Posted on March 2, 2016
Hey! I sewed something! Look at these beautiful…dishcloths!
From there, it’s just a short leap to recovering the settee cushions, yes? Uhm……nah. There is zero question that I would have lost my mind trying to figure out the zippers, bolsters and buttons to spruce up the saloon. Fortunately for everyone, there’s Kris.
Recovering the cushions is absolutely on the list of luxury items for our boat. Some of those seat cushions were actually full-on torn, however, so something had to be done. Fortunately, Michu’s mom–an amazing seamstress herself and appreciator of nice things–sponsored some upholstery work for us. To get everything done would have been budget-busting enough to make us blush, so we compromised and redid the seats.
We bought some fabric on sale from Joann’s that we thought would complement the dark blue, not show stains too badly, and not make us seasick (a surprisingly small sample size). Kris added a little foam to the tops. They look amazing, and I wish we’d had everything recovered, but I think that $1000 we didn’t spend will be put to good use elsewhere.
Posted on February 27, 2016
After fixing the stuffing box/coupler and fuel supply system, Milou’s diesel motor had a pretty uneventful first season. This was back in the summer of 2014 when we had managed, by Deb’s wiliness, to secure a very good deal on a fancy marina slip.
The engine spent about four hours crossing to Little Sturgeon Bay, maybe an additional 15 hours over the summer motoring in and out of our new marina and then again the four hours back to Hi Seas Marina in Oconto. The motor ran like a top.
I had yet to change the oil–the most basic of all routine maintenance. Every time I went to the boat I was feeling guilty about the unknown age of the oil sitting in the motor. I had meant to change it in the spring, honestly I did. But then a lot of other projects came up, and as crazy as it seems, I simply could not find the time to change the dang oil. I needed to rig the mast, remove and get the rudder repaired, sand and seal the rusting spots on the keel, install the windlass, and pull off all of the items that froze and broke thanks to the not-so-great “winterizing” job performed by the Texas yard where we bought Milou.
That summer, every time I went to the boat I brought the oil and the filter. And still it never got done. Fall of 2014, the boat was hauled out at Hi Seas marina. We had a small issue with the mast. But that would have to wait; the boat still needed to be winterized.
I built a frame, sturdier than the one I made the year before. No flimsy line strung between 2x4s: a solid wooden 2×4 ridge pole supported by the modified stands (no longer needed) I had built to hold the mast, and then I covered Milou with the o-so-chic classic blue tarp. The Perkins 4108 has a built-in, hand-operated oil sump pump. It has a T handle, and after 15 – 20 pumps it removed about three and a half of the four quarts of oil that the engine holds.
For some reason the oil filter is mounted upside down; when you remove it, all of the oil trapped inside the filter runs down the side of the motor and into the bilge. Luckily, I had some oil absorbing mats in place to catch the mess. And now I know about the little drain screw in the oil filter housing that lets you drain the trapped oil into a small paper cup before you unscrew the filter.
Now with the oil and oil filter changed the only routine maintenance item for which I had no record of the last service was the primary fuel filter (well that and the transmission oil, which I have yet to change–it looks good).
Changing the primary filter is a pretty simple affair. You unscrew the retaining bolt, spill diesel all over the place, throw out the old filter, put in the new filter–making sure all of the various o-rings and gaskets are in the correct position–and retighten the retaining bolt. Then–before you run the motor–you open the vent screw on top of the filter housing and manually prime the system until the filter is full of diesel and there in no air at all in the system.
I didn’t talk about it in the last post, but the Perkins 4108 is a mechanically fuel injected motor. Unlike a new VW diesel (are they still making them?), which a has computer-controlled electronic injectors and a self priming fuel circuit, the 4108 relies on a Swiss-watch-like complex mechanical fuel pump to deliver pressurized fuel to the mechanical injectors. These mechanical injectors rely on a high pressure shock wave traveling through the fuel to pop (or jerk) them open so they can spray precisely the correct amount of atomized diesel into each cylinder. Here is the problem: a gas is way more compressible then a liquid. When air gets in the fuel system the shock wave created by the fuel pump travels through the fuel until it hits an air bubble. The compressible air bubble is a shock absorber and stops the shock wave so the injector can not jerk open (these are commonly referred to as jerk injectors). The VW doesn’t care; the high pressure fuel pump circulates the fuel and any big air pockets are sent back to the fuel tank, and if a little air gets to the injector the computer still opens it up (it doesn’t know)–for one cycle one cylinder is just slightly lean. In the same situation, the 4108 stops cold and stares at you until you fix the problem.
It was a warm for October day when I changed the fuel filter. Before I did the mechanical work, I did some temperature-dependent fiberglass work, leveling out the interior of the transom where the radar arch backing plates go. By the time I got to the engine work it was dark, the temperature had dropped, and I was cold, tired and hungry. So naturally I switched out the fuel filter…
The last step of winterizing is to get all of the water out of the motor. I removed the drain plugs from either side of the block and the water barely trickled out. I fished around in the drain holes with the end of a plastic zip tie and got the water to move slightly better. The cooling passages of the engine were pretty clogged up with 30 years of built up scale from direct cooling with Lake Texoma water. I replaced the drain plugs, removed the thermostat, removed the raw water intake hose from the seacock and stuck it in a bucket with four gallons of pink RV antifreeze.
I went up to the cockpit to fire up the motor and I got a two second run, then it stalled. I tried again and it coughed once and was done. Oh crap, I never primed the filter.
This is when I learned how to bleed the fuel system.
Bleeding the fuel system involves opening a series of small, well camouflaged, very hard to find bleeder screws in a precise order and priming the fuel lever at each screw until all of the air bubbles are out before moving on the the next screw. If you miss one you have to go back and get it before the motor will run. Six hours, and multiple starting attempts later, I got the motor running. I ran the engine until solid pink antifreeze was coming out of the exhaust. Winterized.
Last summer, after getting the motor hot (closed cooling with not enough antifreeze) I created a vapor lock situation. That time it took me 15 minutes to bleed the fuel system.
Next up in Engine part 3: Converting to closed cooling.
Posted on February 24, 2016
We’re still thinking about how to discuss money on this blog. When we were in the early planning stages, we searched everywhere for budgeting advice more specific than, “It’ll cost whatever you have.” We found some helpful info here, here, and here, and we’d like to throw in our two cents about how we’ve made things work for us, but without disclosing all the fine details of our cash situation. Suffice to say, for now: we’ve pulled together enough to purchase our boat, outfit it, and sail for two years on a very middle-class income, with a little outside help from family.
That might lead you to think that anyone can do this. And we’d like to agree! Downsize, sell your stuff, pinch your pennies, live your dream! But I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Maybe I’ve spent too much time reading blogs by owners of 50-foot catamarans complaining about being overcharged cab fare by $2, but I’m feeling a little snarky about unacknowledged privilege this week, and I want to take a moment to mention ours.
I’m very attached to an article I read in the NY Times a couple of years about poverty. The article interviewed Harvard economist Sendhil Mulleinathan talking about three different types of scarcity: poverty of money (cut and dried, right?); poverty of time (most of us can relate to that); and poverty of bandwidth. That last one is something I’d never considered when internally ranting about people who never volunteered for the PTO, or being pissed when people show up 15 minutes late. But we ALL experience decreased bandwidth at one point or another. There is no other possible explanation for Dancing With the Stars, other than reaching the point where you just flop down on the couch and say, yes: this. Fine. Whatever is on this channel is what I will watch, because I Just Cannot Deal.
Having more money means you can outsource to gain time–babysitters, takeout dinners, housecleaners, personal chefs if you’re in that much-maligned one percent. Having time but less money means spending some of that extra time to save cash by organizing a babysitting co-op, cooking from scratch, growing your own food, and scrubbing the toilets yourself. (That’s how we roll, for those of you keeping score.) But both of those things impact your available energy for doing fun things or making smart long-range plans–bandwidth. And if you lack both money and time, forget about it–you’ll be lucky to leave the house.
So here’s how our bandwidth has been increased to fit in our audacious plans: we are healthy–no doctors’ appointments clogging up our schedule, fights with insurance companies, exhaustion from ailments or worries about illness; we were both born to educated parents–giving us a huge leg up in terms of wealth, health and stability when we were kids, and supporting us into adulthood as well; we were born in the United States of America–one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where we received excellent medical care, education, safe homes and good food throughout our lives; we are white–and haven’t had to deal with overt racism or the kind of microaggression that can wear down your day and your life; we are in a stable marriage–and able to take advantage of the institutional benefits therein. There’s more, but I think I’ll stop there.
While a few of the things in the above category have been influenced by our personal choices, most of them are luck–things we were born into, the code of our DNA, chance of place.
I was talking to a friend not long ago, and mentioned that we’d never be taking this trip if I hadn’t been able to be a stay-at-home mom. I hope I didn’t offend my friend; she’s an artist with an amazing career, who raised a great family, and I don’t want to malign anyone’s choice about whether to work or stay home; but FOR OUR FAMILY, it couldn’t have happened otherwise. If I were working, I would have been focused on my career and my family; there would have been no leftover energy for planning something like this. Restaurant work is not lucrative, for the most part; our money would have increased a bit, our time would have decreased a lot, and our bandwidth would have dropped to something less than zero.
So: it is possible to ditch everything and go sailing if you have a ton of money, and can pay for comfort and convenience, having the work done for you. It is possible to ditch everything and go sailing if you have the time to save every cent possible and do the work yourself. But it is probably not possible to ditch everything and go sailing without that precious bandwidth to plan and dream and act, and we are incredibly lucky to be able to make the cruising life work for us.
Posted on February 20, 2016
If you haven’t visited the Interview With A Cruiser project yet, you should head over there immediately. I’ll wait.
Back? Ok, here’s our interview series: Interview With a Kid.
We're zeroing in on 100 days until we're living on the boat. Are you guys excited? T: Yes!! F: Kinda'.
What are you looking forward to the most? T: Fishing. F: Uhhhhh...just going new places.
What do you think will not be fun? T: When I'm seasick, something's broken and it's really wavy out. F: That sometimes we won't be able to contact and talk to our friends for a long time...and big waves, and throwing up, and stinky farts.
What are you worried about? T: When I get sick. F: When things break, I think I'll be pretty worried.
What is your favorite thing about the boat? T: Probably how I get to explore new islands. F: That I get my own room, and that everyone seems pretty happy about the boat in this family.
What place are you most excited to see? T: I have no idea! F: Washington, DC, 'cuz I love presidents.
Posted on February 17, 2016
That was the motto of the staff at Chanterelle, and it applies around here as well.
We get asked about food a lot when it comes to the boat. I think some people don’t realize that we do, in fact, have an oven, stove, running water and refrigeration. It’s possible that some people don’t realize we’ll be within dinghy range of restaurants and shops for most of our trip. For sure, most people who ask us about food know that I used to cook for a living.
The specifics of our kitchen set-up on the boat will have to wait for another day; we don’t have good photos, and things are wildly in process anyway. But food is important to us, so we are trying to form some ideas about long-term kitchen plans, in a few different ways:
Thinking about stocking up. We have a friend who, in preparation for cruising, spent over a week eating nothing but canned food. We can do better. Food is everywhere, and we plan to take advantage of what’s local. We have, however, spent some time thinking about some items to stock up on–heavy stuff that we don’t want to carry back from the store so often (flour, olive oil, tetra-pack chicken stock, canned tomatoes); long-term storage items that are cheap and easy to buy now (rice, dried beans, box-o-wine); things that are expensive or hard to find along the way (maple syrup, maple syrup, maple syrup).
Thinking about ways of cooking. We have an Origo (non-pressurized) alcohol stove, which we frankly love and will discuss later at length, I’m sure; but it’s true that using it heats up the boat and uses lots of fuel. We’re learning to use the pressure cooker, even though it still terrifies me a little bit, to cut down on cooking times–especially for the beans. We’re considering a grilling plan; the boat came with a charcoal grill that clamps to the stern rail, but will that be practical? And how about a solar oven? I can absolutely picture throwing something together in the late morning, going for a hike, and coming back to a solar-cooked dinner!
Thinking about what to bring from our kitchen. Will my favorite baking dish fit in the oven? Will it break after a month? Will the beautifully-seasoned cast iron skillet rust away to nothing? How about the steel wok? We have about a thousand Mason jars–can we use some of them for storage? Different people have different answers to these questions; we’ll have to see what works for us. Except the baking dish. Turns out, it fits, so it’s coming.
Sorting through recipes. So. Many. Cookbooks. Obviously, very few will make the cut. So, I’m waltzing through a book a day, trying to cull recipes that will make sense for our boat life. Emphasis: fish; desserts that don’t require a mixer; things that cook in one pot.
Meanwhile, the actual cooking around here is suffering. I’d rather not discuss what’s on the stove right now–it’s not something I’d serve to anyone who wasn’t family. Time to temper your expectations, everyone; the moment for homemade duck confit is coming to an end.