disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

17Oct/120

Catching Up, Part 3: Vancouver and Burning Man

Part three of four updates, in which Our Intrepid Adventurers finds themselves traveling back to Canada and Oklahoma, respectively, for six weeks. The shared camera bit the biscuit, and hence this blog post will be relying mostly on the kindnesses of others to document the happenstances throughout. As a direct result, this post probably has the most photos of me of any blog post in the recent past!

Miya had obligations in Oklahoma, while I had obligations in Vancouver, and so we spent a solid month apart - the longest we'd ever been apart, by far. I had a wedding to attend, and a month later I had another show to promote (Sequential Circus 11), so it made very little sense to leave La Paz and come back only to leave again weeks later. I booked a month's stay at the Hotel Mike & Nicola and prepared myself for a month of splendid Vancouver summer.

photo by EspressoBuzz

playing guitar at Dave+Lori's wedding - photo by EspressoBuzz

The wedding couple are somewhat fans of my music, and as such I was invited to perform not once, not twice, but THREE distinct times during their epic three-day wedding affair out on a beautiful farm on Vancouver Island. Here I'm performing during their Friday evening talent show, using a rental guitar.

I learned a valuable lesson in this photo - I had warmed up a couple of original songs and a couple of covers, and intended to ask the audience what they'd prefer to hear. I figured I had about an 90% chance that they'd say "originals", but had a few songs in reserve just in case. So, I hit the stage.

"Do you want to hear some originals, or some covers?" I asked.

"BRITTNEY SPEARS!!" came the overwhelming reply.

...*sigh*.

 

what happens when you put dry ice in beer

what happens when you put dry ice in beer

During the reception, I was able to solve a lifelong dilemma - we all know that dry ice in warm water creates whitish smoke that bubbles and falls, but what happens when you add dry ice to beer?

Result: non-stop cold bubbles full of white smoke, and a mess. At least with Philips Longboat Chocolate Porter, the mess was delicious.

 

playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding

playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding - photo by EspressoBuzz

The second performance was to play a seven-minute rendition of Eddie Vedder's "Rise" on the mandolin, while the bride, groom and wedding party made their way slowly down the aisle. This was trickier than it sounds, since the original song is only about two-and-a-half minutes long... a few double-length bridges and an extended outtro and everyone was happy with the results.

This photo, on the other hand, is of the third performance of the weekend, a forty-minute return to the techno of years past, when I used to perform as 'MUX' at raves, clubs and techno parties. The outdoor venue was perfect for the style, and with the help of Jim Baxter's homebuilt laser effects rig, the dancefloor got properly techno'd.

 

playing techno at Trancemission 15

playing techno at Trancemission 15

Two weeks later (including a rejuvenating weekend at Bass Coast out in Squamish), I was invited to perform a set at Soundproof's annual summer party, Trancemission 15 in Pemberton. Miya actually flew up from Oklahoma for the weekend, and it was an extremely nice time spent with close friends, dancing outdoors in a farmer's field.

In this photo you can clearly see my new live-pa rig, comprised of my Macbook Pro computer attached to a Livid OhmRGB MIDI controller. The OhmRGB is a fantastic bit of hardware, though intensely geeky - it can do almost anything, but you really have to program it all yourself in Python!

I also was very happy to resurrect my Nord Micro Modular synthesizer - the size of a VHS tape, it's the perfect hardware synth for a boat... the only downside was that the software programming interface has not kept up with the times, and I had to build up a Windows 95 image in VMWare in order to program it. Installing Win95 for the first time in sixteen years was a serious flashback!

 

more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

Our bi-annual electronic music concert series event Sequential Circus 11 went off without a hitch, and this time I also booked myself. I shared a stage with five other talented live electronic musicians, performing to a packed house of about 150 people in a warehouse in East Vancouver. The crowd ate it up, and this was absolutely my favourite performance of the summer! Here's a third-party review, if you're interested.

I managed to get a good recording of the set also - click the orange play button to have a listen:

[soundcloud]http://soundcloud.com/mux/full-set-live-pa-at-sequential[/soundcloud]

 

It's worth pointing out, in case you're unfamiliar - this sounds like DJ music, but I'm NOT A DJ. DJ's play other peoples' music; everything I play I wrote myself, using synthesizers, drum machines, effects and software.

Drew and Trent at Burning Man 2012

Trent and I at Burning Man 2012

I didn't think I would be able to make it to Burning Man this year, due to finances, but a surprise windfall from the tax man put me back in the black and when a ticket appeared within my reach I jumped at the chance.

It was great to hang out with good friends like Trent again, whom I hadn't seen in months!

The bright orange pants I'm wearing in this pic were ordered from Mascot, a Danish workwear company that recently opened up their distribution to the United States. I'll be doing a blog post on pants soon; I have a lot to say on the matter.

 

the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

Miya, having similar financial constraints to myself, had decided earlier on that she wanted to attend Burning Man this year, and signed on with a group called 'Sacred Cow', who were building a camp of about a hundred and twenty people! This kind of camping requires some serious infrastructure, and in exchange for a free ticket and a ride to and from the desert, Miya agreed to show up in Seattle two weeks in advance, to spend a week in the city preparing supplies, a week setting up in the Black Rock Desert before Burning Man even started, and a few days in the desert after the event helping to tear down the camp!

Sacred Cow was a large camp with a middle eastern theme, and one of their bigger projects was a full-sized bus called "The Hajj", which was to be decorated like a bedouin tent and driven slowly around the desert. When I arrived, the first thing Monday morning I was assigned to a group working on getting the Hajj ready, and that project pretty much occupied the majority of my time for the next two days.

Where it got interesting was when we finally finished applying all the decorations - mostly fabrics attached to the bus with a large steel railing and series of PVC tubes - and went to the Department of Mutant Vehicles to apply for our permits. We were about 90% of the way through the inspection when a sudden windstorm came up... and the nylon tie-straps we'd used to secure the PVC pipes (I had asked for lashing wire, and someone was sent to Reno to buy some... but wires were crossed somehow and he returned with twine) started to break apart. Pieces of the Hajj started blowing across the playa, one narrowly missing one of the DMV inspectors.

"You know we can't in good conscience give you the permit the way things currently are, right?", he said. "Go back to your camp, sort this all out, and come back later to get your permit."

Fine, fine. That's what we did.

 

Miya with the road sign she broke off

Miya with the road sign she broke off

...but the travel back to the Sacred Cow camp wasn't without incident. Even with spotters on the roof of the Hajj and walking ahead and communicating with each other via handheld radio, driving a heavily-decorated bus around the crowded streets of Burning Man is no cakewalk. Miya, one of the only three people 'certified' to drive the bus, took a corner a little too sharply and broke off one of the road signs. Here she is posing with her trophy, right before I tracked down some long wood screws and a cordless drill and made the appropriate repairs... those roadsigns are a critical part of finding your way around in a temporary city of 50,000 people.

 

Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob Stone, Miya's closest friend in Seattle, was really the reason Miya got on with the Sacred Cow group in the first place. This was Jacob's first year actually getting to stay at Burning Man, though he'd been there for the week-prior setup in 2011. Miya and I shared a hexayurt with Jacob, a desert-proof hexagonal structure made from panels of polyisocyanurate - I know this word because it is printed on the inside panels of the yurt, and I took it upon myself to memorize it! The yurts are essentially panels of insulating foam held together with industrial duct-tape, and very little else past that.

I have to say, this was my seventh time at Burning Man, and my first not camping in a tent. I was a little suspicious of the hexayurt movement, but after sleeping past noon on several occasions, I'm convinced that they're the best, most comfortable sleeping setup for Burning Man. Miya actually built several of the camp's hexayurts as a part of her advance-team projects for Sacred Cow.

 

Drew, Miya and a spork

Drew, Miya and a spork

This photo is pretty much representative of your typical Burning Man day-outing - of  note in this photo is Miya's bird-skull headdress that she made in the days following the boatyard, using her new-found fiberglass skills. She made a mold of the skull using tinfoil and masking tape, sprayed it down with Pam cooking spray and then laid up fiberglass over top. Some cleanup work with a Dremel tool and some added flowers later, she was left with the work of art you see above.

The spork is unrelated.

 

random pro-photographer shot

random pro-photographer shot

At the 3:00 Keyhole, we stumbled across a professional photographer, shooting some kind of large-format Polaroid-type film, where the photo was taken and available for viewing seconds later. He had a gorgeous gallery of photos set up outside, and almost no lineup, so Miya and I jumped at the chance. This has been my profile pic on Facebook ever since!

 

 

an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

One of my favourite parts of Burning Man is working the bar at Distrikt, and this year was no exception... Distrikt is known as the premiere daytime dance party, and at peak times during the week you can expect about 5000 people dancing in the sun in front of a 30,000w sound system, with beautiful girls on towers brandishing power-washers full of ice-cold water spraying down the dancefloor.

This year was my third year working the bar, and I was brought on as a shift manager, in charge of a group of eight bartenders, four "bar-backs" running supplies to the bartenders, and two people whose sole task was dealing with the MOUNTAINS of recycling generated by this incredibly busy bar.

To give you an idea of the scale, behind the bar we had two tractor-trailers full of booze, including 360 bottles of Bacardi, 600 bottles of vodka, 3,600 cans of Red Bull and 14,400 cans of Dos Equis beer, among other things. MANY other things. Furthermore, the exchange of money is not allowed at Burning Man, so all of our drinks were given away for free - you just have to bring your own cup.

Admittedly though, this year I felt a bit of a disconnect with my Distrikt 'crew' - in the two years since I'd been a part of the bar, the camp has grown significantly, and there were only a couple of folks I felt really connected to. I showed up for an unscheduled bartending shift at one point, and worked a solid five hours right beside a young lady, slinging drinks and bantering with the "customers". Finally when the bar ran completely out of ice with only an hour or so to go I threw in the towel, walked to the other side of the bar, and tried to get that fellow bartender to make me a drink. She looked at me blankly, and told me I'd have to go to the ID Check to get a stamp before she would serve me. I was flabbergasted - we just worked side-by-side for five straight hours, and without my even leaving the bar you don't recognize me at all?!? I acquiesced, and went to the ID Check... who also did not recognize me, and wouldn't even believe I was a part of the bar until I pulled them aside and showed them my name on the bar schedule.

Clearly it was just a symptom of the massive turnover that we as bartenders see at the the bar - but still, sadly, I definitely felt more at home with the Sacred Cow camp than with the Distrikt crew this year.

 

With at least a dozen friends hitting the playa for the first time this year, and the preliminary weather reports showing the Black Rock Desert to be exceptionally dusty, I found myself dishing out dust-survival advice to anyone who'd listen... but soon I found friends referring their friends to me for guidance, and after the second "Hi, you don't know me but so-and-so gave me your number..." phonecall I decided to take a couple of hours and put together this video, showing off my technique for surviving the dust, a combination of the 3M 9211 dust mask, a pair of ski goggles and a 'shemagh' or 'keffiyeh' scarf.

 

riding bikes around the playa

riding bikes around the playa

In this photo, we're out during the day riding around in comfort in our protective dust gear. Fortunately the playa wasn't nearly as dusty as expected - the word "Dustpocalypse" was bandied about quite a lot before the event! - but there were still regular whiteouts on the open playa, and lots of folks were wandering about with little or no protection.

Even though I was conscientious about wearing my protective gear whenever needed, I still broke one of my own recommendations and forgot to bring saline nasal spray. As a result, by the end of the week my nasal passages were cracked and bleeding, all the way back to my throat, and it took about two weeks back in the regular world before they went back to normal.

 

Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"

Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"

This photo shows Miya's favourite art car, a gigantic, rolling, rusty, robotic flaming octopus called "El Pulpo Mechanico". El Pulpo would roll slowly around the desert, stopping occasionally (usually near an audio installation, in this case a soundcar called 'Heart Deco' playing most excellent house music. We stopped here to dance for an hour while on a wonderful evening out with our friends Chris and Angela.

If you'd like to see El Pulpo Mechanico in action, here is a video (not my own!).

 

returning to La Paz, old and new flags

returning to La Paz, old and new flags

Burning Man came slowly to a close, and we finally returned to the TIE Fighter, after just over six weeks away. I had noticed the Canadian flag getting a little bit ratty before we left, and so I ordered a few extras while I was in Canada - just in time, apparently, as the former flag had torn itself to ribbons while we were away!

 

the remains of the garden

the remains of the garden

Sadly, the guy we had hired to check in on the boat and water the garden found himself another job while we were away, and was only able to drop in a few times in the later half of our vacation. The garden did not survive. Miya has since re-planted, and so far her dwarf Siberian kale has shown the most promise... more to come on the garden soon.

Well, that concludes the third update - one more to go and we'll be back up to date!

 

9Jun/112

And Just Like That

the new ride, 'harlequin'

goodbye, harlequin. you were a good bike.

My brand-new, custom-built folding bicycle now lives at the bottom of English Bay, just off of Kitsilano Beach.

It happened a week ago actually, on the first of the month. I was headed across calm waters in my zodiac, looking off at the beach, when suddenly I found myself tossed upwards by an unexpected wake. A wake from a large boat is usually three large waves in a row, and this one was no different - the first wave, hit at an angle, pushed the zodiac up and over, the second hit at an opposite angle, causing my footing to slip and my butt to descend into the dinghy, and the third threw me back in the other direction... and bounced my bicycle overboard. I scrambled across the dinghy and lunged for it, but it sank immediately into the murky waters.

I immediately stopped the engine and pulled out the only navigation tech I had on me - my iPhone - and tried to get a GPS fix. I was able to, but with the inaccuracy of the iPhone GPS who knows just how close I was. I immediately went back to the boat and grabbed my Garmin GPS, some rope and a grappling hook, and spent the next hour dragging the bottom trying to snare the bike - but I had no luck.  I tried with the rope and hook for a few hours the next day as well, but still no bike.

Butch in the dinghy

Butch in the dinghy, laying out floats

In retrospect, the navigation tool that I should have used on my iPhone was much simpler - that close to shore, snapping a few photographs would have made it much easier to triangulate the position of the bike. I could have just lined up, say, the buildings downtown, or trees on the shoreline, or the end of Stanley Park with a building on the North Shore.

I sent out a message to the Bluewater Cruising Association mailing list, and received a few replies, and from those I contacted an ex-Navy diver named Joseph who offered to do the dive for a nominal fee - which I'm sure barely covered their expenses, and definitely not their time! Yesterday Joseph and his crew came out on his sailboat, Southern Cross, to search the bottom for me.

We first rowed around the area laying out a grid of buoys to provide a search area, and then the divers criss-crossed the area searching for the bike, but due to a combination of terrible visibility and strong current they had no luck. The two divers each expended two bottles of air, for a total bottom time of around four hours each, so it certainly wasn't for lack of trying! Thanks again Joseph, Nelson and Butch for your efforts, it really meant a lot.

Nelson in the water, Joseph about to dive

Nelson in the water, Joseph about to dive

I haven't entirely given up hope, to be honest - there are at least two remaining options. For one, I could use a fishfinder or sonar and scan the bottom carefully, looking for a bike-shaped lump. The ground around there is mostly featureless mud, with very few rocks or outjets of any type, so a bike would hopefully stand out.  If that fails, I may have to approach the source of the wake, the cruising boat 'Abitibi', which might well have insurance to cover just such occurrences - apparently BC marine law says that loss or damage to property from wakes are the responsibility of the vessel causing the wake. We'll see, I guess. I'd happily offer a reward for her safe return!

And it figures, too - the ONE time I head out in the dinghy without securing my bike with a rope or a bungee tie-down. I guess things could be a lot worse; it could be the one time I forgot to fasten my seatbelt on the highway, or the one time I forgot to look both ways when crossing the street. Still, this was a very expensive and painful lesson on the unforgiving nature of the sea.

On a further and very sad note, my girlfriend Miya and I ended our relationship this week. Entire volumes could be written about this, but some parts of life just aren't meant for the internet. Miya is an amazing human being, and I wish her nothing but happiness and love.

18May/112

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/113

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.

 
--
 

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.

30Apr/100

What a Week!


my hand in a wrist brace

my hand after a bike wipeout

Argh - I would like to write about the week I've been having.  There have been so many things  happening!

UNFORTUNATELY, one of those things that has happened is that I managed to wipe out on my bicycle, pulling a tendon (I think?) in my wrist.  As a result, I have had to have my right hand - my dominant hand - in a splint for the past three days.  This has also meant that I cannot safely ride my bicycle, so I've essentially had my wings clipped.  Furthermore it makes typing very uncomfortable!

On top of that, the winds have been blowing strong from the northwest for the past week - this wouldn't normally be a problem, but what with my diminished capacity for all things manual, rowing included, I am somewhat landlocked.  I've spent the past two days working from my friend Carrie's living room couch, while she is on an epic rock-climbing adventure in Thailand.

Lots has happened, and things are moving forward in my grand scheme at a very rapid rate - I'll update this site as soon as it is more comfortable to type.