Friday, October 30, 2015

Ditch digger

I’ve got a little project on the go.  A local farmer has a slough that’s maybe 3 acres in extent which he wants drained.  This area is so flat its really hard to get rid of excess water.  I ran some levels for the guy and he’s maybe got 3 feet to work with.  So if the slough started out more than three feet deep it isn’t going to drain completely.  But he wanted to tackle it so I’ve had the little Kubota hoe out there since Wednesday. 



A couple of shots of the little Kubota and the ditch.


That’s the slough that we’re trying to get rid of. It was pretty wet when we started.  The track in the foreground is one I made when my big Ford didn’t quite get stuck.


And this is the ditch that is supposed to drain the water once I get it across the height of land that is currently separating the slough from the ditch.  There’s not much slope to work with in the main ditch so right now the water is mostly just filling the ditch and sitting there.  We’ll know in a couple of days whether the main ditch is actually lower than the bottom of the slough.  That’s important.



Delmar had to bring his 4WD because I got stuck trying to straddle the ditch.  The Buchanan clay is pretty stable but the higher ground between the slough and the drainage ditch is sand and gravel.  It caves in regularly if I get too close to the edge which is what happened while I was straddling the ditch.  Normally I can hop over a single bucket width ditch by putting the hoe across the ditch and letting it carry the nose of the machine across and then turning around and holding the back up as it crosses.  I almost buried myself a second time this morning when the edge caved away while I was trying to hop the ditch. I won’t be trying that manoeuvre again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tofino whale watching tragedy

Its a perverse contradiction of yacht design that passenger comfort or initial stability and ultimate vessel stability are fundamentally at odds with each other.  In the simplest analysis the most comfortable boat is arguably also the most dangerous boat to be onboard when the shit hits the fan.

Its been hard for us not to obsess about the tragedy off Tofino.  The image of the Leviathan bow sticking out of the water is sad and frightening to anyone who spends as much time on the ocean as we do.  The fact that the vessel went down so rapidly that the crew couldn’t even get off a Mayday call let alone launch any liferafts or suit the passengers in lifevests is also frightening.  We always assume that in the awful event of Gray Hawk sinking we would have at least a few minutes to get ready to disembark. 


Initially I thought that the boat must have struck a reef hard enough to open a huge hole in the hull but even in that circumstance it was hard to explain how rapidly it must have gone under.  One of the native rescuers mentioned hearing a passenger comment about how the boat seemed to suddenly turn over and that got me thinking about hull form and stability.  The initial reports of the sea state were 3 to 4 meter waves which isn’t huge for the west coast of the Island but its still a serious swell.

The pictures of the submerged hull and prior pictures of the vessel suggest a fairly flat bottom hull, similar to these Bayliner images.


As you can easily see, these hulls have a relatively flat bottom with a sharp turn at the bilge (where the bottom part turns into the sides).  This hull form tries to remain parallel to the surface of the water it is floating on.  If you imagine pushing down on one side of one of these boats you can see that the displaced water will increase rapidly which results in buoyancy that tends to return the vessel to sitting parallel to the surface.  Note that the vessel tends to remain parallel to the surface of the water which is not necessarily the same as level with the horizon. 


Contrast the Bayliner hulls with this shot of Gray Hawk in the slings.  What you can’t see is that aft of the maximum beam at midship the turn of the bilge almost completely disappears.  When you push down on one side of Gray Hawk her displacement doesn’t change appreciably – she’s not completely round like a wine bottle but not a whole lot different either.  On an average day on the water Gray Hawk bobs and rolls like a cork.  Which occasionally results in SWMBO getting seasick (and routinely resulted in Jorgito the Idiot Cat shatting himself). 

What keeps rounded hulls like Gray Hawk’s upright is massive amounts of weight deep in the hull.  We have lead in the keel and our engines, fuel tanks, water tanks and generator are all below the water line.  The hull may roll easily initially but as that weight moves and starts to lift in the water it naturally tries to pull the hull back to vertical.  Note that this effect is independent of the surface state of the water – Gray Hawk’s hull will always try to be vertical, regardless of what the waves are doing.  On an average day either hull form can give an acceptable ride.  The Bayliner hull form is better suited to going faster and it is pretty common on vessels that look superficially similar to Gray Hawk.  Grand Banks, Nordic Tugs, Bayliner/Meridian – probably over 3/4 of the recreational trawlers have this hull form. 

On a non average day however it all changes.  The Bayliner hull form still tries to remain parallel to the surface of the water, even when the surface of the water goes all out of whack with big waves rising and falling.  But its worse than that.  When any boat is on the side of a wave it will try to slide down the wave. Gravity doesn’t shut off just because the waves get up.  The problem with a sharp turn of bilge is that it can dig into the water and effectively “trip” the boat.  That appears to be exactly what happened to Leviathan.  The initial TSB report says that the passengers were all on the port side (presumably looking at whales) when a large wave approached from the starboard quarter. The combination of extra weight pushing the port side deeper in the water and raising the centre of gravity (because they were all on the top deck) put together with the flat bottom hull caused the boat to trip and capsize suddenly. 

The theory with a more rounded hull form is that in those extreme conditions the vessel is more likely to slide down the face of the wave.  I hope we never find out that it doesn’t work that way. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015


I suppose it was inevitable.  I’m glad I got the roof sheets all up yesterday.  There’s no ridge cap yet and it will have to wait until the sun burns the water off the roof.  The frozen water that is.  Fortunately I can do most of what is left to be done from the Genie lift.  I’ll still have to walk on the sheets to install the ridge cap but the gable trim should all be accessible from the Genie.

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It won’t last but it is a cold harbinger of what is to come.  I spent a while this morning looking at transfer switches and power cords.  The electrician hasn’t showed up to install a transfer switch and I refuse to beg anyone to take my money.  One of these days we’ll have a power outage and based on past experience, when the power goes out in Buchanan it stays out for a long time.  The generator has lived at the little house all summer but I need to get it moved back over here so that we are ready.  We can make coffee by running extension cords through the window but it would be nice to be able to run the furnace and the TV.  I’ve got those circuits all set up on a sub panel but I need to get the transfer switch and power cord installed so that I can feed the sub panel from the genset.

Friday, October 23, 2015


It turns out its not that hard.  My standard line for some time now with reference to putting metal roofing on my new shop has been “how hard can it be?”.  I’ve seen some incredible idiots doing carpentry – it seemed to me that I could certainly do anything that some of them were capable of. 

Last week I finally got around to ordering the metal and ran smack into the first gotcha.  They would have happily cut my sheets to length out of stock but it would have been a significant premium ($350 on a $1900 order).  So I opted to wait a week in order to allow them to order cut to length sheets from their supplier.  My big worry was that it would snow in the interim but – so far anyway – it hasn’t.  This morning I left for Melfort later than I would have preferred but early enough to get back here for a late lunch.  I don’t think I was in Mel-View’s yard for a total of 20 minutes – they were really efficient.   I rationalized my later departure as a safety measure – less chance of nailing a moose if I wasn’t travelling at daybreak.


The roof sheets just barely fit inside the trailer but they did fit.  I’ll have to come up with a new plan when I bring the wall sheets home but that problem won’t arise until at least next fall.

Now I’m about half done putting the tin on the south side of the roof.  It goes relatively quickly but its hard work.  Standing on the roof always make my knees hurt and standing on the metal is even harder.  Its no big challenge to stand on but when I need to sit in order to get close to the eave its too slippery so I have to twist my feet under me to keep from sliding off.  My building isn’t even close to square which makes it challenging to end up with a finished job that looks good.  The sheets are heavier than I expected – I was worried about walking on them and that clearly isn’t a problem but handling them gets tiresome.


The farther away you get the better it looks. Or as neighbour Louie said “It looks good from far but its far from good.”

We’ve been watching hurricane Patricia closely because we know that area of Mexico really well.  Right now it looks like the hurricane will make landfall just north of Manzanillo in the Barra de Navidad or Boca Beach neighbourhood.  We haven’t been there for several years but we have spent several winters in that area.  If I had to pick a stretch of Pacific coast where a hurricane could hit without doing massive damage that would definitely be the spot.  North of Puerto Vallarta is heavily built up and Manzanillo is built up but the stretch between P.V. and Manzanillo is relatively unpopulated jungle.  There’s a few little coastal fishing villages but nothing like what there is between P.V. and Mazatlan.  We’ve also been in touch with Karla.  She’s pretty cute – she has been referring to herself as our reporter in Guadalajara. 


That’s the beach at La Manzanilla about 12 years ago now.  Right now it looks like this will be about where the centre of hurricane Patricia hits the coast.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Carpentering again

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I spent most of Wednesday hauling gravel and then levelling it.  Thursday morning I ordered the metal for the roof and now I need to strap the roof before I can put the tin on.  The old garage had a fir tongue and groove floor laid over the concrete that I have been told originally came out of the Lutheran church to the north of us.  I’m going to use that material to strap the roof.  Before I started this adventure I pulled up the fir and then couldn’t bring myself to haul it to the dump because it is still in remarkably good condition.  I left the shingles on the original building and I should probably take them off but if I strap over top of them the tin will blend the old and new sections smoothly and I won’t have to strip and dispose of the shingles.  The metal won’t be in Melfort until a week from Friday so I’ve got a few days to get the strapping on – I hope I have that much weather left.  The alternative was paying them roughly a 15% premium in order to have them cut the sheets out of longer stock so I opted for the cheaper route. 

Marilyn cooked us a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday.  I was already tired from arriving home very late Tuesday night and plunging back into yard work  so the turkey dinner nearly put me to sleep.  Snopes says that’s BS but whether its science or myth, a big turkey dinner always puts me to sleep.

The other big activity is harvesting the last of Keith’s garden.  He’s gone until the end of the month but he told us to take whatever we want from the remains of his summer’s work.  I guess it wasn’t entirely his work – we helped him plant the potatoes.  Other than that though the garden was a solo effort on his part.  He’s got his place advertised now – I doubt whoever buys it will ever be half as generous with the garden as Keith has.   We are hoping that he is unsuccessful in selling the place.  Houses don’t sell very quickly in Buchanan and he has priced his fairly aggressively so perhaps we will be lucky.  On the other hand, if he does sell for anywhere near his asking price that is positive for the value of our own place. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New (to me) camera


That’s one of the little back swimming otters that entertained us in Glacier Bay last spring.  If you zoom in and look closely, or maybe not even all that closely, you will see little squiggly lines in the image that kind of look like tiny worms wriggling around on the water.  My trusty Canon Digital Rebel that is likely now 20+ years old evidently didn’t survive the years that it has spent on the boat.  I hardly ever use it anymore so it has been staying on the boat and apparently the damp environment has done some damage to the CCD which is the image sensor that serves the function of film in a digital world.  Of course I didn’t know that until we were in Alaska taking telephoto images of wildlife and by then it was too late to do anything about it.  Well, now I’ve done something about it.

I figured I could salvage some value out of all the Canon accessories and software that I have invested in my existing Digital Rebel by simply buying a newer version of the same camera.  I found a 40D EOS on eBay that included a 55-250 stabilized Canon lens as well as a battery pack and was able to buy it for under $250.  Considering that would be well over $1000 worth of camera if bought new I thought I did very well.  Yesterday we ran up to Regina in the rain and picked it up from the terrorist that runs our UPS Store.  Earlier this week Marlan picked up another Canon Digital Rebel body only for which I paid the whopping sum of $20.  So I think we are now well equipped for next spring’s return engagement with Alaska. 

All my old lenses will work equally well with either of the new bodies but I don’t think any of them were stabilized so that’s a major improvement with the new camera.  Of course I don’t actually have any of that equipment with me because I didn’t know that this project was even in the offing when we left Buchanan close to 2 months ago now.  My old batteries and chargers are also compatible with the new cameras.  Its been pissing rain down here for 3 days now so I don’t have great conditions to try the new camera out but I did take this soggy image earlier today.


This next one is from an evening last week, taken with my little digital Elph. 


I bought a couple of digital Elphs several years ago now and they take such good images and are so easy to keep by my side that I just stopped using the digital Rebel but most days in Alaska I found that I missed the Rebel at least once during the day.

I didn’t actually PLAN to buy 2 digital Elphs.  I bought the first one before going up to Grande Prairie to do a project for Neufeld Petroleum.  One of the first days we were up there I put some laundry into the washer in the camp laundromat.  When I came back 20 or 30 minutes later one of the roughnecks who was there doing his laundry asked me if “that” was my washer.  When I responded that it was he told me that my little camera had turned its flash on when the machine filled up with water and kept it on through the early stages of the wash cycle.  He said it was actually pretty impressive how long it stayed alive.  They were some modern kind of washer that locks the door during the cycle so, despite their best efforts to save the camera, none of the guys there had been able to prevent the death of my (brand new) Elph.  I immediately replaced that camera with an identical one which gave me redundant batteries and chargers. A few years later I bought the exact same model off eBay so that I could keep one with me all the time and another one on the boat.

The two big Case quadtracks were sitting on some neighbouring land near where I was watching the harvest for my client.  I continue to be astonished at how quickly farmers are regressing to high tillage.  Degelman has something they call a “pro-till” which is simply a tandem disk with a fancy name.  They must have been giving the damn things away in Corn Flakes boxes judging by the number of them I’m seeing in the field and on the road this fall.  How quick we forget what it means to farm in the Palliser Triangle.  A few wet years are just that, a few wet years.  The fundamentals of dryland farming have not changed just because the last few years have been wet.