Thursday, July 3, 2014

What works, what doesn't....

So at this stage of the project, I find it appropriate to do a little reckoning about what worked, what didn’t, what we could have done better....or much much the construction and use of this critter.  All of the construction is pretty much documented in this blog (go to “older entries” for the early stuff), so feel free to use those entries as a reference.

In terms of the design, as cited before, the boat is too large by about a foot.  If I had to do it again I would opt for a slightly longer vessel--assuming I felt I needed the room--and keep to an 8’ width.  There are three reasons for this:  First is expense.  In America, things like plywood and dimensional lumber tend to be only easily available in specific lengths.  So, if I want to cover over a 4’ X 8’ floor, I get a 4’ X 8’ sheet of plywood.  If I want to cover a 4’ X 8’ 1/2” space, I have to buy TWO sheets of 4’ X 8’ plywood to make up for the additional lumber.  Hyperbole, but you get the idea.  Second is, of course, the additional labor.  That additional 1/2” has to have structure to support it, has to have paint and glue and fasteners.  We built Floating Empire with 9’ 6” interior floors to accommodate the aft studio space.  I could have probably saved nearly 1/3 of the expense and building time by losing that 1’ 6”.  I’m not at all sure we’d miss it.

Third is transport.  Most countries have a limitation of width for transport (here in Maryland its 8’ 6”).  Go over that and there are special permits, limitations on transit times and roads that can be used, and, of course, more expense.

The roofline is a similar issue.  While we love the sleeping loft, making it a permanent structure meant that the boat was in excess of the 13’ 6” allowed on the highways when placed on a trailer.  This meant we had to remove all of the flotation, store it in the boat for transit (which meant we couldn’t finish the interior walls before the move) then re-attach the floats before it goes to the water.  Tedious.  Some Vardo designs (bow top) built recently have the ability to hinge down the top of the vardo for transit, which would have greatly facilitated transport (and might also have been useful in limiting the amount   of wind resistance when the vessel is on the water.)

Our choice of construction spaces was driven by expense and convenience.  In balance, the choice was questionable.  We built in back of the house, on an alley which did allow for easy access, but the ground was unlevel, causing multiple problems in keeping the build square and resulting in a nearly three hour ordeal to get the boat onto the trailer for the move.  Building in a boatyard, or a rented garage near the water, would have eliminated the considerable expense of transit, and would, despite the transit time to the build site, have made construction easier and more accurate.

The outdoor build also meant that we were interrupted frequently by weather until we finally got the boat enclosed, which, in aggregate,  put our construction back at least a month.

So in summary of the above:  8’ width, collapsable roofline, and rent a garage or warehouse space for the build, hopefully something much nearer the water which would save the nearly two grand we wound up spending on transit, prep, and launch.

The membrane roof, leftovers from the construction of a sports stadium obtained from, was a great choice.  The surface is highly reflective, and even in direct sun on hot days transmits a surprisingly small amount of heat to the interior of the boat.  It is also extremely tough, having weathered not only several heavy rains and thunderstorms, but also 50mph wind equivalents in the nearly two hour transit by truck to the water.  Good choice, especially for a price of about $60 including shipping (which was half of the expense).  Would do it again.  The lovely curve of the roof, the adequate headroom in the sleeping loft, and the inherent stability of the pontoons in easy water make for a great sleeping space.

The use of pipe to secure the barrels also is a great idea, and here many thanks to the Illinois group from which we borrowed the idea.  It saved many hours of construction, and during the aborted fork lift effort at the marina, even though one of our stringers broke, the pipe never varied.  They hold the barrels securely and evenly, without allowing them to pop up against the flooring (a problem cited on some other barrel barge construction blogs).

The barrels themselves seem fine.  Very little seems inclined to stick to them, including barnacles and algae.  During the move and launch, we had one to leak due to a cross threaded plug and one to virtually sink due to a MISSING plug.  Both were remedied quickly and simply with a quick swim and a small hand pump, though such experiences may be far less pleasant in, say, the depth of winter.  I highly recommend getting a barrel wrench, which greatly facilitates getting the inset bung plugs on and off.

I needed more flotation.  Adding a barrel to the bow helped, but if I were rebuilding, I would add a third line of floats all the way down the middle.

The vote is still out on the stressed skin floor.  The thing creaks and flexes but still seems to be holding solidly, save over the stringer that was broken.  I suspect at some point I will wind up reenforcing the floor, but for now, its fine.

The sort of theatre set construction of the walls, making them essentially non load bearing curtains hanging from the cross members and king posts, seems to be working fine.  It certainly saved quite a bit of weight and expense.  We should have framed in the windows first and THEN inserted them into the walls rather than trying to build in the framing as we went.  This made for some rather out of square construction, which we’re now fighting.

The solar system from WindyNation works really well.  Even during the transit overwater, running two electric motors, we didn’t deplete the system, and it’s more than enough to meet our needs for small appliance use and charging our electronics.  I’m unsure if the system as configured (200 watts of panels, 6 35 AH deep cycle batteries, and a PPL charge controller) would be adequate for refrigeration, especially in the near 100 degree F. temperatures we’ve experienced over the last few days, but for now it more than meets our needs, cheerfully operating computers, power tools, blenders, coffee grinders, and fans without complaint.  If I did feel the need to upgrade the system, my first buy would be to get a newer charge controller, which would increase greatly the efficiency of our battery charging.

While I’m on the subject of appliances, may I sing the praises of the humble stick blender.  We have a little silver unit from KitchenAide that takes up probably a quarter of the room of a countertop blender, and has happily made smoothies, soups, milkshakes, and the like.  As a useful space saver, it’s rather become a must-have.  Frozen drinks may be next.

The galley set up has been one of the stars of this show.  We use river water to wash with, we rinse with the same, albeit disinfected with a bit of chlorine bleach (a practice left over from our restaurant days, and we’re careful about it.  We also use bleach water to wipe down countertops and tools), and have suffered no ill effects.  The galley is rather a pleasure in which to work, it looks great, the magnetic knife rack saves lots of counter general: do it like this.  I’ve had kitchens in houses and apartments that weren’t this functional.

The water filter from Monolithic works just fine, as does our filter set up.  In addition to river water, we also filter our melt water from cooler ice.  We keep it filled and filtering so there’s always plenty of drinking water.

The composting toilet works beautifully.  Early on, my kind of gonzo urine from the toilet, and we’ve discovered we didn’t need it.  We’ve used several things as biomass, including sawdust from the construction (NOT from treated wood!!! It’ll stop a lot of the composting process and it’s fairly toxic), pine based cat litter, and, lately, wood stove pellets.  The hardwood pellets are pressure compressed sawdust which expand when they get wet.  It appears to be an inexpensive and compact way to keep biomass on hand.  

And, no, the toilet does not smell at all.  The trick is to get a good 2” bed of biomass in the bottom of the container before you start, use an adequate amount to cover and absorb urine and feces, and keep the lid shut.  We’ve had no problems whatsoever.

Our matchstick blind wall partitions are really pretty, allow for air flow, and went together easily.  It remains to be seen how we like living with them, but for now, its a plus.

Our electric motors are woefully, hideously, horribly underpowered.  Between the bow thruster and the 55 lb thruster at the stern, we only amount to about a horsepower, and I’m figuring the boat needs at least three to pilot it happily under even very favorable conditions.  Still hoping for the paddlewheel, but in the interim, we’re doing research.

There are still a few things undone.  I need to finish out the door onto the aft deck, the weatherstripping on the windows, we haven’t finished the bathing area yet, and we have yet to install the graywater filter and are at the moment using a bladder and hauling the graywater ashore.  On the whole, though, the boat functions and is a cozy and happy space in which to live.  I’ve started writing again, and Morgainne is working in her unfinished studio today.  All’s well.

While we haven’t done a tally, the construction of the boat probably ran us somewhere around $4000 US to get us an entirely livable space.

More later


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