Tuesday, December 31, 2013

All systems go

We’ve been slowly starting up systems on the boat after its 6 month sleep.  A couple of days ago I finally got around to firing the main engines, which didn’t go completely smoothly.  The starboard side started right up but the port was a little stubborn.  I think it was probably related to the fact that both the generator and the Webasto heater draw off the port side close to the engine intake.  I probably should put a check valve in there somewhere to prevent the other users from pulling fuel back out of the engine.  It was no big deal but I had to bleed the pump a couple of times before it finally fired off and stayed running.  Both times the pump had fuel in it but there was a burst of bubbles came out when I cracked the front bleed screw.  I bled it once, cranked it and it fired off but wouldn’t rev up and died out quickly.  I bled it again and that time it took off and stayed running. Both times the “bleeding” consisted of opening the two bleed screws and pumping a couple of times on the primer so it wasn’t really much of an ordeal.

Yesterday I fired the genset – it took a bit of cranking to start but it stayed running.  Its always been a little more forgiving of air in the fuel line. 

This morning we untied all the extra lines.  When we’re gone I like to double up as many lines as possible.  After a quick lunch we took off and arrived in Chemainus around 4:00.  Everything worked well on the way.  Our new computer makes a wonderful nav system. 


The touch screen has a few “issues”.  It has nothing to do with the nav software – the “touch” part just goes away on its own fairly regularly.  I’ll have to dig into that but so far that has been the only real problem.  When we first hooked the computer up we were both a little sceptical.  I think we were just experiencing change.  I can’t see that Window 8 is a whole lot different than its predecessors but there’s enough differences to make our life difficult off the start.  Combine those differences with the touch screen issues I already mentioned and we weren’t certain we’d made the right decision.  A week later and we’re pretty comfortable with our new toy and pretty happy with how it works. 

Until today I wasn’t 100% sure that the link to the autopilot would work.  On the previous system I had an RS232 port which drove the serial cable to the autopilot.  The new computer doesn’t have anything as primitive as an RS232 port so I had to come up with a USB to RS232 adapter.  I’ve got one kicking around somewhere – actually I think its somewhere on the boat – but of course I couldn’t find it when I needed it.  Fortunately London Drug had one in Duncan but I was by no means certain it was going to work.  When we got down by Separation Point this afternoon I activated the route in OpenCPN and told the autopilot to start following it.  Wonder of wonders it not only followed the route, I think it followed it better than it has ever done in the past.  On the old system there were times when the boat would seem to lose its sense of direction for a while.  It was like the autopilot would stop getting a signal from the computer.  Not so today – I don’t think we drifted 100 feet away from my preset course, ever. 

Its not dead simple to drive a boat by computer – there’s all sorts of negotiations that the computer and the autopilot have to go through.  There’s lag built into the GPS position information, the vessel has momentum which delays the start of turns and prolongs the end of the turn, even the degree of the turn affects how the boat navigates the turn.  On a minor course correction the boat barely moves off its heading but on a serious turn it builds up some significant rotary momentum during the turn and somehow that energy has to be managed as the boat comes out of the turn.  In the same way that you have to lead the control input on an airplane, you have to lead the inputs for the boat both to initiate a turn and to cancel the turn.  When you’re driving manually all that integration of motion and control input happens naturally if the skipper has any feel for the boat.  Its probably the most important measure of a skipper – how he manages to integrate all that information and how much feel he develops for how the boat handles.  For two separate computer systems to sort that out seems nothing short of miraculous.

Tonight we have tickets to “A Wonderful Life” which is the dinner theatre presentation for New Year’s Eve.  We’re paid up for three nights here on the dock – after that we’ll figure it out. 

Friday, December 27, 2013


Its a long road back but we are (finally) on the mend.  In the end both of us got sick but fortunately we didn’t both hit bottom at the same time. 

Sick or no, we dragged our sorry asses into Victoria for a couple of days over Christmas.  It could have been more enjoyable but it likely did us both good to get away.  We rented a room at the same hotel that Mom & Dad always stayed at – the Embassy Inn which is just west of the BC legislature.  We won’t do that again.  I’m sure it was more than adequate for their purposes but it was nonetheless ……. underwhelming.  Which is what I told the lacklustre guest clerk at checkout when he half-heartedly asked how our stay had been.  He didn’t follow up my response and that was perfectly in character for the whole stay.  They never actually gave enough effort to accomplish “bad” service – just overall underwhelming service.

We did manage to make it to Don Mee’s for Dim Sum on Christmas Day and that was every bit as good as it always is.  Neither of us had much of an appetite but that just meant that our meal was less expensive.  In the afternoon we watched the Hobbit in 3D at a downtown theatre.  Part one was better but then part one is always better.  And part two was good enough to get us back in the door for part three so I guess that’s all they really wanted to accomplish anyway.

Now we are slowly starting to get ahead of the boat projects.  Not that there were all that many but we have created a few along the way.  On Boxing Day we stopped at Costco and came home with an all-in-one computer which is now sitting on the dash.  I have to figure out some way of holding it down in rough seas because it will do double duty as a TV screen and a nav computer.  Its taken a few years off my life getting all the nav software working on Windows 8 – and I’m not 100% certain I’ve got it all working yet.  But its close.  Getting the Canadian charts registered just about did me in.  I was so desperate that I even re-installed Fugawi in order to test whether it was the registration or OpenCPN that was giving me grief.  It turned out to be the registration, I guess – although I’m not 100% sure of that either.  It doesn’t matter – they are working and that’s good enough for me.

We got a burst of sunshine this afternoon and that prompted a flurry of dockside activity.  All along the dock everyone is out bustling around enjoying the sunshine.  I may even get motivated enough to fire up the pressure washer and clean some of the green grunge off the boat.  Marilyn made New Year’s reservations for us at the dinner theatre in Chemainus so I need to get us cleaned up.  It doesn’t take long for the green stuff to grow.  Right now I’m waiting for some glue to set up on the deck box that split open when I started putting it back together.  I had taken one of the boxes back to Buchanan to epoxy coat and varnish.  I guess I got too much epoxy in the screw holes because when  started putting it together I split a couple of rails. 

Marilyn had a somewhat jerky Skype visit with Karla this morning.  She’s back in Guasave for Christmas – I think she said she hadn’t spent Christmas there for 5 years.  Between the flaky wifi here at the marina and the Mexican internet the connection was on again off again and more often “off” than “on” but they managed to get caught up. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Failure to heat

Its not as cold here as it is in Buchanan.  “Here” being Cowichan Bay.  But its still plenty cold, particularly without a furnace.  Which is the situation we found ourselves in last night when we arrived back at the boat around supper time. 

We put in two marathon days, leaving Buchanan at 6:00 Wednesday morning and Golden at 6:00 yesterday morning.  That got us to the Tsawassen Terminal at 2:00 (the silly bastards there thought it was only 12:00 but it was clearly 2:00)  There was 50% remaining on what they called the 1:00 boat to Swartz Bay so that’s what we bought because coming through Sidney makes it easy to stop at Costco on the way home. 

When we got back to the boat we found a couple of water leaks which didn’t turn out to be particularly serious.  The fresh water taps on the aft deck must have frozen up and the ice pushed the lines off where they connect under the sink.  There’s isolation valves there so I just closed the valves – I’ll deal with that one later.  We always leave the water turned off but I’ve never bothered to blow the lines – perhaps I should from now on.  The bigger issue was that the furnace wouldn’t light.

The batteries were dead in the thermostat so I changed them out and I think something about the sequence of how I turned on the furnace and then put the batteries into the thermostat confused the poor thing.  It absolutely refused to do anything.  Its got a little green light that is supposed to flash to tell me what its problem is but the light thought everything was A-OK.  A-OK but still no heat.

Somewhere onboard I’ve got a paper manual for the furnace and I think I actually know where that somewhere is but I didn’t bother even looking.  Mr. Google quickly came up with a couple of installation manuals, both of which are now safely stored on my laptop along with various other similar resources.  One of those manuals suggested that there was a very specific startup sequence that I might need to go through when it was behaving the way it was.  I had to disconnect the power to the furnace with the thermostat set to ON and then turn the thermostat to OFF while the furnace was powered down.  Then put the power back to the furnace and finally turn the thermostat back to ON.  Sure enough as soon as I did that I could hear the little ceramic glow plug start to crackle and then the pulse pump started pulsing slowly.  Its a neat process that it goes through when it is getting itself going and it took quite a while last night because everything was so cold.  The fuel was likely a little thick too because I assume we have summer fuel onboard.  Finally though the turbine started to wind up and we had heat coming out of the registers.

I managed to make myself sick by pushing too hard to get here.  I was feeling a little out of sorts when we left Buchanan and by Wednesday night in Golden I was pretty fucked up.  I managed to pull it together yesterday and get us here but today I’m taking the day off in bed with the electric blanket and the furnace turned on.  Meanwhile Marilyn is wrapping up Ag in the Classroom so she occasionally appears to ask me questions about GPS or breeding cows.  If anybody has a picture of a donor cow with multiple babies surrounding her I could really use that picture right now.

It was a little traumatic coming back to the boat last night because there were so many reminders of the god damn cat. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trying to help Rob Ford

Like all Conservatives in the country I am quietly suffering through the ongoing train wreck in Toronto.  In the interest of easing the process for Rob, I propose the following solution: from now on when making your weekly apology, simply refer to the reason(s) by number.  This will speed the process for you and help the media keep track of why you are apologising.


  1. I was high on crack cocaine
  2. I was drunk
  3. I was high on crack cocaine and drunk
  4. She was in the way
  5. My brother Doug was:
    1. Under attack
    2. Away from home
    3. At home
    4. Drunk
  6. We saved the city:
    1. $10,000,000
    2. $10,000,000,000
    3. $10
  7. I was in the gym
  8. I was in the Dunkin’ Donuts
  9. My wife said it was OK

By the way, I still think he’ll get re-elected next fall.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Stuck in the deep freeze

Damn I hate cold weather.  Its hard on vehicles and its hard on me.  My arthritis flares up and my arms stiffen up in parallel with how my vehicles stiffen up on a cold morning.  So far we haven’t had any failures to start but we try not to go anywhere either.  I go for coffee about every other day but I walk to the store and I bring home the bare minimum of provisions when I come back so we don’t ever have to start a vehicle to go shopping.  We’re trying to empty the fridge in preparation for the return to the boat so we don’t want to buy any more groceries than we can eat in the next week or so.

On Friday I had an unavoidable trip to Saskatoon so I used the occasion to pick up the 5th wheel that we bought a while ago. It has been sitting in Warman where the previous owner had it stored.  It could just as easily have stayed there until spring but we’ll feel better having it stored here.  The bus’s days are numbered.  I’m still not sure how we are going to move it down the road – either a quick and dirty engine transplant or a salvage operation – but one way or the other we won’t be travelling in it again.  We made the decision before I killed the engine – the engine disaster just made it a little harder to implement.

We bought the 5th wheel from Neil-the-Ukrainian.  He and his wife had used it for trips to Arizona but stopped making those trips a couple of years ago for health reasons.  The trailer has been sitting since then; they finally talked themselves into selling it this year. 

We looked at several trailers with a very specific set of criteria – under 30 feet overall, single slideout, mid kitchen, fibreglass sides and a dinette.  That turned out to be a remarkably difficult spec to find, mainly because of the dinette.  The fibreglass sides tend to be on higher end units and those trailers in turn tend to have free standing dining tables.  No doubt the free standing table and chairs look nicer – we had them in our Savanna - but they’re just not as practical as a dinette. 

The big issue in a smaller 5th wheel is storage and the dinette is a great solution to kitchen storage.  Its also a good solution to a bed for short term guests but that really isn’t an issue for us.  We’ve always felt that our RVs should accommodate 6 for drinks and 4 for supper but sleep only 2.  This one will do that just fine.  A big bonus on the one we found is that Neil has removed the crappy RV couch and replaced it with two great honking big recliners.  We’ve both kind of got used to our recliners in the house so now we won’t have to live without them when we travel.

When I started putting together my trip for the end of last week it briefly appeared that the weather might warm up but of course that never materialized.  It was in fact effing bloody cold on Friday with some light snow falling.  Rather than buying a fifth wheel receiver for the truck (and thereby permanently losing the use of the truck bed) I bought a Mumby gooseneck adapter for the trailer.  So I had to install that on the trailer before I could even start hooking up.  The trailer was in about a foot of snow but I didn’t have any serious difficulty getting to it or getting the truck under the gooseneck once I got it installed.

Installing the gooseneck adapter wasn’t that big a deal and I was really impressed with how well built it is.


That’s what it looks like installed.  There’s a machined sleeve that fits around the pin and clamps in place.  Then the main portion of the extension fits over the sleeve and bolts up to it.  Finally the hitch casting bolts into the bottom of  the extension and the braces bolt back to the trailer pinbox.  It was unpleasant installing the adapter in –25 weather but that had nothing to do with the quality of construction.  The assembly is pretty heavy – probably close to 100# in total – so it held heat for a long time.  I had it lying on the floor on the passenger side of the truck where it got a direct hit from the heater so it was really warm when I started the install and it was still melting snow by the time I got done. 

I did have a bit of an adventure when I started actually hooking up because I allowed the “scoop” on the front of the hitch to get filled up with snow.  That in turn got jammed up inside the ball receiver and prevented it from seating completely on the ball which meant I couldn’t get the latch pin in.  By the time I finally figured out what I was doing wrong I had a major icepack in the receiver which I eventually had to chisel out while lying on my back in the snowbank.  All in all it was a very bad day for my arthritis and I paid dearly for my efforts yesterday.  This morning I can almost use my right arm to drink coffee again.  Almost but not quite.  We still haven’t unhooked the truck and we won’t until the promised warmer weather arrives either this afternoon or tomorrow morning.  “Warmer” in this case is extremely subjective but after the –25 to –32 bullshit we have been suffering through, even –10 or –12 will feel better.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela

It would have been fun to listen in on the conversation onboard the Canadian Forces plane carrying Harper, Mulroney, Chretien, et al to South Africa.  According to CTV, nobody from the Canadian delegation will be speaking at the memorial tomorrow and perhaps that is typical for a Canadian delegation.  I’m sure O has demanded top billing and will be prancing on the stage in an attempt to deflect attention from his dismal domestic record. 

Canadians can rest quietly assured that when it really mattered Brian Mulroney was at the forefront of the beginning of the end of apartheid.  Mulroney was underappreciated by Canadians at the time and only recently has his reputation been rehabilitated at home but Mandela knew full well who he was.  It was no accident that Mandela’s first foreign visit was to Canada.  I’m not sure why Kim Campbell thought she should be on the plane today – most Canadians couldn’t tell you who she was then or now.  Jean the Cretin granted Mandela honorary Canadian citizenship so that explains his presence but in order to fly with Harper he had to swallow his condemnation of the plane they flew on.  Mulroney bought the plane which the cretin referred to as a “flying Taj Mahal” and subsequently refused to use.  When he boarded it yesterday I hope he felt at least a little sheepish.  

Its pretty easy to figure out why “I’m Adrienne and You’re Not” was on the plane – because she’s Adrienne and we’re not.  Michaelle Jean was GG when Mandela visited Canada and I expect they actually had a pretty good time together despite the fact that he must have seemed like a grandfather to her.  I hope they made Tom Mulcair sit in the back of the plane and I still haven’t heard why the Shiny Pony wasn’t on the plane but perhaps he was getting paid to attend a fundraiser somewhere.


Also onboard were Liberal MP Irwin Cotler who worked on Mandela’s legal team while he was imprisoned and Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who helped South Africa set up their post-apartheid judiciary.  As Canadians we can all be justly proud of our role in Mandela’s South Africa even if we don’t get to share the podium with the poseurs tomorrow.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Oh dear


There’s really only one cure for mornings like this.


Wrapped up in my favourite afghan in front of the TV, dreaming of global warming, listening to Mandela tributes.  14 more sleeps BTW.  For your reading enjoyment on this frosty morning I bring you a couple of links to sources normally friendly to the anointed one:



And finally one source that is almost never friendly to the anointed one but nonetheless accurate:


Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter in Buchanan

I’m pretty much ready to go back to the boat.  OK, I’m WAY past ready.  Buchanan is just a fine little town but ……… not much happens here.  I go for coffee in the afternoon, I take the garbage out on Tuesday morning and bring the cans back after Richard comes around.  Some days I walk to the other house for something that we forgot to move to the new house. 

Two weeks ago I was at NACS in Calgary for three days.  NACS stands for North American Consulting School which is an overblown name for what is really just a networking opportunity put on by some management consulting association.  Several years ago when it started, the NACS program content was pretty worthwhile, this year not so much.  At that point NACS was sponsored by CCAA (Canadian Consulting Agrologists Association) but that organization has disappeared, swallowed up into some new acronym based in eastern Canada.  Since the real reason to attend is to visit with whoever else attends, a mediocre program isn’t that big a problem --- the first time it happens.  If the program stays as average as it was this year though I don’t expect that the quality of the crowd will continue unabated.  So next year it might be a bit harder to motivate myself to pay the significant registration fee. 

Other than travelling to Calgary mostly what I’ve been doing is helping Marilyn wrap up her Ag in the Classroom project.  She still thinks that she’ll be done by Christmas so I’m counting the sleeps until we can head west again.  (the count is down to 15 today)  My Uruguayan adventure has been postponed until early January so I’ll fly from the coast whenever that actually happens. 

A couple of weeks ago now I ordered some epoxy supplies from eastern Canada.  I have difficulty believing that I can’t buy West System epoxy in Saskatchewan but I have never been able to find it anywhere this side of Kelowna.  The cans of epoxy showed up today so now I’ve got no excuse for not getting busy with the refinish on the deck box that we brought home with us.  When we bought Gray Hawk we got a pair of matching deck boxes at Costco and installed them on the aft deck.  They’re great boxes but they are starting to look pretty weathered.  We only brought one of them home with us but I’ll get it refinished and we can bring the 2nd one home next summer.  I doubt that I’ll get motivated to refinish it on the coast and it will be a lot easier to do here anyway – better tools and no weather worries if I do it indoors. 

I’m going to coat it with West System using 207 clear hardener and then apply urethane varnish while the epoxy is still green (not fully cured).  That’s what I did with the forehead trim that I refinished last spring and I think it came out well.  Epoxy doesn’t handle UV well but the urethane gives it UV protection and the epoxy coat gives the finish a much deeper  lustre than I can get unless I build a large number of coats of urethane.  The challenge on the coast is to find dry days to do the finishing because the epoxy will get an amine blush if it gets damp while it is curing.  The blush – which looks like a milky white layer just beneath the epoxy surface – usually comes out in sunlight but it takes time.  I shouldn’t have to worry about it when I do the coating in the basement.

The reason I want to put the urethane on before the epoxy cures fully is that I have been told it will chemically link to the epoxy if you do it that way.  I know that is true with successive layers of epoxy – if you apply additional coats of epoxy resin within roughly the first 24 hours the successive layers will chemically crosslink to the initial layers.  In effect you end up with a build up that is equivalent to a single layer but there are many advantages to doing the build in successive layers.  Too thick a layer of epoxy will often gas off inside the resin while it is curing, resulting in a porous layer.  Excessively thick layers are also susceptible to “going off” which is the nickname for an out of control curing reaction.  When that happens they can get hot enough to catch on fire. 

On old epoxy or when you wait too long after the cure then you get an inactive surface which needs to be roughed up so that the subsequent coat can mechanically adhere to the previous layer.  I know that is true for epoxy layers and I believe it is also true for polyurethane top coats.  I’m going to assume it is true and proceed on that assumption but that means I will have to start early in the morning with the epoxy so that I can add the polyurethane while the resin is still tacky, likely in the mid-afternoon.

(10 days later)

The polyurethane over epoxy appears to be successful.  I was pretty sure it would be because that is the way I did it on the boat last spring.  In the case of the deck boxes though I pushed the envelope by putting some of the urethane on while the epoxy was still borderline tacky.  I don’t think I’ll do that again because I got some roughness in the surface but that cleaned up with sanding so its not a huge problem.

Its been bitterly cold here the last couple of days.  We were in Saskatoon for a couple of days so Marilyn could wrap up some of her AITC stuff.  While we were there I picked up a Case garden tractor from a fool just south of the city.  I say “fool” simply because he was clearly a fool.  They had obviously moved out to “the country”, built a house that they couldn’t afford and started a shop that they couldn’t afford to finish.  Now they are trying to sell an acreage in the dead of winter with a half finished shop and a house that is too small for the neighbourhood.  Good luck with that plan. 

They did however have a Case 444 garden tractor.  Many years ago now I bought Lyle Black’s 224 Case from Norm Nickel’s Lakeside Power for $2500.  When we moved into Nipawin I sold that tractor and I believe I sold it for $1800 or possibly even more than that.  Today they trade for between $2000 and $4000 but not at this time of year.  We got a significant discount and I ground it deeper yesterday because it was just plain bloody cold out and I absolutely didn’t care whether we came home with the tractor unless it was a really good deal, which it turned out to be.