Monday, March 10, 2014
People like to complain. No surprise there. I've discovered that they don't want solutions, but only want to hear sympathetic noises.
When someone whines about the the high price of electricity, I tell them how they can reduce their bill or go off grid completely. They complain about sewer and water bills, and I tell them about my well and septic system. The high price of gas bothers them, and I'll show them my waste veggie burning vehicle.
It might be too much to expect a polite thank you and questions on how to do it. A tiny few want to know, but many more actually get angry at me. That puzzled me. My guess is that they rather keep being slaves to the system rather than do the work to be free.
One nice exception to that experience has been the live aboard boat cruisers. Most of them know the cost and the value of freedom. The life style requires a high level of self reliance. People who are out living on boats have taken risks. They've exchanged being normal for a high level of freedom.
I thought that I'd get a fair number of cruisers criticizing my choice to travel on such a small boat. That was rare. More often people would praise my choice to sail on a 19 foot boat. Many recommended that I stay away from big boats. The extra complexity and expense puts freedom at risk. Too much money and time goes into keeping a big boat going. Some learned the lesson the hard way. Several captains have actually gone from big luxurious boats to much smaller ones. Freedom was more important that physical comfort.
The system (government/business/etc.) doesn't want people to be free. We should all be good worker bees: paying our bills, getting into debt, being taxed to death, and totally dependent on the system. Free people rely less and less on the system. Even a small home garden gives people a taste of independence.
Funny thing about freedom. For some of us, even a small taste is very sweet. Some of us, having a small taste, want a whole lot more. The blinders drop from our eyes and we see the chains that bind us.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Tuesday is the day we say goodbye to my dad and start our trip north. The first stop is only over in St. Augustine, so we aren't in a super hurry to get to the snow. My lovely wife loves the old city, so this stop is for her. Her sister will be in town so we'll get together. Any excuse to slow our trip northwards.
I bought a pair of high top sneakers for the trip. For 5 months I wore nothing but sandals or went barefoot. Sandals look a bit silly with heavy wool socks, hence the sneakers. Boots might have been a more practical choice, but I'm in denial.
I've been getting the van and boat ready for the next part of our journey. We'll be camping for a few days, so a lot of gear has to move from the boat to the van.
One of the things I found in our travels was a replacement for the van's inverter. Harbor Freight had a 1000 watt inverter for less than $80 and it runs the van's microwave. Nothing like a quick hot meal while on the road.
The electric trolling motor I ordered for the sailboat came in just in time. I carefully opened the box, read the manual, installed the propeller. On the way over to the sailboat, the motor fell off the golf cart and I ran it over, breaking the propeller. Don't you hate it when you break something new in less than an hour? On the bright side, Walmart had a suitable replacement. Problem solved.
Dad's given me some tools that he no longer has a use for. There's always room somewhere in the van for more tools. One of his gifts is an electric pole saw. I'm relived that he no longer feels the need to climb up on his roof to trim tree branches. The years are catching up with him and his balance isn't what it used to be. I can't help but worry about him sometimes. Before long I'll be on the top of a ladder, trimming branches and making my own kids worry.
Already there is a long long list of things to do when we get back home. Oh well, at least I won't be bored.
Gonna miss this sort of thing though . . .
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Travel is said to give a person a different perspective on things. I must admit that back home I live in a bubble of my own making. Living in the woods isolates me from so much.
Sailing gave me a different perspective, but not as different as one might think. A sailboat is it's own little world. No matter where we went, we always had our own boat to sleep on at night. We were in a little slice of our own reality.
The real culture shock has been hanging with my dad. Like many older retired folks, he watches a lot of TV -really loud. EVEN THOUGH HE'S NOT DEAF. Everyone else mumbles. There is no escaping the never ending stream of commercials. How do people up up with that crap day in and day out?
Then there's the world of endless strip development. You Americans know what I mean. The roads are lined with car dealerships, fast food places, pawn shops, store front churches and sex shops. The mix might vary a bit by region, but the look is much the same. For some reason that monument to capitalist excess and bad zoning laws bummed me out.
The whole house of cards rests on cheap imports of fuel and goods. There is no way most of those places could stay open without relatively cheap and abundant energy. Maybe fracking has extended the day reckoning for such places. A bit more fossil energy made it into the system, but at huge financial and environmental costs.
I don't want to sound too much like Howard Kunstler here, but he has a point. This lifestyle is not sustainable.
I've no illusion that my little bubbles of isolation will be unaffected by major upsets. At best, I think that my choices may mitigate the damage. Perhaps things will only get bad instead of horrid. If nothing else, at least I don't mistake the world on TV as the real world.
Friday, March 7, 2014
My house has a middling big solar electric system. It provides power for most of my needs: lights, water pump, computers -most things.
Grid power provided two major functions. It acted as back up power that could charge up the house batteries during a run of cloudy days. The second use was for tiny constant loads: wifi router, cordless phones, and the Vonage phone box. By running small constant loads on-grid my big home inverter could go into “sleep mode” when there are no power draws. The big inverter's efficiency plummets when powering tiny loads.
When we shut down the house in the fall I notified the electric utility to completely disconnect grid power. I knew we'd have to make some alternative energy upgrades in the spring.
That time is right around the corner. Backup power will be provided by a gasoline generator. While I'm not a huge fan of gasoline engines the generator was given to me for free. Not only that, this winter a good friend gave it a tune up. That takes care of half my problems.
I've decided to take care of the small loads by putting in a second solar electric system. I just ordered a 105 watt solar panel and 10 amp digital charge controller from Home Depot. The components are being shipped to my daughter's place back in New Hampshire. They'll be ready for me when I get home.
From here in Florida I picked up a large heavy duty 12 volt marine battery. Until I get home, the battery will be a backup for the boat's electric trolling motor. Once home, it will be the electric storage part of the new solar electric system. The small inverter that's currently on the boat will handle the small electric loads, fairly efficiently too. When we leave the house for any length of time, the inverter can easily be turned off, allowing the solar panel to top off the battery.
Two completely independent solar electric systems will back up each other. If the main one goes down, I won't be totally without power. If the small one fails, loads could be temporarily shifted to the big system.
Nothing like having a bit of redundancy.
I'll keep everyone informed on how that works out. Should be fun!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Back in October, I winterized the house and shut it down. Some snowbirds keep their houses heated all winter. When they get back in the spring all they have to do is restock the refrigerator and they are back in business. While that's convenient, I find it wasteful to heat a house with no one living in it. Not only that should something happen to the furnace the house will suffer extensive damage from freezing.
For me, keeping the house warm would eliminate a huge cost savings. That cost savings is one of the things that help finance my southern adventures. Of course, when I get home, there will be a lot more to do than restock the refrigerator.
The first thing I can do is to turn the electric power back on. My house is now totally off grid so power comes from solar electric panels and is stored in a battery bank. The inverter that powers the house was shut down, but the solar panels kept the batteries charged up and unfrozen. It's just a matter of throwing a few switches to energize the house wiring. With the power on, I won't have to stumble around in the dark.
The next thing to do is to get some heat in the house. When we get back it will still be winter conditions. In fact, inside the house might be colder than the outside. First I'll have to check the chimney to see if it's clear. One year ice and snow filled the bottom of the chimney, well above where the basement stove was connected. Fortunately, the kitchen woodstove was above the blockage so it was possible to use that stove. The heat from the kitchen stove eventually melted the ice in the rest of the chimney.
In few hours the woodstoves make the house nice and warm -right next to the woodstoves. It could take as long as 3 days for the house to be completely warm. The thermometer on the wall might be read 65, but the furniture stays cold longer.
The next fun thing is getting the water operational again. All the drain valves will have to be closed. The supply line from the well will have to be connected again. Last year the water had frozen deep underground and it took 3 days to get the water flowing. If there are no complications, it can take as little as 15 minutes. The plumbing is closely monitored for any leaks. Wish me luck.
With power, heat and water, the house is comfortable once more. It can take half a day, or it can take 3 days.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
My lovely wife and I have decided to cut our southern trip a bit short. Instead of arriving home the middle of April, we are shooting for the last week of March. Yes, I know winter is in full force up in New Hampshire. It was -20F in the morning. On the bright side, black flies are down to a bare minimum.
We hope to get a few days in the St. Augustine area. Right now there are no openings at the State campground, so we are looking for a boat ramp in the area where we can keep the van and trailer for a few days. We'll figure something out. I wouldn't mind being on the water at all.
The loose plan is to spend some time in the St. Augustine area, a few days in Georgia, and maybe visit new friends in N. Carolina. After that, it's a long push to New England -weather permitting.
A friend of mine cut up some firewood for me, so we should be able to keep warm until spring really gets to the North Country.
In other news, we've decided what to do about our outboard issues. When up in New England, we barely use the outboard. We really don't need a powerful motor with a lot of range for 99% of the sailing we do there. With that in mind, we ordered an electric trolling motor with 55 lbs of trust. That should be enough for our needs. I use the motor so little during the summer that my solar panel should be enough to keep the battery charged.
The next time we go on long southern boat trip, we plan on having a different boat anyway. Ideally, having a boats in both NH and FL would be the way to go. That would save a lot of towing.
I'm thinking that our time remaining down south is short, but it's still longer than most people's vacations. Good thing this isn't a vacation, but a lifestyle.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
It's said that while history doesn't exactly repeat itself, it does rhyme.
That's why I've been reviewing a bit of history. The Crimean War isn't exactly well studied in American schools. Maybe it should be. How about “The Charge of the Light Brigade?” That bit of poetry is more recognized than the war it took place in. Most kids in school probably haven't been exposed to the poem either.
How about Geography? Take a good look at a map. See where the Ukraine is? See where the Crimea is? Oh look, what's the big powerful country right next door? Russia. How about on the other side? Poland? The Balkans? Seems like Europe might have some skin the game?
The United States? It's not anywhere in the neighborhood. Of course, that hasn't kept American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe it should have. At least Russia has geography and history to point to as excuses for their involvement. (Not saying they are in the right here, just that they really do have skin the game.)
Maybe it wouldn't hurt to review the Crimean War. It was a huge failure of balance of power politics that had kept the peace. Railroads and telegraphs made it a modern war -faster travel and communications. The war set up the conditions that eventually led to WWI. Yep, conflict in this little piece of real estate once became the spark that broke the world.
Too bad no one ever learns anything from history.