Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Damn that was a good salad

I haven’t done a recipe for a long time and this one is dead simple:

  • 1 ripe Avocado per person
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Stuffed olives
  • A little mayonnaise

Now the key to this salad is knowing how to deal with the avocado.  You need to girdle the avocado with a sharp knife, cutting completely around it in the long direction as deep as the pit.  If the avocado lying on the counter is the world you want to cut completely around the equator as deep as the pit.  Twist the two halves and if it is properly ripe you will end up with two perfect halves with the pit remaining in one half.  If you whack the pit with the knife such that the knife remains embedded in the pit you can easily twist it out. 

None of this will work if the avocado isn’t perfectly ripe.  Too early and it will be tough and green; too late and it will be mushy and brown.  One secret that one of my cocineras mexicanas taught me is to put green avocados in a slightly warm oven for a few hours to hasten their ripening.  Its very hard to buy good avocados up here because they are largely picked too green.  If you want to use them immediately when you cradle them in your hand they should feel almost soft but not soft.   If they’re too green when you buy them they will never ripen.  Its much easier to buy them in Mexico but its such a grind to get them back home in time for supper if you don’t actually live in Mexico.

Now take one half of the avocado and cradle it in your hand.  Cut as deep as the skin but not through the skin in a criss cross pattern through the entire meat of the fruit.  When you’ve done that to both halves you can scoop out the meat and you will end up with mainly little cubes maybe 1/4” or a little bigger on a side. 

Cut the grape tomatoes into quarters and mix them with the  avocado cubes.  Cut some olives in half to taste and mix it all up with a little mayonnaise.  Let it chill for half an hour so the flavours can mix – don’t leave it too long or the avocado will turn brown.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

One step forward; two steps back

We had a brief window of sunshine and warm weather yesterday.  My u-bolt shipment arrived at about the same time so I got to work. 


The first step was to rearrange the locations of the bimini arches.  The solar panels will eventually lie in an aluminum angle framework on top of the binimi frames.  The frames were originally set up to make an arch for the canvas cover but their design makes it pretty easy to align all three of them at the same height. 

20130225_163528The little dongle hanging in the centre of the photo is a socket that accepts 1” SS conduit.  By putting in longer conduit I was able to align the rear frame at the height I wanted.   The other two frames are hinged such that I can put them wherever I want them.  They will be held in position by the aluminum frame which supports the panels.  About the time I took this picture it started to cloud over and simultaneously I discovered that the u-bolts I waited so long for won’t work.  They aren’t threaded far enough up their shanks to tighten on my 1” conduit.  A couple of phone calls to a couple of local chandleries later and now I’m waiting for u-bolts again.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Old men in silly hats


I suppose this topic will dominate the media for the next 2 weeks and I suppose its disrespectful but I just couldn’t resist.

The following picture clearly demonstrates that ridiculous hats are by no means limited to the Catholic aristocracy although in this case the rest of his costume draws attention away from the poofy feathers.


Or how about these two:


On balance I guess the Cardinals don’t have the silliest headgear on the planet but they will still make for entertaining viewing.  Especially when you combine their bizarre headgear with their bizarre social outlook.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Confined to quarters

I’m doubly stranded today – without wheels and rained in.

Actually I’m not completely wheel-less because my mechanic gave me a crappy Toyota loaner but I haven’t used it other than to get back home from Duncan.  That was on Monday. 

Air bags are a known maintenance item on Towncars after about 5 years.  Ours is 10 years old and likely was still riding on the original bags so we were overdue.  Knowing that, I had purchased replacements but was hoping I could make it through to spring when I could install them myself.  No such luck.  After I got back out here I noticed that the car was dragging its ass by morning and at the same time I realized that I could hear the compressor running way too often.  Finally one morning it dragged bottom leaving the parking lot and I knew that time had run out. 

Of course I hadn’t bothered to bring the replacement airbags out here with me so that involved a whole separate adventure when Canada Post briefly lost them but by Monday of this week I had my airbags.  When I phoned my mechanic in Duncan he leaped at the chance to put something in his shop so Monday afternoon he pulled the old bags out and after some difficulty stuffed the new ones back in.  That was the point when we discovered that the more pressing problem was that my compressor had worn itself out.  That wasn’t entirely unexpected either – they are a known service item at this age too. 

What wasn’t so expected was the price that Ford of Canada wanted for a replacement compressor - $800 – plus rush delivery to Duncan if I wanted it in any reasonable time frame.  Bastards – nobody stocks squat anymore.  I thought a quick internet search was in order and it turns out there is an outfit called Arnott that specializes in air suspensions.  They air freighted a new compressor from Florida to Duncan for less than $300 delivered.  My guess is it got here faster than the Ford product would have and I expect the Ford item would have been a reman, not a new one. 


The picture is the real reason that I am confined to quarters today.  There’s been a big high anchored over Hawaii for a while now and the systems are coming over the top of it and then falling down the coast.  They bump up against the Rockies, get diverted south and dump rain as they rise up the face of the mountains.  Today we’re getting a normal wet coast pissing rain event.  We did get a brief window of sunshine yesterday & I leaped on the opportunity to get my power cables strung in anticipation of installing the solar panels.  I’m still waiting for my cheap SS u-bolts but Marilyn mailed them earlier this week so they shouldn’t take too much longer.  I’ll definitely need a couple of sunshine windows to get that project completed.

The guy that sold me the panels was full of promises that he could supply the controller as well but a couple of nights ago I got tired of waiting for that to happen.  So now I’ve got a Chinese built controller somewhere in the mail between here and Taiwan.  Chinese wire connecting Chinese panels to a Chinese controller mounted on Chinese aluminum angle iron held on with (maybe) North American SS bolts.  So much for supporting North American manufacturing.  At least I still drive Fords – well not this week but most of the time.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Green power

Regular readers may remember this incident from the winter of 2009-10.  I had pretty well non-stop grief from that miserable POKC (piece of Kubota crap).  From day one it was trouble – some days more so than others.  In retrospect we had an omen – when we picked up the coach Clarence (the previous owner) had trouble getting the miserable bitch to start on a warm Kelowna afternoon.  That winter of 09/10 I had just paid the SuperUke a bunch of money to rebuild the engine and I had built a solid compartment for it to live in.  My dream was that eventually I would soundproof the compartment.  My other electrical dream for that winter was that I would buy some additional cheap solar panels for the bus while we were in Arizona. All of that went for shit when I ended up dumping in excess of $2000 into the miserable POKC again. 

At that time if I shopped carefully I could have bought solar panels for close to $3 per watt.  My intent was to add at least 200 watts to the bus and ideally I would have added 500 watts.  $3 per watt still didn’t make economic sense (although that price was probably economical compared to ridiculous costs of operating the POKC).  Using a generator that doesn’t blow up on a weekly basis I can generate power for roughly $10 per day.  That’s not cheap but it would take at least 3 kilowatts of panels to completely replace that generator power so at $10,000 capital cost we couldn’t use the bus long enough to pay it back.  At the time though we weren’t driven by economics.  We just wanted to reduce our generator run time and a couple hundred additional watts would have made a big difference. 

Generators are notoriously poor solutions for battery charging.  We have the same genset on the bus and the boat – they are both 6.5 kw Onans.  We only need roughly 4 kw to run the electrical systems when we are actually consuming power but the 6.5 Onans are what we’ve got and they’re a pretty rugged machine.  We’ve got electric hot water tanks on both the bus and the boat.  On the bus we cook with propane which makes a huge reduction in our power consumption but on the boat we need electricity every time we want to make dinner or even when we want a cup of tea. 

Once we’re done using the stove or after the water heater cuts out though we drop back to using maybe 1000 watts at the most, usually much less.  We still have to let the little Onans rumble away though and it can take 5 or more hours to fully top the batteries off.  Battery chemistry dictates that they will take a heavy charge initially but very quickly they reduce the amount of power that they will accept.  That reduction in charge rate happens long before they are anywhere near “full”.  So to put a full charge on our batteries using the generator means a lot of wasted fuel, not to mention a lot of listening to the noise of the gennie.   Less run time isn’t an option if we want to look after our batteries.  Deliberately undercharging them is a good way to ruin them.

Finishing off that battery charge is where an appropriately sized solar array comes in.  Three years ago it probably still made economic sense to just run the genset – assuming we could keep it from poking holes in its block or swallowing its brushes or any of the myriad other ways it found to commit mechanical suicide.  Those operational economics have rapidly changed over the last few years and particularly so in the last year.  Today my solar supplier delivered 720 watts of solar panels and I gave him $747.50.  That’s as close to $1 per watt as makes no difference.  And more importantly that’s one third of what it would have cost me just three years ago.

I’ve got a pretty good plan worked out for the installation – I’ll post lots of pictures.  When I started my davit project I thought I would mount the panels over the top of the davits but I have come to the conclusion that would look too goofy.  It also would be a challenge to run the wiring from the extreme aft end of the boat forward to the engine room.  So I have a revised plan which involves replacing the canvas bimini with solar panels.

That new plan requires a large number of SS u-bolts so I can’t really get started for probably another week because I’m too cheap to buy u-bolts locally.  Last week I ordered some online.  They’re coming out of the US so it shouldn’t take too long for them to arrive.  I’m also waiting for my wire (also bought online) to arrive and my supplier out here is waiting for a shipment of controllers. 

And now for Something

Completely Different

And Disgusting.


That’s otter crap on the deck of the sailboat next to us.  The miserable little swimming rats slither out of the water onto the dock and then up onto whatever boat they can find.  Then they crap profusely. 

Earlier this week I was lying in bed when I heard some kind of commotion in the water outside.  It sounded like somebody was swimming near the boat so I got up to have a look.  There was a parade of swimmer rats slithering off the boat next to me.  It was like a line of grade school kids crossing a road in single file.  They must have started while I was over in Vancouver at the boat show because I hadn’t had any trouble with crap on the dock before I left but since I got back it has been a daily cleanup. 


Chris, who owns the sailboat, is in Mexico this week so today Richard & I strung snowfence along the side of the boat.  The mess on the aft deck (the first picture) is minor compared to what they have accumulated under the tarp on the foredeck.  Chris washed the boat just a few weeks ago but he’ll be doing it over again as soon as he gets home.  Its still nothing compared to Malcolm’s Grand Banks across the dock from us.  He had one of those big canvas covers on the boat for the winter but had to remove it last week.   Then he had to clean up the 18 inches of otter shit that was piled up on his deck.  Apparently the little bastards really like getting in under cover to do their business.  Strychnine would solve the problem real quick but its so hard to get these days and I expect it would create some other issues in the community.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gimme a break already


Pope Benedict XVI

  • At 78, one of the oldest new popes in history when elected in 2005
  • Born in Germany in 1927, joined Hitler Youth during WWII and was conscripted as an anti-aircraft gunner but deserted
  • As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spent 24 years in charge of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition
  • A theological conservative, with uncompromising views on homosexuality and women priests

I didn’t write that – I shamelessly copied it from BBC Europe, Feb. 11.  I’m sick and tired of hearing the non-stop media blather about this clown’s resignation.  He’s the aging head of an irrelevant dogmatic version of Christianity.  His church is ruled from Europe but funded by poor people in Latin America.  And the guy himself is arguably a modern day Nazi who ran today’s version of the Inquisition. 

Tell me again why I should care that he retired yesterday?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Boat show and other lunacy

I spent yesterday at the Vancouver Boat Show.  I’m never sure why I go to boat or RV shows but I always seem to enjoy myself and I always help support the local economy while I’m at them.  Yesterday I came home with 75 boat diapers and a new radio.  I had no intention of buying either when I left the boat in the morning.

The radio actually made pretty good financial sense (or at least as much financial sense as any boat related purchase ever makes).  When we bought Gray Hawk she came equipped with two very current and capable Standard Horizon (Yaesu) radios.  The one in the cabin had a few more capabilities than the one on the flybridge but most of the features on a 2-way radio are window dressing.  What you really need is transmit power and channel scanning, both of which we had at both helms.  In the marine world however there is also something called an MMSI number.  MMSI stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identity.  Its a 9 digit serial number which is unique worldwide to us and our boat.  In the event of an emergency our radio has a big red button which we can push to transmit a distress message which includes our MMSI number.

MMSI radios are not intended to be sold with the vessel and for that reason the MMSI in the radio can only be programmed once.  In theory you can send the radio back to the factory and get it reset so that you can put in a new number but nobody really knows how to do that and it costs a significant portion of the price of a new radio.  I got lucky and was able to reprogram the MMSI on the flybridge but the one in the main cabin would not take our number so we have been running with George’s number for over 2 years now.  That has always bothered me but never rose to the level of “I need to get that fixed today” so it just continued to bug me. 

Yesterday I saw a clearance radio at the boat show that was virtually identical to the radio we had in the cabin – same radio, newer model.  They only wanted $110 for it and it was brand new so I bought it.  I reasoned that it would cost me $50 or $75 at least to get George’s old MMSI erased.  I figure I can likely sell my old radio for roughly that much so when I’m all done I may not be much out of pocket and I have a properly setup radio complete with my MMSI.  Because it was a Standard Horizon radio that I was taking out to replace with a Standard Horizon radio the swap went very quickly last night and the new one is now installed and working.  At the same time I also hooked up a feed wire from the autopilot so our radio now knows where we are at all times.  That means that in the event of an emergency not only will it transmit our MMSI number but it will also send out our GPS location.  Even $110 seems like a small price to pay for that level of assurance and I think when I’m all done the actual cost will be $50 or less.

I didn’t buy the $6000++ fancy dancy fuel cell generator.  I hope nobody else was stupid enough to buy it but I suppose there is no end to the supply of fools and green fools are as ubiquitous as seagulls out here.  If you can imagine, this outfit is selling 65 watt fuel cells that don’t even run on any normal fuel.  If you were stupid enough to install one you would then need to carry jugs of methanol onboard.  I’m sure you can pick that up at ………. somewhere.  You’d have to carry a lot because even assuming you could find it here in the heart of greendom, I’m sure it is less available as you get further away from British Columbiafornia.  You’d need a lot of fuel because the thing puts out ……………… wait for it …………………… a whopping 65 watts.  Just for reference the power brick that is running my laptop right now puts out 65 watts too.  I listened to the fool selling the fuel cell for a while but I didn’t bother arguing with him when he claimed that his 65 watt generator would let me live my life sans generator.  I think I’ll stick with my 6500 watt generator (that happily sips diesel fuel that I have onboard anyway).

Monday, February 4, 2013

False Creek

I like it here.  I’m anchored between BC Place and the Science Centre.  There’s a bunch of BS about anchoring in False Creek which makes it stressful for those folks who like to spend a lot of time here but for guys like me who don’t get here very often its pretty painless.  They have “anchoring permits” that limit your winter stays to roughly 3 weeks every 2 months and your summer stays to 2 weeks in the same period.  We keep several of the blank permits onboard so its pretty simple once we arrive to post a permit in the window.  I also promptly take the completed form to the dropbox across from Granville Island, which is what you are supposed to do.  But apparently nobody takes that part of the process too seriously because the dropbox was overflowing yesterday when I dropped my current form in it.  I expect my form from November 2012 was still in the bottom of the box.

This morning I took Hawkito (our dinghy) up to Granville to turn in my permit.  It startled me with how zoomy it was.  In November it was kind of a dog, didn’t want to idle well and never really opened up.  I dumped some kind of weasel piss in the fuel tank and evidently it has worked some magic on the jets because today we got up on plane and actually got going so fast that I scared myself and had to slow down.  I took Hawkito out again this afternoon for groceries and she even idled this time.  Last time I had to rev it out, then quickly slow it down, grab a gear and open it up again before it had time to die out.  Not very good for the transmission and really awkward for manoeuvring around the dinghy dock or when returning to Gray Hawk.  There’s no kill switch on the engine which wasn’t a problem in November – idle it down and it would happily die.  Not so today – I had to choke it to get it shut down.

There’s a lot of tankers anchored in English Bay.  Coming in yesterday I counted 15 but I know I didn’t get them all. 

I went looking for a Soviet Union this morning because I had a cheque that needed to be deposited after the end of January.   I ended up walking up Granville to West 15th before I found one and on the way back I noticed a shop with an oddball assortment of “stuff” in the window.  It was like one of those Dollar stores but obviously just some immigrant with connections to get cheap imported crap.  There was everything from wine glasses to Hallowe’en costumes jammed into its narrow aisles.  I didn’t really know what I was looking for but I was sure there was something in there that I needed and it turned out I was right.  I bought an egg timer. 

When you are running in fog the colregs require you to sound a “prolonged blast” at 2 minute intervals.  I’m sure I could cobble up some kind of automatic system to make that happen and it might even be a fun electronics project but I don’t think I will do that.  Staying focussed enough to push the button every two minutes seems like a good thing when you can’t see 50 yards (or less) ahead of  the boat.  On Saturday when I got caught in the fog on the way to Gibsons I used my watch but that was kind of a PITA so it occurred to me that egg timers are usually 2 minute timers.  I checked this one this morning and sure enough, 2 minutes.  It now forms part of our nav equipment.  At $1.67 I wish all additions to the boat were as economical.

We knew about our inverter interfering with our fluxgate compass but it took me a while to put that knowledge together with some weirdness in the integrated nav system.  If you look at the picture above you will see that the boat track isn’t perfectly following the plotted course.  What’s happening is that when I’m cooking dinner and the inverter is supplying a heavy load it interferes with the compass that the autopilot uses.  That compass is an electronic gadget mounted to the wall ahead of the helm.  Evidently under a heavy load there is some kind of mag field coming off the inverter that interferes with the compass.  It doesn’t happen all the time – only when we have both the oven and a space heater running – or maybe the oven and the teakettle.  But when it does happen you can clearly see the boat change course and evidently the navigator takes a while to get that all sorted out.  By which time the compass error has likely gone away which would cause the navigator to overcompensate.  We’ll just have to live with it because having a hot dinner underway is just way too civilized to give up.

I talked to my solar panel supplier tonight and he says he has the panels ready to deliver so as soon as the boat show finishes up this weekend I’ll be headed back to the Bay.  I don’t really have any reason to go to the boat show but I bought my tickets already so I won’t be leaving early.  And I bought 2-day tickets. Busy. Busy. Busy.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Captain Dell has the helm

This is pretty civilized.  My navigation system is working flawlessly today.  All I have to do is stay awake and make dinner.  Earlier this morning I met a sailboat motoring along in the opposing direction.  Poor bastard looked so cold and lonesome at the helm that I briefly thought about taking his picture but quickly decided against it.  Opening the door would have let the heat out of my cozy cabin that was just beginning to smell like dinner. 

IMG_6503 Doug would love all this electronic gadgetry.  Somehow between OpenCPN and the autopilot the two systems are negotiating a course that follows the route I plotted out ahead of time.  If you look really close you will see that there are a variety of headings displayed – course over ground, heading, mag heading – none of them the same – depending on the situation with current and wind it sometimes sets up a crab to stay on course.  And I don’t have to do anything except watch for logs (and whales of course).

Right now I’m running slow to get to Gabriola Pass after the peak ebb tide.  The ebb is against me which is making this a slow trip anyway and the timing is all wrong for me today.  Slack isn’t until something like 3 or 4 PM which simply doesn’t work to get me across the Strait in daylight.  The morning slack was way too early to have any hope of catching it. So I’m timing it to hit the pass after peak ebb but well ahead of slack.  That will make for a more exciting passage than I would like but the alternative is finding someplace to tie up or anchor overnight and turning this into a two day trip.  That’s still very much an option if I should happen to encounter fog.  It was really thick at 5:30 in Cow Bay this morning but it lifted by 7:00.  I’ve heard Vessel Traffic Services asking about visibility and it sounds like maybe there is still some fog on the mainland but – so far – my trip has been fog free.


Well.  Running Gabriola Pass an hour after maximum ebb with seasonally high tides probably wasn’t the wisest decision I’ve ever made.  On the other hand what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  By that measure I’m considerably stronger tonight than I was this morning.  Strangely enough I just feel tired. 

Most of the pass was a piece of cake but there was one choke point that I had identified ahead of time.  Sure enough when I got there the boat went from 6 or 6.5 knots to less than two, even with the throttles right to the pins.  That should give us 8.5 or 9 knots in still water so I had 5-6 knots of current against me.  I could actually see the hill in the water where it was pouring in between two islands.  Right about then the oncoming water caught Gray Hawk’s forefoot and tried to spin me broadside in the channel.  I put the wheel hard over but it wasn’t responding because there was just so much water pushing against the front of the boat.  Before I started in I had turned the bow thruster on so I put in full starboard thrust and finally that, in combination with the rudder, started to turn the bow back away from the rocks that were getting alarmingly close.  There was a boat coming to meet me but fortunately he had stopped to watch my adventure.  After that it was no worries.

We had another little adventure once I got close to the mainland.  I could tell that the coast was fogged in because I just couldn’t see a shoreline.  The radar and the plotter were telling me that the shore was less than 4 miles away and then less than 2 miles away but still I couldn’t see it.  There was only a couple of times where it felt like the fog had closed right in but I guess I didn’t have much visibility for quite a while.  Just to be safe I blew the foghorn for over half an hour. 

As I got closer to Gibsons, Victoria traffic called me on the radio.  They knew who I was because I had a chat with one of the ferries who passed me in the fog.  I never saw him despite the fact that he was less than 2 miles away.  From that conversation traffic must have figured out who I was because a while later they called to tell me there was a tug ahead of me with a log tow.  Its a good thing they called because he was pretty small, wasn’t reporting to AIS and wasn’t showing much of a radar signature.  By cranking my gain up I could get him on the radar but I worried for quite a while about how far his boom(s) might be trailing behind him.  Finally when he was less than a mile away I cranked the gain up even higher and was able to pick out the log boom on the radar.  That made me feel a lot better and then when I was about half a mile away from the boom I all of a sudden ran out of the fog.  It turned out that the tug was sitting dead in the water, in the clear, likely waiting for the fog bank ahead of him to lift. 

When I arrived at Plumper Cove the SAR guys were here practicing.  We’ve seen them here before.  They come out from Vancouver on weekends for volunteer training runs.  Today they had two boats and they were practicing towing.  Before they left they docked the “rescued” boat with it hip tied to the tow boat.   I should have taken their picture but I thought me standing there gawking at them was likely adding enough stress for the poor fool at the wheel.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Messing around with boats

….. which generally means fixing.  That’s the part Ratty failed to mention – a lot of the time you spend messing around with boats is actually fixing time.

This time I deliberately broke something that wasn’t broke yet. 


That’s a cast iron pulley and a compression hub. 

20130201_141641 This is the piece of shit pot metal pulley that I am replacing.  The last time I replaced it I drilled and tapped for 2 additional setscrews plus put loctite on it.  I’ve still had to retighten it regularly.  Its just not up to the job.

If you look closely at the first picture you will see that it wasn’t up to the job either.  When I tightened the hub into the pulley it split the pulley.  I’ve never seen that happen.  There’s 2 identical pulleys on the drive – one with a 3/8 hub and the other with a 5/8 hub.  I rattled the first one tight with my 3/8 impact wrench but as soon as I started tightening the second one the pulley split.  Then of course I had to wait some more for the local store to order in another pulley because nobody stocks anything anymore.  Since I had nothing better to do last night I spread the crack in the pulley open and worked some good epoxy into the gap.  Then I clamped it tight in the vice overnight.  I wouldn’t want to depend on it for the long term but it might get me out of a bite sometime when I don’t have any other option.


Finished up and running. 

I’ll let it run for a couple of hours and then re-tighten the belt before I close up the sound shield again.  I don’t suppose this will be the last of this adventure but I can always hope.

I may have dodged a bullet when I started the generator.  Before I left the boat in November I had shut off several fuel and water lines.  Of course today when I started the generator I missed the shutoff so the gennie started fine, ran for maybe 5 minutes and then starved itself.  Fortunately I realized what I had done and immediately opened the valve.  And wonder of wonders it restarted and ran without having to be bled.  So I didn’t end up getting a fuel bath or running fuel into the bilge.  Yet.