November Noodling

We’re still going strong this year, even into November.  Looking forward to some winter “rest” …

November 2nd, 2020

Boats to us are like trucks and trailers for “terrestrial” folk.  We do try to keep them down to something approximating a reasonably sane number, but still … We have the Awen, which is are main transportation boat, big enough to carry groceries, building materials, etc. and capable of towing the skiff and other small boats.  She is also our foul weather boat, as she can handle major seas and has a heater for cold weather.  Next, we have the Kipper’s Folly, an aluminum herring skiff with a 9.9 hp outboard.  She’s great for beach landings and foraging around, and makes a superb barge, but is a terrible boat to be in for anything but the nicest weather – she’s open, has no bilge pump so you have to hand bail, is flat-bottomed, and pounds like mad with any wave activity at all.  We have our retiree, the Draiocht, an excellent speed boat, but with an older gas-guzzling motor.  We’d have happily sold her, but no one wants an old speed boat these days.  So, we’re in the process of stripping her down of all usable parts, and then making her into a little cabana.  Hey, I guess that isn’t the worst way a boat can end its sea days!  Now we have the new MacGregor.  She goes by Louise, but that will change soon as neither Ken nor I are into naming boats after people, especially ones we don’t know.  She will be our short-trip boat, as well as a back-up for the Awen.  I’m hoping she’ll also be a lot of fun as we learn our way around sailing.  She’s quite well set up inside, and will be excellent for camping in the summer, but not the winter, as she has no source of heat.  And finally, we have an assortment of three sea kayaks, one river kayak, and a rowing skiff.  Yup, probably too many boats, but when you live on the sea …

It’s kind of funny, but the one of the first projects we seem to have to do on any of the boats we’ve gotten (except the kayaks and skiffs) is to fix the head.  Are we fixated on good bathroom facilities, or what?  Anyways, we’re working on fixing the MacGregor’s head.  The previous owner installed what Ken refers to as a “fat-assed toilet” (and no, this is not meant as a personal insult to any human, but is a descriptor of the size of the unit itself) in a tiny head.  Well, asides from the space issues in the head, either the door to the head couldn’t be closed or the toilet seat couldn’t be lowered, take your pick.  The old Draiocht had a more normal-sized toilet, which we have removed and used to replace the large unit that was in the MacGregor.  The plumbing job was a bit unusual (not necessarily in a pleasant sense) and after a couple of disgusting and smelly days, we are about to install the correct plumbing and through-hulls which allow the toilet to be flushed with saltwater (originally it was plumbed to be flushed from the boat’s tiny little freshwater tank).  After that, we’ll be on to checking out the electrical system and getting the mast raised.

I was pondering the economics of fuel and transportation.  I remember how much we spent on fuel when Ken and I were running the Moody Blue as an oceanographic research vessel – a full tank for the old girl was nearly a $1000.  Moving out here, we’ve been gradually reducing our fuel consumption.  Because everything has to be hauled in from Sayward Junction, we started measuring our trips by the jerry can.  With the old Moody Blue, a trip to Campbell River was 6 jerry cans of diesel and half a tank of gas for the old truck.  The Draiocht reduced that down to 4 jerry cans of gasoline, with the truck consumption remaining the same.  The Awen, with her new $30,000 engine (ouch!, but something we were knew was coming when we bought her), reduced that further to 2 jerry cans of diesel.  I suspect the MacGregor will make the trip for less than that.  So, it’s been good to watch the fuel consumption go down.  We still use a bit around the cabin for chain saws and weed whackers, as well as the gen set in the winter.  Working on getting the need for winter fuel down as well …

Which brings me to alternative energy …  Our wind turbine spins, and even once in a while, it spins enough that the charge controller fires up and charges the battery.  However, we now realize that the unit was sold with the bare minimum PWM (pulse-width modulating) charge controller which only kicks in when the turbine is generating something over 12 V of electricity.  What we really need is an MPPT (maximum power point tracking) charge controller with a boost function.  This will allow the unit to charge the batteries even when the turbine is only putting out 6 V of electricity by upping the voltage with a concurrent drop in amperage.  That’ll only produce a trickle charge, but it’ll be much more efficient than the current charge controller.  I’ve got a unit spotted out on Amazon, and will get that ordered one of these days in the near future.  We’re still struggling with the microhydro concept.  The company that I’d hope would sell me a micorohydro unit went completely silent and no longer responds to emails.  Don’t know if they were killed by COVID or just don’t want to deal with small peanuts like me.  I found a turbine that we could work with on eBay, but then discovered that eBay won’t take my credit card – something to do with a postal code error – so that’s out the window as well.  I’m hoping Amazon might show up with one soon (they have it on their “out of stock” items), so maybe in time …

A friend of mine referred to something he called the “COVID conundrum”.  I think it’s something many people are facing.  The biggest problem is that not everyone is affected by COVID the same way – some people hardly have any symptoms, others end up in hospital, and a few die.  Most people won’t experience COVID as anything more serious than the “common” flu.  The big issue is that someone who is hardly impacted by the virus can pass it on to someone who might die from it.  This makes the whole situation a really big ethical question.  Further hammering this home is the need for people to go to work and make an income in order to survive economically.  So the question becomes, “Do I go to work, risk catching the virus and passing it on to someone who is vulnerable, or do I stay home and suffer the economical consequences?”  I think each of us also has a level of risk that we are willing to accept, and that level depends on your age, your health, and the people around you.  It’s tough.  We’ve been in and out to Campbell River far more often that I thought we would be, given the COVID situation.  It’s simply impossible to go about one’s life without taking some risks.  We do take precautions, wear masks indoors, use hand sanitizers madly, try to stay a reasonable distance from everyone else and so on, but still …  I’m hoping this will all sort itself out come spring.

Taking animals to a veterinarian is a real struggle during the current COVID crisis.  Trying to keep our contact time with other people and animals to a minimum, I originally attempted to get a “drop-in” appointment for Brennan.  Really, all he needed was vaccinations.  I’ve lived on a farm for years, back when I was young, and I’m pretty handy around animals.  I can tell if one of my animals has a problem that needs a vet examination.  Back in those days, vaccination for my border collie was a tail-gate affair.  The vet, who travelled the local region, would tell me that my dog was due for vaccination, and when he was in the area, he would just drop by.  We’d put the dog on the tail gate, he’d get his shots, everything over in five minutes.  I’d pay the vet and he’d be on his way to his next stop.   Apparently now, they can’t do this.  In order to get the vaccinations, your dog has to have a $100 examination involving taking an anal temperature, examining the gums, looking at teeth, checking ears, a quick inspection for abdominal abnormalities, squeezing the testicles, and checking the anal glands.  Except for the temperature check – I lack an anal thermometer- I do these regularly for my dog anyways.  But they won’t vaccinate without the exam … seems more like a money-earning device than something necessary.  Grrrr…

Our salmon jerky was very tasty.  I don’t know how long it will last.  I have some in a couple glass jars that have been vacuum sealed.  We’ll see … first signs of mold and I suspect we’ll be eating the whole lot before it can go bad!  The vacuum sealing has actually been very useful for storing things like cheese and (at least for four or five days) batches of stew, spaghetti sauce, etc. without refrigeration.

November 20th, 2020

Time has flown by again!  I don’t think we’ve been this busy since our first fall here, when we were trying to get the cabin built before the snow arrived, and only narrowly made it, as I remember … we were installing our last set of windows on Christmas day that year.

The new boat’s been keeping us busy, although mostly in a positive sense (e.g., no major disasters).  As it turns out, we’ve ended up stripping a lot of components out of the Draiocht (our old speed boat), which were reasonably good quality, and installing them into the new sailboat, which came to us pretty stripped down.  I guess one could say that there is some efficiency in our economy.  We’ve more or less finished up with the head, although we need two pieces of pipe (to be ordered online) to complete the job.  The wiring was OK, but Ken has done a bunch of improvements.  She came with an ancient marine radio (which still worked!), and we figured we’d replace it with the 3-year old one from the Draiocht.  This was our only disappointment – the new radio has apparently developed some sort of electronic brain disorder – it receives occasionally and can’t transmit at all, although all the buttons and programming features seem to be functional.  It probably needs some kind of factory reset, but this particular radio doesn’t come with a convenient combination of button presses to do the reset.  Apparently it needs to be taken into a shop.  So, we cleaned up and dried out the old radio, and it seems to be working fine.  We’ve stripped the GPS/sounder/marine plotter unit from the Draiocht, and will install that soon as well.  We haven’t used the plotter capacity on that unit before.  It’s an old Lowrance unit, and we’ve tended to run a charting program, called OpenCPN on our computers for navigational purposes.  The Lowrance only has coastlines for the US in its hard-wired memory.  I’m currently trying to create a new coastline for BC in QGIS, convert it to a Lowrance format, and load it on an SD card so we can use the unit for some basic navigation.  Still struggling with that one!

Aluminum 8″ pelton wheel from eBay.

We finally got a pelton wheel turbine in the mail, and hopefully arriving any day now.  It took me a month to get the whole credit card thing sorted out.  It was an address problem, and simply needed someone at the other end to do an over-ride in the system.  EBay couldn’t manage this, but I finally got through to someone at PayPal, and the problem was fixed in a jiffy.  With all the office rearrangements as a result of COVID, it’s actually very hard to get a real person on the end of a telephone.  In the end, I used a chat line over the internet to get the problem resolved.  So, I’ve got the major components for the microhydro system ordered – a wheel, a generator, and a controller.  We have a big plastic olive barrel, just shy of 55 gallons, a freebee beach find, that should make a good housing, and I managed to find a brass hose nozzle amongst our collection of bits and pieces that should work as the jet.  We’ll need an outdoor electrical cord to complete the wiring, and probably some little bits and pieces, but we are at least beginning.

Concept photo of a microhydro system in an olive barrel.

With luck, these Chinese MPPT controllers that we’ve ordered will be just the ticket for both our wind turbine and the microhydro system.  In addition to the boost circuitry, which allows them to trickle charge the batteries when the turbine is operating at low speed, they also have electronic braking (as does the current PWM controller that we have now), which means that we won’t need to wire in a diversion load.  We still haven’t spun up the wind turbine to a speed that the braking has kicked in … it’s activated by excessive turbine speed (as determined by the voltage output from the generator) or battery voltage (once the batteries are fully charged, the braking system will power up).

Boost MPPT wind charge controller.

It’s been one of the darkest, wettest, and most humid Novembers that I can remember at this location.  We had several days when the overcast and fog was so heavy that it was barely more than twilight all day long.  I really wished we’d gotten our microhydro system together earlier, as we’ve had pretty much no sunlight for the solar panels and had to run the genset for an hour each evening to charge up the battery packs.  It’s been so damp that poor Brennan got a yeast infection between his toes.  He was trying to chew his feet off in desperation to abate the itching.  We treated it with apple cider vinegar (lowers the pH, which makes the environment less hospitable to yeast cells), and that seems to have worked.  We’ve also decided that freshwater foot baths are necessary after he’s been playing on the beach.  Salt water just contributes to the yeast problem, as the salt is so hygroscopic.  So, yeah, we seem to be rotting away down here!

I’m still hoping to get back to some of my “indoor” projects, writing, working on the blog and website, etc., but that hasn’t quite happened yet.  Every time I think I’m almost ready to slow down for the winter, we get going again.  I’m just finishing off the last of the fall’s garden produce, drying pumpkins and tomatoes, but the end to that work is now in sight.  We’ll probably keep busy on the new boat for a while (plus some needed maintenance on the Awen) until our supplies come in for the microhydro project, then we’ll be off on that.  Hoping to get a test run in on the MacGregor this week, as the weather is slated to dry out a little!