disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

21Feb/12Off

San Diego

Soooo, once again I've been too busy to update the blog on anything approaching a regular basis, and now I'm left with a tonne of things to post about.

It's currently 7am on a Saturday morning, and I've been driven out of bed by the noise of dozens of little fish hurling themselves out of the water and at the side of the boat. Currently we're surrounded by hundreds of seagulls, pelicans and a few sea lions all feasting on what apparently is a huge school of these acrobatic little fish. WTF, nature. I'd prefer another couple of hours of sleep, but the coffee pot is on the stove and I have a list of projects to work on today, so I guess an early start isn't such a bad thing.

(update: it's now three weeks later and we're just about to leave SD, and I'm *still* trying to get this post finished. switching over to the "gallery" format again to save time.)

(update #2: it's now almost a month later again, and we're in La Paz, Mexico with a billion more stories to tell so I'd better just get this one finished as quickly as I can...)

new studio

the new studio

I've actually made some progress on the studio front, something I've been trying to figure out since moving onto the boat. I picked up a pair of decent headphones and a little technological miracle, the Focusrite VRM Box. This box simulates the sound of sitting in a tuned recording studio (or bedroom studio, or even a living room) in front of a user-selectable range of different speakers. Sure, it's not really the same as my previous techno studios, but it's 90% of the way there - and for a boat that's pretty incredible.

With a reasonable monitoring setup, and finally having a laptop capable of handling large audio files, I finally got around to putting in the hours and hours of editing needed to launch the Sequential Circus Podcast! This is big news; forty-five high-quality recordings of original live electronic music online so far, with more to come soon. It's about time, too - we've only been talking about launching the podcast for... oh, almost five years now. The next show, Sequential Circus 10, is coming up on January 21st, so if you're in Vancouver you should definitely come check it out.

(edit: Sequential Circus was a fantastic time - there are some of Luke Szczepanski's fabulous photos on Flickr if you're interested).

Anyway. We're in San Diego now! It's 2012!

Cousin Harald!

Cousin Harald visits, though we don't get to see him.

San Francisco was lovely, and to be honest I could probably have happily stayed there indefinitely. The energy of the place, the politically-charged, creative, outgoing flow of it all spoke to me. It was fascinating how many places were familiar to me from television and movies. Getting to spend time with so many people for whom activism and productivity and creativity were more ways of life than dinner-table conversation topics was incredibly inspiring! It seemed like everyone I met had a grand project that they were working on, that they were passionate about, that they wanted to share - by contrast, in Vancouver it often seems like people downplay their interests, as though it weren't cool to be working on something big, or maybe that it wouldn't be polite to be excited about it. Strange!

mailboxes in Sausalito

mailboxes at the Sausalito anchorage

We wore out our permits at the two SF anchorages and moved the boat across the channel to Richardson Bay in Sausalito, where we anchored near the ferry terminal for a few days. Despite very little protection from the northeast, with some fortunate weather it was quite calm, and once we managed to pick up a free wireless network nearby and got a lot of work done as well. Sausalito is very pretty, with hundreds of boats on mooring balls and a very laid-back atmosphere - it was clearly a community of artists and ex-hippies. This photo shows a couple of dozen mailboxes near a dinghy dock, each one painted brightly with scenes of waterways and landscapes, each addressee a live-aboard sailor on a mooring ball in the bay nearby. What a difference from Vancouver, where live-aboards at anchor are often seen as vagrants or 'floating homeless'! In Sausalito, live-aboards are clearly a respected - or at least tolerated or even acknowledged! - part of the community.

giant baby sculpture in Sausalito

a giant baby sculpture in Sausalito

Just another example of the kind of place Sausalito is - this is a giant baby in the back of a pickup truck  parked behind a marine electronics store.

 

Miya sewing the headsail

Miya sewing the headsail

Miya remains pleased with our acquisition of a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 sewing machine, a rugged bit of gear that can sew through something ridiculous like seven layers of leather at once. We had immediate use for it, having torn our headsail on the sail down from San Francisco.

 

showing off the repaired jib

showing off the repaired jib

The second sail repair, after the mainsail was patched up, was the 150 Genoa headsail, which I had torn the grommet clean out of while single-handing near Sidney, BC, back in 2009. I had reached 8.5kn on an absolutely gorgeous day when suddenly there was a BANG from the rigging, followed by some flapping... Miya added a new sailmakers thimble and some nylon strapping she got from a sail loft in Sausalito.

 

leaving Sausalito!

leaving Sausalito!

We took on a new crew member - Aylan Lee, whom we met in our Wilderness First Responder class in San Franciso, joined us for the sail from SF to San Diego. Aylan was working as a river rafting guide in Washington State, but given that this is the off season for rafting, he was seeking an adventure and thought perhaps sailing might fit the bill.

 

sailing past the Golden Gate

sailing out past the Golden Gate

We left SF as the sun was going down, and as we cruised out under the Golden Gate and into the open ocean, the moon rose behind us. We were lucky to have the full moon for most of the trip, though each night after moonset the world was incredibly dark, with only the light of the stars to see by.

 

Aylan's first morning at sea

Aylan's first morning at sea

Aylan acclimatized quickly, but the first night was cold and damp and windy and when we woke up he had a look on his face like he was wondering if he had made the right choice or not, coming out here in the big blue with some people from his first aid class!

lunch on the ocean

lunch on the ocean

The difference having a third crew member was immediately noticeable, and we found ourselves better rested, with a lot more energy and a tonne more free time to hang out with one another, as well as being better fed and generally in better spirits.

 

Aylan on watch

Aylan on watch

By day three, Aylan was quickly becoming a competent sailor - I awoke to find that the wind had risen during the night, but he'd handled it just as we'd taught him, tying in reefs and taking down the yankee to avoid being overpowered. Good show!

 

sun with rain on the horizon

sun with rain on the horizon

After the first few drizzly days, the weather was lovely! With a hundred miles of sea room to spare, we were able to see rainstorms from quite a distance away and adjust our course accordingly. At least, we could during the day - at night we had a harder time despite the full moon.

 

Aylan on watch

Aylan on watch

The crew swiftly fell into a rhythm, with our watch schedule working out to being Miya on from 8pm - midnight and again at 8am - noon, my watches from midnight until 4am and again from noon until 4pm, and Aylan on watch 4am-8am and 4pm-8pm. With eight hours between our watches, we all got plenty of sleep, which made for a much happier crew - I have to say I didn't envy Aylan's having to wake up at 4am, but I did envy the fact that he got to see the sunrise and sunset every day.

 

leaving the Channel Islands

leaving the Channel Islands

We had a bout of strong winds just as we approached the Channel Islands, so as we screamed past San Miguel island at 8+ knots, we cut the wheel to starboard and dropped the anchor for the night in a protected bay. We were woken early by hundreds of sea lions yowling on the nearby shoreline, and we were back on the road again by 10am.

 

Aylan taking a mid-afternoon nap

Aylan taking a mid-afternoon nap

Afternoons became the time to hang out and socialize, which worked out well for me as I could expect to have some company on my noon-4pm shift. The last few days of the trip, once the novelty of sailing had worn off and the realization that off-watch there's really not that much to do, naps became happily commonplace.

 

San Diego, summed up

San Diego, summed up in one photo

We arrived in San Diego! What a strange city - the photo above shows a brigantine sailing vessel that regularly arrived in the harbour and challenged the Lady Washington with cannon fire. In the background you can see not just one but TWO aircraft carriers.

 

the whisky selection at the Aero Club

the whisky selection at the Aero Club

We celebrated our first night in SD by meeting up with some friends of Aylan's and heading out for some drinks. If there's one thing that a city of military and snowbirds does well, it's drink - the bar in this photo must have had 400 different brands of whisky!

 

RIP little zodiac

RIP little zodiac

The carefully-regulated San Diego anchorages made it a lot more difficult to row back and forth to the TIE Fighter, and so we spent a lot more time in the zodiac than usual. The travel and sun took their toll though, and the zodiac began to come apart at the seams. You can see the hand pump in its habitual place at the stern - voyages of more than five minutes began to require bailouts mid-trip.

 

wind generator installation

wind generator installation

After much dancing and negotiation, our KISS Energy wind generator finally arrived at Downwind Marine! Another few hundred dollars for a a pole-mounting kit and we found ourselves finally generating electricity, even after dark.

 

power generation

power generation

With both wind and solar power contributing to the house bank charging, we found ourselves having to use the Honda EU-2000i gasoline generator less and less - though still probably two to three times per week, which was a big disappointment. I guess the January sunshine in San Diego just wasn't enough for our electrical needs, and the anchorage was a little too sheltered to pull in any serious amperage from the wind turbine.

 

a pelican checking us out

a pelican checking us out

A lovely part of San Diego for me was the proliferance of my third-favourite bird, the noble pelican. Nothing makes you believe the theory that dinosaurs evolved into birds quite like the long beaks, large wingspans and creepy-good flight ability of these birds.

the black-crowned night heron, not my photo

My second favourite bird was also new to me in San Diego, the Black-Crowned Night Heron.

Unfortunately, I couldn't take a decent photo of the heron that chose the starboard bow of the TIE Fighter as its nightly perch, hunting fish in the teeming waters of the bay. The herons don't have much of a neck, so they constantly look like they're skulking around... the one that visited us every night looked at me suspiciously (accusingly?) every time I went outside to change cabins in the dark. We had many a short conversation, though I never figured out if he/she was actually interested in being friends.

My favourite bird is, of course, my baby sister's daughter, my niece Wren.

watermaker installation nearing completion

watermaker installation nearing completion

One HUGE success for the TIE Fighter was the completion of the Spectra Ventura 150 water maker install! This took me a long time, and though I was able to finish it before we finally left San Diego, it required a swim to install the 5/8" through-hull fitting. I thought I'd be able to handle the swim without my wetsuit, but after jumping in I quickly changed my mind.

With the water maker, now we can make our own drinking water from sea water. This is exactly the sort of thing we've been working towards all this time - with the electricity coming from solar and wind, and the water coming from the ocean (by way of the electricity we just made), we are yet another step closer to self-sufficiency.

Christmas on the s/v TIE Fighter

Christmas on the s/v TIE Fighter

Christmas and New Years came and went without much fanfare - Miya and I spent a couple of nights in a hotel downtown to celebrate, enjoying hot showers and poolside drinks, albeit slightly chilly ones. Our Christmas tree was, for the second year in a row, a rosemary bush, and Miya made hearty rosemary bread to ward off the chilly nights.

 

More to come as I find the time...

 

28Oct/11Off

San Francisco


the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

Now that we've been in sunny San Francisco for over two weeks, I guess I should blog the fact that we've arrived here safely. 🙂

The offshore sailing portion from Coos Bay to San Francisco Bay was mostly uneventful - the weather turned gloomy and damp and the winds shifted to a meandering northerly 10kn, and days at a time were spent drifting along at 3kn. For our new US friends, that's three nautical miles, or a whopping 3.4 miles per hour, and for the Canadians (and the rest of the world) it's a speedy 5.5km/h. Not exactly the kind of speeds that win you any races, but obviously enough we did arrive in SF safe and sound. The single most surprising thing learned during the five-day sail? Minke whales have terrible breath! We had one surface several times within about ten meters of TIE Fighter.

We anchored in the lovely Aquatic Park for the first few days while we got our footing, then motored over to Treasure Island when it became apparent that the Aquatic Park anchorage would be the best place to stay while taking our first aid course and we didn't want to wear out our welcome too early.

a robot wheelchair at the Noisebridge hack space

a robot wheelchair at the Noisebridge hack space

That first weekend I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days attending Hackmeet 2011, a gathering of technologists, cryptophiles and social activists at a hack space called Noisebridge near Mission and 16th Street. I got to meet a few folks with whom I'd only communicated online before, and met a few others in the process. I've been describing the event to non-geeks as "...a meet-up of the IT staff for the Occupy Wall Street movement". There were talks about everything from email cryptography to anti-forensics to effective tools for using the internet for social activism, with a particularly memorable presentation about open-source hardware for sex research taking the flow of the conference off into left field for a few minutes. The Noisebridge staff seemed a little bit nervous at the sheer number of people in their space - I'd put it at around 150 at peak - but they stayed calm and everyone was very well-behaved.

Noisebridge itself was inspiring - I really wish something like it had existed when I was a teen. The space was a large upstairs warehouse space in a busy ethnic neighbourhood, with the main area populated with row after row of shelving units jammed with members' personal projects - everything from stencil art to clothing [de]construction to lasers and makerbots and arcane old computer hardware. Honestly, just from the idea of a "hackspace" I would have expected more computer gear, but it was surprisingly free from the clutter of old broken computers that seems to fill every hacker's bedroom. I particularly liked this wheelchair robot - note the "NOT THREE LAWS COMPLIANT" warning posted on the front.

demolished nose - or at least makeup indicating such

demolished nose - or at least makeup indicating such

Once the Wilderness First Responder first-aid course started, life got quickly more complicated. The class was held in the Precidio, which was a real treat aesthetically but a bit of a pain to get to every day, with two busses and about a kilometre walk between us and the class. That is, at least until we met Jon and Mark, two classmates who were conveniently staying at a hotel just two blocks from where we were anchored! Jon gave us a ride to and from the class every day, making things a lot easier - not to mention cheaper, those bus fares add up after a while.

One really nice thing was that the bulk of the classroom work for the course was held in a yoga studio in the back of Planet Granite, a gorgeous rock-climbing gym and fitness facility. We were given breaks of ten to twenty minutes every few hours, and about half the class started bringing their climbing shoes every day and spending the breaks on the very extensive bouldering walls. The first day with my shoes I tried too hard to keep up with the children's climbing class and could barely lift my arms for three days after - but with concerted effort over a few days I found myself regaining my former levels of bouldering "skill", climbing most of the V2-rated routes, and finally mastering a couple of V3's. Like any climbing gym, all I could do was watch in awe as lean, skinny pros made their way up V10's and V12's.

Miya "puking" while strapped to a spine board

Miya "puking" while strapped to a spine board

The class itself was very hands-on, and we spent about two-thirds of the time in classroom lectures and the rest in 'scenarios', responding to simulated emergencies. Many of these situations involved makeup to make them seem more realistic, which made us feel more confident that we wouldn't panic if faced with similar injuries in real life. Everyone took turns being the rescuers and the rescue-ees, and we all got very comfortable diagnosing and triaging major traumas, documenting vitals and establishing trends, and preparing patients for evacuations whether or not advanced medical help would be available.

Still, the days were long. Miya and I got up each day at 6am to be ready for the 8am class start, and by the time we got home at 7pm we didn't have much energy left for... well, for anything really. Most nights found us asleep before 10pm! This was the first time I'd been in a full-time class since college, and my body had a really hard time adjusting to the change. The fact that the course only gave us one day off during the whole ten days was difficult; we all agreed that one day just wasn't enough time to completely rejuvenate.

The course culminated in a night-time scenario where we were presented with a multi-casualty incident; a plane crash in a heavily-wooded area. We organized ourselves into an incident response unit, performed a search-and-rescue sweep and found and treated all of the victims - all of which were strangers to us, and in full theatrical makeup, with bones and blood and intestines (technically condoms filled with oatmeal, but surprisingly realistic) everywhere. The hardships of such a rescue were magnified when later on it was discovered that the woods were infested with poison oak. I apparently got away unscathed, but many of our classmates - Miya included - had a rough time of it. We spent the next class day washing all of the rescue gear down with Tecnu.

the SF skyline from the top of Hyde Street

the SF skyline from the top of Hyde Street

The class is now finished, and slowly we're recovering and returning to normalcy. The boat is anchored at Treasure Island once again and we have a 21-day extended anchoring permit to stay here, though we have yet to decide whether or not we'll still be in the city in 21 days, or whether we'll be headed off to Monterrey, Big Sur, San Diego and beyond. For now I intend to spend much of my time working on contract work and experiencing all that San Franciso has to offer - so far it seems very similar to Vancouver, with the notable exception of my not having had to wear socks for the past week.

What up, San Fran? Send me your activities! I want to go out and do things!

26Sep/11Off

Weather Window!

scraps of life in Neah Bay

scraps of life in Neah Bay; a washboard and genuine hardtack!

Lovely and quiet as life in this tiny, remote coastal fishing village has been, after eleven days it's somewhat of a relief to finally pack up the boat and prepare to leave Neah Bay for the open ocean. The NOAA weather forecasts for the next few days show a favourable window, with the gale-force southerly winds that we've been experiencing for the past week subsiding and slowly giving way to gentle northwesterlies, which combined with the dominant currents should give us a safe and quick offshore passage south to San Francisco. We have enjoyed it here, but we're looking forward to being back in an anchorage with easy access to more modern amenities than a rustic general store - and somehow nobody managed to mention the fact that Neah Bay is a "dry community" in any of the cruising guides! I can't wait to have a frosty pint at a yacht club bar in SF.

The sprocket for the steering system came in with unbelievable swiftness - funny how parts shipped from the US to Canada always seem to take a few extra days, while shipping this hunk of metal from Canada to the US took less than twenty hours from the confirmation email! With the help of our new local diver/fisherman/handyman friend Daren Akin, we had the sprocket cut to fit and installed in a matter of hours, and since then the steering has been working far smoother than before.

howling winds in the anchorage

howling southerly winds, all day every day

The weather has been the most stressful part about living in Neah Bay; the return of predominantly northwest winds comes as a huge relief as we wondered whether or not we'd missed our window to head offshore this year at all. For the past few days the winds have been howling day and night - during the day we seem to get gusty winds in bursts of about a half-hour of 25kn winds every two hours, but after dark the winds have been rising to much higher. Strangely, it seems like the only time we've seen really strong winds - 35kn-40kn - has been at 4am... for three days in a row now.

I've been trying a new technique; anchoring from the stern instead of the bows. The benefit is that the TIE Fighter tends to swing less at anchor, less "sailing" far to the left and right with the wind - but I can't really take credit for that. The real reason is that I installed the fancy Wi-Fi antenna to the side of the aft cabin, and apparently once the cabin sides are wet from rain there's no passing a Wi-Fi signal through them. We have to have the boat faced to present the Wi-Fi antenna at the marina a kilometer or so away if we want a signal!

The downside of this stern-anchoring trick is that I have never had to handle a dragging anchor from the stern before - the engine starts just fine, but with an anchor line off the back I would have to be very careful not to back over the line; in an anchor-dragging situation, wrapping a line around the propellor shaft could be disastrous! Combined with the howling winds and rains and utter darkness of the night, I've had a rough time sleeping, even with the anchor-drag alarm set on the Garmin GPSMap76cx on the pillow beside my head. I've left a second anchor rigged on deck, ready to throw over the side at the first sign of dragging - but to my surprise and relief, the Fortress FX-37 anchor has held through the worst of it, without giving a meter!

Miya trying to bring in a ling cod

Miya trying to bring in a ling cod

We've taken advantage of the few days of the fall sun non-rain of the Pacific Northwest to relax, nail down some final boat-readyness projects (at least one project is now literally nailed down) and to explore the areaaround Neah Bay. Yesterday we hiked the little island that marks the entrance to the anchorage and explored a huge, partially submerged barge at the western end of the bay.

Mostly though, we've been working through stresses, finding our centers and getting our heads ready for the upcoming step; arguably the biggest step we've made so far.

Tomorrow we leave offshore. Within the next ten days, we'll arrive in San Francisco.

18May/11Off

Bicycles

A confession: I am a bike nerd. I have never actually owned a car, and at the rate things are going there's a distinct possibility that I never will.

As a bit of backstory, I grew up in New Brunswick where having a car meant freedom but also slavery, or at least indentured servitude. Insurance rates for young male drivers were insanely high, only dropping to reasonable rates after age twenty-five.  If you wanted your own car you had to either have very generous parents, a (non-existant) high-paying job, or you had to spend all of your free time working at whatever minimum-wage job you could land. Since my folks were big on teaching me the value of a dollar (thanks, by the way), I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't own my own car until after age twenty-five, and drove my mother's Mercury Tracer hatchback around whenever she'd let me.

my first adult bike, a sketchy hand-me-down

my first adult bike, a sketchy hand-me-down commuter

Just before I actually turned twenty-five, I moved to Calgary, Alberta. Calgary is very much a car-centric city... unless you live and work in the downtown core, which is where I along with nearly all my friends lived and worked. Combined with a great public transit system, there wasn't really any need to own a car. That 'downtown' mindset prevailed through a move to Vancouver, which also has a great public transit system. Still, walking and transit are restrictive, and in about 2005, inspired by the fitness and social agility of a few friends, I decided to become a "bike person".

Once you've pushed past the first six months of getting into half-decent shape, and you've realized that suddenly any point in the city is reachable by self-propulsion (often faster than by any other method of transport), then - then comes the realization that bicycles are simple machines, and with a bit of maintenance or upgrading they can be strong, reliable friends. Very much like Robert M. Persig's famous message, there is much joy in keeping the machines tight and tuned, and I fell headlong into the world of bike-nerddom.

my first 'real' bike, built by Mighty Riders

my first 'real' bike, built by Mighty Riders

My first adult bike was an ancient, beat-up mountain bike given to me by a friend years prior, that I had lugged around from apartment to apartment but never really ridden. Once I made up my mind to get off the couch, I rode that bike to and from work for about a year.  I slowly upgraded from fat knobby tires to 'slicks' to 'skinny slicks', learning as I went that my initial idea of the "perfect Vancouver commuter bike" was quite far off from reality. Sooner or later, foot retention became an obvious choice, and fenders became beautiful to me.

Then one rainy day I slammed into the back of a BMW - at the time I was sure it was the driver's fault, but upon later reflection I'm not so sure it wasn't all me. I rode off (mostly) unharmed, but later I found that the impact had cracked the age-brittle aluminum frame of my commuter bike, and it was no longer safe to ride. I knew by this time that a bike would continue to be a big part of my life, so in early 2006 I bit the bullet and had Ed and his wizards at Mighty Riders build me the "perfect Vancouver commuter bike".  It was a steel Surly Cross-Check frame, built up with a Shimano Nexus-8 internally-geared rear hub and a disc brake on the front wheel.  Nearly weatherproof!

my first track bike, the Creamcycle

my first track bike build, the Creamcycle

However, within a year or so of riding the new bike, I was bitten by the track bike bug. I went out to the Burnaby Velodrome with Trent and rode a few times on the steeply-banked wooden track, but concluded that while track racing wasn't really for me, riding "fixed gear", with no gears and no coasting, definitely was. It can be difficult to explain the zen state of riding a fixed gear bicycle - it feels a lot more like running than riding a bike, since you use your legs to both accelerate as well as modulate your speed. If you want to go slower, use your leg muscles to force the bike to pedal slower. The feeling of riding a perfectly-tuned fixed gear bicycle is incredible, as though this simple, elegant, rattle-free machine were more an extension of your body rather than an accessory; more a katana than a shotgun.

So, I built up a track bike from parts purchased on eBay at a steep discount - a KHS Aero Track frame, Sugino cranks, and a wheelset built up around Phil Woods track hubs - and rode it hard for the next few years. I have to say that I really enjoyed the act of building a bike up with my own hands, knowing that it would carry me reliably from home to work and anywhere in between. I named the bike 'Creamcycle', shelved my black bike for rainy days, and put several thousand kilometers on her as my main method of transportation.

the rad playa cruiser, before and after

'rad playa cruiser' before/after shots - click for big!

As the summer of 2008 drew nearer, the Burning Man Festival approached.  A bike is a necessity in the Black Rock Desert, but not a good bike as the desert environment kills bikes in very short order.  I set out to find an appropriate bike to modify for the task; I searched for a long while, but was unable to find anything that was even remotely up to the job. Eventually I widened my search to include bikes that would require a complete rebuild, and at a Main Street junk store I found the black mountain bike in the photo on the right, for which I paid a whopping $25.

I tore the bike down to the bare frame, sanded and painted it, then reassembled the bike with spare parts and supplemental bits, buying old, used parts as much as possible. I spent many hours in Our Community Bikes learning the ins and outs of rebuilding a bike, but even with the hours of shop time the grand total in costs for the bike ran me somewhere in the vicinity of $150, with the most expensive component being the new basket at approximately $35.

The design of the rad playa cruiser was carefully considered - wider 'beach cruiser' tires to handle the sometimes-soft surface of the Black Rock Desert, cruiser handlebars and flat pedals to enable riding in all forms of dress and/or states of sobriety, lock washers on all bolts to prevent bits shaking loose, and extra-thick grease on all the (repacked) bearings. In my opinion however the most important feature - and incidentally the most inexplicably absent from the vast majority of playa bikes - are the BMX-style stunt pegs on the back axel.  With the stunt pegs, I can 'double' someone on the bike if needed. How useful is that?!  "Heading to the temple?  What a coincidence, me too!  Hop on, baby!"

'ghost', a vancouver bike through and through

'ghost', a vancouver city bike through and through

On a roll at this point, the next bike I built was a singlespeed road bike for a close friend who was still riding her hand-me-down mountain bike, similar to my original commuter. We picked out an appropriately-sized bike together at a bizarre private bike junkyard-slash-workshop on Main Street, getting a better price on the frame by sitting on the shop floor and stripping off all the components and leaving them with the previous owner for resale. Then, using mostly parts from my closet and a decent track wheelset found on Craigslist I built up "Ghost", a sexy little number well-suited to both the the streets of Vancouver and the rider for whom it was built.

Life on a boat is very hard on a bike.  The constant exposure to salty ocean air accelerates corrosion, and even though the TIE Fighter has a great deal of storage, fitting a full-size bicycle into the storage lockers in the amas wasn't always easy or even possible. For at least a year after moving aboard I had my black "perfect bike" stored in an ama and the Creamcycle up on deck for near-daily use, but slowly the weather began to take its toll and I watched as she began to lose her luster, with the deep scratches from regular (ab)use turning from silver to the darker orange of rust.

goodbye, creamcycle. you were a good bike.

goodbye, creamcycle. you were a good bike.

I put the Creamcycle away in an ama and began using the black bike, but within a month of making the switch back to a geared bike I made a fatal mistake and left my bike - well locked, mind you - at a bike rack that I should not have. At some point in the night, a thief made off with the rear wheel and handlebars of my beautiful bike - incidentally the most expensive components. I researched replacement parts for a while but sadly concluded that I don't need two bikes, and that the best answer would be to sell the remaining carcass of the black bike to some bike nerd friends who would build her back up and put her to good use.

Finally, earlier this year I heard about Montague Bikes, a company in the States that makes folding bicycles with fullsize wheels! I had looked into folding bikes several times, but after trying a few I came to the conclusion that the small wheels on the average folding bike are better suited to short trips to the store, and not so much as a primary means of transportation around a city. With fullsize wheels, however, a folding bike could definitely solve the problem of storage (and, by association, weather-resistancy), while continuing to be a solid means of transport.

The Montague Boston turned out to be the be-all and end-all answer to my problems. Priced at around $800 after taxes and shipping, I could strip all the components off of the Creamcycle and build up a new bike around the Boston's folding fixed-gear frame, then build up the Creamcycle with the Boston's components and sell the resulting bike on Craigslist, minimizing my total expenditures. Almost all of the Creamcycle's components fit onto the Boston frame without hassle!

the new ride, 'harlequin'

the new ride, 'harlequin' - click for bigger

The result, show here in all her glory, is the best bicycle I can come up with given my style of cycling and difficult storage and transportation needs. The new bike, named 'Harlequin', folds in half to make the row to and from shore easier, and when folded she stows away quite handily into a wing locker on the TIE Fighter. The first few weeks with her were a little trying, as I slowly worked out the kinks in fit and sizing, tightening the bits that creaked and rattled and replacing any components showing signs of rust with similar components of stainless steel, but I think she's finally out of the woods and settling into the final configuration that she'll keep for the next few years.

So far, I'm very pleased with the new build. 'Harlequin' is a fixed gear, with a gear ratio of 49/17, giving me 75.4 gear inches, or 32.6km/h at 90RPM. To date I have not met a hill in Vancouver that I cannot climb - though I know better than to brag the same about the North Vancouver hills!

Longer term, we'll have to see what happens. I doubt I'll be on nicely paved city streets and bike paths much in the next few years, so perhaps the racing wheelset and fixed gearing will end up being a mistake. Still, so long as I've got a beautiful bike I know I'll find any excuse to ride around town... especially with the summer approaching so fast!

14Apr/11Off

Photoblog: What’s Up?

Wow, what a busy couple of months!

I've been neglecting the blog, which is something I need to remedy.  In my defence, I've been very very busy.  So, in lieu of posting the ten or fifteen posts that I should have been posting all along, I'll have to just get the queue out in a very condensed fashion.

Returning to the format of the 'What I Did On My Summer Vacation' series of posts, here's a rapid-fire "clips show" of the last two months.

staring down the barrel of a yanmar diesel

staring down the barrel of a yanmar diesel

I started and finished a two-week class in 'Advanced Diesel Engine Maintenance', in which we tore the above Yanmar 2QM marine diesel engine completely apart and put it all back together.  I'll probably never take the camshaft out of my Yanmar 3HM, but at least now I'm pretty sure I could if I absolutely had to.

 

notice to move from the Kitsilano anchorage

notice to move from the Kitsilano anchorage - click for higher-res

This one warrants a blog post of its own - but then again a lot of these pics do.  This is a formal 'Notice To Move' from the Vancouver Port Authority, as delivered by the VPD while I was sitting safely and soundly at anchor just off Kitsilano Beach.  The officer explained that everyone was getting these notices as an advance move, so that if the Port Authority decided at any point to tow boats out of the harbour and impound them, they could do so without warning.  He also explained that the notices were the result of meetings between the City of Vancouver Parks Board and the Port Authority, over just who's responsibility it was to pay for the cleanup of Kitsilano Beach after anchored sailboats were blown ashore and wrecked in windstorms.

What really bugs me is that since then, talking with other liveaboards here in False Creek, it would seem that this notice was only delivered to abandoned or unattended/derelict vessels left out at the anchorage, and that I was the only liveaboard sailor to receive a notice.  Strange, especially since I feel like I've proven myself to be a responsible and conscientious mariner, and I have never been blown ashore.

The notice says that I am anchored without having seeked permission to anchor, but as of now the Harbour Master has still not replied to my email requesting permission to anchor.  I really do hope that this notice is the first and last interaction I'll have with the Port Authority, but I can't help feel a bit of foreboding.

 

goodbye, creamcycle.  you were a good bike.

goodbye, creamcycle. you were a good bike.

In my ongoing quest to simplify and minimize my life, I finally realized that my beloved bicycle just doesn't fit "indoors", and storing the Creamcycle outdoors all winter was slowly killing her.  There's room for a bike in the starboard ama if I arrange things very carefully but that's a lot of valuable storage space taken up, especially with the prospect of Miya also having a bike aboard.  After much research, I decided that the path forward would be to purchase a Montague Boston folding bike, and migrate all of my pro-grade components from the Creamcycle over onto the Boston frame, and vice versa, and then sell the result on Craigslist.  More on this soon.

 

snow drifted up against the generator

snow drifted up against the generator

February 26th 2011 brought the first and last big snowstorm of the season.  This pic is a little difficult to make out, but if you look closely you can see the snow drifted up nearly over the cabin window, with a melted/windshaped cutout around the Honda EU2000i generator, wrapped here (as always) in a white tarp to keep the weather out.

 

March 4th was my 35th birthday, and we celebrated by sailing the TIE Fighter across the Georgia Straight and over to Pender Island for a weekend-long multi-birthday party with twenty or so friends in a mansion on the highest point on the island.  Seriously swank - a hot tub on the roof, and 360º view of the Gulf Islands!

Miya took this video at a particularly stressful moment during the journey across the Straight - we'd had lovely 10-15kn winds coming out of English Bay, but as we rounded UBC the winds jumped to 20-25kn and we struggled to reef the mainsail, which wasn't rigged properly for reefing.  Shortly after we succeeded, we suddenly lost steering...

The rest of the trip got steadily worse, and by the time we arrived at the west side of the Straight the wind was blowing a steady 30kn with pouring rain and 3m waves occasionally breaking over the decks.  We arrived shortly after dark on Friday night, exhausted and happy to be somewhere warm and dry - I don't think my boots dried until Sunday.

 

DR spraying the sails down with fresh water

DR spraying the sails down with fresh water

We moored the boat at Otter Bay for the weekend while we relaxed at the mansion.  This pic shows Dan Ross spraying down the sails with fresh water, after being soaked with seawater.  You really shouldn't allow sails to sit with salt on them - the salt attracts moisture from the air so the sails will never really dry out completely, which is really bad for the lifespan of the sails, not to mention the probable cause of the large rust stains visible on the headsail.

 

new battery charger installed!

new battery charger installed!

I picked up a brand new modern battery charger for a little under half price on Craigslist and installed it, finally taking control over the charging of my batteries!  Prior to this I had been charging the batteries directly from a 20a DC-DC converter, which is effective but inefficient, and very very hard on batteries.  With the new ProNautic C3 50a charger, my time to fully charge the batteries dropped from seven hours to just under three hours.  Take note of the mess of wires in the background - this was taken after I had already pulled two full laundry baskets of unused wiring out of the boat.  Apparently at least one of the former owners of the TIE Fighter had rewired the boat, but hadn't bother removing any of the old wiring!

 

winch maintenance begins

winch maintenance begins

One thing I noticed during the Pender "sea trials" trip was that the winches on the mast had begun slipping.  I've owned the boat for over three years now and have never serviced the winches, so maintenance was definitely overdue.  I had dropped Miya and DR off at Swartz Bay, and TIE Fighter was now anchored in Sidney, BC, so I had my evenings free to work hard on boat projects.  Servicing winches is messy work but quite introspective and satisfying, much like I imagine cleaning a rifle must be.  This pic shows three of the mast winches disassembled and my first experiments with using 'Simple Green' to clean the components.  Result: 'Simple Green' does not effectively clean winch components.

 

the daily ritual

the daily ritual

Being anchored in a new place makes me quickly slip into a comfortable routine.  I finally got around to repairing the broken Bodum hand-crank coffee grinder that I purchased last fall, and this pic shows my morning ritual in progress - a pot of steel-cut oatmeal and quinoa on the galley stove, with a Bialetti 'moka pot' of coffee percolating beside it, lit by a sunbeam.

 

new day tank, visible (barely) way in the back

new day tank, visible (barely) way in the back

Yet another project that I'd been putting off; the aft cabin furnace needed a day tank.  The hard part about diesel furnaces is that they need to be supplied with diesel fuel at about 3psi - this can be achieved with either a small electric fuel pump, or with a gravity feed from a tank stored at least four feet above the fuel intake.  The problem is that as far as I can tell, very few companies make a diesel tank with an outlet port at the bottom of the tank!  After researching the costs of having one manufactured (about $300), I found this water tank, rated for chemical storage, at the wonderful Sidney Boaters Exchange for a whopping $8.00.  Another $6.00 in parts, fittings and tie-downs and I was in business!

 

more splicing - the headsail sheets are now 340% better.

more splicing - the headsail sheets are now 340% better.

Evenings over the next two weeks were slow and quiet, so I got a few chances to move away from the "needs" projects a little and onto the "wants" projects.  Here's a pic of the snap shackles on the headsail sheets spliced into the sheets instead of tied in with bowline knots, and the bitter ends of the sheets backspliced.  This is not only faaaaaar more attractive, but also much smoother for tacking as there is less to catch on the inner forestay while the headsail slips across.

 

winches, cleaned

winches, cleaned

More detail on the winch servicing project; the acetone in the back proved to be a failure as well.  At some point a previous owner had serviced the winches by putting grease on the pawls.  Apparently - and this was news to me - putting grease on pawls is a no-no, as the grease tends to thicken and build up, eventually causing the pawls to jam.  For reference, you should only ever put oil on winch pawls; grease is fine (and recommended) for the gears, but the pawls only ever get oil.

The thick, gummy grease is difficult to get off of the components, but the ultimate solution turned out to be very simple: diesel fuel dissolves the grease and an old toothbrush cleans off the remainder. The glass and tupperware in the pic above are both full of diesel, stained an ugly greenish-black by the dissolved grease after soaking the components overnight.

 

winch 'spares'

winch 'spares'

While I had the winches apart, I took the opportunity to purchase a 'rebuild kit' from the local marine store, and replaced all of the pawl springs in each winch.  In this pic, the silver chicklet-looking chunky steel bits are the pawls, which are held against the gear sprockets by the little flat circular pawl springs, which causes the characteristic clatter of the winch in use.  Pawl springs wear out over time, but after cleaning the winches and replacing all the springs, my mast winches now work just like new.

 

mast winch mounts

mast winch mounts

The winch mounts during reassembly, after cleaning with diesel, brushes and paper towel. During this procedure it was so bitterly cold outside that I had to go back into the cabin after cleaning each mount to rub my hands together to regain feeling in my fingertips!

 

aft furnace installed and operational!

aft furnace installed and operational!

The aft furnace was critical during this period - prior to having the furnace working I was mostly confined to the forward cabin for pretty much everything except cooking, working my day job from either my bed or the "guest nest", which is what Miya has named the port-side single berth.

Upon first lighting of the new furnace, I nearly burned the boat down! It started up just like normal and worked great, but shortly after this photo the furnace began making a "chuffing" noise and the walls of the burn chamber started glowing red hot - I quickly shut it down, but it kept burning for a good five minutes afterwards. Apparently the diesel metering valve had been set for a much more viscous fuel, and when I measured and tuned the meter it was delivering more than three times the normal amount of fuel to the burner. Since the tuning the furnace has worked 100% as expected, keeping the aft cabin warm for days on end.

 

the 'boudoir' cubby, painted and shelved

the 'boudoir' cubby, painted and shelved

Speaking of the "guest nest", here is a pic of the newly-painted and newly-shelved cubby below the port side berth, which Miya has named 'the boudoir', and we've decided is her personal storage area while she's living aboard with me.  My personal storage space is the opposite cubby, which I have dubbed 'the study'.

 

the headsail, spread out at the sail loft

the yankee headsail, spread out at the sail loft

In the sail across from Vancouver, we tore the mainsail in no less than five places, mostly due to poor reefing skills but probably the fact that the sail is fifteen years old might have something to do with it.  I brought the sails in to Sidney's Leitch and Mcbride sailmakers to have it repaired and to get a quote on a replacement sail.  I was impressed with their workmanship and attention to detail, and by the personal service I received - they even picked me and the sails up from the boat, and dropped me off again afterwards.

 

cutting the hole for the new switch panel

cutting the hole for the new switch panel

The biggest project of all, while living at anchor in Sidney, was to gut and replace the entire electrical system of the boat.  This meant making final decisions on the organization and placement of the switch panels, and cutting into the walls of the cabin to install them.  Here I've discovered that the panel above the stove is only 1/4" plywood, and that I'm able to cut through it quite easily with my pocket knife.

 

LED lighting in the engine compartment

LED lighting in the engine compartment

As a part of the electrical system upgrade, I installed LED lighting into all of the under-cockpit cubbies, with the engine compartment getting extra attention as it's probably the one where having good lighting is the most critical.  Amazing how much cleaner Maude looks with good lighting!

 

cubbies in the forward cabin, lit up with LED strips

cubbies in the forward cabin, lit up with LED strips

The forward cabin cubbies - the 'study' and 'boudoir' - shown lit up brightly with the new LED cubby lighting system.  What a phenomenal difference it makes, having these formerly dark and dirty spaces now clean, white and bright.

 

a new outlet beside the bed

a new outlet beside the bed

I only have a 400w inverter on the boat currently, but that's more than enough to run things like laptops and cellphone chargers - I really don't have much else to plug in anymore!  Still, it's nice to have the convenience of being able to plug things in wherever you are, so I've installed GFCI outlets all over the boat.  This one is only temporary - I've replaced it already with a more modern outlet that has a green LED, so that you can tell at a glance whether or not the inverter is turned on.

 

the finished electrical panel in the galley

the finished electrical panel in the galley

The galley electrical panel installed and active! I've since also added a backlighting kit to this panel, so the panel labels glow a soft green at night. It's the little touches that really make the work feel professional, and give me great pride in having done it all myself.

 

the completed electrical system wiring

the completed electrical system wiring

I'm very proud of my wiring job - apparently fifteen years of being a network tech has some boat benefits after all!  All wires to the switch panels are cut to length and terminate in double-crimped flanged spade connectors on terminator bars, all grounds are bussed together with appropriately-sized wiring, and every subsystem on the boat has an individual circuitbreaker. TIE Fighter now has a modern, well-installed electrical system, onto which I can build with confidence. Next steps: a much larger battery bank, then a powerful solar array and possibly a wind generator. The "grid" just keeps getting further and further behind me.

 

propane canister packed up for bicycle transport

propane canister packed up for bicycle transport

On yet another trip to the Sidney Boater's Exchange I found a pair of nearly-new horizontally-mounted propane tanks for $100 each.  This was a great deal, as used horizontal tanks are very hard to find, and new ones are over $400 each - my propane locker can fit two twenty-pound propane tanks, but they have to be horizontal tanks, standard vertical tanks (like on a barbeque) are too tall for the locker.  Packing a propane tank home on my bicycle garnered some strange looks from the locals.

 

Xantrex LinkLITE installed and operational

Xantrex LinkLITE installed and operational

I also picked up a Xantrex LinkLITE battery monitor, which conveniently fit into the hole from the ancient (and dead) Heart Interface battery monitor that was installed on TIE Fighter when I purchased her.  Yet another step towards complete mastery of my electrical system - a former boss of mine was fond of saying "that which gets measured, gets managed".  This is absolutely true with regards to battery life; I can now measure how much electricity the boat is using at any given moment, and know at a glance how much battery life I have left before I have to run the generator to charge back up again.

 

sitting on a stoop on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

sitting on a stoop on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

After three solid weeks of heads-down work on the boat, a vacation was in order.  Miya's close friend and cousin Stacee was getting married in Puerto Rico, and Miya was the maid of honour so I was invited along as her date.  We flew to Vieques, a small rustic island about an hour east of San Juan.  Vieques is known for beautiful beaches, quiet towns and a large population of unfenced horses running free over the whole island.  At times I really felt like I was back living in Costa Rica again, and within the week my spanish came rushing back to me.

 

Miya, post-serenade

Miya, post-serenade

At some point, walking from our budget hotel towards the posh resort the wedding was being held in, we were flagged down by pensioners in a small bar by the side of the road, invited in for a drink and to listen to the locals playing music and gabbing.  Here Miya has just been serenaded with very decent spanish folk music by the man on the left, and the one-armed man on the right had just finished telling her the story of his being stabbed in the abdomen two nights earlier, on the street a block from our hotel.

 

first scuba dive!

first scuba dive!

We took advantage of the tourist industry on Vieques and signed up for a one-day 'Explore SCUBA' course, which took us out to the end of an unused (but heavily secured) military pier for a pair of dives.  The waters under the pier were teeming with life, and I discovered to my great relief that the sinus and inner-ear problems that plagued me as a youth have not in fact followed me into adulthood - I am able to dive after all.

 

click for a high-res version

click for a high-res version

I've included this pic because I think it makes an excellent desktop wallpaper; subtle and not too busy.  Click the pic - or for that matter, any of these photos - for a higher-resolution version. We saw many sea turtles, as well as several types of ray and many, many different tropical fish.

 

ripping around on a little Yamaha scooter

ripping around on a little Yamaha scooter

Vieques is fairly small at only about seven miles long, but we soon felt the pangs of not having our bicycles. Renting bikes was an option, but at $25/day per bike renting a motor scooter for $50/day seemed like a much better option. In the three days we had the scooter the island was opened up to us in a way that was impossible on foot, and we explored the tiny back roads of the island.

 

probably my favourite pic of the whole trip

probably my favourite pic of the whole trip

There's something about the sunshine that makes everything a little easier to take... after a few days on the beach it was difficult to remember why we'd been so stressed out about all the little things back home.  This pic was taken at the "red beach", on our way back from the "green beach", where we'd discovered that tiny, vicious gnats come out in swarms as the sundown approaches.  Miya was strangely unaffected, but bites covered my arms in itchy red welts that lasted for several days.

 

yet another splice - this time it's rope-to-chain

yet another splice - this time it's rope-to-chain

A month or two ago I visited Miya in Seattle and picked up a 150' length of gorgeous barely-used eight-plait nylon anchor rode at Second Wave, yet another marine consignment store.  I think I might be getting addicted to used sailing equipment - this 3/4" nylon rode was a great deal though, at $50 for 150', compared with $1.60/foot locally!  I spliced the rope to a 40' length of 5/16" heavy steel chain, and this splice is currently holding me at anchor quite handily.

 

motoring away from Tsehum Harbour

motoring away from Tsehum Harbour

On April the 6th, I left Tsehum Harbour and headed back towards Vancouver.  I missed my tide window for Active Pass that day - with a sailboat you can only traverse the pass at slack tide, and slack tide was at 1pm.  I ended up sailing slowly up the Trincomali Channel and spending the night in Montague Harbour, which is a lovely anchorage but in a complete cellular reception black hole, ruling out any extended stay.  In the morning I packed up and headed out through Porlier Pass to begin my solo crossing of the Georgia Straight.

 

racing the rainstorm

racing the rainstorm

The weather for the first days sail was a mix of sun and rain, with long periods of spring-like warmth followed by cold rains and wind.  This rainstorm followed me up the channel for several hours, but when it finally caught up with me late in the afternoon it turned out to be an unexpected hailstorm!

 

self-portrait, about 4km into the Georgia Straight crossing

sailing ninja self-portrait, about 4km into the Georgia Straight crossing

The only real downside to sailing in cold weather is the long periods of inactivity, requiring you to basically sit outside in the cold wind for hours on end with nothing to do.  Even with proper foul-weather gear, two layers of wool sweaters and wool hats and gloves, it's still freezing.  Pair that with the inexplicable lack of a fly on my overall-style foul-weather pants, and the only real movement you have for the vast majority of the journey is the occasional trip indoors to pretty much completely disrobe to pee.  Still, apart from the puzzling lack of zipper, I am completely pleased with my Helly Hansen foul weather gear.

 

 

Here's a video, taken once everything had calmed down and I was moving steadily forward. After I came through Porlier Pass I was expecting some heavy winds and probably some waves, but the addition of the tidal surges from the pass made for some very, very stressful moments!  I got my second reef into the main, but not before stuffing all three bows into the waves several times, strewing tools from one end of the cabin to the other, and spilling the contents of my cupboards all over the floor, breaking a bunch of dishes and making an awful mess.  The rest of the trip across was spent with the double-reefed main and staysail, which I finally shook out near UBC.  I made an average of about 6kn across the Straight, but once I got the headsail up in more protected waters I reached 9.2kn coming into English Bay.

 

creamcycle, built up and listed for sale

creamcycle, built up and listed for sale

This is the "new" Creamcycle, built up as a fixie with all the brand-new components from the Montague bike and listed for sale on Craigslist.  Do you know anyone looking for a rad (if well-used) bike for the summer? 🙂

 

off to class, with a 20kg outboard in my backpack

off to class, with a 20kg outboard in my backpack

Yet another class with the Bluewater Cruising Association; this time an outboard motor repair and maintenance class.  Here it is Saturday morning at 8am, leaving on my bicycle with the heavy outboard in my backpack.

The outboard, we like to say, "worked really great until it didn't".  In Sidney, during a trip to shore, the outboard very suddenly quit with no warning, in the sort of way that makes you think something is very, very wrong.  Reading up a bit on the internet, I found out that you're supposed to change the gearbox oil regularly, which I hadn't - though apparently when you go to drain the gearbox oil it's supposed to be oil, not dirty water and metal filings.

 

outboard repair class, saturday morning, 10am

outboard repair class, saturday morning, 10am

Sitting in class, we learned all about the workings of outboards, stripping out sparkplugs and taking apart carburetors, and I slowly dug down into the problem that had caused the outboard to stop so suddenly.  Clearly the problem was in the gearbox, but could it be repaired?

 

what came out of the gearbox of the outboard

what came out of the gearbox of the outboard - photo by Jennifer Craig

When I finally got the gearbox opened up and stripped, a few pieces fell out - and some of those pieces were ball bearings.  Well - I use the word "ball" somewhat loosely there; the parts that fell out were anything but spherical.  D'oh!

End result?  The engine is apparently a write-off.  I can probably get a few bucks on Craigslist for it, for parts - but the cost of the replacement bits to get her running again are approximately four  times what I paid for the engine originally, and given that it was quite underpowered for the dinghy it was on anyway, I guess I'm now in the market for a good used 8hp motor.

 

freshwater system complete!

freshwater system complete!

Lastly, I finally added in and plumbed the third 100-liter water tank to the freshwater system. This has been on the bench for a while, but now the freshwater system is pretty much 100% complete - there's still a slow, weeping leak on the galley sink that I need to tend to, causing the water pressure pump to kick in about once an hour to keep the pressure up. As far as I can tell the only fix for that is to replace the whole faucet assembly it hasn't really been high up on my list of priorities.

 
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Phew! And that brings us pretty much up to current!  So many updates, with so little time. I've got to remember to try to spew this stuff out in smaller portions, but when things are moving fast it's really tough to keep up.