Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting organized

Nicole on s/v Bella Star offers us this tip for a neat storage product line:
Like living in a Manhattan studio apartment, life aboard a sailboat is all about organization and making the best use of your space.  Kitchens and galleys are compact and efficient, bathrooms and heads are tiny yet orderly and furniture often doubles as storage.  But  being able to live on the water (or in the mix of urban city life) makes dealing with space limitations a minor inconvenience.

We’re fortunate in that Bella Star has a good deal of storage for her size, yet trying to get everything stacked and packed efficiently for cruising is a bit like playing Tetris.  It seems easy in theory, but getting the blocks to nest just so is more challenging than you’d think!  After experimenting with a few different brands of storage containers, I found a winning solution in Snapware.  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so I’ve had no trouble squeezing everything in and maximizing our storage space.

Beyond stackabilty, the containers are airtight, leak-proof and have secure tabs that latch on each side, keeping them closed no matter what.  After dealing with the results of a feta cheese catastrophe last week, the part about the latching tabs is important (see, a package of crumbled feta decided to explode in the darkest recesses of the fridge, which I discovered at 6:15am while blearily making Aaron’s lunch  -- what a treat that was).

We tried the OXO Pop Containers first, which also claim to be airtight, but didn’t find them durable enough for boat life – the lids came off too easily and didn’t seal particularly well.  They’re also hard to grab off the shelf, a bit awkward to stack and more expensive.

Our big provisioning run to stock up on foodstuffs and supplies for the summer is coming up in a few weeks.  With all that food needing a snug (yet accessible) home, here’s hoping our Tetris skills and our new Snapware are up to the task.

Snapware is available through their website, but I got ours from Bed, Bath and Beyond and Fred Meyer (so I could buy a ton and return the pieces that didn’t work – although I haven’t had to return one yet).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Credit where credit is due

Part of my falling behind was the woeful and embarrassing failure to keep the "Contributors" tab over there on the right up to date.

I think it is current now.  I hope

All chain: bad.

Lotte of s/v Lunde tells why your anchor rode should not be chain all the way to the bitter end...
Oh yes, really. Everything has an end.

Also an anchor chain.  Actually, it has two - on one end the anchor is mounted while the other is attached to the chain locker under the windlass, so it cannot be lost overboard by accident.

But the chain is not directly connected to the ship - as an intermediary between the chain box and chain sits a piece of rope.  The famous 'bitter end' which has given rise to talk about ways to keep up / fight / lock / hang in until the bitter end - in the sense to keep going, until all possibilities are exhausted and there is no more to do.

Our bitter end with stainless steel shackles
The bitter end attached to the chain locker (before loading the chain)
The advantage of a bitter end is that it is a lot easier to cut / chop than the chain if we were to get a situation where we have to let go the anchor in a hurry.  The end is made long enough that it will reach the deck, so we do not need to first open down to the chain locker.  We obviously hope that we never get there, where we must cut the bitter end. But it is good to know that it is there.

Apologies for my "improvements" to the Google translation from Danish

Friday, March 25, 2011

1000 words

The picture is worth...  Mike of  s/v Chalice solves the age-old problem of how to protect the bulkhead from the heat of a nearby stove.  Nicely, with tile and a beautifully crafted wood border.

Finished the backsplash for stove.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One time good deal, for the next 20 minutes

From s/v Letitgo we have another great idea - how to construct a water filtration system that you can carry with you for use away from your dock...  and a one-time-only good deal!

We picked up that idea from somewhere along our learning curve while reading.  Basically it is a really good idea to  filter the water before it gets into your tank.

Two major reasons, we are looking forward to be able to drink from the tap and you can’t have any chlorine in the tank to back flush the water maker.  So why not try to get into the practice right away, after cleaning your tank this spring.  We hope to start from fresh and not have any bad taste in the future.

A little research and we came with the solution, double filtrations one for residue 5 microns, and one carbon for the rest.  As usual Google (my friend), I found the best price on the net.
  • 2 x Pentek 158643 3/8″ 3G Slim Line 10″ Clear Housing  @  $18.50
  • 3 x Pentek PS5-10C Smooth Core Filter Cartridge  @  $1.60
  • 3 x Ametek, US Filter C-1, American Plumber W5CIP  @  $6.10

Add to this a chopping board a few coupling, a valve, tubing and attachment devices from your favourite local hardware store.  You are in business for 1 hour of assembling and fun.  Now if you contact me, I will build you a Marine version at the minimal coast of $149, for your family safety a must.  And if you buy in the next 20 minutes, I will include 2 years of filter in the price.

You are now able to hook up your water hose on one side, the device hangs from the lifeline or other place and you get beautiful and tasty water on the other side.  Grab a beer, relax the water is flowing for only $149.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reach out and touch...

Please welcome new contributors *V* and *L* from s/v Letitgo!  In this post they describe how to build a "marine" Alpha wireless antenna, without paying the "marine tax".  I can assure you we will be hearing more from them!

How do we build a Wi-Fi long range device?

First of all we search on the net what everybody else does, and find out that for $250 we get you a “marine” magic box with an Alpha thingy plus an 8db gain antenna in a pelican box. Now we know that unsecure network are getting rare around the world, but still when you are anchorage or at the back end of a marina you may need a little boost even for a paid one.

After a few minutes of research on the net, we found with data Alliance, the kits we needed:
  • 1 Outdoor Enclosure for Alfa AWUS036H / AWUS036NH combined w/ 9dBi Antenna & 5-meter USB Ext Cable (Active)
  • (10-meter: Increases kit price $6 to $33.99 total) @ $33.99 = $33.99
  • 1 Alfa AWUS036H 1000mW USB Wireless WiFi Adapter + Antenna. Long-Range. Upgrade from 500mW        @ $25.99 = $25.99

Attention this is not a water proof but weather proof, so we added a rubber gasket (home depot $1.09) and some generous silicone application. To hook it up to a lifeline or for us to the boom, we added two stainless snap hook (home depot $4). Total $65.07 for a system we can leave outside and bring with us, when we go on shore and need to get into that coffee shop network without having to be inside or seating just outside on the curb. People are too quick to judge you, when you stay in that posture, done it before no more!

Now for the hard part, you didn’t think it was all going to be easy. You need to get that antenna inserted into the gasket, a very tight fit. At home we have a fancy “organic” Dishwasher liquid not the best for that application. So now we just had to ask “our neighbour” for some Vaseline and look what we got! We know, for anybody who is ever going to see this box on our boat, it will bring a smile.

From our condo, the first comparison show that we jump from 6 networks available to more than 30. We will have to test the generosity of our environment in this summer cruise.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Graphically speaking

This is not a project on the boat... it is a project for the boat.

Do you have a logo for your boat?  You don't?  If you did, you could use it on your boat cards, boat stamp, tee shirts, etc.

Here's how to make one:
  • Find or take a picture of your boat against as simple a background as possible (empty sky would be ideal).
  • Load the photo into your favorite photo editing software (I use the Gimp - it's free).
  • Crop the photo down to the essentials: the boat.
  • You are going to use the software's "threshold" function to create a black/white version of the image.  If you still have items in the background or foreground that will survive that transformation, you'll need to remove them from the image.  I kept the wavelets and reflection in our foreground because I thought they added perspective and depth. 
  • With my software, the effect of the threshold function is better if the image is first inverted, so I invert the colors here.
  • Now use your software's threshold function.  You will want to play around with the location on the black->white continuum where the threshold is placed.
  • There may still be some artifacts after thresholding that you will want to remove.
  • That's it!  Save the image.  If you save it as a gif image, it will retain that hard-edged pixelated appearance.  As a jpeg, the edges will be blurred.  Picassa uses jpeg storage, so the image above has been blurred somewhat.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Make it easy on yourself

Paul of s/v Solace shows us how a little effort, invested once, will save lots of effort, many times in the future.
Having an oil filter in a very difficult position can make changing the oil very frustrating.  So it was decided to put a remote oil filter  in a place that will make the chore so much nicer.  You can see the location of the old filter here.  The filter is white and located way down in the bilge and behind an engine mount.

Very difficult to get out and had to be removed in heavy duty plastic bags to feed under the engine.

Components were gathered together and a mount made for the filter end. This I installed behind a door near the secondary fuel filter.

Removing the old filter then allowed me to install the adapter plate to the oil filter mount (where the old filter use to sit) and route the hoses.  Special spanners were required to do up the the hoses (Crows feet spanners).

Filled up the new filter with oil and connected the hoses and filter.
You can see the ease now of replacing the oil filter.

Hoses and adapter plate

Finished solution
New bracket made for oil filter
Oil filter adapter plates should be available for many, if not most, marine engines. Some may also come with the mounting bracket.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stairs in progress

Jeff of s/v C'est la Vie is a consummate carpenter. Here he shows us the progress he has made to date in rebuilding his companionway stairs.
I've been able to steal away a few hours and make some progress on the repairs to the companionway steps.  I believe the existing steps were original to C'est la Vie and after 43 years the runs were cracking and the entire assembly was growing shaky.  The risers appeared to be in good shape so I purchased some teak to create new runs.  Here are a couple before images.

When we purchased C'est la Vie in 2005 she had been flooded on the hard in Titusville, FL during the infamous 2004 hurricane season.  The water mark visible on the lower leg of the steps above is among the last remaining evidence of the flooding.  

The image below is of work in progress.  I have completed all the carpentry work.  The next step is to begin sanding.
Note I added some cut out hand holds along the top of the ladder.  If you are interested in more images and description of the process.  Here is a link to a photo album - Companionway Steps Project - spring 2011
I can't wait to bring you Jeff's hatch rebuilding project (coming soon)!

Monday, March 14, 2011

On being well-grounded

Maintaining a good ground for your SSB without compromising your DC grounding system and thereby causing electrolytic or galvanic corrosion is not easy. But Livia on s/v Estrellita 5.10B makes it look that way. This is a well-thought out solution to that problem
IMG_5456 (1280x853)When we finished our SSB installation in the Polkinghorne Islands, we ran copper foil from our tuner to a single thru-hull. (Pretorien owners, this is the sink drain.) We’ve been checking in on the nets, getting weather and checking email for the last 6 months or so with the copper just draped over the thru hull--->

Our water tanks were already connected to this thru hull with copper wire so we also have our water tanks in the mix.

We decided to start with a minimal ground plane installation and if that didn’t work well enough, add more. We initially did some simple testing of the system and found that we were heard better with both the water tanks and the thru hull than just the thru hull but with just the thru hull we were consistently being heard and connecting to email/weather via winlink.

Even though our tuner (Icom AH-4) has some built in current protection, to further protect from any stray current eating at our thru hull, since the install, we have had to open up the floor panel and manually connect and then remove the foil from the thru hull so it wasn’t touching when we weren’t using the SSB.
Recently, we finished the installation by permanently connecting the foil to the thru hull with some .15 microfarad capacitors as blocks for stray current.

Here we have my tools set out. SV Endless, I promise I am eventually returning your solder iron!

IMG_5467 (1280x853)

Here you can see the pipe cuff that was already installed for the water tank wire (to make contact with the thru hull). Using the screw holes as a template I folded the foil over several times and then drilled holes through the folded copper foil to match.

IMG_5465 (1280x853)IMG_5466 (1280x853)

Finally, I glued the foil to a bit of starboard with a clean gap (no glue or anything bridging the gap) and soldered the capacitors to the foil. My soldering skills remain laughable but so far, everything I’ve soldered still works so I’m calling that a victory.

Here you can see the final installation with the copper wire that goes to a foils strap on our water tanks.

IMG_5471 (1280x853)

We’ve now had a chance to test the installation and it works. The problem with an SSB is that the only way we know how to test it is functionally: it works if people can hear us, if we can hear people and if we can regularly connect to winlink stations. A complication is that propagation makes all contacts vary and recently there were a bunch of solar flares.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Running behind...

I'm running behind this week - sorry

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stove Top Recondition

Paul of s/v Solace has a tip for us today on renewing the appearance of his stove top:

The stove top plates on our Force 10 stove, have, over the years become rusty and leave the rust on top of the stainless stove. Unable to get replacements, I ground all remaining paint off and buffed the rust off; then using a paint designed for heat (fire boxes and chimneys ) I repainted the plates and then following the instructions, baked the item for an hour at 250 degrees C. This will initially give off fumes. Best done in an old oven outside or the BBQ. It seems after a couple of months use, it has worked; and I have a spare can in case we need to re-address the issue in a year or so.
If you cannot find the particular paint that Paul used, you might try paint designed for use on automotive exhaust manifolds.

Friday, March 4, 2011


What do you see that is unusual about this outlet?  It is not the normal shape.  It is in fact a GFCI outlet.  Those initials stand for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and they could save your life.

Concealed in the tiny device is some pretty neat magic.  The GFCI continuously monitors the amount of current in the supply (hot) and return (neutral) lines.  If they are not identical, it trips, stopping the current flow.  How could they not be identical, you ask rhetorically?  If there were an internal short in an appliance causing you to receive an electrical shock, some of the current that should have been returning via the neutral wire would be instead passing thru your screaming body to ground.  The GFCI would detect this and open the circuit.  I talked about these in the middle of an earlier electrical rant.  But the subject is important enough to bear repeating, in its own post.

Ground Fault Interrupters are now, like in houses, required equipment on all circuits on a boat near water:  the galley and the heads.  But realistically speaking, isn't any circuit on a boat near water?  All your AC outlets should be GFCI protected.
WARNING:  This procedure will have you working with lethal voltage, and could result in your death or the consumption of your boat by fire if done improperly or without common sense.  If working with electricity makes you uncomfortable, or if you have any doubts at all about your ability to safely complete this installation, you must hire a qualified electrician to do this work.

Disclaimer:  I am not in a position to judge your abilities or skills.  If you choose to proceed, you do so having determined yourself that you have the necessary abilities and skills.

The biggest problems I have encountered on boats are electrical wiring issues, done by obviously unqualified people.  Be part of the solution; do not contribute to the problem.
This is an ideal Small Boat Project™.  It is inexpensive and can be completed in a short time, yet has significant benefits.  How many AC outlet circuits do you have on board?  One?  Two?  Three?  Well then you just need to go to Home Depot and buy one/two/three GFI outlets - one for each circuit.  In boats as well as houses, multiple outlets are typically wired on a single circuit in a daisy-chain fashion.  And GFCI outlet manufacturers know this and have provided for it.  If you install a GFCI outlet in a circuit, all outlets downstream of the GFCI outlet in the daisy chain will also be protected.  Obviously then, you want to make the GFCI outlet the first one in the chain.

So then, how to find the first outlet?  Think like an electrician.  How would he have wired your boat?  He would have run a wire from the power panel to the closest outlet, and then from that outlet to the next one, and so on.  If the wiring is concealed, then this would be your best bet:  the first outlet in a circuit will be the one closest to the panel.

But you should actually confirm this.  Here's how:  Turn off the circuit and remove the outlet you suspect to be the first in a chain from its outlet box (you were going to need to do this anyway).  You will find two cables enter the box - each cable will contain a white wire, a black wire and a green ground wire.  The two ground wires will be bonded together, with a single connection going to the outlet.  Remove all the wires from the outlet and tape the ends of the black and white wires well to prevent inadvertent contact with the bare ends.  Turn the circuit back on and check the rest of the outlets on the circuit - all those that are now dead would be protected if the GFCI were installed in that outlet box.  Turn the power off again.

This next step is important.  Of the two cables in the box, one goes back to the power panel and is the supply for the whole circuit.  The other goes to the downstream outlets in the daisy chain.  Each set of wires has its own dedicated terminals on the GFCI - for it to work properly, they cannot be mixed up.  If you can access the back of the panel in which the outlet box is installed, it may be obvious which cable goes back to the panel.  If not, then you will need to do a LIVE WIRE check.
DANGER:  This task has you working with LIVE WIRES and LETHAL VOLTAGE.  If you are uncomfortable with your level of knowledge or your ability to safely complete this task, STOP.  Hire an electrician to complete the work.
Remove the tape from one pair of black/white wires.  Position the bare ends so that they are not at risk of touching anything (including you), and turn the breaker on.  Use your voltmeter to check for the presence of 110 VAC between the wires.  Turn the breaker back off.  If power was found, then this is the power source wire set.  If not, then the other set must be the power source.  Confirm this by retaping the exposed wires, and then proceeding as above with the other pair of wires.  Turn the breaker off.


Now install the GFCI outlet.  Connect the ground wire to the green terminal.  Connect the power source wires to the power source terminals on the GFCI, black wire to the copper-colored screw and white wire to the silver-colored screw.  If your boat was wired properly, the wires will be stranded marine wire and will have been terminated with crimped on terminals - probably ring terminals.  You will find that the screws on the GFCI cannot be entirely removed.  If your wire terminals are ring terminals instead of J terminals or flanged spade terminals, they will have to be cut off, and J terminals or flanged spade terminals securely crimped on.
Make no mistake - an improperly crimped terminal is a fire hazard.  If you are unsure about your ability to properly install a crimp terminal, or even what a properly crimped terminal looks like, STOP.  Hire an electrician to complete the work.

Remove the protective cover from the other set of terminals on the GFCI and connect the downstream outlets to these terminals, as above, black to copper and white to silver.

Be sure that nothing can come in contact with the exposed connections on the GFCI.  Turn on the breaker.
  • First of all, the breaker should not have immediately tripped.  If it did, do not attempt to reset it - you have made a serious wiring mistake.
  • The GFCI may need to be reset - reset it if necessary.  
  • Check to see that the GFCI and all the downstream outlets are powered.
  • Trip the GFCI (use the 'TEST' button).
  • The GFCI and all downstream outlets should now be dead.


Now it is necessary to stuff everything back into the outlet box.  Because the GFCI outlet is physically larger than the old outlet, this will be difficult.  First, push the ground wires into the back of the box, as tightly against the back and out of the way as you can.  Now push the remaining wires into the box, followed by the GFCI.  Reinstall the retaining screws and the cover plate.  Turn on the breaker.
  • The breaker should not have immediately tripped.  
  • The GFCI may need to be reset - reset it if necessary.  
  • Check to see that the GFCI and all the downstream outlets are powered.
  • Trip the GFCI (use the 'TEST' button).
  • The GFCI and all downstream outlets should now be dead.
All the downstream outlets on that circuit are now protected - apply the little stickers included in the GFCI packaging to the downstream outlet covers to attest to this. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A fresh coat of paint

It's been at least 10 years since we (mostly Jane) refinished the cabinet interiors on Eolian.  And surprising tho it may be, in ten years' time the cabinets have gotten pretty dirty - even this small cabinet above the refrigerator, which we have used exclusively for storing spices.

Cleaning is useful, but there is nothing like applying a coat of paint.  This small space took only a few minutes, and the result is very gratifying - it looks wonderful.

So this has inspired me.  It is time to re-do the cabinet interiors, again.

How are yours?
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