to like the place.

If you know of a Chesapeake area marina that we could get into and that is hospitable to live aboards, please pass us along the information.  If you or someone you know has waterfront along the bay or any of its tributaries and would be willing to host us at anchor or dock for a few months, we'd certainly appreciate that as well.  As we're completely self sufficient, all we need is a calm place to tie up or anchor and a spot to park the car.  We'll take care of the rest.

I just figured many minds looking for a place is better than just us.


So today we returned with long pants and stout shoes to the abandoned raspberry patch to make ourselves some ultra local dessert.

The results were a dessert of fresh local cantaloupe, fresh picked berries, a bit of sea salt, and some shaved dark chocolate.


So here's my question.  We've had some folks suggest we put together a blog purely of food on the boat, cooking for small kitchens, limited facilities, and lots of creativity.  We're both former restaurant owners and caterers, among many other things, and have quite a love of food.  Would you be interested?

Leave us comments in the link below....

oh and check out Morgainne's blog, while you're at it.

More shortly as I get it uploaded


The Big Chill Arrives!!

I may try to get in a couple of posts today.  The biggest news is, of course, that Saturday AM bright and early the Fedex man dropped off  our new fridge, which is a really cool thing.

Of course we had a few worries getting it of which was: if the dimensions they're providing us were off by as much as 3/4", we couldn't get it through the door.  We already had that problem with our chairs, if you'll remember.

Fortunately, the 19" quoted was the 19" we got.  Thanks to our friend Lee and a bit of acrobatics, we got it on board and through the bow doorway.

Because of some of our weight distribution issues we're putting it in the stern (sadly, in Morgainne's studio space) for the time being....

So here's it's new home, next to the new steps.  It seems pretty well made....

....but do they really consider this itty thing an ice cube tray?

Since we've had a few cloudy days, the startup has put a bit of a strain on our electrical system, mostly because the fridge has had to run full blast in it's initial cool down, but once that is completed, we think it'll be just fine.  I'm looking forward to NoT slogging ice to the boat every day.

More to come shortly
check out Morgainne's blog,

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Hi folks,
A lot of things have happened on Floating Empire over the last few days, including work on the floatation, some new cooking stuff, and the installation of our refrigeration.....

Unfortunately we're having some tethering problems getting online.

I have lots of pix and video and cooking stuff and small animals and flexi the pocket monkeys and spanish moss and wise gerbils and stuff to post....

But the bandwidth just isn't there tonight.

So please bear with us.  tomorrow (Sunday) we shall venture to the public library and upload all of this exceptional and inspiring material which will probably include the secret of life (okay, 42), winning lottery ticket numbers, the secret to getting that special job and seducing that special person and, of course, chocolate.....

....oh, yessssss chocolate.
But for tonight, I can't make things upload except for this pathetic text.  Stop in in the evening tomorrow to be edified and enlightened, excited and educated, and to have your excitement expedited.

....promise :)


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Barrels

You may remember early in our launching that we were down on the forward port side, and that it turned out that we were missing a barrel bung and that one of the forward barrels was leaking due to a cross threaded one.

Well now we have a different issue.  Two of the barrels on the same side have begun to deform, becoming flat on the bottom and losing floatation.  I'm at a bit of a loss.  So today at some point I'll go in the water, see if any of them have taken on water, and see what's going on with the #2 and #4 barrels on the Port side.

Sigh, always something....

but it beats the hell out of faculty meetings.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Busy Day

Been a busy day here on the Floating Empire after two days of solid rain, deafening thunder, lightning....did i mention the rain?  Yeesh.

But today was pretty and a bit cool and we could actually get some things done.  First we ventured to the wilds of Ikea to get some folding chairs for the dining area.  We had bought some lovely faux wicker chairs before we started this thing.  They're great, comfy, durable, stylish......the only thing we failed to ask was: is there any door or window in this boat through which these chairs will fit?

If you're curious, the answer to that one was "No".

So they sit stylishly stacked on the bow.  We're probably giving them to a friend.  So we went to IKEA and snagged some lovely, equally stylish, black wood folding chairs for the dining area that we can make disappear if need be.

Then we tied into our major project for the day, which was the new aft stairs.  We had been using a ladder....I mean Lowes fibreglass painter's get up and down to the sleeping loft.  Not only did it take up too much freaking room, the elderly cat couldn't manage it, so either she got upstairs somehow and couldn't get down (so she just pee'd in place) or stayed downstairs and sulked.

So in my right mind and in possession of multiple power tools, I built a new set of steps in front of our power system to help us ALL access the loft.

They take up less room, aren't in danger of falling over, and are much wider in the tread department....unfortunately, though
Kallisti, though a beautiful cat, is not the brightest crayon in the pack, and has yet to figure them out without either needing help or hurting herself...


Dinners have been wonderful.  yesterday, we caught our first crabs and made them into a great little meal.
And then today, after a lovely lunch at Shultz's of lump crabcake, we found some small fillets and had them with a monster salad and fresh bread for dinner.
(apologies for the low light levels)

We hated it as you can see....

My point is, we're living rather large in our new and simplified lifestyle.

We ordered the edgestar fridge today, 3.1 cubic feet that runs at a massive 35 watts when it's on.  Full review when we get it installed and running.

Comment, damn ye.

and check out Morgainne's blog,


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Explorations and the Shantyboat Lifestyle

One of the things that has really jumped out at us lately is how wonderfully different this lifestyle is from even that of long time cruisers.  Cruisers touch in many ports, and get to see a lot of the world.  Moving only occasionally in Floating Empire, we get to experience each of our locales in depth, and perhaps to see things that we might have missed on a more cursory visit.

Middle River from the 150 Bridge, close to the headwaters.

As an example, within walking distance of this place, we found a lovely park, an amazing grocery store, an amazingly CHEAP grocery store, a restaurant claiming that it has "the Planet's best Crabcakes" (from the reviews that might not be too far off), a decent pizza parlor, a good wine merchant.  The list goes on.  Every couple of days we pick a new direction and just go see what's there.

You see the good and the bad:  Too much of the Chesapeake's coastline is being transformed into condos.

I don't know who they expect to live in, let alone afford, all these places, and most of the griping about the "Rain Tax" here in Maryland (politicalspinspeak for the runoff abatement fees assessed on those with large, impermeable surfaces in the Chesapeake watershed) seems mostly rich landowners with large parking lots griping about being billed for amelioration of the pollution they're causing.

But even in the shadow of all this development, there are little gems.  Next to the development is a disused and abandoned road, obviously part of someone's homestead at one time.  Its lined with the most amazing raspberries, ripe at the moment, and mad with color and flavor.

There were also some amazing and rather ancient grape vines, all caught up in old trees.
Sooner or later some contractor will get around to spraying all this with roundup and putting in pruned, shaped, boxwood hedges or somesuchwhat.  But for now, today I'll put on some heavy jeans (they're prickly little bushes) and go harvest some for dessert.

So we'll stay here a while and explore, then when we move, they'll be new roads to wander down, new restaurants and pubs to sample, new things to see, new folks to meet.

We're liking this.

Stay tuned


Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Body in Question

The body in question is mine.

I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss, albeit briefly, the tolls and benefits of such a project on your personal Soma (the Psyche part we’ll get to later).

Beginning this project, I was in relatively good shape for a 60 something American.  Through a lifelong, low level practice of yoga and from teaching mime and stage combat in my acting classes, I was relatively flexible.  I was no stranger to hard work, especially in sieges of great intensity during theatrical productions.  I was slightly overweight, though not grossly so.  My BP was slightly higher than I’d wish it, though nothing as to curry alarm.  I was, in general…well…okay.

Our plans were pretty simple, and fairly well (ahem) thought out.  Morgainne would continue to work retail and to teach while I worked part time at a big box lumber store, bringing in a bit of cash and getting a discount on our supplies, working the rest of the time on the boat with her helping as she could.  The boat would take us a little over three months, we figured.  During the last of those, we would downsize, move out of our apartment and onto the boat, and then sail away scot free.

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley.

The weather in the spring of ’14 was horrible:  snow and snow and ice and snow and then rain and rain and rain.  Glues don’t set in cold temperatures.  Paint won’t stay on when it’s raining.  We kept getting delayed.  The upshot was that over the last month, we worked ourselves half to death, having to move out of our apartment, finish the boat, and move it all at once.

So here’s a few things I’ve learned on this.  Caveat.  This could be you.

 1) If you work while exhausted, you will injure yourself.  Don’t believe me?  Scroll back on this blog and look for the collection of splints, hand braces, 2nd degree burns and the like.....

During the course of construction, I burned myself, drove screws into my fingers, damaged a tendon in my right hand, did something unfortunate to my right knee getting up and down and up and down ladders, obtained innumerable slivers, nicks, small cuts, destroyed fingernails, bruises, and contusions, and sorely overtaxed my muscles.  By the end of construction, I was moving like a 90 year old, having to lever myself up and down to my knees to work on flooring and wiring because everything hurt.

Give yourself the time, be present in the moment you’re building, and I doubt this will happen to you.

2)  Get some freaking sleep.  I found—as is my want—that I couldn’t turn my head off at the end of the day.  I would spend half the night building and rebuilding and unbuilding and reengineering parts of the boat in my head.  Admittedly, some of these virtual construction sessions were fruitful and resulted in a better and simpler build, but the same thing could have been accomplished by just giving ourselves more time.  The upshot was, I would wake up….sorta…..dazed and confused and under slept, which led to mistakes, which led to my having to undo said mistakes which led to even more work.

3)  Eat:  There were times I was just too tired.  I would start without breakfast, work through meals, and when time came for dinner all I wanted to do was take a hot bath and go to bed.  God knows what that did to my blood sugar levels, concentration, and endurance.  You can solve this by….wait for it… yourself more time.  Are you starting to see a pattern here?

4)  Take care of yourself.  This is not a contest.  The object is the successful completion of the project.  Once that happens, no one will ask how many extra days it took.  You will gain nothing by proving you can work yourself to insensibility.  When the work has been challenging, give your body the chance to recover before you launch back into things.  Again, give yourself more time.

That is not to say that the project hasn’t had its positive effects.  Being a performer, I love the praise we’ve received for the boat and its concepts.  Adulation is one of my favorite drugs.  Of course there were other benefits as well.  Over the course of this thing, I lost at least 15 pounds and gained a good deal of muscle strength and definition.  My schedule before was haphazard, and included a good deal of…well….frankly crappy food.  Needing to support the work load meant that I had to eat, and to eat healthy things that would actually fuel what i was doing.  We’ve continued with that, getting three squares a day, no seconds, not a lot of ethanol, and precious little junk food.  

The upshot of having done the project….despite minimal scarring ……is that I look and feel better than I have in some time.  Not having to deal with corporate retail or academic infighting has dropped my stress levels massively, and just having the freedom to sleep when I want, to eat when I need to, and to stop working when I feel like it has made me feel human again.

Summary:  This sort of project can be a wonderful, life changing experience….if you don’t kill yourself doing it.  This isn’t a contest, and playing superman will not get you a better project or more respect, it will just get you tired and hurt.  

Give yourself the one thing this society does’t want you to have :  Time.  Enjoy the ride.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Art and the snake farm...

So two projects today in my rather short post.  The first:  I finally tore into and sorted out our battery wiring.  We had two problems:  First, we were pulling power off the end of the parallel chain of batteries, not off the center as was recommended, and, second, we had a ton of unused wiring from the original drive system, relays we wound up not using, inadequate power leads to the rear get the picture.

So, equipping myself with crimper and wire cutters and pliers and socket sets and bandaids, I squatted down on a milking stool and started trying to make orderly chaos out of chaotic chaos, so to speak, taking out all the unused wiring, making things more compact, and wiring the charging lines from the solar controller and the output lines to the inverter into the center of the stack where they belonged.

It may not look it, but trust me, it's a huge improvement.

While I was at this, Morgainne was continuing with her embellishment of the deckhouse.

Cool, hunh?

We progress.

Be sure to check out Morgainne's companion blog

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ice Capades

In Pursuit of Cold

Refrigeration is always an issue off the grid.  Our original thought was to use ice chests until we could build a big, superinsulated ice box for the boat, then run on block ice every week or so.  

We did come up with some decent techniques for keeping things in the coolers from getting sodden, using cut down cat litter containers--the plastic ones--as bins to contain the ice and keep water out of the food.

The trouble is, it’s hot here, with some days veering toward 100 F and 92% humidity.  The ice melted fast.  Worse, we wanted ice in our drinks, ice to make frozen desserts (we can make great lassi and milkshakes using the stick blender), ice just for cooling down.

The marina has ice, but in small bags at a premium price.  So, on virtually a daily basis, we were forced to drive to a local grocery to get a 15# bag of ice, or all the way down to Baltimore Boat Center (the only place we’ve found locally that sells block ice) for a couple of giant cubes.

This was proving to be neither practical nor economical, and in terms of environmental impact, between the driving and whatever energy sources the ice company was using to make the ice, its hardly green.  Even with a superinsulated ice cabinet, the problem would still exist.

So we determined that the best course would be to see if our solar system--which we are hardly taxing--would carry a small fridge.  We wouldn’t be running out and burning gas to get environmentally questionable ice every five minutes, and the milk would stay much happier.

So here’s the deal:  “coolers”, the kind sold to work in your truck or car, utilize Peltier effect to cool (or heat) the inside of an insulated box.  It works, but only to about 30 degrees below ambient temperature, and they’re wildly inefficient.  Fine if you’re on the road and have 12V power coming off the alternator to burn, lousy if you use solar and batteries for power.  

Refrigerators using compressors and evaporation cycle are far, far more efficient while running, but they do have one drawback:  They take a sizable surge of power--often as much as 10 times their running wattage--when then start up.  So all we needed to know to make an informed selection was the running and the startup voltage of the compact fridges we were considering.  There was a time when this was all posted either on the website or on the documentation for the appliance.

.....go ahead.  Try to find it now.  This has proven and incredibly complex to do for some reason.  Wattage is rarely posted (though yearly energy consumption is REQUIRED to be posted in the US). When it is, you don’t know if its maximum wattage drawn (the startup wattage), operating wattage, or, rather bizarrely, an average of the two.

So after multiple Emails, chats, forums, and snarling efforts restraining myself from throwing the computer out the window, we have finally narrowed the choice down to a couple of compacts in the 3.3-4.0 CU foot range. The leading contender is a 3.1 made by Edgestar.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fun and, really

Its amazing how many wonderful things can open up to you if you just change your life a bit.  Floating Empire has been a lot of things over the last few weeks:  A home, a magnet for meeting new folks, an ongoing art project, an adventure.....

Sometime just sitting on the front deck and reading can bring the world to your door.

Here's a video of us cruising in some VERY unpredictable wind in our new friend Lee's Columbia 24 in the inlet from Middle River into the Chesapeake Bay.  Pretty rough from all the boat wakes, as you can see, but then it was Fourth of July Weekend.

Sometimes the opportunity for local produce offers itself.

I love local farm stand stuff that hasn't been on a truck for three weeks before you get it.

As Floating Empire is an Art project as well, we finally got to a point we could embellish.

Here's a bit of Celtic/Vardo nicery going on.

First Stencil.
Then paint

Nice Hunh?


Of course the scary thing is that, on one level, BOTH the sides of Floating Empire are nothing but a collection of picture frames......hmmmmmmm.

Stay tuned while things get out of hand.