Saturday, August 31, 2013

Trip planning for an unplanned trip

We've spent hours with the Internet resoruces, charts, and guidebooks “planning” our trip. Here's the thing with small boats, you don't actually pick routes, times and destinations. We have a number of places we want to get to and they are goals of sorts. Exactly how, when, and even if we get there are dependent on factors that are often out of our control.

Active Captain is a darn useful web site for anyone traveling on the water. Crusing guidebooks are nice. I own several, but they can't but help be out of date by the time they are printed. Active Captain is constantly updated by people who are out on the water, so the information is about as current as it gets.

Take sailing down the west coast of Florida as an example. Do we take the outside route or the more protected inside route? Weather is the big one here, as it always is. Under the right conditons we could cover a lot more distance on the outside route. We've done it and it's great sailing.

It can be rough out there, so taking the inside might be wiser. Then we have to deal with narrow channels, shallow water, bridges, and a lot more boat traffic. On the other hand, where's there's traffic, there are services like marinas and dockside restaurants.

We won't remember everything we've looked at, but we'll retain a general overview. For places we really want to see we take notes: channels, approaches, compass bearings, GPS waypoints -that sort of thing.

One of the best things about traveling on a boat is that we don't have to be anyplace at all. We've good food, drink and a place to sleep. We live on a little place on the water, the real estate's agent's dream. If we want to spend a few extra days anchored at a nice protected beach, that's what we do. It's what we've done.

The beauty of a small trailer sailor is that we can always put the boat on a trailer and do 50 knots against the wind. That's a safety factor bigger boats don't have. We don't have to sit in the water waiting for a hurricane.

That's why one of the things we keep an eye out for is good boat ramps. You never know.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Spouse on-board

I get to do a lot of experimentation in my life: alternative energy, fuels, transportation, buildings, . . . etc. and so on. I could not imagine doing a quarter of these things if my lovely wife wasn't on-board with it. Not only is she fine with it, she contributes.

Today we were kicking around ideas about solar water heaters. We discussed our options. There were pros and cons to different system improvements and her input was critical. Of course, we have to have something we can both live with.

Later, the two of us were talking about putting in a second solar electric system to handle small loads. She suggested we could use the solar electric panel off the boat. During the summer, we don't really need it. The few times we run the outboard is enough to charge up our boat battery. Summer electric boat needs are very small.

The panel could provide power all winter on the boat and all summer for the house. It's already hooked up with a quick disconnect, so it's easy to move. If we do go on an extended summer trip, we can take the panel with us. The small house system can be shut down as we'll be gone and not using it anyway. The use of our existing panel drops the cost in half, or better.

35 years ago when I met my future wife we were both 20. We had a lot of all night talks about our values and dreams. We walked the land I owned and I told her that someday I wanted to build a dome there.

Well, life happens. We had three kids and never built a dome on that piece of land. We built it across the street. Close enough. In all the important ways we are still those crazy idealistic 20 year old kids.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Painted Van and weird houses

Our daily driver vehicle is a ES 350 ambulance van converted into a motor home. There are murals that my wife painted on the side. She's just getting into painting and thought to use our van as a canvas. We tend to forget that most people's cars are boring.

We were doing the groceries and yet another person came over to look at our van. They thought it was cool that the van was all painted up. My lovely wife asked them why there vehicle wasn't decorated.

Why indeed?

One reason is, of course, is that most people never let themselves play like that. Another reason is trade in value. Dealerships wouldn't know what to do with a customized car. Everything has to be plain and the same. There exists a brisk after-market in customization accessories, but they almost all fit into the same old tried and true categories.

Ever do anything different on your house? Ever try to get a bank loan to do it? Forget about it. Banks are looking are resale. They don't want your house personalized.

Here's what I had to do to finance my dome home. I bought what was a fairly small cottage from my parents. They made me a really good offer. I sold my house in town and used the profit to work on the cottage. A mud room was added, the roof cut off, and a dome plopped on top. Now that it actually exists, banks will deal with me again.

It drives me crazy when people choose home improvements solely for their resale value. Aren't homes places to live in? Don't you want to do fun things with your house?

Your car?

Your life?


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Off grid tiny loads

One of the really annoying things to deal with when going off grid is tiny 24/7 power loads. In my house I'm not totally off-grid. My cordless phone, cell phone chargers, wifi router, and cable modem all run on-grid.

Big house size inverters, that thing that turns battery DC power in normal house AC, are terribly inefficient with small loads. A lot of precious solar power gets wasted. With the tiny constant loads shunted to the grid, my inverter isn't running all the time. It goes into a highly efficient sleep mode. As soon as a load is detected, it springs back into life, does the job then goes back to sleep.

One way to deal with tiny inverter loads is to bypass the inverter completely. If your battery bank runs at 12 volts, which many do, it's a simple matter of running some 12 volt circuits. For example, instead of charging a cell phone with the AC adapter, use the car adapter on a 12 volt line. There are also power cords for laptop computers designed to run on standard 12 volt cigarette lighter plugs. In fact, there are a lot of small appliances designed for the RV and marine market that run on 12 volt DC.

Another way to deal with tiny loads is to use a second inverter, a small one sized just big enough to handle the small loads. It will run at peak efficiency and the big house inverter can sleep. The little inverter could be tied into the existing battery bank. Another solution is to run a completely separate small scale solar electric system.

That's what I'm tempted to do at my house. Unfortunately my battery bank is 24 volts so I can't run a DC line directly off it. I could tap into just half the battery bank to get 12 volts, but that would drain half the battery bank more than the other half which is bad for the batteries. There are devices to reduce 24 volts to 12, but that also suffers from inefficiencies. Kinda defeats the purpose of going to DC in the first place.

I like the idea of a tiny separate system as it's one more power backup if the main system fails.

Of course, one way to deal with little power draws is to eliminate the devices completely. If I had a good cell phone connection (which I don't) it'd be easy to dump the router, cordless phone, and wifi. Those jobs could be done with one smart phone.

When my lovely wife and I leave for the winter, I'm going to have the grid completely disconnected from my house. No sense paying a monthly bill for a service I'm not using. When we get back in the spring, we'll then decide if it's worth reconnecting or staying off grid. My guess is that it will be really hard to go back to having a monthly power bill, even the tiny bills we have now.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Financial Test Run

Ho boy. I can't believe people do paperwork and talk on the phone for a living. I'd rather chop firewood.

I've been setting up my affairs so they can be handled from afar. Today was a test run and discoveries were made. I totally forgot the password to one of my accounts. In my defense, it's been well over a year since I used it. To make matters even more interesting, my hint question made absolutely no sense to me at all. Had I been drinking when I set up that account?

Anyway, after a very long conversation with a nice man in India the problem was sorted out.

Feeling a bit punchy from that, I stumbled on to try to pay my house insurance on-line. They claimed my debit card number was not valid. After three attempts to get that to work, I gave up and wrote checks.

Then I had to ask myself: was the problem with the insurance site or with my debit card? It was the debit card. As I've mentioned earlier, my old credit union was bought out by a bigger one. They said I could keep using my old debit card, but they lied. It worked fine at ATMs or swiping it in person, but the company's servers often glitch with on-line and phone payments. Their solution is to issue me a brand new card under the new name. Great, that works for me.

Here's the funny part. About two weeks ago I asked at my local branch if I could get a new card ahead of time. The question was bounced up the chain of command and the word was no. The old card was set to expire while I was traveling so I wanted one with a later date.

That happened to me before. Did you know your mail can be forwarded to a temporary address, but they won't ship a new debit card to one? At least at my credit union, the card would either have to go to my home address or picked up in person at a bricks and mortar branch. That did me little good since all branches were in New Hampshire and I was in Florida.

The new debit card? It will have a later expiration date.

One more hint, if you plan on a long trip, let your debit and credit card companies know ahead of time. They'll freeze your account when they see “unusual activity.” That can be loads of fun too when you try to buy something and suddenly your plastic money doesn't work.

That's another good reason why I'm going to do what Spud used to do. I'm going to hide a few bundles of cash on the boat. So far, just about everybody still takes cash.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Free car

Ever get a free car? A free boat? Anything like that?

One of the local dealerships has a raffle for a Jeep Cherokee. It's free to enter so I signed up. Then I got to thinking: what would I actually do with it if I won? It's a heck of a lot newer than anything else I own. It's even big enough to tow my sailboat. Even so, the first thing that I'd do is put a for sale sign on it.

In the United States, you don't just win anything free and clear. The taxman takes a sizable bite. Keeping the vehicle would mean paying the tax. Then there's registration and insurance -all much more expensive than on my older vehicles. Vehicles steadily lose value, even if they never leave the driveway. One reason is that they actually lose value just sitting there. Engines gum up, brakes rust, exhaust systems corrode away. Mice move in. Hornets build nests. Long term safe storage of a vehicle is an involved and expensive procedure.

The Jeep is a gas burner. My old diesel van runs on free waste vegetable oil 95% of the time. It's hard to give up a vehicle that can burn free fuel.

In short, I can't afford a free Jeep. That doesn't mean I won't mind winning it. Someone would get a very good deal on a quick sale.

When I was a kid my dad bought an old cottage. A motor boat was thrown it with the deal. I was excited. The boat was in great shape, had a powerful outboard, and was equipped for water skiing. My 12 year old self was picturing some serious power boating in my future.

Dad sold that boat so fast it made my head spin. At the time, I discounted the costs associated with owning a boat. All I could see was that it was “free.” My dad figured I had access to canoes, kayaks and rowboats, and the lake isn't all that big. He was right, but my younger self didn't like it. Now I guess I've become my dad, as his thinking makes perfect sense.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Boat changes

My boat build project finally got a bit of attention after too much neglect. I'm building an Ooze Goose in my driveway.

The inside got a good coating of epoxy to seal the wood. The outside was coated using a brush. That left a lot of drips that will need sanding later. I used a roller on the inside and I'm happy with the results. It had been years since I used a roller on a boat as my my last attempt has left a lot of air bubbles. I'm happy to say that todays results were much better. In fact, I regret not using a roller on the exterior.

While rolling the epoxy on, I had some ideas about changing the rest of the design. Instead of a centerboard piercing the hull, how about a couple lee boards on the outside? Eliminating the centerboard case will allow a bigger rowing seat. That would also translate into more cabin space.

Lee boards are not everyone's cut of tea, but would make sense for the way I want to sail. If the centerboard hits an obstacle, the boat could come to a screeching halt, possibly breaking something. The lee boards would kick up and pivot out of the way. Very useful for skinny water sailing.

So what's the downside? I'm sure it would look less elegant than Michael Storer's original design. Wandering too far off the design could get me into unforeseen trouble. Then there'd be no one to blame but myself. Still, everything considered, I'm very tempted to make the changes. No sense in building your own boat if you are afraid to customize it to fit your needs.

In a few days I'll have to pull my Oday 19 out of the lake and do some work on her. My lovely wife and I plan on heading south sometime in October, so that boat needs attention too. There's nothing major wrong with her, but I've a laundry list of little improvements.

There are only so many hours in the day, so the Goose project might get put on hold before it's completely finished. However, my goal is to at least have it set up for rowing before we head south. The sailing rig can wait until spring.

At any rate, it feels good to be working on boats again.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Big city service

My local credit union was bought out by a larger financial institution. I gave them a chance, but within two weeks I've had to deal with a half dozen things that made banking a whole lot less friendly. It varies from my favorite people being laid off to annoying little hidden charges. Even phone calls are now routed through the main office where I used be able to call people directly.

The place has gone from being one of the top five companies to work for to a place where people are going part time because they hate work so much now.

My lovely wife and I were going to make some major financial changes. We've decided to wait until spring. There's no time to go bank shopping before our trip. In the mean time, I'm doing some other changes that will hold us until we get back. None of those changes will be with the “local” credit union. If I've got to deal with a rude faceless corporation, might as well go for the best rates.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Mobile phones and me

My daughter gave me her old iphone4. It's in great shape, like new condition. She's upgraded to a 5. I don't have a service for it yet, but I'm already putting it to good use. Without the phone capability enabled it's a lot like my old PalmTX. That too could connect to the Internet, play music, store e-books, and had a bunch of programs available. (Apps.) Of course, smart phones are all the rage, Palm is pretty much out of business, and technology moves on.

My plan is get a prepaid service plan for the months we'll be on the road. I should be able to us it to update my blog and stay in touch with everyone.

Our current cell phone is a 3.5 year old, $10 Tracfone. It replaced another $10 phone that I took for a swim in the ocean. The Tracfone I had before that was old enough that it could not connect to the network anymore as the standards had changed. Having the latest in phone technology is not my thing.

There's no cell phone service at my house, so mobile phones are only useful to me while on the road.

One more thing, don't anyone ever text me. My gorilla-like thumbs mash the whole electronic keyboard at once, so texting is another thing I won't do.

I'm glad the iphone 4 does not have Siri. There are enough idiots in my life. I don't need an artificial electronic one.

Technology is always changing. Paying premium prices for cutting edge products never interested me. The cheapest solution that will do the job is good enough.

Of course, I'm the sort of Luddite that will download a flashlight App so I can read a paper book in the dark.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Horror movie

There was a horror movie filmed in my stomping grounds. “Yellow Brick Road.” In 1940 the whole population of a small town disappears into the forest. At least 300 people are found dead, many just disappear. 70 years later a team investigates the disappearance.

Recently I noticed it was available on Netflix streaming and I finally got a chance to see it. It would have been really neat to see it in the actual movie theater where some scenes were filmed, but that was not to be.

Okay then. It's a horror movie and that's not everyone's cup of tea. The thing that I got a huge kick out of was that I recognized much of the area where it was filmed. The movie theater where the story begins is in Lancaster NH. I've seen movies there and the lobby still looks like it does in the film.

It's the scenes shot in the woods that I liked. There are places out there in the woods where it's possible to feel like you are the last person on earth. That's pretty rare in much of the world. However, even the deepest woods have felt the hand of man. Logging roads criss cross the whole area. Someone who knows a bit about forestry can see that much of the movie is shot in second growth forest. I do know of some old growth areas, but they are rare -too rugged to be easily logged then later protected.

While I have seen some weird and unexplained things out there, it was nothing like in the movie. People have gone mad and even died in those woods. The wild places are not to be treated lightly.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Intermittent failures

One of the most annoying problems when repairing something is intermittent failures. If it's broke all the time, the problem can be chased down. When something fails, but only occasionally, finding the culprit can be a heck of a lot harder.

A few days ago I took the van down to the store to pick up sine odds and ends. It was supposed to be a there and back again trip. Getting there was fine, but then the van would not start. The starter motor would not do a thing. We just came back from a long trip to the coast and had no problems.

Out came the tool box. The battery is almost new, but I had to start somewhere. I took the terminals apart and cleaned everything. They didn't look bad, but you never know. At any rate, that didn't work. The vehicle is a Ford ES 350 one ton diesel van, so the engine is hard to get to. Pulling the doghouse inside the cab didn't reveal anything obvious.

To complicate matters, my camper van is a converted ambulance. That means on top of the crappy Ford electronics is a massive overlay of stuff installed by Wheeled Coach. Ambulances are full of electronic gizmos and I don't understand half of it.

After tinkering with it for a while I borrowed the store's phone and called my wife to pick me up. While waiting for her I decided to pull apart the main ambulance switch panel. There was a clicking sound in there like a stuck relay. After jiggling things around a bit, and pushing on all the wire connections, the van started up.

I called my lovely wife, but she'd already left home to get me. Good thing is was only a couple miles away.

I'm happy the van started, but I've no idea if anything I did actually affected the outcome. It could be something as simple as the starter motor starting to fail. Since then, I've driven about 300 more miles with lots of starting and stopping. Zero problems.

However, it did fail me once so I keep expecting it to fail again. Only after a long stretch of no problems will I relax a bit.

Sometimes I think people messed up when we let our transportation become more complicated than a canoe.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Family day at the amusement park

My lovely wife and I spent the day at Storyland with two daughters, a son-in-law and four grandkids. It's not the sort of thing we do all that often, but once in a while it's fun.

Thanks to the efforts and connections of my middle daughter, we only paid full retail on one ticket. Every other ticket was either free or discounted.

Another way anyone can save money there is to bring your own lunch. It's perfectly acceptable to do so. I like it as we can eat better, cheaper, and don't have to stand in line to do so.

My oldest daughter worked there for many a summer during her school years. Today she noticed a big change in the type of people working there. There used to be only a few jobs filled by older adults: maintenance, mechanics, and some management jobs. Now many jobs that used to be done by high school kids are filled by grown adults. It's not that the pay has gotten any better. It's sad when your only option is a minimum wage seasonal job.

Now some of those jobs are being filled by people supplementing their Social Security checks. However, there are plenty of people in the 30s, 40s and 50s working there too. My guess is that they'll be the same people working the ski resorts later in the year. It's a tough way to get by, but at least they are working.

Anyway, the kids had loads of fun.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Pedigree Problems

I'm a big believer in mutts. All dogs have been mutts, and they've been great animals. Problems arise when animals are bred to fit some artificial ideal of pedigree. This BBC documentary reveals the horrible things that have been to dogs breeding for show. If you are dog lover this will break your heart.

The quest for “better,” can cause all kind of problems, especially when those rules are artificial. It goes way beyond the dog world.

Rules on what a proper car must have limits opportunities for innovation. We don't see very many dramatic departures in automobile design. Sometimes engineers will design a radical concept car, but they never go into production. Racing has had a big impact on car design, but should that be the departure point for building a family utility vehicle where speed and handling are not the main concerns? I know I don't have a pit crew to put my car together every ten minutes.

Sailboat racing is the worse. It's my opinion that racing rules have set back sailboat design 100 years. They lock in hull and rig designs so as to be competitive within a class. Weird and unsafe “innovations” are employed to bend the rules. None of that has any value to a sailor who wants a good solid easy to sail boat. They can be hard to find as designers are influenced by the race boats. People see them out racing and think they need something like that. It's a vicious circle.

Maybe sailboats aren't the worse. How about the pedigree of royalty and the elite? That's a pretty inbred bunch with a lot of arbitrary rules and requirements. They are worse than show dogs, with their hemophilia and insanity. At least those poor show dogs aren't in a position to ruin the lives of millions of us regular mutts.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Excursions into the real world

In Heinlein's book, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” there's a bit where a group of people are living in a house under their own rules. *cult? By the outside door there's a sign that reminds people to have cloths on and money with them. You see, the rules are different outside.

My life is kinda like that. Okay, not the cult part (one of the few rules my lovely wife has for me is: no starting a religion) but the make sure you are prepared for the outside world part.

Neither my wife or I work real jobs. The whole work week thing catches us off guard sometimes. We find ourselves trying to figure out what day of the week it is. Businesses and Government offices have regular hours, unlike us. (On-line banking can be very convenient.)

I love places that serve breakfast all day. My “morning” sometimes starts at the crack of noon.

When we travel we have to make sure we aren't overtly breaking laws. NH is a small state so we can easily run afoul of the laws of neighboring states. Having a handgun doesn't raise an eyebrow in NH, but has a mandatory year long prison sentence in neighboring MA. Even crossing into Maine with too much beer in the car can cause problems, depending on what they happen to be enforcing that day. Once I accidentally drove into Canada. I drove back, using the same back road I came in on, before someone noticed. That's harder to do these days.

Dealing with official government stuff can be a pain. At least the small town offices I normally deal with are a bit more laid back. The town clerk is more likely to help you find a way around a stupid state rule than not. Jury duty was difficult for me as they have a lot less flexibility in the way they do business. I try to live my life with state and Federal interaction kept to a bare minimum.

Now I'm doing some financial stuff and once again find myself a stranger in a strange land. At least I have the power to walk out of their offices and not sign on the dotted line. Reminding myself of that does my state of mind much good. Just because “everyone” does things one way doesn't mean I have to.

The sailing life has been good for me. Fortunately there's not a big difference in garb between a Sea Hobo and true yacht types. Swimsuit, faded T-shirt, and flip flops could be worn by folks sailing on $400/ month and those sailing on $10,000/month. There are plenty of snobs out there, but also plenty of people who just want to have a good time. The Sea Hobo may actually get more respect in some circles because they have to have better skills to make up for not having the latest equipment. Sailing isn't the real world at all, so I'm good with that.

It does have real world things like Coast Guard rules, insurance, repairs, fuel, and marina fees. On a small boat CG rules are easy to comply with and make sense. I've insurance, but it doesn't cost much and most marina's require it. Repairs, fuel and various fees and expenses I keep to a minimum by having a small boat and being self reliant. That stuff is quickly dispensed with, allowing me to deal with what's real to me: sun, wind, weather, and the happiness of my crew.

Remember being a kid and thinking adults get to do anything they want? Then people grow up and join the real world. Why would anyone want to do that? Sure, the real world intrudes on me now and then, but it takes planning and a special trip for me to get there.

Now where did I put my pants . . .


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Civil war in Egypt

Anyone doubt the situation in Egypt has slipped into civil war?

The Muslim Brotherhood won the election. Maybe they were the most popular, but maybe they were the most organized. The Brotherhood has been playing a long game. No other group had anything near their organization.

Well, no other group except the Egyptian Military. Those with the biggest and most guns win.

Christians and secularists appear to be caught up in the violence, but lack the muscle to do much about it.

Anyone miss Mubarak yet?

Some analysts claim the original source of the unrest is economic. Egypt has a large and mostly poor population. Securing the basics of life is a struggle. No political changing of the guard has done anything to remedy that. If anything, it's made things worse. How many tourists have canceled or postponed indefinitely their trip to see Egyptian historical sites?

The situation has turned very bloody. It would take an extraordinary turn of events for a peaceful settlement at this time. Expect it to get worse before it gets better.

While the original “Arab Spring” events in Egypt had relatively limited violence, that wasn't the end of the process. Most people who first protested in the streets back then probably didn't expect things to devolve into the violent mess it is now. History shows us that peaceful regime change is the exception rather than the rule.

In the short term the situation will be resolved by those who are best at violence. Mao is proven right all too often. Political power "grows out of the barrel of a gun.”



Friday, August 16, 2013


Spain just put a huge tax on home produced solar electricity. It's so bad that people are removing their panels. Just what the planet needs, less sustainable power. Spain requires that solar panels are hooked to the grid. There are huge fines for stand alone systems. My home solar electric system would be seriously illegal. I'm even using batteries for home storage. Horrors!

My veggie van would be illegal in England. I'm not paying any road tax on free fuel. To be fair, it's also technically illegal in some parts of the United States. Most places just don't bother with it. There's not enough of us to make it worth pursuing.

It seems I'm always breaking some law. I've helped people do wiring and plumbing, even though I'm unlicensed. That's technically not quite illegal in New Hampshire, as I'm just “helping.” Not being part of the money economy makes a difference too.

Heck, just today I bought an organically raised chicken from across state lines. I broke a bunch of laws there.

Maybe I once transported 200 gallons of fuel oil from one home tank to another, across state lines. . . or maybe I didn't. They'll never prove it one way or the other.

People of the world are slowly realizing that the laws are not to protect the little guy, but to protect the big guys.

On the bright side, there's more and more incentive to circumvent stupid, bad, onerous, uneconomical laws. Law enforcement only works when most people don't break the law. As things stand, most of us break laws every single day without even realizing it. The reason we don't realize it is that those silly little laws cannot be reasonably enforced. Every day cops must decide what to enforce and what to let slide. They don't like dumb laws any more than the rest of us.

I'm not always legal, but I always try and be ethical.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Maine coast road trip

On the spur of the moment, my lovely wife and I decided to drop in on my daughter and her family who were camping on the coast of the coast of Maine. We snagged another granddaughter along the way and took her with us. The kids had a great time together.

Here's the veggie van.

It doesn't take much planning for a camping trip when the van is always ready to bug out for action.

This is looking down the bay from Chewonki Campground in Wiscasset Maine.

My daughter and son-in-law took my new inflatable kayak for a salt water test. They approve. It gets high marks for stability.

With no reservations, we happened to get the site right next to my daughter. It was one of the few still open. Sometimes luck is on my side. Of course, any day camping on the ocean is a good day.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rusty water

My lovely wife filled the bathtub today and said there there's a bit of rust in the water. That's not good.

I've a whole house water filter so the problem is not down in the well with the pump. The cold water doesn't have any rust in it. That tells me the problem is on the hot water side. The most likely candidate for rust is the hot water heater. That tells me it probably won't be long before it fails.

It's your basic cheap 40 gallon electric hot water heater. It's been used in combination with a woodstove to heat water. It's also done duty to raise the temperature of water partially heated with solar. Right now it's controlled by a relay on a switch so I can turn the hot water off when I'm using it.

This tank was a cheap expedient to replace a propane tank that had a burner fail. The propane tank had also been a quick and cheap expedient to replace a propane tankless water heater. The tankless was great when it worked, but it failed a lot. In fact, the whole ten years it was under warranty the company was constantly replacing parts. When the warranty finally expired they refused to sell me another one. Conditions are harsh out here in the cold North Country.

Eventually the tank is going to fail. When my lovely wife and I both leave the house, we shut the well pump off. That way if the tank begins to leak, it will only leak a maximum of 40 gallons. There's a drain pan under the tank to redirect any leaks.

If the tank does fail, I'm going to hook up the solar water tank again. That tank was salvaged from the old propane fired water heater. My sun location isn't perfect so that water never got quite warm enough to make my lovely wife happy. However, I've figured that out too. It was a propane tank, so there' s a chimney running right up the middle of the tank. I've enough firebrick lying around to turn it into a rocket stove. A quick hot fire should provide all the hot water we'll need.

I should be able to do that without spending any money. There's enough salvaged odds and ends in my junk pile to do the job. That system isn't proof against a hard freeze, but I expect to shut down the house and head south before then. By spring, I'll have something else figured out.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bunker mentality

I think bunker mentality is a more personal and local form of siege mentality. The tendency is to stick close to home where you are safe from the perils of the outside world.

Preppers are susceptible to the condition. We know there are dangers out there and have made preparations. We have basic food, water and defense covered. Our homes are our castles. The problem with castles is the barbarians at the gate. It's tempting to stay within our walls.

When we travel, we have our bug out vehicles, bug out bags and get home bags. You don't have to be in the cammo crowd to be prepared. Even city workers may keep good walking shoes, bottled water, some energy bars and a flashlight in their desk. It makes all the difference in the world if there is a power outage and walking home is the only option.

Problems arise when there's the opportunity to travel far from friends and family. Do we stay home where we are “safe,” or do we have an adventure? The thing about adventures is that uncomfortable and dangerous things really could happen. Of course, without that possibility, it wouldn't be an adventure now would it?

I must admit to having a bit of bunker mentality my own self. I get over it, as I love to travel. If a CME takes down the whole power grid while I'm in Miami, so be it. No sense in being a prisoner in my own home. Sometimes you have to trust in your skills, luck, and the kindness of strangers. Fortunately, I believe the universe rewards boldness more often than not. Besides, no one's getting out of this world alive anyway.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Sunday on the lake

My lovely wife, one of her friends, and myself took a leisurely Sunday sail on the lake. It was an absolutely beautiful day.

I've been boating on this lake since I was little kid. Things have changed. Today was prime boating weather on a beautiful August Sunday, and there were only 4 power boats on the lake. Not that many years ago there'd be at least 20. When people do take their boats out, they don't run them for as long as they used to.

Another change is the disappearance of the fishermen with low hp trolling motors. Every morning there used to be at least a half dozen guys trolling around the lake. There was an informal agreement that the fisherman had the lake to themselves in the morning. In the afternoon the power boats, often with water skiers, would take over.

The higher price of gas would account for the dearth of big power boats, but the disappearance of the fishermen puzzled me. There are just as many fish in the lake. Those little trolling motors don't use much gas. In fact, a few fishermen only used electric trolling motors. Then it occurred to me that it's not the little outboards that were the problem. The big pickup trucks that towed the fishing boats were the gas guzzlers. They can't afford to drive to the lake.

However, the problem most likely isn't just the price of gas. Those old retired guys are spending all their money just trying to survive. There's nothing left for a fishing boat. The general slow deterioration of the local economy would account for the drop of power boats. Wages go down and there's little money for toys.

One class of boat that has increased is kayaks. When I was a kid I had the only kayak on the lake. Now those cheap Tupperware boats are all over the place.

While it might be a reflection on the local economy and the price of fuel, I don't mind the change. It's nice and quiet while I'm sailing along.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

And then there were two

My lovely wife and I have the house to ourselves of late. It's taken a few weeks for that to sink in. These days when kids move out, few stay moved out. Quite a few friends have shared our roof over the years too. Even my dad has spent some extended time with us in years past.

Right now the place is all ours again, and we are slowly reorganizing it to our needs. Rooms are being emptied then set up the way we want them.

I just moved a massive love seat into the living room. Even with the legs removed it was a tight fit up the stairs. That love seat was starting to become a joke. Friends of ours gave it to us and helped load it in the van. Using a dolly I moved it from the van to the porch. It sat on the porch a while so I could remove and repair the legs. After that, I wheeled it inside to the base of the stairs -where it sat.

Okay, one disadvantage of living way out in the woods is that someone can't just pop over for a few minutes to help move furniture. It sat at the bottom of those stairs for a couple weeks. Friends showed up, but were walking with canes after back operations or wearing knee braces and whatnot. Finally I called in a favor and nice strong young man helped move it up the stairs. Mission accomplished.

If anyone else ever shares our roof, they'd better be able to move furniture.

My lovely wife has some decorating ideas, but I like my plan. Forget about making the walls pretty. We could fill all the wall space with book shelves. There are enough books in boxes right now to cover about all available wall space. People have libraries in their bathrooms, right?


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Not everything is a business model

I'm a regular reader of George Ure's site, Urban Survival. Mostly, I like the site, but one thing really bothers me. George's motto is: everything is a business model. He has a point. Many things make more sense if you look at them as a business model. Journalists are (were?) trained to “follow the money.” Looking at who benefits financially is usually enlightening.

I wouldn't go so far as to say “everything.” The possibility that such a thing could be true sickens me. Fortunately, I don't believe it.

Money and profit are huge motivators, so having a business model paradigm makes sense. However, not everyone is motivated by material gain. How about those in search of love, friendship, honor, spiritual enlightenment? George could hammer those into the “business model” framework, but not without a lot of damage to everything involved.

As for myself, the universe is energy. Interactions between people and other things are energy transfers. Money is just one way, (a fairly abstract one too) that energy gets transferred. Money represents a certain amount of labor, either physical or mental. Rather than barter that energy directly, we use a convenient substitute called money to facilitate the exchange.

Relationships are energy transfers. Caring and attention flows from on person to another, and usually around and back again. Love is energy. Hate is energy.

Not only does energy flow from person to person, it flows from and through the natural environment. It might take the form of oxygen and carbon dioxide as exchanges take place between animals and plants. It could be the critters themselves as food.

George's world is a business model. Mine is an energetic universe. Of course, both our models are only approximations on how things really work. Probably says more about how George and I think rather than anything else.

How do you see the world?

So that's one thing that bugs me about a site I generally enjoy. Well, that and the darn charts. The guy's chart crazy.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Finance and me

The world of finance and the world I live in don't overlap as much as they do in most people's lives. Money just doesn't interest me. I'm not trying to avoid it. However, seeking it is not one of my bigger past times.

That being said there are bills to pay -maybe not as many as most people, but bills none the less.

Back when we spent winters living on the road in a tent, our finances were simple. Over time they've gotten more complicated again. We were stopping at my dad's often enough that forwarding our mail there was enough of a solution. Now that we plan on spending a lot of time traveling on the boat, we needed to simplify things once more. Mail might not catch up to us for months, so that wouldn't work.

My lovely wife went into our local credit union and did the money thing. There used to be a pleasant receptionist who was welcoming and efficient. We'd talk to her and then get directed to the correct office. She's been replaced by a computer screen and a keyboard. We had to type in our names and checkmark what service we wanted. Eventually the person who handled what you wanted would wander into the lobby and collect you. We all miss the pleasant lady.

We were able to connect with the right person and he was able to do what we wanted. Our rates are lower and payment will be automatic. That's one less thing to worry about, assuming everything goes though the way it's supposed to.

It would be easier to live on a boat full time. Then all the payments, insurances, and taxes, and registrations associated with land life would go away. There were just be a boat to worry about. As it is, we have all the land stuff, and a boat to support.

It's much more fun to plan boat modifications and to get our gear in order. That's real to me. However, once in a while, I've got to do the financial stuff too, even though it's no fun at all.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Still building

It's been a while since I've posted any boat build pictures. There hasn't been much new to look at. The constant rain slowed the project down. The boat has a couple of new runners on the bottom, but most of my efforts have been on epoxy work.

The reason everything looks blue in this photo is that the sun is shinning on the blue tarp that's over the boat. It's going to need a good sanding before painting, but that can wait until the end.

After all, it's time to flip the boat over and new paint would only get scratched up.

My next project is to clean up the inside a bit. Excess glue needs to be cleaned up and rough spots sanded. After that the inside will get a good coat of epoxy.

There's a lot of work to be done on the top side, so it feels good to get back to it.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cutting people some slack

How many people at age 50 have the exact same beliefs and attitudes that they had a 20? Hopefully, 30 years of living caused at least some growth and development.

Do you ever wonder of your younger self would have gotten along with your older self? Would younger you have been appalled? I laugh at some of the things that were important to me back then.

Most of us make peace with ourselves. There's only room for so much regret in a person's life. The best thing is to cut ourselves some slack. We were more ignorant then than were are now. If we are really being honest with ourselves, somewhere down the road older self will be amazed at the stupidity that take for wisdom today.

It's hard enough to forgive ourselves for ignorance and wrong headed beliefs. Cutting other people some slack is even harder. So I try to tell myself that I'm meeting people who are in a different place than I am right now. The present is just a snapshot, a tiny slice of a person's life. The guy who might be a bozo today, might turn out to be an all right fellow a bit further down the road.

For me, that's why solving arguments by killing people is such a waste. Years from now, your enemy might have become your friend. His wrong headed beliefs might change. Besides, maybe you are the one with wrong headed beliefs. A little humility, a willingness to accept the possibility, goes a long long way.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My economy car

When I got married back in 79 I owned a Honda Civic CVCC. It was a tiny two door hatchback. By the time my third child arrived, I needed a bigger car. Besides, we'd driven the wheels off that little car. It was worn out. Of course, we were a young family with not much money, so our options were limited.

I bought an old Dodge station wagon with a small block 318 engine for $50. The car had a blown torque converter. I knew nothing about replacing one of those, but the library had books and I could read. A work buddy found a used torque converter in an abandon car in a field. He charged me $35.

With the help of library books, I repaired the car. When I started it up, the engine made a loud knocking noise. Someone told me to put a can of this special oil cleaner stuff in the engine and it would quiet the lifters. Worked like a charm. Apparently there was some gunk plugging the orifices.

So for less than $100 I had a fully functional car, so I called it my economy car. I could afford a lot of gas because I had no car payments. If I was driving it alone and unloaded, the car got 18-20 mpg. Fully loaded with the whole family for a camping trip it got 18-20 mpg.

I drove it for two years. The only other major repair was a water pump. A rebuilt water pump for that car was $35. A friend helped me change it. No problem.

It had a broken gas gauge so I used a wooden dip stick that I would stick in the gas tank to see how much gas was left.

The old car was ugly as sin. American cars of that time period rusted out badly. The previous owner worked in a safety clothing shop. All the rust holes were patched with Kevlar scraps. The old Dodge was literately bullet proof. There was no way it would ever be pretty, but we loved that car.

After two years we were in a good enough position financially to be able to buy a new car. It was a cheap economy car that didn't even come with a radio, but it was new. The old Dodge had served us well, but how much can one expect from a $50 car?


Monday, August 5, 2013

Personal financial meltdowns

I've learned my lesson the hard way. No matter how stable or secure a financial situation is, it can go away in an instant.

When I was a firefighter, I thought my financial situation was pretty good. I had seniority in a unionized shop. We were told that if anything happened to us, we'd be taken care of. I even had some wage insurance that would cover me for a year.

Then I got injured and discovered I would not be taken care of. Legal expenses came out of my pocket. The first year wasn't bad, but once the insurance ran out, things got very tight. It took 4 years for everything to get settled. Had the state not settled with me, within two weeks my house was going up for auction. Mentally I'd let go of all my material possessions.

So now I have a little pension from the state. That's supposed to last for the rest of my life. When I retired the system was funded at 104%. Everyone could be paid and there would still be money left over. Last I heard it was funded at something like 35%. Good work professional money managers!

The strain is being felt. The state hasn't given me a raise in years. The medical subsidy did not keep up with the price of insurance so I had to drop medical benefits. However, the checks keep getting deposited on time -so far.

What will I do if the system goes under? Fortunately, I've been down that road before. I know what it feels like to say goodbye to all my possessions. You know what? It doesn't feel that bad. It's almost liberating. When you've lost everything, you've nothing to fear. Having no fear is a powerful arrow in a warrior's quiver.

Should those monthly checks every stop, I'd quickly strip my life down to the bare essentials. Waiting for foreclosures and tax seizures is for people with hope that something will turn up at the last minute. My luck was all used up on that years ago. Now I wouldn't chance it. I'd act first and liquidate on my terms. Before long my expenses would be reduced to the point that they could be satisfied with occasional casual labor. That's also a liberating feeling.

One thing the 2008 housing crisis has shown me. The big guys will be protected at all costs. The government bailed them out, not homeowners. The system was tweaked so that normal capitalist rewards and penalties would not take place. Don't expect rescue from “the system.” The big boys have their golden parachutes. Us little guys will be stitching together ratty old bed sheets as we fall to the ground.

Forget hope. Maybe not forget it, but don't trust in it. Consider what you'll do if things continue to grind down rather than progress forward. Prep like a pessimist. We might be doing a bit more than the metaphorical tightening of the belt. We might have to do the equivalent of deciding what limbs we can live without.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Wife solves boat problem

Ever spend way too much time trying to solve a problem, only to have someone else solve it in a minute?

My lovely wife did that to me today.

Refrigeration on a boat is an issue. I spent way too much time figuring out costs, power usage, power generation, size -the whole nine yards. Up until now, we've been making do with various coolers. One leaked all over the cabin. Another just didn't keep food cool enough for a reasonable length of time. I even went so far as to using two small coolers. One was full of frozen solid food and drinks. The other was stuff ready to use. That extended cold storage a bit.

Chasing after ice is fine for a week on the water, but it's pretty expensive and a big hassle. Nobody wants to mess with ice and coolers for long periods of time. At least I don't.

I looked at low amperage use refrigerators. Even the small ones were out of my price range. Maybe with a bigger boat, with more solar panels, it might be worth springing for a tiny one.

12 coolers are cheaper, but only drop the temp about 40 – 45 degrees F. That's fine for keeping a drink cool, but not so good for keeping meat in 95 degree weather. Worse, their energy draw is pretty high. Anyone who's ever used one in a car and forgot to unplug it knows what I'm talking about. They kill batteries. They work in my air conditioned van on the way to a campground. Once there the cooler is switched over to AC. For a few days van camping, it's fine.

Trying to find an adequate boat solution was driving me nuts, but my lovely wife solved it for me.

“Let's not use refrigeration.”

There, problem solved. We never had it back when we used to go backpacking. We put together tasty and nutritious meals that didn't require refrigeration. We rarely used any expensive freeze dried trail food. On a boat, we can carry heavy things like canned food that backpackers avoid. Plenty of fresh food, fruits and vegetables do just fine without refrigeration.

With he money saved we can afford to occasionally buy a fresh meal or a cold drink at a dockside restaurant. That's easy for us and good for those businesses.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Inflatable Kayak

This is the start of my inflatable kayak tests. It's a Sea Eagle 420. The toughness, payload and stability are the factors that swayed me to this particular boat.

I carried the folded boat, seats, paddles and foot pump in one trip about 350 feet to the lake in one trip. Of course, I'm a big guy who used to do a lot of backpacking.

This is it before inflation.

This is about 10 minutes after, fully inflated with the seats installed.

The seats, at least for me, took a bit of fiddling around. Only by the third attempt was I reasonably comfortable. When I deflate it, the seats are going to be left in when rolled up. That will be one less thing to mess with.

Unfortunately, I was alone with no one to take pictures of the water test. Sitting alone in the front seat, it paddled well. It's not going to set any speed records, but with the skeg installed, it tracked fairly straight.

Delivery was 5 days ahead of the estimate. Even with the free shipping offer, it came overnight. Maybe I was lucky, but that was impressive. The only thing missing from the order were two small cargo bags. Sea Eagle said they were back ordered.

One thing I think should be included is a pressure gauge. They are only $12, and it seems to me that it's a critical item. Proper inflation pressure has a direct effect on durability and performance. I've one on order, as I didn't realize they were not part of the package.

This is a bit more boat than I was originally looking for. After some thought and research, I decided to upgrade to a tougher inflatable. A cheap boat that can't do the job is no bargain. In the next couple months the boat is going to get a real workout. Sea Eagle has a generous 180 day return policy. I'll know before then if it's going to do the job.


Friday, August 2, 2013

I can't mow my lawn

It might not come as a surprise to my readers that I'm not the type of homeowner who “needs” a perfect lawn. Very little of my property is lawn. It can all be mowed with an electric mower on a 100 ft. cord.

Mowing the lawn is not a big job, but I've been unwilling to do it. For the last few days, the lawn has been carpeted with honey bees.

There was very little actual grass when I bought the property. To make matters worse, I had some parking spaces excavated across the street from the house. Rather than pay for a truck to haul the gravel away, I had it dumped in my yard to raise it up and extend it a bit.

The bigger rocks got raked out of the dirt that was almost totally devoid of organic matter. I went to the hardware store and picked up about 5 different types of grass seed and two different types of clover. I raked in all the seeds. The idea was that something would probably take hold and keep the dirt from washing down the hill.

Just about everything took, at least in one niche or the other in the yard. Over the years, it even began to look like a lawn. It's not a suburban picture perfect lawn, but a lawn where the kids and dogs can roll around.

The lawn also has what would be called weeds in a more civilized setting. My feeling is that anything that can make a living in my poor soils is welcome to stay. Actually, the soil is not nearly as poor as it used to be. Earthworms live in it now, so that's saying something.

This year the clover is doing especially well, along with small unidentified wild flowers. The bees love them both. I haven't seen this many bees on a lawn since I was kid. What harm can come of letting the lawn get a bit wilder for a few more days?

Of course, even in normal years, I let my lawn get pretty tall now and then. It's good for the grass as it gets a chance to set roots deeper in the soil. No fertilizer or pesticide has ever been used. During dry years my neighbors can't understand why their lawns die and mine stays green and thrives. Their lawns, always cut short and fertilized, never developed deep roots.

On sunny mornings my lovely wife and I set up our outdoor table and chairs in the tall grass. We sip our coffee while watching the bees do their thing. It will get mowed soon enough.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

BOV reality check

We do love our bug out vehicles. Nothing like a custom bit of machinery to get you out into the hinterlands, fully equipped for what may come.

Back in the real world, my ambulance to motorhome veggie burning magic bus is in the shop. Never mind how well equipped it is, it isn't going anywhere for at least a week.

I was driving down the road and noticed a bit of smoke behind the van. After pulling into my daughter's place, I noticed the motor oil was rather quickly leaving the engine. Not good.

After some hassle, I got it to my mechanic's. (I've written my last membership check ever to AAA, but that's another story.)

My mechanic found the problem. It's your basic $3 part that takes 4 hours to change. Only takes 1 hour for the same motor in a pickup truck. Vans are nasty to work on. He can't get to it right off as he's book solid. The best mechanics are.

So my wonderful home on wheels that can pull my sailboat is unavailable. Good thing I already live in the woods and don't have to bug out to get here.

I've always been a bit leery about the whole bug out vehicle concept. When is the right time to go? Where the heck do you plan on going anyway? Can you really count on getting there. Travel, especially in times of turmoil, is dicey. Road blocks are easy to set up, as are ambushes. Look at what happens in conflict zones and then reassess your plans.

In a pinch, I could load up basic survival gear into my wife's car and be on the road in 20 minutes. That's how long it took us to pack for a spur of the moment camping vacation once. Ten more minutes and I'd have a canoe on the roof. If you have to go, better the make do vehicle you've got rather than the perfect one in the shop.

Of course, it's better to not have to go anywhere at all.