Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bimini Done: Canvas Work Tougher Than It Looks

The new bimini and the connector canvas zips to the dodger to cover the entire cockpit. The fabric is Sunbrella and the color is toast.
Virginia finished the bimini and it looks great. Although it was easier than the dodger, sewing it was much tougher than she anticipated. She had the Sailrite video and followed it step by step, but it was still difficult. The bimini video is somewhat confusing and was not as good as the Sailrite dodger or enclosure videos.

The canvas connector piece easily zips on and off even with about 10 knots of wind.
In addition to the bimini she also finished the piece that zips to the dodger and the bimini to connect them covering all 10 feet of Oceanus's cockpit.

The clear vinyl window is the perfect size and in the perfect place to give the helmsman  a view of the masthead.
The bimini features a clear vinyl window so the helmsman can see the masthead wind indicator. The patterning material Virginia used was not clear enough to see through, so marking the window was a bit of a guess, but it turned out perfect. Standing behind the wheel, when I look up the masthead is right in the center of the window.

The bimini has about $70 of zippers.
After she finished sewing the bimini, but before we put it on, Virginia sewed the zippers along the back and sides that will attach the side curtains for a full enclosure.

The bimini frame was our Christmas present to each other. Notice there are no straps to get in the way.
Virginia started sewing in junior high. Over the years she's sewn several boat canvas projects, including to full covers for two of our smaller sailboats. But the dodger and bimini were very complicated and difficult to get a tight fit.

She used a hot knife to cut out all of the pieces so there was no chance that they would fray but she didn't like the look of the raw edges, so where ever they showed, she sewed binding tape over them. It makes for a very elegant looking bimini.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Straight Poop on Composting Heads

When we purchased Oceanus all the plumbing had been removed, including the head. The through hulls were capped. Among the three pickup loads of gear that came with the boat was a new LaVac Head still in the box and a 15-gallon holding tank.

Our new Air Head in its place on Oceanus. The gear on the countertop is for installation and use of the composting head.
On Lobo, the Pearson Renegade we owned for 12 years when the kids were in grade school and junior high, we had a marine head with a holding tank. I know marine heads inside and out. I can recognize their smell, sometimes from across the dock.

The LaVac is top-of-the line, still I wasn't looking forward to installing it or dealing with a holding tank. After months of discussion, my wife and I decided to go with a composting head; but which one? There are three manufactured for marine use that I know of: the Nature's Head, Air Head and C Head. They all work on the same principle: the seat is designed so the pee goes into a jug and the poop goes into a bucket filled part of the way with peat moss or ground coconut shells. The pee jug you empty as needed. The poop bucket is stirred after each use using a hand crank attached to an agitator in the bucket part. A small 12-volt fan draws air through the bucket and out a vent in the deck or topsides.

Of the three, the Air Head is the most expensive at about $1,000. The Nature's Head is next at about $850. And the C Head is least expensive at under $600. We seriously considered all three over the past year. Each have their adherents and good qualities. The appealing part of the C Head - besides the price - is its parts are cheap and commonly available: the pee jug is just a one-gallon milk jug and the poop bucket is just a five-gallon bucket. It's not bad looking either. At one point we almost ordered one, but decided to wait.

We saw both the Nature's Head and the Air Head at the Seattle Boat Show in January. Before seeing them in all their rotomolded plastic glory, we were leaning toward the Nature's Head, primarily because of the lower price. At the show, however, we both changed our minds immediately when we saw them. The Air Head build quality looks clearly superior as does the design. Shortly after the show, we ordered an Air Head.

It came this week, after about a two-week wait. I took it to the boat yesterday and it fits well in the space we have for it in the head. We're under no illusions that this is a perfect solution because there is no perfect solution. We also suspect the picture painted by literature from each of the three makers is rosier than the reality.

It was great, then, to hear from a couple who have used a composting head for the last three years while cruising full time. Kirsten Rohrbach and Patrick Dayshaw left Seattle on October 2011 on their Cabo Rico 38 cutter Sihouette. They are currently in the Hawaiian Islands after cruising the Pacific side of Mexico, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Tonga and New Zealand. You can read about their adventures on their excellent blog. They were kind enough to respond to some of my questions about cruising Hawaii. As a bonus, they sent me the straight poop on their experience with their composting head. It was too good not to share.

Kristen writes: "I will give you a few tips on using a composting head. We have used one for the duration of our entire cruise.

"First of all, if you can install the head amidships, rather than on one side of the boat or another, you may have a better result. We have found that with our head (installed on the starboard side of the vessel, the only option available), the liquid side of the head doesn't drain well on a port tack, which is the tack you'll be on most of the way to French Polynesia and beyond. Inevitably, some of the liquid gets into the solid side, which can both engender a fly problem and be messy when emptying the solid side.

"Second, the composting head can't really keep up with full-time use with two persons on board. Although the composting action is faster in a warm climate, the composting head only really works on a boat with weekend or occasional use. That doesn't mean you can't use one, and it doesn't mean another system of waste management is necessarily any more desirable. (There are no pump-outs available after you leave the States and traditional holding tanks and their pumps are problematic.) Frankly, there is no ideal system of waste management on a cruising boat. Just realize that you will have to empty the solid side of the head about once a week (you will know when, because the handle used to turn and aerate the solids will get hard to turn) and the liquid side once a day."

Now Patrick comments: "For full-time liveaboard use, the composting head should be viewed as a 'two-part holding tank' rather than a composting unit. Sure, some level of composting occurs in the warm tropical climates, but it can never, ever, no matter which unit you buy, compost fast enough. Further, even if it does compost completely, the volume is only slightly reduced and you still need to empty it as noted above. If you read the advertising pitch from the top two vendors they never really address the full-time use issue. "These are my thoughts after using a composting head for the past five years on two different boats. I'm not trying to discourage you, just making sure you understand the realities of the situation. Happy to provide more details if you want them."

Kirsten pick up again: "So what does that mean for the cruising sailor? It means, just as with electrical, engine, and plumbing spares, you have to carry enough supplies for the head on your cruise. We normally use coconut fiber bricks (coir) for our head media, because they are a more environmentally friendly choice than peat moss (which is harvested from wetlands, i.e., bogs.) You can purchase the coir bricks from PETCO in the reptile section, but we found they were cheaper at Home Depot in the garden section. Buy enough for your South Pacific crossing. Make sure you get the finely ground material rather than the coarse material labeled as mulch. We were unable to buy any coconut fiber bricks between Mexico and New Zealand. We were able to purchase some peat moss in Tahiti, and found the coconut fiber bricks again in New Zealand at their Home Depot equivalent at a reasonable price.

"We also keep a large supply of newspaper on hand, so that when it comes time to empty the solid side of the head, we can line a bucket with newspaper, dig out the solid waste and media with a narrow potting trowel, and dump it overboard. We try to always empty the solid side of the head when we are underway in deep water; but if we stay in an anchorage more than two weeks (we have occasionally let the head go for 10 days to two weeks while in an anchorage), we have to do something. We always double or triple-bag it and put it in a garbage bin, rather than empty it directly into a pristine anchorage.

"Another tip is to have a separate receptacle for pee-only paper. Toilet paper clogs up the solid side of the composting head more than the solid waste itself, so - just like with most marine heads - put the paper in the trash can if you're only peeing. "Patrick brought three spares for the head fan, and he just installed our third. That works out to about one fan per year."

We appreciate the frank assessment from a couple with so much experience. We searched the web for months and never found information this detailed and frank. Getting the straight poop on composting heads is difficult. If you have actual experience using a composting toilet, especially on a sailboat, please share and comment to this post.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Flyin' Sideways in the Sea of Cortez

Flyin' Sideways, the former Seadasha, is a Columbia 43 Mark III. Notice the aluminum nose cone on the tip of the bow that extended the foretriangle by six inches. The mast on a Mark III is six feet taller and the boom one foot shorter than a Mark I or Mark II. 
Karin and Joe bought a Columbia 43 Mark III a little more than a year ago and, after living aboard for four months in San Diego, took off for Mexico. They spent some time in Ensenada refitting their boat and then continued on to the Sea of Cortez where they are now.
On the dock in Mexico.

Their blog, Flyin' Sideways, is a fun read, especially for Virginia and me, because they document the upgrades to their boat they are making while cruising. These are the same upgrades we're planning for Oceanus. They added a water maker, 100-amp alternator and multi-stage regulator, new chain, new battery bank, the list goes on.

Karin with Jack.
They started cruising with two dogs, Gypsy and Jack, but the older of the two, passed away some months ago. It's interesting reading about how they cruise with a dog. We love dogs, but we think we'll wait until we've finished our cruise to get another one.

Their boat is the former Seadasha of Marina Del Rey. They changed the name to Flyin' Sideways to reflect their love of flying. As it says in their profile: "We've been skydivers and pilots for most of our lives. We're trading in plummeting towards earth at 120 mph +, for Flyin Sideways at 7-8 kph, much scarier than our previous adventures."

I admire them for taking off and making upgrades to their boat along the way. They also left their boat and went back to Arizona to work and replenish the cruising kitty. They are doing what it takes to live their dream and seem to really enjoy it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Big Decisions at the Big Seattle Boatshow

Boat show booty!
Virginia and I made major steps toward getting Oceanus ready for blue-water cruising last Friday and we didn't even set foot on the boat. We attended the Seattle Boat Show and finalized several gear choices.

One nice thing about going to the show is that our tickets were free because I wrote an article about our Columbia 43 for Three Sheets Northwest and they gave us a pair of tickets. When Oceanus is featured in the on-line magazine I'll provide a link on the blog.

Here is our report.

Oceanus has no electronics at all so everything will be new. Like all electronics, marine radios, chartplotters, and electronic navigation equipment changes rapidly. All of it seems expensive. My big fear was to spend a ton of money on electronics and have it be outdated or even obsolete soon after we leave the dock. So I've put off making any decisions about which equipment to buy hoping something would come along that would make sense and not break the bank. I think I've found it.

We bought a DMK 11A, a wireless gateway with GPS to be the heart of our electronic instrument setup. It creates an wireless network that streams data from your boat instruments and a GPS signal to up to three devices (like an iPad or iPhone) simultaneously.

The simplicity of the DMK booth attracted me immediately. On a small table a wind instrument, a depth sounder and a speed log were hooked up to a box about the size of a deck of cards. Next to it was an iPad displaying the data. Behind that was Kevin Dolan eating a banana. Since there's nothing I enjoy more than interrupting someone who's eating, I went up and started asking him questions. I liked his answers and we bought an 11A with GPS, at a special boat-show price, of course. You can tell that he's tuned-in to cheap sailboaters; he bought the iPad he was using at the show on Craigslist for $200.

On his recommendation, we went to the J&G Marine Supply booth across from him and bought a Standard Horizon VHF Marine Transceiver with AIS (GX2150). It was also a screamin' boat-show deal. I found this video about it.

Now I just need to buy a smart depth transducer and a wifi-enabled iPad, add iNavX software and we're set. A single sideband shortwave radio is also a must have. It would be nice to have wind instruments and radar too, but we'll see.

Virginia is in charge of deciding on a watermaker. After much research, she chose the Cruise RO Water watermaker. It was the first booth we visited. Visiting with Tom Brown of La Paz Cruisers Supply and Richard Boren, cruiser and president of Cruise RO Water, was a highlight of the show. Not only did they answer all of our questions about the water maker, but Tom also regaled us with great stories about cruising the Sea of Cortez. Tom painted vivid pictures of days spent snorkeling, spear fishing and dolphin watching while anchored in sheltered bays. He even got out the Sea of Cortez Cruising Guide and pointed out several not-to-be-missed anchorages with great snorkeling and diving.

We went to two seminars while at the show:

  • The first was Preparations for Extended Coastal and Offshore Cruising given by Liza Copeland. A lot of information given as fast as possible in one hour. (She said she usually takes three hours to give the presentation.) We were able to glean some good tips. We were so impressed with Liza Copeland that we found her later and bought two of her books, Cruising for Cowards and Just Cruising.
  • The other seminar was Sail Trim for Cruisers by Carol Hasse of Port Townsend Sails. Carol is a delightful person and one of the most knowledgeable sailmakers around. She learned her craft from the venerable Franz Schattauer, who was a Seattle institution for many years. Both of my previous big sailboats -- Lobo, a 27-foot Pearson Renegade, and Freyja, a 22-foot Alden-designed sloop -- had Schattauer sails. They were excellent sails.

We visited Carol Hasse at the Port Townsend Rigging booth later that evening. Lisa Vizzini of Port Townsend Riggers showed us how to rig lazy jacks so they are functional and yet can be easily stowed against the mast and not interfere with putting on a sail cover. I also liked her suggestions for rigging a preventer on the boom.

One of our goals at the show was to make a decision on which composting head to buy. We looked at both the Nature's Head and Air Head to compare the two. Before the show we were leaning toward the Nature's Head, but after seeing the Air Head we changed our mind. The build quality of the Air Head looks superior to us as does the design. It's a little more money but I think it's worth it.

We think the Air Head is a winner. 

More must-have items are:
A Hydrovane on the stern of Distant Dreamer, a Columbia 43. Formerly known as Encore, she won the Trans-Pac Class B in 1973. 

We bought each other presents for our 37th wedding anniversary: a monocular with a built-in compass for me and more plastic storage containers for Virginia.

If you have comments about our choices please let us know. Aside from the items we've already purchased, we reserve the right to change our mind.