Friday, December 31, 2010

New year's resolutions

Everybody's doing it, right?  Everybody has a list of 5, 10, 12 things that they resolve for the new year.

Me too.  But I have just one:

I resolve to live the coming year as if it were my last on Earth:
  • I vow to be present in every moment.  
  • I vow to see instead of look. 
  • I vow to listen instead of hear.
Or is that 4?

Now, please excuse me while I turn loose the 8 year-old in me, and go outside and light off some fireworks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What comes in must go out

A sailboat is a small, self-contained world.  Because of this, the consequences of the lifestyle decisions we make on a daily basis are much more in-your-face than when living ashore.

As an example, think of a sailboat as a closed system (that's actually pretty easy to do).  Everything that comes aboard will eventually need to be removed.  Unless, that is, it is destined to become part of the boat, and this has to be a very limited set of things, or we will sink! 

I think I first had this realization early in my liveaboard career, when I was cleaning the floor.  Anything I missed was eventually going to find its way into the bilge, and then overboard via the bilge pump.  But bilge pumps are kind of finicky - for example, they don't like hair at all!  It gets wrapped around the driveshaft and the impeller, eventually bringing the pump to a halt.  I started viewing the cabin sole as the last-ditch bulwark keeping hair out of the bilge.  The hair still must leave the boat, but hopefully now via a full shop vac.

The closed nature of a boat system is nowhere more obvious than with garbage.  Every bit of packaging (and make no mistake - packaging is by far the bulk of it) must first be carried down the dock to the boat, and then carried back up the dock to either the garbage dumpster or the recycling dumpster.  Why do we have so much packaging?  Cellophane wrappers over cardboard boxes over plastic internal bags. 

(Aside:  Thank heavens our marina provides a recycling dumpster.  It seems that it fills up nearly twice as fast as the garbage dumpster.)

It seems that every time we head up the dock, there is something to be carried up to the dumpsters.  There is no dockside garbage service - there's just us.  More than once I have wished that there was a sheltered station by the recycling dumpster where I could remove the unnecessary layers of packaging before hauling things down the dock.  There would be less to haul (two ways!) and there would be more room aboard.  Or better yet, how about locating that station at the grocery store?

This is another instance where living on a boat brings the consequences of your lifestyle decisions directly to you.  Realizing that I've come at this obliquely in some other postings, I have created a new tag, footprint, to flag them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The gift of power

Power to the people!

No, wait.

Free power!  Yeah, that's the ticket.

Clean, free power from the sun!

Well, no, not quite.

First: clean.  Manufacturing silicon from silicon dioxide (quartz) consumes about 12 megawatt hours per ton of raw silicon produced.  Yeah, that's *mega*watt hours.  Then, the raw silicon must be refined to get rid of impurities - an exotic chemical process followed in the end with an energy-intensive electrolytic process for recovering the metallic silicon.  In all, about 200 megawatt hours is consumed in the production of a ton of silicon solar cells.  That's a lot of power - power which must be generated somewhere.

Next: free.  In the recent past, solar panels have sold for about $10/watt - that is, a panel with a rated capacity of 100 watts (in the tropics, at noon) would cost about $1000.  That's hardly free power.  If you work out the numbers, at our local power cost of $0.08/kwh, that 100 watt panel would be paid off in 85 years.

But something has been happening in the solar cell marketplace recently.  Solar panels can now be found for under $2/watt (17 year payback), and the bare cells are available for amazingly low prices.  And so just before Christmas, I bought a kilowatt's worth of solar cells and paid an amazing $350 for them - that's $0.35/watt - a payback period of only 3 years.  Those are numbers I can live with!

An early Christmas present!
The actual purchase was 250 cells, each of which is 6" x 6", and will deliver 8 amps at 0.5 - 0.6 volts.  They arrived in 4 boxes and were well protected with packing materials.

Here are a couple of the cells, showing front and back.  They are incredibly thin and fragile.  That ton of silicon mentioned above made a *lot* of these cells.

Now to actually construct the panels in a way that will last, the challenge will be to keep the cost from climbing back to that $2/watt for which commercial panels can be had.

Stay tuned.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joyous Christmas!

From the crew of Eolian to you and yours,
Joyous Christmas!
(And let's all pray for peace on Earth)


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lighted dinghies, 2010

Ghost's lit up dinghy
(picture shamelessly lifted from Angela's Facebook)
The run-up to Christmas continues here at the marina.  Sunday nite was our third (?) annual lighted dinghy parade.  In this event, we tie a bunch of dinghies together in a line and putt up and down the waterways between the docks singing Christmas carols.  Well, we try to sing carols.  If we can remember the words.  And if the front of the line and the back of the line can keep synchronized.  That is harder than you might imagine, because we are strung out so far (there were 10 dinghies in the line this year).

Of course, the lights are a big part of this.  Sadly, the only light we had was a red LED flashlight, but we waved it merrily (lites on Eolian this year, lites on the dinghy next year).  Scott and Angela get the prize (from me anyway) for the best lit dinghy - they even rigged a bowsprit so that they could show more lights!  And adding to the display, the battery Scott put into the dinghy to run the lites was kind of low on charge - the little inverter he used to power the lights kept kicking off due to low voltage, making Ghost's dinghy the one with the flashing lites!  I think it added a great note to the celebration.

And amazingly, it didn't rain!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stopping the decay from within

I recently changed out the anode on our water heater.

"What?" you ask, "are you saying there are zincs on my water heater?"  Well, in a word, yes.  Or there should be.

Let me come at this from a slightly different direction.  Have you ever wondered what the main difference is between 5 year and 10 year warranteed household water heaters?  Zinc.  All water heaters come from the factory with a zinc anode installed.  The longer the warranty, the bigger the zinc.  (You can, of course, buy new water heater anodes, should you wish to extend your water heater life beyond the warranty period.)  As a boat owner who is familiar with the concept of galvanic corrosion, you will not be surprised that a system made of plain steel and which features bronze, brass and copper all in contact with each other needs some kind of corrosion protection for the steel.

Eolian's water heater tank is made of aluminum.   Although a zinc anode would protect it if it were filled with salt water, like for outboards used in fresh water, the manufacturer sells magnesium anodes for it.

I simplified things a bit with that opening sentence.  In fact, I installed an anode in our water heater.  The manufacturer shipped the water heater with *no* anode installed.  Despite the installation of a bronze overtemp/pressure relief safety valve.  Bronze in aluminum with no anode.  Huh.  Instead, the manufacturer requires that a handy plastic valve intended for draining the tank gets replaced with the anode.  That made it easy to install, but it will make changing it next time difficult!  There'll be no drain valve to use when that happens.

And, typically, I am remiss for not doing this sooner.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Boarding ladders

One of the things that the Previous Owner did well on Eolian was the design and installation of our boarding lader.  Eolian has a lot of freeboard.  There is no way, for example, that you are going to board her from a dinghy without some kind of ladder.

It is not uncommon for boats with lots of freeboard to have boarding ladders.  The question always is: "Where do I put this thing when I am not using it?"  It is not an easy question to answer.

If you use the old aluminum folding standby, you can just store it on deck or against the lifelines.  Best to tie it down somehow, tho.

The Force 50's (this is Ghost) came with a wonderful traditional boarding stairs, that fold up and tie to the outside of the lifelines underway.  They are completely adjustable as to height - right down to the water, and make a great platform from which to board a kayak at anchor.

Cooper 416's come with a wonderful heavy teak ladder, which folds in half. 

Eolian's Previous Owner (and I give him all the credit here) came up with a wonderful idea:

Fabricated out of stainless tubing large enough to be comfortable to bare feet, these are permanently bolted thru her hull.  There is a nut welded to the outside of the large washer (that is, inside the tubing), and a bolt goes thru the hull and engages the nut.  The large surface area of the washers provide the necessary stability.  And the bolt is sized to be more than adequate to support a fully mature male human being, but yet small enough to shear off and prevent hull damage should the step meet up with an immovable object - say, a dock (don't ask).   Yes, on a starboard tack, one or two steps may be submerged, adding a little drag.  But on a boat of Eolian's size, it doesn't account for much.

But best of all, we don't have to store them, and they are always ready for use.

Christian asked for additional detail on the steps - The best I can do here Christian is to put up this engineering sketch for the steps which was in the ship's papers:


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The dock box

Most docks which offer monthly slip leases sport dock boxes.  When you lease the slip, you get the use of the dock box (ours were recently replaced).   So what do you put in there?

Here's what is in ours:
  • A horseshoe life preserver that was discarded by someone (it looked to be in better shape than ours) (yellow, on the left)
  • A piece of thin plywood, left over from some project (I no longer remember which project)
  • Our oil change vacuum can and pump (blue, in the center)
  • Our dock phone line, from the dim past when we had a landline on the dock, and on the boat (under the vacuum can)
  • A discarded 50' shore power cord.  (It's 50 ' of 3-conductor 6 gauge wire, right?) (under the phone line)
  • 50' of black 3-conductor 6 gauge wire (see above)
  • A grey milk crate holding various cans of paint
  • A small paint roller and pan (on top of the crate)
  • A short length of condemned fire hose, to use for making chafe guards for docklines (coiled on top of the paint roller pan)
Our dock box is unusually empty.  Some are set up as little workshops, complete with shelving, vices, etc.

What's in yours?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stewardship, not ownership

Are you planning for your boat to sink?  No?  Then to burn, perhaps?  Not that either, then.  Hmmm.  Then the only alternative remaining really, is to eventually sell her.  To a new owner.

In most cases, boats outlive us, or at least outlive our interest in them.  It is therefore inevitable that at some future time, each of us will be classified as the dreaded Previous Owner.  So whether we consider ourselves as owners, we are caretakers, hopefully stewards, over them for a period of years, but then they will move on to the next owner.   It behooves us to take the stewardship of our boats seriously then.

When I think of "ownership", I get thoughts like:
  • She's mine.  I can do whatever I want to her.
  • Who cares if I use this red wire for the negative?  I'll always remember
  • I'll do it right later; this'll get me by for now.
  • Maintenance log?  Why would I keep one of those?  Just do what needs to be done.
  • Patches are good enough.
But "stewardship" brings to mind thoughts like these:
  • I don't want to be the dreaded Previous Owner - I do want to be  "that great guy who had her before me"
  • I should use the right wire to do this - someone else will eventually be trying to figure out what I did here.
  • Long term thinking instead of short term
  • What will the next owner think of this?
  • Improvements, not patches
I should also point out that eventually, you will become your own Previous Owner.  I am embarrassed to admit that on at least one occasion, I have found myself doubting the Previous Owner's intelligence and breeding, only to find that it was me that had made the change.  Yeah, that's really embarrassing, on several levels.

I believe the key thought above is the one that goes "Improvements, not patches."  Whenever something needs to be fixed, I try to spend some time thinking about why it has failed, and whether a better design or better (more modern?) materials might be called for.  And when appropriate, I try to implement those design or material changes.  This applies to both those things that the Previous Owner did (which goes without saying, of course), but also the factory who built her.  After all, they too were only human, and undoubtedly made decisions based on the twin expediencies of cost and time.

In the boating world, we learn from our failures.  Standards to which boats are built are in large part empirical.  That is, the tried is the true.  But sometimes, in an effort to distinguish themselves, a manufacturer will try something which turns out to be not so "true."  Or we will all decide together that the old way can be improved upon (2 NM navigation lites vs. oil lamps, for example).  The boat owner who is a steward will make his changes and hew to the current standards, rather than just replacing the old.

Done well, and your pride and joy will be something in which you can justifiably take pride, and will be in better condition on the day you sell her than the day you bought her.

Unless you sink her, of course.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Seattle: A good place to live aboard in the winter

It is 46 °F in Seattle tonite (I'm writing this on Thursday evening, 12/9).  And it's raining.  Of course.

This is not the most comfortable weather, but it is a darn site better than that in many of the boating areas which I follow.  For example, England has been in the deep freeze for more than two weeks.  Boaters there are having to deal with ice-covered waterways and frozen pipes.  Here it is just rain.  But relentless rain.

Nevertheless,  to me this is a huge advantage.

Living aboard in the winter is difficult.  The boat must be kept warm, else frozen water lines, valves, tanks, etc are the result. This may not be as easy as you might imagine because boats are not nearly as well insulated as houses are, and the water plumbing may be routed near to the hull.  In fact, the plumbing could run behind closets - closets stuffed full of clothing which serve as insulation to keep the interior of the boat warmer...  and the water lines colder.

We may get wet walking down the dock, but we don't need to shovel it.  The little snow Seattle does get is "self-shoveling" if you just have a little patience.  This is a climate where they talk about "bitter cold" and say to keep your pets indoors if the temperature goes below 32 °F.  Coming from Spokane, and worse yet, Chewelah (where we once spent two weeks with the daytime highs at -20 °F, nite time lows of -45 °F to -50 °F - the ground was frozen 5 feet down) this is ludicrous.  But it is a wonderful ludicrous.  We might complain about having to scrape our windshields once in a while, but you will never hear about anyone freezing an engine block.

Look, let me put it this way:  There are not many days when we can use the cockpit as the refrigerator annex - it's just too warm out there.

Me and my symbiotic mildew, we're good with that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's beginning to look...

I am guilty of committing a holiday faux pas. And I feel shame.

Last weekend, I was so excited to see our first-time ever Christmas lites on Eolian that I turned them on. Before December 1 (can you imagine?).

Lonely lights
It was a lonely set of lites that greeted you out there at the end of G Dock. But I thought they looked great!

But ah, now. Now the whole end of the dock is lit up in festive splendor! And tonite when I walked down the dock, I felt sorry for those folks who do not live aboard their boats, because they are missing something very special!

Lonely no more!

And down below on Eolian, things are festive too!

There is a wintery garland draped along the starboard side of the saloon,

a poinsetta and Christmas candle grace the saloon table,

stars float above us,

and we have our very own miniature Christmas tree!

This may all look a little minimalist, but don't forget the lite show outside...


Monday, December 6, 2010

Boat ovens

Jane recalled that the first time we rented a boat that had an oven, it was an unbelievable luxury.  Our kids were little, and we had chartered a Catalina 30 in the San Juan Islands.  When the weather turned cold, Jane baked cookies in the oven.  Not only was it great entertainment for the kids, it heated the cabin.  But it touched something more primitive in me - a deep "comfort" thing.

Boat ovens are small (I'm speaking of sailboats here).  There is no way you are going to roast a turkey in there, even a small one.  A turkey breast perhaps, or a chicken would fit.  And in fact, most normal bakeware is too big - you have to shop for "mini" versions of cookie sheets, etc.

Boat ovens are gas ovens- a wonderful thing for someone who has had nothing but electric ovens with their high radiant heat loads (burnt on the bottom, raw on top) for decades.  And they do heat the cabin.  This is a boon in the winter, but it keeps us from doing much with the oven in the summer (we do a *lot* of grilling in the summer).  Also, burning that propane and dumping the moisture it produces into the cabin was a problem before we got our dehumidifier.  You *will* want to have a dehumidifier if you're planning to use an oven when the cabin is sealed up.

You probably don't think about it, but the stove and oven in your house are *level*.  Because of this, your cakes unthinkingly rise evenly across the pan.  But boat stoves are gimbaled.  Because sailboats heel, the stoves are made to  swivel so that the oven is on an even keel even when the boat is not.  This would seem to be a blessing, but it is a mixed one.  Depending on what is in the oven and on top of the stove, "level" is a relative term.  We keep a small bubble level handy nearby so that we can level the stove using the tea pot, etc when the gimble is unlocked.  And don't you dare open the oven door when the stove is unlocked and free to pivot, because it will tilt uncontrollably, and spill it's hot contents all over you.  Most of the time, we keep the stove/oven locked into place when we are at the dock or at anchor.  But when baking that cake, I'll free it and apply weights to level it to get as even a result as I can.  The stove is gimbaled in only one plane: to account for the boat heeling.  Variations in the fore/aft plane cannot be corrected, other than by moving prodigious quantities of "things" from the aft cabin to the forward cabin, or vice versa.  So of course, we don't do that.

There are several marine stoves manufactured out there.  Ours is a Seaward Princess.  Perhaps its main competitor is the more expensive Force 10.  In a major refit, a boat that was near us at the dock upgraded their stove - they chose the Force 10 because, "if it's more expensive, it must be better."  It turned out that this is one of the times that the old adage was *not* true.  Not only is the Force 10 more expensive, but its oven volume is about half of that in the Princess.  Further, the oven is equipped with a totally inadequate burner.  It took forever to heat up, and never would reach 400 °F.  They eventually pulled it out and replaced it with a Princess.  YMMV of course.

Jane just reminded me of another oven incident - we were anchored off of Hope Island, riding out a storm.  I baked cornbread - it heated the cabin, made us feel cozy, quelling the storm anxiety, and as a bonus it tasted good too!  Cornbread is for me a comfort food.  Baking cornbread somehow feeds my soul.

It may be small, but our little oven bakes up a lot of comfort for me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Destination: McMicken Island

If you arrived here by searching for a chart, please see this page.

South Puget Sound - excerpted from chart 18448

The southern part of Puget sound has a very different feel than that portion north of the Tacoma Narrows (in the upper right of the chart above - click on the image for a full-sized version).  In the South Sound, the waterways are narrower, the boat traffic seems smaller, and wonderfully, the water is warmer.  You will actually see boats pulling water skiers in the South Sound.  In fact, the water is warm enough for oysters to grow.

Which brings us, in a way, to McMicken Island.  McMicken Island State Marine Park lies a little less than half way up Case Inlet, close on its western shore.  If you are coming from above the Narrows, you will want to time your passage thru the Narrows to take advantage of the substantial ride you will get from the tidal current.  In fact, the tidal ride will carry you well past the southern tip of Fox Island.  There are tide rips here, where the flow divides into a stream running up into Carr Inlet and one which continues South to the Nisqually Reach.  Tho it is always best to have the tide in your favor, it won't be all that much help to you once you round the southern tip of Anderson Island.

(soundings in fathoms)
The best anchorage at McMicken Island lies between the Island and the shore of Harstine Island, but do not try to reach the anchorage from the South.  There is a tombolo connecting the island to Harstine which drys at low tide.  Approach the little lagoon from the North.  The chart shows two state park buoys in the lagoon, but the last time we were there, there were at least 4.  You should survey the area while watching your depth sounder tho - the buoys were in pretty shallow water.   Depending on where the State Park has placed the buoys, we usually chose to anchor instead.  When the tide comes in, the tombolo is submerged, but the water over it is thin enough to damp the wave action, should there be any coming up from the South.

McMicken Island, looking East
The island itself is a delightful quiet little place; for us the most enjoyable part is walking in the shallows and looking for oysters (check the WADFW site for red tide warnings before harvesting).  Whether or not you find any of eating size, the walk along the shoreline is a wonderful passtime.  Be sure to tie your dinghy well - one time here ours drifted away on the incoming tide and I had to swim for it.

Looking  South, over the tombolo at low tide


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And there was light

A week or so ago, I talked with you about getting Eolian gussied up for the Christmas season.  Well, it's done.

It wasn't the cakewalk I had thought it was going to be - getting the lites up there without tangling, without knocking the covers off of the LED's (OK, one went into the water, and Jane reports that they don't float) was not easy at all.

First, tho I had planned to put up one string, then attach the second, and then attach the third, it didn't work out that way.  It turned out that I had to deal with the whole 100' of twisted Christmas lites all in one go.  Not only did they desperately want to tangle with themselves, they also reached out and grabbed onto anything they touched.

Eolian is a ketch - why not stretch the lites over the whole rig?  The plan was to have the lites go up the forestay to the top of the mainmast, across to the top of the mizzenmast, and then down the topping lift to the aft end of the mizzen boom.  Conceptually simple, but tricky to execute.  The hardest part was getting the lite string around the ends of the spreaders.

But they're up, and they look great!  Indeed, they are the deep, DEEP blue, the blue that you can't quite focus your eyes on.  And strung over Eolian's spars they make an impressive display!

Now if only they'll survive until Christmas.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...