Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holiday food in quarantine

 So we always manage to make great food, even with one burner (or in this case one burner and a slow cooker), and this holiday was no exception.  We did, however, have a bit of a challenge:  For most of my life, my family has had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for the holidays, and I kinda wanted it again. . .

. . .but we don't really have an oven, not that can manage the 400 plus degrees that really nice fluffy Yorkshire seems to require.  So after casting around a bit we managed to put together a stack of  cast iron dutch ovens to make a gonzo heat diffuser, pumped waaaaaay too much propane underneath it to heat the thing up, and hoped for the best.

I'm not sure OSHA would approve.  The little pot on top is just warming the gravy

Oh, yes

Happily, it worked out astonishingly well, lovely bottom, fluffy top, and absolutely delicious, as was the slow cooked roast and roasted vegetables.  I think we were both taken aback how well it worked.  Just shows you can manage if you're willing to. . .well. . .experiment.

Winter has finally come to the Chesapeake, with our new gonzo enclosure keeping us a bit warmer from the cold winds and snow.  

Snowy day on the docks.


If I've been a bit absent from posting of late it's because with the pandemic and the winter coming on, there just hasn't been a lot about which to chat.  Will promise to do better next week.  Happy holidays, everyone.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Things you really need

 I've been meaning to post this for a bit.  Here are a few kind of innocuous things that we've found absolutely necessary as liveaboards.  None are very pricey, but you should really avail yourself of them.

Dockside social distancing at it's best.

First among these, and this seems kinda silly, is a shortie garden hose.  Just a female hose fitting and about three feet of hose with no fitting on the other end.  The reason for this one is simple:  Virtually every Marina north of Georgia turns off their dock water in winter, which means you're gonna have to hump water in containers down the docks to your boat.  Often the only functional faucets in the marina will be too low or weirdly angled for filling a container.  A short hose will help you fix this, letting you easily fill water containers not only at your own marina but when on cruise at a variety of fuel docks and dockside establishments.  You needn't spend much for this: just find someone who is throwing away a food safe hose and cut off the first three feet of it and you're in business.

Next up is this thing:

Got one?  That's about five too few.

This is a deck key.  If you have a boat, the likelihood is that you have some version of this needed to open the deck ports for fuel, water, or waste.  Here's the thing, if you DON'T have one, it's damn near impossible to get these deck plugs open.  If you DO have one, you have about five too few.  Let's get real: things get dropped overboard.  People put stuff like this in their pockets while working and then walk away with it.  Stuff gets buried in the back of a cabinet, and you can't remember WHICH cabinet.  Whatever.  If you're pulling into a fuel dock with a full holding tank (having failed miserably to take our advice on building a composting toilet), an empty gas tank, and no onboard water and you CAN'T find one of these, you may find the folks at the fuel dock are a little less than sanguine about you taking up their dockspace with five boats hovering out in the river while you try to open your deck plugs with a screwdriver and a crab mallet.

We keep about five of these aboard:  one with the tools, one in the silverware drawer (since it's near the companionway), one if the head (since we can hand it out the porthole to whoever is putting in water, and one somewhere or other in my junk tray.  Regardless, ONE of them will be available when we need it.  Nuff said.

  Now as to this thing:

Yes, I know every sailor should know, but too many don't.

This is a marlinspike, and they come with and without the pocketknife (this was just the closest one to where I was sitting).  They come in large and small, in steel and bronze and plastic, and you need one.  Most sailors will know them, but if you don't, the thing is for working rope into useful line, making loops and turk's heads and monkey paws and any manner of marine macrame.  You don't want to have to do any of those things?  Fine.  But you WILL want to get that knot undone.  You know the one I mean, the one that's been under stress and gotten wet and soaked with salt spray and your alternative is to cut the damn thing off.  The marlinspike will let you pry that sucker apart and untie it.  Trust us, you need one.

The list will continue.

This has been, for everyone, a rough fall and winter, and I apologize for the lack of posts this season, but with the pandemic, the freaking endless election, the weather, and. . . well. . .life, things just get in the way.  Hope to do better in the new year.

Magellan takes comfort in difficult times by squashing our greens planter.  No one knows why.

As we approach the winter solstice and a raging plague, Gail and I are, frankly, thankful for living on a boat.  If things got bad, we say, we just raise the main.  Something to think about. But towards the end of December, the light will begin to return, lifting our spirits and hopefully signalling the beginning of a far better year than the last one.

Be safe.

More shortly, I promise.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Moisture in the basement....

 Okay, so this is a boat, and it has a bilge, not a basement, but that's not the space to which I'm referring.

Like a lot of boats of this era, Constellation has a built in cooler in the galley, one of those things with a flush, insulated lid on the countertop and a well with a drain at the bottom for the ice to melt into.  Unfortunately, since it is right next to the engine compartment, the chances of it actually ever keeping anything cool are pretty slim.

So we, like most folks I know, use it as stowage, and because of it's inconvenience ( you have to clear virtually everything off the galley counter to get into the damn thing) its the home for bulk goods, pastas, things like bags of onions and canned goods.  We call it "the basement" as in:  "Dammit, I have to go into the basement again."

It's okay.  It's storage space, which no boat has enough of, but it comes with an additional de-convenience:  Since it's a cooler, designed to hold ice, it's completely sealed and waterproof.  That means any moisture that gets in, STAYS in.  Vegetables sweat.  Water that gets on the counter leeches under the insulated hatch.  The air in the thing is like being in a swamp.  Things mold.  Cans rust.  It's not optimal.  

So looking at the problem I decided to finally do something about it, and that the easiest thing was to replace the lid with something that would allow air circulation.

So the new lid is un-insulated exterior 1/2" ply, with a center handle and a 4" vent on the far end of the lid (as far as I could get it from the sink).  In the next few days I'll screen the opening so no bugs decide to investigate, stain, and varnish the thing.  Will post you a photo of the final product when the bandwidth cooperates.

 One more job done.  Hopefully it'll keep the moisture level down.

The fall days have been beautiful of late, with pleasant days, cool and sleepable nights, and life has been fairly low key (as a contrast to the election crap going on all around us).  We've taken some hikes out at Marshy Point Nature Center, one of our favorite places, just to get out and move our bones a bit.

Fall is a great time for long walks.

In the next few days, we'll probably take to boat out and anchor up at Worton Creek or one of our other favorite havens.  Winter will be here soon enough.  Right now, enjoy the fall.


As usual, Magellan has the right idea.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Bucket heater saga: Why didn't you people tell me about these?!

See this little contraption? It's a bucket heater.  You want one.

So in casting about trying to find a decent way to heat our little collapsing hottub at dock, someone suggested I look into one of these contraptions.  It's called a bucket heater and it's for...well...heating stuff in buckets.  I bet you figured that one out already.  It's basically an electrically heated coil within a circulation tube, and draws about 1000-1500 watts, which is well within the range of most dock power supplies.

The contraption is largely used in agriculture and for heating water on construction sites.  You just splash the heater in a bucket and plug it in.  I had rather assumed it would rather be like one of those little beverage heaters you stick in a teacup, that is to say, slow.  It isn't.

It cranks up the heat amazingly quickly.

Starting with 70 degree (F) water, it heated five gallons up to over 120 degrees in about 20 minutes.(Your mileage may, of course, vary, depending on ambient temperature and how cold the water was to begin with.)  That means that we can have a hot soak in our new little ofuro tub in about an hour.  The max temperature seems to top off at around 168F

Little Gail, Happy again.

This thing, of course, has it's limitations.  Take it out of the water while it's on, or let the water evaporate while it's running, and the thing would likely catch fire.  They don't recommend that you run it, even in appropriate conditions, for over three hours. And, of course, the wattage is sufficient that you're not going to be running it aboard while on the hook (for more than about six seconds if you're on solar).  It's a dockside-only convenience unless you're running a generator.

But still, the idea of having quick hot water for dishes, for washing up, or just for warming up is a great convenience, and at less than $30, it's rather hard to pass up.

 Why didn't you tell me about these things before.....?    Sheesh.

 Fall is suddenly here on the Chesapeake, and I do mean suddenly.  We scrambled to get the electric blanket out of the car, and to dig the sweatshirts out of the forward lazarette where they've been languishing for the last several months.  But still, after months of pretty brutal heat and humidity, it's a welcome break, and the fall is the best part of the sailing season.

Much more shortly.  Stay safe.  Stay warm.


Friday, September 11, 2020

Cockpit Enhancements for the Excessive

 So on the web we found this cool little Ofuro tub which exactly, EXACTLY, fit our cockpit sole.  About fifteen gallons of warm water is enough to soak up to your shoulders, and it folds away flat.

29.5 inches EXACTLY.  And now we have a tub in the cockpit.

 So, we used it as a cold plunge on a hot day yesterday, and tonight we'll try it as a hot bath.  Give you a full report in a bit.

Much more coming.

Stay safe.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Some Composting Toilet Mods

You know, sometimes it seems like we do a disproportionate amount of writing on this blog about composting toilet systems, but there seems--by what you guys are viewing--to be a huge amount of interest in them.
The current iteration of our design, using a snap on lid.  Instructions are here.

The new system aboard Constellation continues to work quite well, but as with any other boat, we hurt for storage and floor space, so with that in mind we decided to built a bench seat for the composter.  This would allow us to use the bench for the wood pellets we use as biomass, as well as trivial stuff like, say, toilet paper.

An additional bonus would be that we can use a conventional toilet seat.  Most of our composting toilet designs have been build around the snap-on lids that let you turn a 5 gallon bucket into a camping toilet.  These work fine, and are a quick and easy solution, but they seem to have a limited lifespan.  The ears on which the lid pivots tend to crack off eventually, and though that is a minor expense and inconvenience, doing something more permanent seemed prudent.

So we began with just clearing the space and measuring the height of the existing toilet/urine diverter set up.  This, being a boat, is a little iffy because almost nothing is square, but one does what one can.
The container bucket, base, and urine diverter.
Shelf supports attached.
The shelf itself is pretty simple.  Cut out is the same diameter as the urine diverter, and there is a support running along what will be the front of the shelf.
New shelf in place with toilet seat.  Plenty of room for Magellan's litter box and the urine container.
You'll need to find a Round toilet seat to accommodate the urine diverter (lots of them are oval, and far deeper than you'll want).  The back of the seat is just bolted through the shelf like it would be bolted through a porcelain toilet bowl (bolts are generally delrin plastic or nylon, which is nice since they don't rust, and generally come with the lid).

So far we're pretty pleased.

It's been one day of rain after another here on the Chesapeake, and our pier suffered a nasty lightning strike a few days ago, damaging a lot of electronics on several boats (some running into several grand).  Fortunately, all we lost was our ceiling light in the galley, which I'm replacing today.  With a little luck and some better weather tomorrow, we'll get to go out.

Stay Tuned


Friday, August 7, 2020

Prepping for the fall (and getting a bit local on you)

You know, it always amazes us how many folks pull their boats when September hits here on the Chesapeake.  Every sailor around here knows that the fall and early winter makes up the absolute best in boating weather hereabouts (hurricanes being excepted of course).  Even, predictable winds, mild temperatures, good fishing. . . .what's not to like?

Another thing TO like is that, as of the beginning of fall, a lot of the boaters that turn the Bay into a weekend amateur hour have pulled their vessels  The guy with his Carver's trim tabs set to "gouge" has gone away, resulting in fewer wake incidents, less congestion, fewer floating beercans and, at least on my part, a lot lower blood pressure.

Some of the fall sunsets on the Chesapeake are glorious.  This from last year.
The better weather and fewer crowds, that and being rather housebound from the whole Pandemic thing, gives us a yen to travel.  Already (having dodged a tropical storm) we're making ready for some fall journeys.  We've rebuilt the carb and fuel pump on our redoubtable Atomic 4 made some rigging repairs and adjustments, and, in general, gotten prepped for sea.  "So where do you want to go?" is one of our most frequent conversations of late, so I thought I'd pass some of those ideas along to you.

First of all, don't pass up the opportunity to revisit places you've loved.  Favorite anchorages and waterfront towns just off-season are a whole different experience than when flocks of (occasionally reckless) tourists are about, and with the whole Covid-19 thing, they'll be happy to see you (as long as you're careful and keep people safe).  I grew up in a tourist trap in Florida and I've always loved tourist towns off season, while the galleries and shops are still open but the places aren't mobbed.

Second, don't forget that fall is harvest season, and the farmer's markets, many of them in walking distance from the water, are in full swing.  Think taking a short walk ashore on a fine fall day and returning to the boat with bags of fresh corn, tomatoes, and squash for a sunset dinner.

Fall harvests can make for some really spectacular dinners aboard.

Fall is also a time of festivals, many of them either staged down or hurting because of the pandemic. Check out the calendars of the places you'll be cruising near.  You may discover some gems you've never even dreamed of attending.

Nothing like a local wine festival to introduce you to some things you've never tried.
  I will put one thing out there as a caveat though:  The Pandemic is real.  We know--personally--people who have become ill and some who have had family members die of it.  I only just completed the Covid-19 Contact Tracer training through Johns Hopkins, and I know just how virulent this thing can be.  At sea, you're about as socially isolated as you can be.  Once you step ashore, don't get casual.  Your life and the lives of others may depend on you're paying attention and being responsible.

The fall and early winter are, for my money, the absolute best times for cruising and gunkholing on the Chesapeake.  Do some planning, load up the larder, and head out.  It's our time

Be safe.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hot, Hot Summer

Dealing with heat is always an issue, but this summer, limited as we are by the virus lockdown, it seems more acute.  Neither of us was raised with air conditioning, so we're not used to it, but there are some days when the heat index wanders over 100 degrees that it becomes an issue. 

The problem is, of course, power.  Our solar system is just fine for most applications, but it just won't handle them AND an air conditioner.  I could, of course, plug in at dock, but an AC is an awfully large hunk of metal to lug around and store.   I keep getting asked how we fare without air conditioning.  Usually it's okay, but at times it gets to be an effort.  We do have a few things that help us get through the nastier parts of it.

Finding a nice anchorage with a nice breeze can help a lot.
Hanging out at anchor is certainly one of them.  The air can be thermal and dead still at dock, but sitting at anchor there's almost always a breeze.  With a little exploring, one can even find secluded inlets with that most rare of all commodities:  shade, along with a nice little breeze.
Magellan is not amused by the heat.

And hey, we're on boats, right?  In, like, water?  Swimming is always an option, though I have to confess, there are times in summer where the river is at bathwater temperatures.
A simple white tarp can really cut the heat from the sun beating on your boat.
The simplest thing we'd recommend is a white tarp.  Doesn't seem major, but, tented above our boom and with an air gap between it and the bimini and covering at least a portion of the dog house of the boat, it literally drops the temperature by ten degrees or so, especially in the cockpit.

At anchor or underway, there are a number of small, usb and 12v fans available that will keep you cool(er) where your sitting, but at dock, there's really no substitute for the old reliable box fan.  They're big, they're ugly, they collect dust and cat hair (especially the latter) but they move a lot of air and can really help you flush the heat out of the boat.

It's big, it's perpetually dirty, but at dock it sure can move air.
 We've resorted lately to the "hillbilly air conditioner" version of this, parking a bucket full of ice in front of the box fan.  It's wet and ridiculous, but it does keep it cooler in here for several hours, and then you have some lovely cool water to swab yourself with.

Of course, it's occurred to us to give up and just do the "AC in the companionway" thing.

It's an option a lot of sailors use.  Makes getting on and off the boat iffy, but the cabin's cool at least.
But, hey, we're stubborn, and the heat is like to break in a week or so.  So lots of cold drinks, a daily swim, and some cool breezes.....we persevere.

more shortly


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Some additional (and important) composting toilet notes.

The new design continues to work well, but here's some things you should know:
The new version of our composting toilet design continues to work beautifully, and to be easy to deal with, but I realized recently that there were a few things--particularly for hot weather--that I should pass along:

First of all, a bit of advice on the urine container:  With the quarantine in effect, we've found we're using our onboard setup a lot more than usual.  Now, typically, we empty the 'pee bottle" as it mostly gets referred to every 1 1/2 to two days.  Now it's every day.  I've found the basic rule is:  Empty the thing even if it doesn't need it.  Dump it when you think of it, and you'll never do the "where did this water come from?. . ..ohhh!" thing.  The Urine container is really easy to deal with, and I give it a quick rinse whenever we empty it just to make sure we don't have any odors (which we don't).

Dumping the new solid waste design is really easy, just pull off the top and urine diverter (making sure that any remaining urine in the hose goes into its bottle) and take  the bucket up and dump it.  When on the hook or at cruise, I keep a second bucket on deck with a lid so they can be switched out and dumped onshore later.  At least once a month, take the whole contraption ashore and hose it off.  That will keep any of the upper parts of the toilet from getting grubby looking and disgusting.  It's a simple, largely no-touch operation and that comprises basically all the minimal maintenance needed for this system.

Speaking of disgusting. . .

In hot weather in some places, flies can be an issue.  Not flies, maggots.  Yes, nothing says "I love my boat" like the possibility of maggots crawling up your butt when you're on the john.  They're attracted by the scent of scat, and, in our case, it doesn't help that the cat box shares the head with our composting toilet.

But fear not, gentle reader, there is a solution to this.  First of all, almost all fly problems are caused by an inadequate amount of dry material in the loo.  The flies require the moisture to lay their eggs, and desiccated droppings won't do it for them.  Just keep up with an adequate amount of wood stove pellets or sawdust, and you shouldn't have an issue (we add a bit more in the warm months or when flies are present, just to be safe).  We will also add a few drops of lemon eucalyptus oil which seems to deter them from even being interested in the space.

After a rather cool spring, summer has come here to the Chesapeake with a vengeance.  The heat index yesterday was 105F with the same predicted today.  They are literally loading the barges for the fireworks display on the river 60 feet behind our stern. (um, no smoking please)

These ominous looking canisters are Forth of July Fireworks, which are being loaded rather uncomfortably close to our stern.  Ah well, it's just for the day.
With the heat and the continued and growing threat of Covid 19, we'll be staying put.  Enjoy your 4th, folks.  Be safe out there.


Saturday, June 20, 2020

This month in 2014. . .

This month in 2014 we splashed the original barrel shanty The Floating Empire, beginning our long and happy life on the water.
The Floating Empire, the day after we splashed her.
This part of June seems to be auspicious for us.  A year ago, literally today (6/20) we also splashed our current vessel, the SV Constellation.
Constellation going in.
 It's been a glorious pack of years, and the best is yet to come.  Today is also the Summer Solstice.  Blessed Litha to all you Pagans and Witches out there.  Lift a cup with us tonight for a great rest of the year.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

NOT what we had planned.

So our lovely sailing trip to the Sassafras river came to an abrupt halt when we motored into a fuel dock and, just as we reached it, the motor stopped and would not be restarted.  This resulted in a wild, six hour tow back to home port, definitely a "Ride em Cowboy" event.

Yep, that's a towboat up there.
Our tow driver Mike and his dog Diesel were fortunately knowledgeable and competent, so they got us home right at at sunset without further incident. but we're both feeling more than a little beat up right now.  So after a day's rest or so, I'll tie into whatever fuel line problems we appear to be having and get us up and running again.  Bear with us.

We did get some wonderful photos, though, and some nice new locations for anchoring, so stay tuned.  Back with you quickly.


Monday, June 8, 2020

A quick note on works of fiction.

My publisher, Wild Shore Press, is running a discount on all my fiction works this weekend (June 10-14).  All the electronic editions of my novels on Amazon/Kindle will be available for download for $.99 each.  Just a little boost for your quarantined summer reading.  You can find my stuff HERE.
Rush right out in a downloading Frenzy!
We're headed off sailing again for a week or so in the morning, so I should have some great new pictures and stories for you.  Stay tuned.


Friday, June 5, 2020

Sailing the Farm

(With Apologies to Kenneth W. Neumeyer)

I mention his name because in 1981 or so, Neumeyer published a book of that name, "Sailing the Farm" on how to raise sustainable foodstuffs on a small sailboat.  Neumeyer had sailed the world, and the book, by turns pragmatic, apocalyptic, and hippy-tastic, served as a great guide for those who wanted to be on the water but not be separated from fresh foodstuffs.  The book is long out of print, and extant copies cost a mint, but it is available as an online PDF HERE if you're interested.

Fresh food, let's face it, be you aboard a watercraft, in an isolated cabin in winter, or headed to Mars, is an issue.  It's not just the scruvy-avoidance and other health issues.  If you cook and appreciate good meals, a little fresh green can make a huge difference in the results of your galley.  Plus, a little green is just nice to have about.

So we thought we'd let you in on a few of the things we've done of varying success to bring a little fresh greenery (no, not that kind) into our lives, going from the ultra simple to the easy and plentiful.  Ready?

You want to talk easy?  You want to talk "takes up no space"?  Try this.  The next time you get a stalk of celery (carrots and onions work too, as will most brassicas like bok choi) chop off and reserve the bottom two inches or so and place it in a shallow dish of water (if carrots or onions, save the tops where the leaves come out instead).  That's it.  In a few days, you'll be greeted with a surprising little fountain of green leaves suitable for garnishing your salads and soups as well as lending some welcome living stuff to your galley.  Really, it's quite pretty.

This pretty little guy will give you a month of tasty garnishes.
When it gets a bit too rangy looking (but has developed a bit of root), just stick it in a pot and it will continue to grow.  We've had a dockside pot of herbs, mainly rosemary, for six years now, providing no end of sauces and marinades (it's also been the nesting site for 35 ducklings over the years, but I digress.)

Wonderful, edible thyme flowers in a dockside pot.
Now, lets grow some crops shall we?  The best, simplest option we've found is the growing of what are typically called microgreens.  Okay "microgreens" is kind of a trendoid sales job.  All these things are normal crops, picked very young.  You can get some wonderful "microgreen mixes" on the web, a blend of seeds of things like arugula, mustard, basil, dandilion, cilantro, kale, lettuce, chard. . . .some of the mixes may have upwards of thirty different plants, running heavily to the earlier mentioned brassicas.  They require only a shallow pan of soil, and that you give them water and a periodic haircut of the bigger leaves to keep things from getting too mature or crowded.  A teaspoon of the seeds can get you literally weeks of fresh greens.

DeadKitty loves his microgreen garden.
Make the clipped greens into a wonderfully rich salad, or as a bed for other dishes.  They can be added to stir frys and soups, egg dishes, pastas, and all manner of things.  I know of no gonzo food raising you can do that creates so much wonderful food so easily.

So a bed of fresh, slightly bitter greens goes down to make a home. . .

. . .for a wonderful dish of sauteed sea food and fresh veggies.
Last, but not least, let's talk sprouts.  Sprouting stuff is really easy.  First of all, make sure you get a mix made FOR sprouting (garden seeds may have fertilizers and fungicides on them that you don't want to ingest).  Dump them in a jar, put a cloth over the top, and give them a rinse and a drain every day.  In a couple of days you'll be greeted with a wonderful wad of sprouts suitable for salads, stir frys, and omlettes, all of them bursting with vitamin C and a host of other nutrients.  Mung beans are the classic for sprouting, but fenugeek, radish seeds, and garbanzo beans work beautifully.

Asparagus and green pea soup with fresh thyme flowers and fenugreek sprouts.  It doesn't get any fresher than this.  Yeah, we made the bowl too.
Neumeyer died in 2013, at shore at last, surrounded by family.  He inspired generations of farmers, cooks, and iconoclasts.  The book is a monument to him.  Give it, and the veggies a try.

Summer is on us now with a vengeance, and we've been doing a bit of cruising, checking out systems for a longer trip this fall.  Life on the water is just splendid.  Get out there and enjoy it.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Incredible Bucket Laundry system

Okay, I don't know how "incredible" it is, but it does work.  Laundry is always a challenge, even for apartment dwellers, if you don't have your own facilities  For liveaboards, especially those on the cruise, it's even more of a bother.  If you're like us, you wind up waiting until you just can't wait anymore, then you put on the tux, an old wedding dress, and a tutu, those being the only things left unsoiled, and truck bags of often sodden clothes to the laundry and then sit there with Dr. OZ blaring from five TV screens, until your stuff is done, then fold it and truck it back home again.  As not fun as that is, it's simpler than what you can do at anchor.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post.  We've tried, over the years, a number of things to do small batch laundry aboard.  While there are a lot of commercial options, ziplock laundry-ing bags, small spin dryers, etc., this is the simplest and most compact that we've found and what we use most often.

You will need:  Two 5 gallon buckets...

That's about it.

They need to be able to nest.  Drill a bunch of holes in one of them so it can drain.  I've seen folks on them interwebs that use this system that drill hundreds of small holes, but we've found a smaller number of large ones drains faster and keeps your laundry in just as well.
Here you go:  Two buckets, one drilled out so it will drain, and a bunch of dirty laundry.
It works like this:  put your dirty things in the solid bucket and fill it up with water and laundry soap and agitate it a bit to mix.  I know some folks who use a small plunger to do this ( I know, I know. . . ).  Then ignore it for about ten minutes.  More if you like.  Soaking it for a bit really helps.  You'll find you can fit in a couple of day's clothes:  T-shirts, underwear, maybe a pair of jeans.  We have done sheets and towels, but that tends to need a wash session all their own.

Agitate and soak the clothes, then dump them over into the drilled out bucket to drain.
After a bit, further agitate the clothes, then drump the whole lot, water and all, over into the drilled out bucket to drain.  Then take the solid bucket, put it into the top of the drilled out one, and press down.  This will compress your clothes and squeeze out a lot of the water.
Stick the solid bucket on top of your clothes and press down.  This will remove a lot of the water.
Then dump the clothes back into the SOLID bucket and refill with water.  Agitate and repeat.  Keep doing this until the water is clear, usually 2-3 rinses.  Then you should be able to hang up your clothes.  You will probably need to wring them out a bit more.

This works well for day to day wash, and can be done in the cockpit (use non-polluting soaps that will break down) if you absolutely have to.  We try to go ashore up onto grass or something that can deal with the greywater.  You'll also find the drilled bucket useful for draining rope and a whole host of other duties, and the solid bucket is. . .well. . .a bucket, so that's useful as well.

Try it.  It works.

It's finally gotten warm here on the Middle River, and we're doing boat stuff in preparation for going back out for a couple of weeks.  I'll be pulling down our ratty Genoa Jib today and replacing it with a newer working jib we've acquired (hopefully it'll fit with the roller furling).

Stay healthy out there.  Next up, boat farming, so stay tuned.


Worton Creek.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Gone Sailing

Hi folks, just a quick note:  We've taken the opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge and go sailing for a few days, which has delayed our posting for a bit.  At present, we're at anchor at Worton Creek (with some VERY limited wifi signal), and are planning on heading up to Still Pond or the Sassafras River in a day or so.  We'll be back in a few with LOTS of new pictures, some new ideas, and more stuff for you, so please stay tuned.

Got to use our improvised cockpit shower for the first time on the hook today, and it was delightful.  Al Fresco bathing at it's finest.  No, you're not getting pictures of that.  Trust me.

So we're spending the day just kicking back and relaxing.  There's something wonderful about anchoring in a secluded little nook and just chilling out.  We got lots of opportunities to try out Gail's new 300mm lens, our new monocular, and some new navigational software, which we'll be dutifully reporting on upon our return.  For now, it's five o'clock somewhere.  Enjoy your weekend.


Friday, May 15, 2020

Hosing off

We finally got away from the dock after dealing with some engine issues and spent last night out on the hook for the first time this year, which was wonderful.  There's something amazingly peaceful about anchoring in a secluded cove and just kicking back, reading, napping, or daydreaming.  We've both missed it.  This was our shakedown cruise to make sure we were ready for a longer session on the water.  Boy are we ready.
Back on the water where we belong.
One of the challenges of living aboard, particularly for those of us cruising or living on the hook, is just keeping clean.  Too many days at sea without some semblance of a shower can leave the cabin and bedding a little. . .well. . .ripe.  Add to that the vaguely corrosive effect of salt water on the skin, and you have a formula for some really funky crewmembers.

A lot of vessels, even rather small ones, have showers, generally of the "wet head" variety, but, to be honest, a lot do not.  Constellation is one in the "do not" category. While at dock, we can always use the opulent showers at the marina, but frankly, with the whole Covid-19 thing going on, we're trying to keep as far from public spaces as possible.  Besides, with the return of warmer weather and Maryland's release of boaters from quarantine rules (mostly) we're planning on being away from dock a lot, so what to do?

Our solution was to create our own privacy stall in the cockpit for bathing, and thus far, it's working pretty well.  We used a couple of long bungee cords, threaded through some inexpensive polyester shower curtains, to enclose part of the bimini.
A bungee threaded through a couple of shower curtains makes for a simple privacy screen.
In looking for a shower source,  you have several choices.  You can, of course, go with one of the ubiquitous hanging solar bag showers.  They do work, but they're heavy, and most bimini's won't gracefully take that kind of load.  We opted to go for a small electrically driven unit.  There are several of these on the market.  They're inexpensive and work pretty well.  Some are USB rechargeable units, but we opted for one that plugged into the 12V outlet we have in the cockpit.

This simple 12V pump just drops in a bucket and provides you with a pretty decent amount of water pressure.
We use a 5 gallon bucket for water, either using tap water or river water, and adding about a half gallon of boiling water to heat it up.  You could, of course, solar heat the water or just take a cold water shower (not my fave).  The full bucket gives the both of us a decent shower without doing much scrimping, and it sure feels good after a few days on the water, and the cat no longer objects to the smell.

Total cost of the setup was probably about $60 including the water pump rig (do a search for "camping showers" and you'll find lots of options), and a couple of discount shore shower curtains.  On a side note, I couldn't tell what the bizarre pattern on the ones we got was from the package.  Once we opened them, it turned out they were--ready?--Constellations!  Hows that for kismet?

Next up:  Laundry!  Stay tuned.

Be safe out there.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Some Minor Notes on the New Composting Toilet Design

Having lived for a bit with the new version of our DIY Composting toilet, I thought I'd share a few things that we've found.

The new iteration of our DIY Composter
First of all: Overall, this is the best one of these we've built.  It's compact, easy to deal with, far easier to dump than earlier versions, and the urine separator works VERY well, taking a minimum of fiddling about with to make drain properly.

I had been afraid that the notch we put in the holding bucket would either leak or weaken the container too much, but that hasn't  been the case.  The Bucket pulls out of it's base just fine, is simple to dump, and easy to return to service.

The slightly lower exit point for the urine tube, combined with the right angle fitting means the tube is far less likely to kink and that the flow to the diverter container is a relatively straight shot, with no urine being left in either the diverter itself or the tube.  This means no smell and no discoloration, which is great.

As with our previous design, we're finding that we are emptying the urine container every day or every other day and the dry solids every week to ten days.   If this seems a bit shorter than usual, the current quarantine means we're spending a LOT more time together on the boat and very little elsewhere, so all our . . .um. . .business gets done on the boat and almost none in stores or in the Marina bathrooms.

Some minor, mostly easily fixable, drawbacks:  The notch in the containment bucket is a bit sharp, which means if we're using a liner, it's prone to being punctured or torn by the plastic as it's put in place.  A bit of sandpaper should fix this.

I still need to find some better sealant for the threads of the right angle fitting on the diverter.  It drips a bit into the dry solids, which I'd rather it didn't.  Will be trying some 4200 later this week, which I suspect will clear it up.

The snap on toilet seats all seem to have the same problem:  The pins that act as hinge for the seat cover are too short, and the cover often disconnects from them.  I really wish Reliance or one of the other companies would fix this.  As it is, it's a minor annoyance.

The main thing I think I like about this version is that. . .well. . .it just LOOKS nice, aside from working well.  It looks like it belongs there, which pleases us.  Unlike some of our other versions, this one also gives you an option as to where to place the urine container, which i can see being a plus.

All in all, this one is a keeper.  The build will take you all of about half an hour and cost well less than $50 US.   You can find the instructions on this new build HERE, along with links to our original build and to the booklet we've published on Amazon about making these things.

More shortly


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Making a stable composting toilet base.

okay so we're really pretty happy with the new composting toilet build.  It works well and frankly looks nicer than any of the other versions of this design that we've played with. It's easier to dump and clean, and far simpler to route the urine diverter hose.  It's a keeper.

This one has worked out really well.
The only drawback is, of course, it's a bucket, and the sailboat moves.  We needed some way to anchor it securely to the cabin sole without making it difficult to remove and dump the waste.

We have, of course, done this before.  One of our first builds aboard Floating Empire was a similar bucket composter, but that one was without a urine diverter.  You can read about that build Here. if you're interested.

The method we finally fell upon to secure the head is a simple one: we use the bottom of yet another five gallon bucket to make a holder for the composting head.  It's pretty simple.  Wanna see?

Start by cutting off the bottom 6 or so inches of a bucket.
Begin by marking off the bottom five inches of another 5 gallon bucket.  The best way to do this is to lay the bucket on it's side and rotate it against a sharpie or something until you have an even line all the way around the base.  Then drill a starter hole and use a pvc cutting blade to cut the thing off.  Can you use a knife?  Yes, but it's hard to make the cut straight and, frankly, the chances of you cutting yourself are not insubstantial.

Here we go, the bottom five inches or so of the bucket.
Once you have that cut off, mark three relatively equidistant places along the rim and cut out three slots.  This you may need to use a blade for, because the jigsaw is kinda awkward.

This is pretty easy
You want something that looks like this.
The reason we're doing this is from horrible experience.  In our earlier build, we affixed the bottom foot or so of a bucket to the deck and dropped the composting bucket toilet into it.  It worked beautifully, keeping the john stable and stationary.  It was perfect. . . .

. . . until we went to dump it.  The polyethylene from which these things are made is slightly sticky, and the buckets had been pressed together repeatedly by . . .well. . .body weight.  When we went to dump the thing, it wouldn't budge.  Not an inch.  Not a freaking centimeter.  It was an airtight seal between the two of them and the air pressure didn't allow them to separate, which ordinarily wouldn't have been much of a problem, except one of the buckets was screwed to the freaking deck and the other one was full of . . .well. . .crap.  I wound up drilling holes into the base of the outer bucket to free it, and even then I very nearly collapsed the full bucket in the process. 

The cutouts are to allow air to get between the buckets and to allow some wiggle room to un-socket what is essentially your composter holding tank.

Check your placement, then just screw in place.
The new base holder can just be screwed to the deck with stainless screws and fender washers.  Then just drop the composter setup into it.  Voila!  You now have a slide proof, tip resistant john setup for boat or tiny home.

See the seam?  That's where they meet.
This has really been such a great version of our composting toilet, and with a total cost well under $50, it beats the living hell out of shelling out a grand for a commercial composter.  Nuff said.

As the weather has begun to cooperate a little, we've been using some of our time in Quarantine to do small projects and tidy up stuff, making ready for travel.  I installed grablines to the inside of the salon, which turned out well.

The new grablines.
If they look familiar, they're actually the underside of the identical grablines I installed on the top of the deck.

We just replaced the nuts holding these lifting bolts with ring nuts.  Took all of five minutes.
We're jonesing to get out on the water, waiting on the weather and to see what we can do during the Social Distancing.  I mean, what's more socially distanced than being anchored in the middle of the water?

Because nothing says Social Distancing like a few hundred yards of water.
Be sensible and safe, guys.  We'll all get through this if we just act like responsible adults.  Admittedly, I'm bad at that, but for all our sakes I'm willing to try.

More shortly,