Sunday, May 28, 2017

Some Timely, Sage Advice

Though we don't do this very often, below is a link to a very good article touching on an issue that is dear to the hearts of all cruisers, spending money wisely while working to stay ON the water, not IN the water. It is also an honest admission of mistakes (unwittingly) made that ended up costing money while leading to mechanical failure that could easily have led to losing the boat.

Courtesy of Morgan's Cloud
As we are supplementing the cruising kitty by my working on boats as a professional marine technician (after a life time of working as a professional aviation technician) John touches on an issue that I run across on a near daily bases; the quality of parts supplied by an owner.

The quality of such parts or units is often completely unknown. Where did this thing come from? What is quality of the steel, how accurate was the machining, what (if any) quality control procedures were used? The salt water environment is brutal. Even high quality stainless will eventually surrender. But I have seen "stainless steel" parts start to corrode within weeks of install. Indeed, on occasion I have picked up "stainless steel" hardware with a magnet. Some of this stuff has no business being within 100 miles of a salt water boat. Our parts manager knows who he can trust as a supplier. Something that simply can't be inferred from an Internet search for the "best price."

Often customers have little idea of what units can be used with other units, particularly when it comes to electronics. It has become a standard joke in our yard. If a customer supplies a bit of electronics there is very little chance that it will actually plug into anything already installed on the boat. Just last week, we (as in I and another tech) were tasked with installing a depth transducer on a large trawler; transducer supplied by owner. It has become our custom to find the plug that fits said unit before getting too deep into any install, and there was no such plug on this boat. 

Somehow or the other, it came to pass that the owner was sure it would work, that there was a patch cord or a magic box that would get this unit talking friendly with the others on his boat, and we should just install the part as requested.

So we did, punching a much larger hole through the hull than the original unit required, mounting the thing, and running the wire as close to the helm as it would reach. Maybe the "patch cord" would be long enough to fill the gap to...something.

Alas, no such patch cord exists. Hopefully the new, new unit will be big enough to fit in the same hole. But if not, we know how to sling glass around here; can fix the old hole in the hull better than original, then punch another hole as required. After all, we get paid by the hour.

But it still surprises me how often we get told what to do on a boat by someone who doesn't do what we do. There are stories galore of "minor" problems taking hours and hours of serious structural repairs, engine problems that "cleaning the injector" can't fix, vibrations that "aligning the engine" will not quell, and leaks that will never be staunched with "a little 5200".

Anyway, enjoy a good, honest article about a mistake that didn't turn out as badly as it might.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yin and Yang

The end of the second week of being on a clock. Like pretty much everything, the second time around goes easier than the first. It is still a hot, brute force type of labor; the kind that leads to sore bones and shredded hands. But there are people here pleased to see me back for another season, people that I am happy to see again as well. I know my way around the yard, we know our way around the town, and the habits formed from last year still fit. Daughter Eldest and family are with us for an extended stay, building on the month that they spent with us last year. Most people gasp at the thought of having four adults and three kids ages 8, 5, and 2 all living on a 42 foot sailboat. But we are at a dock with a bath house close and room for the kids to run, ride bicycles, explore, and play. And there are few pleasures that compare with walking around the corner and having a 2 year old grand daughter run your way calling “T's home!” at the top of her little voice. How does one balance sore bones and shredded hands to a moment that all-encompassing good? Yin and yang.

In some ways we are back to living pretty much like most people do in America. The day of the week matters again, and weekends are a brief couple of days to be enjoyed. To some degree it doesn't matter how I feel or what the weather is doing, the work has to get done so the paycheck arrives. I get a 10 minute break at 1000, a half hour for lunch at 1200, and another 10 minute break at 1430. There are things I am allowed to do, (climb ladders, run wires, fix boats) and things I am not allowed to do (drive the fork truck, start a travel lift, walk in the "customer's" door of the office.) It is a very regulated life, one in which I participate by doing what I'm told.

Pretty much the polar opposite of living a cruiser's life.

But we are still on a boat. My "home" moves gently to light winds, bobs agreeably in gentle waves. I can sit in my cockpit in the evening, look out over the water, watch the pelicans fish, and enjoy the occasional visit from a manatee family or a couple of dolphins.

Weather is still an every day check and possible concern, and the hurricane season will soon be upon us. Preliminary plans have already been laid since three little ones have no business on a boat during a tropical storm of any name, tied to dock or no. Even a day of heavy thunder is a day to be careful. Cars no longer rank among my favorite things, but having one around takes some of the worry out of having to beat a hasty retreat.

Pretty much the opposite of living a suburban or city, work-a-day, life.

Things are settling down nicely, but I have to admit to being a bit envious of friends who are south of the hurricane zone, far from these shores. Content as I may be with life at the moment, living deep in Trump territory requires that I be even more circumspect around my fellow human beings than usual. There is nothing this guy can do that his followers will criticize in any way, marking him as the leader of a cult rather than a nation. Which isn't to say that his cult hasn't taken over the nation, something that is proving to be a bit of a problem. As a general rule, cultists are people I try to avoid, particularly ones whose cult includes a fondness for violence, guns, and greed.

It is often said that the Chinese have a curse which goes, “May you live in interesting times” which, I thought, was pretty apropos to living in the US this summer. I was curious as to the background behind such a curse, and so poked around the Internet bit, just out of curiosity. It turns out the “Chinese curse” is mostly an invention of western thought. In 1836 (less than three years before the first "Opium War between China and the British Empire started) John Francis Davis, a British diplomat, published something titled “The Chinese; A general Description of the Empire of China and Its Inhabitants." In it he stated:

"The Chinese have lived so much in peace, that they have acquired by habit and education a more than common horror of political disorder. 'Better be a dog in peace than a man in anarchy,' is common maxim. ' It is a general rule,' they say, 'that the worst of men are fondest of change and commotion, hoping that they may thereby benefit themselves; but by adherence to a steady, quiet system, affairs proceed without confusion, and bad men have nothing to gain.'"

Interesting. A bit of wisdom articulated by a culture far older than ours.

Of course, change is inevitable. Confucius himself is quoted as teaching, "They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” So, perhaps, there is a bit of a yin and yang thing to consider here as well. The Opium Wars were a result of the British East India Company using bribery and smuggling to pump tons of opium into China. As might be expected the Chinese Dynasty at the time took offense at millions of its citizens being turned into junkies for the profit of a foreign corporate entity. The British response to China's attempt at curtailing the opium trade resulted in the first application of “gunboat diplomacy”; where a nation's military power was openly used to protect a corporation's “bottom line.” When is “change” a servant of wisdom, and when is it a tool of evil?

I found that all a kind of fascinating reflection on today's American politics. Is what we see American leadership (apart from our cultist President and his worshipers) people seeking to lead a society constant in happiness or wisdom”? Or are they the worst of men...hoping that they may thereby benefit themselves?

No yin and yang here. If the former, they are allies and working toward the best possible future for a two year old. If the later...well, they are the enemy, and the sooner their downfall, the better.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Air Conditioner Install Version II

We spent last summer at Snead Island Boat Works padding the cruising kitty. It was the hottest summer in Florida since record keeping began, and we were without an onboard air conditioner since we had removed it prior to leaving for full-time cruising in 2013 for some extra closet space. We installed a window unit and per the request of several readers we detailed the installation. That installation did the trick for the summer, keeping Worker Man cool in the evenings after a hard day in the heat, but the trailer-parkish nature of the installation always bothered me. The duct work was unwieldy, and the silver wrapper disintegrated so quickly in the sun that it allowed rain to soak the pink insulation and run red dye all over the deck. Toward the end of the summer we were getting black mold in the duct work from all the rain-soaked insulation. This year we needed a better design.

After thinking it over and researching the R-value of various foam board insulation, I came up with a better idea. With the help of Worker Man we installed the new duct work last Monday so I thought I'd pass along a few photos for anyone else wanting to install an external air conditioning unit.

We started out the same as last year, by placing the window unit on the side deck just outside the head port on a rubber pad to reduce vibration. We cut two pieces of 2" silver-backed foam insulation board that went from the sides of the air conditioner to the cabin top.

Then we made the bottom of the duct out of 3/4" foam board, running from the top of the intake portion of the air conditioner grill, across to the cabin top, making a right angle, aft to mid-deck, 45° over to the main salon hatch.

We then built sides for that duct work out of 2" foam and square box sides for the hatch (we removed the hatch cover). All of this was duct taped together with Gorilla tape. Last, we cut a top to go over the whole thing, again out of 2". I used a roll of white Gorilla tape to tape over the whole top. The stuff is great at protecting from the sun and rain. This gave us a much lower profile duct, much more appealing visually, and much more efficient at an average R-value of 8. It also came in at total project dollars of $35 vs nearly $100 last year.

And we had lots of extra help this year!

Project notes:

If I could have found it in stock locally, I would have used Foamular board. It would have been much less messy to cut.

If I hadn't run out of white Gorilla tape, I would probably have continued to cover the whole duct work on the sides. This would make it even less aggravating visually.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Massive magic purple puffballs...

Cruising blogs, including this one, are filled with pictures of sunsets and sunrises. There are pictures of sailboats riding quietly in anchorages of clear water, tropical islands, white sand beaches, amazing flowers, and trees that overwhelm. There are stories of gazing across a star-filled cosmos from a cockpit far out of sight of land, of festivals and costumes, and of kids laughing. All testimony to one of the most attractive things about this cruising life; it is one filled with beauty.

Not always of course. There are also the occasional pictures of trashed v-drives, leaking holding tanks, boats run aground, and hulls long abandoned. But for the most part much of the cruising tribe spends days on end gazing at some of the prettiest places on earth. Still, and truth to tell, catching sight of the beautiful places has been a challenge for me for these last few months. We sailed to them alright, but often arrived tired and worn, having struggled with weather and sails and ham-fisted deck monkey antics. It seemed much more time was spent listening to the wind howl through the rigging while the boat bounced to its rode, than was spent watching the sun set over a placid sea of emerald blue. We pushed hard to get around the Abacos to the Berry Islands. Then we pushed again to get back to the States and around the Keys to Tampa Bay in time for the flight inland and the summer of work. Pushing hard will build callouses on the hands - a good thing. But it can also build callouses that make it hard to see beauty or feel the brush of the magic.

There are other beautiful places of course, places that one can't reach in a boat, places that are not even wild. One of them is a stretch of land that was once the home of a Mr. Henry Shaw. In 1819, just in from England, Mr. Shaw ventured west of a small French village laid out along the west back of the Mississippi River. He fell in love with that stretch of land and made it his home. The little village grew. Mr. Shaw's fortunes grew. Now, nearly 200 years later, that stretch of land is known as the Missouri Botanical Garden, is the oldest of its kind in the nation, lies deep in the heart of the metropolis of St. Louis, and is located just a few block's walk from Daughter Middle's home. (To give you some hint as to Mr. Shaw's influence on St. Louis, his Garden is located on Shaw Blvd.)

Daughter Middle, being a connoisseur of all things beautiful, has a Family Membership Card and makes visiting the Garden a regular family adventure. This time DeMa and Grampy T joined She and Grand Kids (5) for a day's visit. A day can't do justice to the 79 acre sight. There is the Chinese Garden, English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, Victorian District, and the Japanese Garden (where one can go to feed a lake full of huge, sometimes colorful, catfish. Fish so tame that little ones can reach out and pet them as they feed.) There is a Temperate House that protects Mediterranean plant species, a Climatron conservatory for science and study, and a Butterfly House. There is a bee hive made of glass, a Center for Home Gardening, and a Grandpa's Garden that includes rope bridges, caves, a climbing boulder, elevated walkways, slides, and a tree house. (Okay, its official name is the “Children's Garden,” and Grampy T didn't really climb the boulder or use any of the slides. Rope bridges, elevated walkways, caves, and the tree house were fair game though.)

We weren't too far into the day when the laughter of little ones folding into the quiet of the nature all around started to soften some of the callouses built up over the winter. When we stepped through the gateway into the Ottoman Garden, reportedly the last example of such gardens which date from the 16th century, I was stopped dead in my tracks. Standing tall over the other flowers were hundreds of massive purple puffballs. Think of the dandelion puff balls you used to wave around as a kid writ giant-sized, glowing with a brilliant purple magic. It was an unexpectedly amazing sight, standing out even though surrounded by acres of carefully cultivated beauty.

It isn't likely that many of the people around me were struck in exactly the same way. Beauty and magic are nearly universal, yet stubbornly individual. What strikes me as magic purple puffballs might look to someone else like giant purple dandelions. Maybe they were struck by the manicured precision of the Japanese Garden. Surely someone was taking advantage of the Botanical Garden's dedication to science and education, learning some new technique for working their personal garden. (A well known place to find beauty and feel a brush of the magic.)

There were many groups of school kids there as well. Some of the younger ones were in the Children's Garden with us. This being the city, “minority” kids were so well represented that they were not in the minority at all. No one cared. Kids of all sizes and skin tones clambered around the climbing boulder, some encouraged to stretch their skills after watching one of my grandsons, who is an excellent climber and fearless to boot. Following his lead left some of the younger ones higher off the ground than they liked, and they needed a little help getting down. Grampy T suddenly had a dozen or so grandkids, and no one minded if I laughed with the new ones and helped them find their way to the ground. In the middle of all the laughter and fun it occurred to me that, not only was this a place of beauty where one could feel a brush of the magic, it was also a place of quiet rebellion.

For this was public place, in the middle of a metropolis, where science and the pursuit of understanding ruled alongside beauty and magic. It was a place of tolerance and fun, with generations, nationalities, and histories mixing without rancor, arrogance, or hate. It is a strange world we find ourselves in when simply going to a Garden and acting like a decent human being flies full in the face of the ideology that drives those in power. It is an even stranger world when one realizes that many of those who claim to support that ideology often act in rebellion to it. I wonder how long it will take them to figure that out? (How ironic is it that Donald Trump, who hates science, tries to rule by Tweet?)

It is possible that quiet rebellions will be enough to stem the tide of ignorance and hate flowing over our shores. My suspicion is that most Americans are simply not that deeply racist, don't really hate gay people with much enthusiasm, have only a slight tolerance for authoritarianism, and deeply value education, learning, exploration, and science. (Which, odd as it may sound, is exactly what my Trump supporting friends claim.)

I don't know that we really love war all that much. We just haven't seen any up close and personal for a while, and have forgotten just how inhuman and evil it is. (Something likely to change pretty soon. It will be a hard and costly lesson, much to the detriment of those currently in power.)

It is more likely that, eventually, those who are pushing us into decline will have to be removed from power. There is some hope that they will prove so incompetent as to soon stumble into oblivion of their own accord. Such may well be the way forward with the least potential for chaos, destruction, and violence, but I think it unlikely. Many currently worship incompetency, and will likely do so right up until it kills them off. (Nothing blinds like worship.)

Perhaps they will find themselves voted out of power by numbers so large that claims of fraud will be both laughable and utterly ignored. Given that America's forms of democracy were never very strong and are now, additionally, badly compromised by propaganda and corruption, this seems unlikely. Still, stranger things have happened. And, again, such a defeat would also deeply discredit the ideology of those so defeated; just as the last election deeply wounded the neo-liberal ideology of the Democrats, hopefully hastening its ultimate demise. Unfortunately neo-con ideology, which is arguably much worse, took its place.

Perhaps something entirely new and unexpected is just around the corner. Maybe the next generation, having learned some very hard lessons about ignorance, greed, hate, and war, will value peace and justice above all things. Maybe they will be the generation that elevates ideas over ideology, facts over faiths, understanding over dogma, and wisdom over wishful thinking.

As unlikely as that sounds, such a world lives deep in the human imagination. Virtually all religion claims such a place and calls it “heaven”. Many other forms of human fiction and story telling are filled with similar images. Indeed, nearly every human being I have ever known can imagine a world better than this. All we need do is move toward a world that most of us already know, deep in our own dreams, can exist. It is one of the reasons I don't put faith in any god. Given unlimited power, divine knowledge, and the ultimate in benevolence, pretty much any one of us could create a better world than the one we find ourselves in.

What ever happens, quiet rebellions are a good place to start. Maybe massive magic purple puff balls (otherwise known as ornamental onions) will become the new symbol of the rebellion. Stately, beautiful, and non-threatening, yet going about the task of spreading the seeds of renewal on every breeze and in every direction, as far as the eye can see.