Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What’s with all the daffodils?

This area claims to be famous for tulips but everywhere we look there’s daffodils.  And they don’t seem to be picking them for flowers so I’m not sure what the hell that’s about. 

Marilyn commented on how her eyes kept playing tricks on her – she sees a yellow field and her brain thinks its canola.  It doesn’t have that effect on me – the colour is more like mustard than canola but there’s sure a lot of it.  If they planned to pick them for the cut flower market they’re a little late so I’m guessing that these fields must be for bulb multiplication. 

So far we have seen exactly zero tulips.  Despite seeing signs for them everywhere and despite following the so-called “tulip way” today.  More daffodils but no tulips.

Monday, March 29, 2010

…….. and the hills the greenest green, in Seattle

I’ll buy that line but the previous line is definitely not true.  Maybe “the greyest sky you’ve ever seen …” but not the bluest.  We can count the time we’ve seen the sun since we got here in minutes not hours.  Nevertheless its a wonderful area and we have been getting out and seeing the neighbourhood.

The area around La Conner is rustic and pretty and it will be a lot of fun to come back to either in the bus or on a boat.  Saturday we headed out on a ferry-riding adventure which eventually brought us into the heart of Seattle.  We had an appointment with a broker to see a Tollycraft – once again visiting the boat helped us better understand what we DON’T want, even if it didn’t solidify any positive desire for a specific brand or type.

Along the way we had an appointment to keep to see a boat in Port Townsend.  That visit just confirmed what we had suspected which is that we will not be buying a wooden boat.  We’ve seen some really nice ones – the one in Port Townsend lamentably wasn’t on the list of nice ones – but visiting with the owners has convinced me that they are way more work than I want to take on.  Its definitely possible to do the work and I have no doubt there are some seriously good wooden boats on the market.  I never liked being married to a yard and I think a wooden boat would feel the same.  Instead of getting out and enjoying the boat there would always be some overdue maintenance that either needed doing or made you feel guilty for not doing it immediately.

After looking at the Tollycraft we headed back downtown to find Pike Street Market.  We were there 100 years ago on our honeymoon.  That time we hired a kid to pedal us up the hill on some kind of bicycle affair but we must be in better shape now because we climbed the stairs.  Maybe we’re just cheaper in our old age.


Today (Monday) for the first time we looked at a boat that we could both have happily moved onboard. 

Defever 48 Tri Cabin

I have always loved the profile of the Defever boats.  I’m a firm believer that function follows form in boats.  The boats that perform best are also the ones that look right.  This picture doesn’t really capture the sweeping prow that Defevers are famous for and it has too much garbage above the cabin for my taste but its still a pretty good looking boat.  More importantly for our situation, it has sufficient headroom throughout for me.  It actually has a lot more headroom than our current residence.

We’re not ready to buy but we will be looking really hard at Defevers from now on.  This one has active stabilizers which is not my preference.  I wouldn’t mind if we ended up with active stabilizers but they would have to be in addition to passive stabilizers.  I’ve heard too many horror stories about the actives failing or getting bashed up against something.  I think my partner is going to need a stabilized boat and reliable stabilization means passive stabilization as far as I can tell.

We also weren’t wild about the space behind the salon/galley.  There’s a deck area underneath the fly bridge that has about 4’ of headroom.  I think its designed for a couple of chaise lounges but it just looks like wasted space to me.  Other than those quibbles it was a pretty nice boat at a reasonable price.  

So we reached a watershed today – up until today all we had was a list of what we don’t want.  We don’t want wood.  We don’t want anything under 45 feet.  We don’t want a single engine.  But now we have something that we actually do want.  That’s not saying that we will buy a Defever but we’ll make damn sure to look at every one that comes along.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hanging out in Anacortes

La Conner actually but nobody has ever heard of La Conner and a few people might recognize Anacortes.

You can almost see the bay through the trees behind the bus.  From inside the bus we can definitely see the tide coming and going.

Yesterday I walked down at low tide to watch a young Indian man digging clams.  We tried digging clams at White Rock when the kids were young but didn’t damage the clam population at all.  Now that I have seen somebody successfully digging them I think maybe I could actually find some myself.  I watched the Mexicans dragging for them in the surf at Las Glorias about 5 years ago but that system requires a little more equipment than I want to haul along with us.  The young fellow yesterday had a garden fork and some pails – that’s about the level of technology I had in mind.

Today the tide was still in when I walked down to the beach.  I’m hoping to encounter my young friend again later today in order to get us some fresh clams but in the interest of not confessing online to committing a felony I’m not going to say any more about that.  (on edit: after three trips to the beach I am still unable to locate my co-conspirator so we are both depressingly in compliance with the fish and game laws and there are no fresh clams for supper tonight)

This morning we drove into La Conner so I could mail Rockaway Beach their mordita.  Marilyn had bought some books on ebay and had them shipped here so we checked on them and sure enough they had arrived.  I had ordered some V-belts from NAPA and they were in as well.  All in all a pretty productive trip and I didn’t even mention the milk we bought.

We also spent about an hour looking at a 48’ Grand Banks that Dea had lined up for us.  This was still one of the wooden Grand Banks so we don’t think it is the boat for us but it had a lot going for it nevertheless.  I can’t count how many people have told me with a dead serious face “you’ll never find a standup engine room in a 50 foot vessel”.  Well this one was 48 feet and it has a standup engine room.  That’s really important to me for a couple of reasons.  First off it lets you get in there and do regular maintenance and second it becomes the workshop that I don’t have now.  Last week we looked at an Ocean Alexander Mark I which was a gorgeous vessel, much newer than the Grand Banks and two feet longer but I would have had to lie on my belly to service the engines.  On the Ocean Alexander I could see the generator but there wasn’t a hope in hell that I could get at it to do service.  On the Grand Banks I could get all around the genset.  I also had more or less adequate headroom throughout the Grand Banks which again is something I have been repeatedly told will be impossible to find.  Despite all those positives its still pretty much of a cocktail cruiser.  Right or wrong I’ve got a picture of what we need and it doesn’t have a great big flat transom or a high topheavy flybridge.

This has been a great location for getting a little bus maintenance finished off.  Some places are pretty anal about not wanting us to work on our rigs but here we are kind of isolated with nobody close beside us.  Obviously its still best to be considerate but so far I have changed out my starter, put in a bunch of rivets along the beltline and installed the new belts from NAPA.

For several years now I’ve felt that I should have a spare starter.  With a mechanical diesel engine if you have fuel and it turns over it should run.  We had an episode last summer where the solenoid failed on the starter.  Fortunately I was able to get it replaced and get us on the road the next day but I sure wished I had a spare when that happened.  Clifford Allen recommended a place in Seattle as a starter source so we drove in there earlier this week in conjunction with a trip to Everett to look at the Ocean Alexander.  The industrial area we had to go into was a major fustercluck with construction and map errors contributing to a very frustrating trip but we came home with a brand new Delco Remy 39TM for roughly half what I would have had to pay Quint’s terrorist friends. 

I bought rivets and backing washers in Las Vegas but didn’t dare try putting them in while we were there.  The Thousand Trails park in Las Vegas is a “parking lot type situation” in the words of Marilyn’s cousin.  I’d have been riveting literally underneath my neighbour’s window awnings so I thought it best to wait and it turned out we didn’t have weather or opportunity until we got here.  The body panels on this bus are somewhat structural.  When the converter replaced the original stainless with fibreglass he riveted it along the beltline and covered the rivet heads with body filler.  Over time as the coach flexes that filler has loosened and now we have paint blisters along the beltline wherever it is riveted.  I don’t know any easy way to cure that other than adding rivets and then covering them with a decorative moulding so the first step in that plan is putting in new rivets.  That’s done on the curbside now – as soon as the rain lets up I’ll get the driver’s side done.  My new Harbor Freight air rivet tool worked like a charm.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The people of Walmart

If you have never been to this site then you need to go there at least once.  We spend a lot of shopping time in Walmart because they are kind enough to encourage RVers to park for free overnight in their parking lots.  Some communities frown on this practice, sometimes for aesthetic reasons and sometimes because the mayor’s brother owns a campground.  But enough Walmarts throw down the welcome mat that we make a point of doing as much of our shopping at Walmart as possible. 

Tonight we’re just east of Olympia, Washington on a Wallyworld parking lot. 

View Larger Map


We haven’t run the generator for a long time so I was expecting a battle and as usual it didn’t disappoint.  It has been a piece of shit from the day we bought the bus.  I remember Clarence describing it as a “cold blooded son of a bitch” when he was showing me how to start it and that was a generous assessment.  Despite a complete engine overhaul by Superuke and a new charging head this winter it is still a piece of shit.  It is always hard to start – you have to preheat the glowplugs for a full minute in order to have any hope of it firing off.  When it hasn’t been run for a while it manages to get air in the line and it absolutely will not clear that on its own.  It has an external fuel pump that should push the air through the engine pump while its cranking but it never does.  The only cure is to loosen the fitting that feeds the injector pump to bleed the air and of course that pukes fuel all over the compartment and eventually onto the ground.

If we’re using it maybe every other week then it isn’t a problem but I knew it would be a problem tonight and like I said, it failed to disappoint. 

Other than the frustrating end to the day we had a mostly great drive up the coast today.  Mostly great because I got pinched for speeding through some little no-name town along the coast in an obvious revenue trap.  For the amount of time we spend off the interstates its a wonder that hasn’t happened more often – today was the first time in all our travels.

We ended up having to unhook when we got into town here because, as usual, it was impossible to find diesel fuel in an easily accessible pump.  I drove by several stations along the coast that I clearly should have pulled into but when we got here there wasn’t a diesel pump to be seen.  When we did find one there was no way we could make the corner into the station so we ended up unhooking only to discover that the station was out of diesel fuel.  They sent me up the road to another Shell station with an equally inaccessible pump but I managed to wiggle into it and get filled.  Then I beat my way through multiple parking lots to finally get to the Walmart lot. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A gray day on the coast

Its been raining on the wet coast.  That’s not really news – more like a statement of fact. 

Marilyn had noticed a sign on the way into Florence advertising some seal cave somewhere on the coast.  When she first suggested we go there the seals were 11 km south of us but they in fact turned out to be 11 miles north of us.  The 11 was definitely correct.  So this afternoon we braved the rain and she drove us up the coast to the seal cave. 

Evidently there is some volcanic fault line running through pre-historic lava flows which has allowed the ocean to wear away a cave into the rocky coastline.  Some old dude around the turn of the 19th century discovered the cave – apparently the seals had already discovered it – and turned it into a tourist trap.  The original access was down a wooden staircase that entered the cave near where I took the picture of the lighthouse.  That staircase is long gone, replaced by a stainless steel elevator that whisks you through the rock to sea level. 

When you step out of the elevator its hard to say which is more overpowering, the smell of fishy bodies or the racket of barking seals.  We’re not sure it was worth the 12 bucks apiece that they charged for the privilege but it was kind of cute.  Apparently its been a family business for over 75 years now.  The original partners faded away and 2 partners ended up owning the place.  Then they both got washed into the ocean one stormy day and only one of them survived.  That guy evidently lost interest – perhaps his saltwater bath had some impact on his decision – and grandma (the wife of the drowned partner) ended up running the joint.  She didn’t have all the chainlink seal control fencing that is in place today so apparently she carried her broom with her when she conducted tours. 

We’re here for a few more days.  On Friday we’re going to head north again, taking a couple of days to move to Anacortes where we’ll spend the next two weeks, or longer if the weather doesn’t smarten up.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sweet and salty almonds

We maintain our Costco membership for three reasons – almonds, fresh salmon and dried cranberries.  We buy other stuff at Costco but those three alone make the membership worthwhile.

I’ve been trying for some time to figure out how to make sugared and salted almonds and I have finally got it nailed.  You need some almonds – as many as you want to end up with – Costco is a great place to get them for a reasonable price.  Put them in a heavy frying pan and brown them with a little butter.  While they are browning put some corn syrup in a measuring cup in the microwave.  You don’t need much corn syrup – maybe a couple of tablespoons per cup of almonds.  You want to boil the corn syrup so that it ends up at the hard ball stage at the same time that the almonds are ready for it.  If you don’t know what “hard ball” means, Google it.  And what you are after is an approximation – there’s no way you’ll have time for a candy thermometer when all this comes together.  Its probably better to err on the soft side if you are going to err.

Keep stirring the almonds and butter so they don’t burn and at the same time get some brown sugar and salt ready.  You need enough sugar to coat the almonds thoroughly and however much salt you like.  You can use white sugar too if you prefer.  I use a mixture of seasoned salt and sea salt but you could do whatever you like.  You probably need about 1/3 the volume of sugar as you have almonds. 

When the almonds are nicely browned dump the heated corn syrup in the pan and keep stirring it.  What you are trying to do is get the syrup to completely coat the almonds.  You have to move fast at this point because you want to get the sugar/salt mixture added before the corn syrup hardens.  When the almonds are thoroughly coated and still hot, dump the coated almonds into the sugar and salt mixture and start stirring them together.  Keep stirring until the almonds are completely coated – they should be dry at this point. 

As they cool off they may want to stick together – that means you should have used more sugar or left the heat on longer after you dumped the syrup into the almonds.  Keep stirring them occasionally as they cool off so they don’t turn into one solid lump.  Alternatively you may wish to dump the whole works out on waxed paper and separate each almond so that they harden separately.  That is my preferred method now.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

GET OUT – We don’t want your type here

That’s our big fear – someday we’ll walk into a casino, present our drivers licenses to the players’ club and the ladies will freak out on us.  Again tonight we have been the beneficiaries of casino hospitality.  But tonight it was to the tune of over $300.  They foolishly gave us a total of $500 in free play credits – 200 for Marilyn and 300 for me. We cautiously parlayed that into over $300 in real money and then quickly cashed in and left.  Which is unbelievably good fortune on one level and a scandal if you really think about it.

Suppose we had walked in off the street to Cher Ae Heights casino, which is where we are tonight.  Suppose we walked in, sat down at a slot machine and put $500 into it.  One turn later we would have walked out with slightly over $300.  That’s horrendous.  We were playing penny machines because that seemed to be all that would take our freebie cards.  At 40 lines per spin and 5x per line (because that was all they would let us bet) that $500 would translate into pushing the little button 250 times.  If you had the brains to stop after 250 pushes then the pushes would have cost you roughly 75 cents per push.  Don’t ever think that we let the machines go five cents into our real money – we cashed them out immediately when we could so our payout was the machine payout. 

Now you can argue that it isn’t a fair measure because maybe they would have paid better over time if we had played more but come on, $500 is a lot of change, especially at $2 per spin.  I forget my stats and Imre Henje stole my textbook so I can’t check the confidence levels but I think 250 spins is a pretty good measure.  Its no bloody wonder casinos are springing up like zits on a teenager’s face.  So at one level we feel pretty thankful to the casino for giving us a free place to park here and a significant chunk of cash just for showing up.  But at another level it shows me just what a vicious rip-off these places truly are. 

We left San Diego on Monday after I thought rush hour would be over.  We got to L.A. in the early afternoon and never really had to contend with any gridlock traffic.  There were times when I-5 slowed to maybe 25 MPH but most of the time it kept rolling along pretty good.  That got us up to Oxnard on the northwest corner of L.A. late in the afternoon and we parked on a WalMart lot that we had scoped out on the trip south.  I needed fuel by then so I hailed a parked trucker and asked where the nearest fuel pump was.  That was after I had walked around enough to determine that the three stations close by didn’t have diesel fuel.  I’m always amused by Americans who ask me “how hard is it to find fuel in Mexico?”  I’ve wasted more hours looking for diesel in the US than I have wasted seconds looking in Mexico.  Down there you can’t move without running into a Pemex and every last one of them has diesel – here they hide the bloody diesel fuel and it can be a genuine treasure hunt to find a pump and then damn near impossible to get to the pump when you do find it.

Tuesday morning we headed on up the road to Morgan Hill which is just south of San Jose.  We stayed in the Thousand Trails at Morgan Hill on our way down and were completely underwhelmed by it.  Thousand Trails parks in general have some issues with maintenance but the one at Morgan Hill stands out as a sloppy example of how a park should not be run.  Its also about 25 minutes away from Marilyn’s cousin’s house in San Jose so we went back there despite the sloppy maintenance.  We had a good visit with Fern and Larry, spent two nights at the campground and then today headed north again.

GoldenGatePanorama San Francisco traffic was actually worse than L.A.  I suppose it must have been a timing thing although I thought we were leaving late enough to miss rush hour but the south end of the bay around Palo Alto and San Mateo was a gong show.  We finally got through downtown in time for a late lunch at the rest area on the north end of the Golden Gate bridge.  We haven’t stopped there for years now.  I wasn’t sure that the bus would even fit but we took a chance and found a spot. 

Its a popular spot so we were lucky to find a place that we fit.  There was some bus and RV parking areas reserved further around the rest area but when I walked around to check on them there was a cop parked in the middle of one of them and some other government vehicle blocking the other area.  There seemed to be a pretty steady parade of cops through the area and none of them seemed to mind the way I was parked so I finally stopped worrying about it and just enjoyed my lunch. 

Coming north from San Francisco the signs kept warning us to expect bad weather so we did but it never appeared.  Several of the signs said to carry chains which we do but as I told Marilyn, while I am reasonably sure I could hang them if I had to I have absolutely no intention of ever proving that I can.  If we run into weather that requires chains then we are going to start the generator, turn on the electric blankets and crawl into bed for the duration of the storm.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Boats and all things boating

We spent the last two days getting up way earlier than we are used to in order to travel into downtown San Diego so that we could stretch our minds with an overload of new information.  Trawlerfest is a 3 day travelling boat rally focussed on the group of boats loosely described as “trawlers”.  As I tried to explain to a couple in the hot tub last night, “trawler” is by no means a definitive adjective or noun.  The word originates from the fishing vessels that trawled or dragged nets offshore and in its purest sense the word refers to a vessel that is only capable of travelling at displacement speeds with deep draft stability.  In practice though the word gets applied to some of the most gawd-awful examples of the yachtbuilder’s art. 

The best example of the classic trawler hull design in a current production vessel is likely Nordhavn and they certainly were well represented at the show.  I have dreamed of finding a used Nordhavn at a price we can afford but I was frankly disappointed by what I saw of the new builds.  Headroom is a huge issue for me and that clearly wasn’t on offer in the current Nordhavns.  Equally importantly I like to be able to see and touch the critical mechanical systems and the builders now seem to think that anything functional should be hidden behind some stupid plastic panel.  That was one of the reasons that the engine room on the Dickie Walker appealed to me – everything was out there where you could inspect and service it.

The foolish design features weren’t limited to Nordhavn by any means.  During a seminar yesterday afternoon, 16 of us crowded ourselves into the engine room on some 63 foot pseudo-trawler that actually had ivory coloured carpet on the floor of the engine room.  There’s a practical touch – two Series 60 Detroits sitting over top of white carpet – I can’t imagine anything that could ever go wrong with that plan.

I think Trawlerfest San Diego is likely the least impressive of the five venues where Passagemaker Magazine operates the show.  There were only about a dozen display vessels and no visitor vessels tied up at the expensive dock outside the Kona Kai hotel where the show was held.  Other attendees told us that at some of the locations there are literally hundreds of exhibitor and visitor vessels, many of which you can tour during the show.  Nevertheless there was plenty for a couple of neophytes like ourselves to look at and lots to learn.  We had registered for 2 out of the 3 days and we split up to attend separate seminars in order to maximize the amount of information that we could absorb. 

There was nothing on the dock that we’ll ever be able to afford – the new boats started at a half million for a little bitty 35 footer and went rapidly up from there.  “Dickie Walker” was the only used vessel on display and as beautiful as it was there were way more issues evident with it than I would ever want to contend with.  It was however a gorgeous example of the art of shipbuilding and I have to include a picture of the highlight of the show for me.  The vessel is powered by a D-13000 Caterpillar which is a 6 cylinder engine that generates 140 HP at 1000 RPM.  Cat built them in the late 40’s and early 50’s, generally for stationary applications.  One of my goals for whatever boat we end up with is to have a large enough engine room to incorporate a bit of a workshop and the Dickie Walker certainly satisfied that goal. 

The real highlight of the show for me were the demos on the dock and onboard.  The little red and yellow floating tent is actually a self-righting inflatable 4-man survival raft.  That type of equipment is mandatory on commercial vessels but incredibly enough it is not required anywhere in North America.  We were able to see a

demo inflation and 4 of the conference attendees crawled aboard to experience what life at sea could be like.  We also got to watch Captain Henry crawl into his survival suit.  It looked to me like a clumsy version of a dry suit.  I expect you pay dearly for the red colour on a dry suit that you could never use for anything else so I think I’ll stick to my dry suit but it was useful to see anyway. 

In the long term the most useful part of the show was likely the contacts that we made.  Last night we had supper with a couple from Vancouver.  It seems like a long way to travel to meet somebody from home but that’s not unusual for us.  We’re looking forward to seeing their Ocean Alexander once we get back to BC.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Going doty about birds

Normally Jorgito is in charge of bird watching in the frenchy-bus.  We can always tell when he is on the trail of another bird because we can hear the thwap-thwap of his tail.  Either birds must be REALLY stupid or wild cats must learn to control their tails. 

IMG_2869 Somewhere along the way Marilyn picked up a hummingbird feeder.  We’ve had a variety of them in the past and it always seemed to me that it took the silly little buggers a long time to find the feeder.  So I wasn’t optimistic that they would ever find ours since we move every couple of weeks.  Somehow they seem to be managing though.  Both here and in Quartzsite we have had pretty regular customers at our feeding station. 

Our current feeder doesn’t hold much but it is still surprising how fast the little devils can empty it.  George doesn’t seem to recognize them as birds.  He is mildly interested in them but doesn’t get excited about them the way he does for sparrows.  And they clearly don’t perceive him as even the slightest threat.  When they are feeding they are often less than 18 inches away from his nose pressed up against the corner of the windshield. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Enough of this bullshit already

OlympicRings Anybody who knows me knows the disdain with which I hold the IOC.  If there is a more corrupt organization in the world it would be the UN but I think the IOC is firmly in gold medal position.  For the last 2 weeks every time we turned the TV on there was some damn fool yammering on about “own the podium”.  Now they’re on about how we failed to “own the podium” because we didn’t collect as many total medals as the US and somebody else.

So would they be happier if we had won 47 bronze medals and nothing else?  Gimme a break already.  In any other situation you weight the scoring.  When you are counting total points you don’t weight a win the same as a tie.  So why in hell would you weight a yellow medal the same as a brown one?  Its all bullshit anyway but if you are going to buy into the bullshit then at least do it right.