Posted on November 23, 2015
In the manner of people who know nothing, I spent much time before purchasing a boat worrying about embarrassingly small things. Chief among them: what are the water tanks made of? Are we going to have to compromise on the perfect boat, with our drinking water stored in some kind of weird, leach-y plastic–or worse: aluminum, coated with BPA? (Never mind that the entire boat is essentially made from BPA.) Fortunately, our tanks are made of stainless steel. There endeth the good news.
The water in the little corner of northern Texas where our boat used to live has a distinct sulphur odor/taste that had permeated all aspect of the water systems. The hoses themselves were filled with a rainbow of algae and microflora (possibly microfauna as well. We didn’t test). Inadequate winterizing had burst hoses and wrecked pumps. The tank monitoring systems were corroded and not giving us accurate readings. The two tanks couldn’t be isolated; if one tank was contaminated with salt or diesel or some unknowable water catastrophe, they both were. The tanks weren’t located in our shallow bilge–they filled out most of the storage under our port and starboard settees.
Finally–the whole system was pressurized, making water come out of the tap just like at home. Sounds good? Actually, it takes electricity to run–in short supply–and wastes water, especially if you have in your tribe Children Unaccustomed to Extreme Water Conservation.
The tanks remain under the settees, but most of the other problems have been addressed: new hoses, new tank monitors, new pumps, and death to the pressurized water. We now have two foot pumps in the galley–one bringing water from our tanks, and one bringing water from the outside, so dishes can be washed in salt water (or, for a few more luxurious months, the fresh water of the Great Lakes). We even have an in-line filter for our drinking water.
And no, we don’t expect to be getting a watermaker. For those not in the know, a watermaker turns sea water to fresh. It’s magic and sorcery, and if you told Vasco da Gama about such a thing he would slap you in the face. Much as we would love such fancy tech, we will not indulge:
1. So. Much. Money. $2-3000 for the cheapies.
2. Power use. It takes a lot of energy to perform that kind of alchemy.
3. Space considerations. It would be a tight install, to say the least.
4. Cruising grounds. We have no plans to cross oceans. While it would be very useful to have a watermaker when we cruise the Sea of Cortez, we’ll be close enough to civilization to find drinking water.
5. Maintenance. And this is the big one. While there are some great (expensive) watermakers that rarely (expensively) break, they do break, and they are a huge hassle to fix.
Posted on November 16, 2015
I met Milou about two years ago back in November of 2013. It was early in the relationship but even then I knew we were going to have to deal with a lot of issues. One of the big ones was that Milou’s original batteries had been neglected/damaged to such a degree that when I first turned on the battery switch the batteries began to boil acid out through the vent holes and tried to light themselves on fire… not good.
The first thing I did after the boat made it to Wisconsin was remove both of the 135 lb group 4D batteries. I carried them, wet and slimy with acid, out of the starboard aft cabin up the companionway and up to the side deck. At this point I was so mad I wanted to simply drop them 10 feet to the ground below, but Deb urged restraint and John (marina guy) safely lowered them down with his forklift.
It was winter and the boat was three hours away from our home. I thought I would be able to clean up the acid mess and put in some new batteries in one trip. Looking back over my notes, it took four trips.
I removed all of the burned, acid-soaked wood, which included the shelf the old batteries were sitting on. I thought I would neutralize the acid with some baking soda, which made a cool angry hissing noise. After neutralizing the acid, I coated all of the exposed, burned wood with epoxy. On trip number three I made the new shelf; then I brought it home and covered it with fiberglass so I could install it on trip four.
I was working on this in December, so if I wanted light after 3:30pm I needed to have some sort of battery hooked up. A cruising boat has two different electrical systems, DC (batteries) and AC (extension cord or generator); all of the lights on Milou are DC. I installed two used-but-decent traditional lead acid batteries. We ended up using these batteries for the entire first year on Milou. During my winter boatwork trips, I would schlep a battery home and charge it up, then bring it back to Oconto to use for a weekend. Before I could install new batteries, I had to replace the battery switch and battery cables, as they had all been severely corroded by the spilled acid.
Most boats have two batteries or two banks of batteries, the “house” battery and the starting battery. This helps to ensure that a charged battery is always available to start the engine. Most boats out there have a switch that looks something like this:
The idea is that you select battery 1 to start the motor, drive around, and when you stop you turn the switch to battery 2. That way, if you blast your tunes all afternoon and run down battery 2, simply turn the switch back to 1 so you can start the motor and head home. If battery 1 happens to be low you can combine both batteries by selecting 1+2. I know exactly how this switch works and yet every time I reach for it I have to think about what I am doing–this switch is not at all intuitive. Added to this, if you start the motor on battery 1 and want to switch over to 2 to charge up the house battery, you will destroy the regulator on your alternator. If you turn this switch with the engine running, an expensive important thing breaks.
I feel that this is a superior set up: three separate switches. I made this board and mounted three simple on/off switches. One switch for the starting battery, one for the house bank and the one in the middle will act as jumper cables if the starting battery ever goes dead.
That was it in the beginning: new shelf; new switches; new battery cables; scrounged-up free used lead acid batteries; and a small 20 watt solar panel to keep the batteries topped off while we were away. Next up is a real snoozer; I call it “energy storage” or “battery chemistry”.
Posted on November 12, 2015
Our cast-off date has been set for June 12, but there are so many little departures along the way that make us nostalgic in advance.
For the last eight years, we’ve been privileged to garden with another family, building our joint endeavor to five 20’x20′ community garden plots as well as onions, corn and over a thousand heads of garlic grown on other friends’ land. We’ve also expanded our tiny initial front-yard garden into something more elaborate in the backyard, including fruit trees and raspberries, perennial herb beds and more lettuce than one person can possibly eat.
We’ve shown our kids where their food comes from, exercised in the fresh air, and eaten as well as possible for very little money. At peak production, we’ve filled over 200 jars with canned goods, and kept two chest freezers brimming with produce (and the occasional half-pig from farming friends). Most of our gifts to family and friends have come from our garden. For a few years, my garden partner and I even had a plant sale business.
For a couple of sailors, we’ve been deeply attached to the land.
That’s coming to an end now, or at least a hiatus, as the frost takes down the last of the lemon verbena and threatens the parsley. There are still leeks and Brussels sprouts to harvest from up at Troy, and the kale will hang out through most of December, but I won’t be planting garlic this fall. I could get some spinach in the ground for spring, but I know it will feel like a burden instead of a gift in the chaos of our final few months here. It’s time to take a break from being rooted, and find adventure elsewhere.