disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle

4Dec/120

Catching Up, Part 4: Return to La Paz

Ok! Part four of updates, and then hopefully I can return to a more regular style of blog posts. I know I keep saying that. *sigh*. Without further ado:

gorgeous weather in La Paz

gorgeous weather in La Paz

The summer brought some intense weather shifts, including some of the first rain we'd seen since our arrival in La Paz in February - I guess I should have been tipped off by the cactuses and tumbleweeds, but the amount of precipitation here still took me by surprise. Once the season shifted into high summer however, the heat of the day combined with the extremely warm water (sometimes it would be 38º outside and the water would be 23º, warmer than most swimming pools!) made for some crazy meteorological events. We were treated with regular lightning storms and sudden shifts in wind speed and direction, not to mention a couple of hurricanes that narrowly missed us.

In this photo, a storm cell is crossing nearby to the south. At the time this photo was taken, the wind was blowing briskly towards the cell, but about five minutes afterwards the wind abruptly died and then within two minutes was blowing probably 40kn in the opposite direction! We were caught unprepared, and several items blew off the deck and I had to dash out in the RIB to retrieve them.

 

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

*sigh*. pay attention to polarity, Drew.

 While I was in Canada, I ordered a low-power Fit-PC3 computer to build into the walls of the TIE Fighter. The Fit-PC3 is a 12v-native computer very light on power consumption - set up with an internal SSD drive, it draws only  6w (1/2 an amp) at idle. I paired it with a two-terabyte external drive that automatically spins itself down when not in use, and am quite happy with the results.

Unforutnately, when I went to install the machine I didn't pay close enough attention to the polarity of the power supply, and hooked the power connection up backwards. Immediately there was a flash and a pop and suddenly the air was filled with the acrid smell of burning electronics.

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

electronics repair on the new inboard computer

Fortunately I'm no stranger to electronics repair, and with a bit of research and an email to the manufacturers of the Fit-PC3, I learned that the component that had exploded was a simple ferrite bead, meant solely to keep stray radio-frequency energy out of the computer. This bead is just a failsafe, sort of like a fuse, and I could just 'jump' over the section with a bit of wire for the time being. An hour or so with the soldering iron, and the computer lives.

...of course, that computer also now lives in a cupboard with a strong radio. I still need to track down a replacement ferrite, as I've seen three crashes so far when I've keyed up the mic on the ham radio on certain frequencies.

 

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

a swarm of bees overtakes the TIE Fighter!

One morning as we left the boat in the RIB to go for coffee, we realized we'd forgotten something at the main boat so we turned around. When we arrived at the TIE Fighter, we found the boat swarming with bees! We estimated around 10,000 honeybees in the air around the boat.

Not knowing what to do, we went for coffee and solicited opinions from a few other cruisers, who brought to light one very important point that we somehow hadn't thought of... if the bees were to get inside the boat, they might not want to leave! We had to return to the boat immediately to close up the doors and windows, hoping that they hadn't already moved in.

 

the bees, landed

the bees, landed

When we arrived back at the boat, the bees had landed... but outside. The internet tells us that this means the queen bee is somewhere in the middle of the literal pile of bees on the boat. We figure they were stacked six or seven deep in this photo! Fortunately, they decided that the boat wouldn't make a great spot for a new hive, and within an hour or two of this photo they'd all moved on.

 

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

Miya's dirty knees from painting the decks

While I went back to my day job schedule, Miya undertook the massive task of painting the TIE Fighter's decks with anti-skid paint. We had collected a large pail full of white sand from a nearby beach, and then sifted and washed it, allowing it to dry overnight in the boatyard on a clean sheet of plywood. In the end though we decided that we'd get a better-looking result from "marmolina"; fine crushed white marble available at the local fereterias for about $0.50/kg.

 

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

the lights of 16 de Septiembre

The celebration of 16 de Septiembre (Mexico's Independance Day) came along, and rather than hole up in our little box on the ocean, Miya and I decided to brave the crowds and go see the fireworks display. The display lacked a certain... safety standard? that we had grown accustomed to in North America - the main celebration was in a town square flanked on three sides with two-story buildings, and the fireworks were launched from the roofs of those buildings, exploding directly over the square!

 

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

more generator maintenance, this time cleaning the carburetor

Our Honda EU2000i generator has given us incredibly reliable service for the past four years or so, but apparently one should not leave it for a Mexican summer with a third of a tank of gasoline... when I went to start it up for the first time in many months, it would not start. I quickly realized what the problem must be, and using this very well-written step-by-step howto, I tore the generator apart and cleaned the carburetor. Just like that, the little Honda purred back to life.

 

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

Miya swimming with a school of something (sardines? herring?)

The heat of the summer was intense and constant, and often we had to spend the hottest portions of the day in the water just to maintain our sanity! The underside of the TIE Fighter made for a convenient gathering space, and using a series of ropes and floating toys and platforms we created a place of refuge from the afternoon sun.

In this photo Miya is swimming with one of the schools of fish that regularly gathered under the boat. Actually, if I go looking I bet I have a video that might show the situation a little better:

Crazy how you can see them avoiding the anchor line! We'd like to identify the species of fish, and then see about catching some for grilling or pickling.

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

avoiding the heat under the TIE Fighter's wing

Miya found an inflatable toy at one of the swap meets; three inflatable bladders joined at the center by a square of mesh, forming a floating recliner. This, paired with a Canadian Tire 'Party Platform' that we picked up on clearance just before leaving Canada in September 2011, formed the seating portion of the underwing. You can also see my Traynor TVM-10 cordless rechargeable guitar amplifier in the nets above, hooked up to an iPhone and playing appropriately chilled house music down into the watery tunnel.

flips off the TIE Fighter

flips off the TIE Fighter

Of course, with freshly-added antiskid on the topsides, the boat herself - having a good meter of freeboard - made an excellent water toy. Miya had only really learned to swim in the last year or so, but managed to learn to dive in one day!

 

 

She was so impressed with her diving that she decided to try her first-ever backflip off the boat also... to a little less success.

 

Mal serenading us on his banjo

Mal serenading us on his banjo

One of my absolute favourite parts about the cruising lifestyle is the willingness of the participants to pick up new musical instruments and throw themselves into learning. Our friend and neighbor Malcolm, an Australian vagabond living on 'Wind Pirate', picked up a banjo in a trade with another boater and within days was plucking away.

 

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

driving the long, lonely highway from La Paz to San Diego

When we heard about the Wasteland Weekend festival in California, the idea immediately spoke to both of us - a four-day party in the desert, sort of  like Burning Man but more Mad Max themed, if that even sounds possible. With our Wilderness First Responder first aid certifications, we figured if they were interested in having us on as volunteer medics we'd kill a few birds with one stone; go on a road trip, pick up some much-needed supplies from the states, get some practical medical experience and go to a rad party! We rented a car and prepared to head out... but of course, what with it being hurricane season, a tropical storm had formed south of the peninsula and was threatening La Paz. We couldn't leave the boat unattended until we were sure that it wouldn't turn into a hurricane.

Fortunately, the system weakened, but not before dumping rain on southern Baja - and if you haven't seen what a major rainstorm does to a desert, it's a crazy thing indeed!

In this video, we have been stopped by a washout - the road in front of us has been replaced by a river of brown water flowing at a pretty fast clip. We watched as a compact car was swept a few feet sideways - but in the true spirit of "drive 'er like a rental", we decided to take the risk and we crossed. If you watch closely you can see water come up over the hood of the car at one point!

 

Wasteland Weekend 2012

Wasteland Weekend 2012

We arrived late to Wasteland Weekend but wasted no time whatsoever getting into the groove of things. Having come internationally we had no weapons to defend ourselves from the mutant / zombie uprising, and so we decided that we were clearly 'wasteland aristocracy' and as such had no reason to carry large weaponry of our own.

 

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

meeting the Party Hard Corps, fellow wasteland nobility

With this thought in mind it wasn't long before we ran into some kindred spirits, fellow patricians of the aftermath, with whom we shared libations and cheer. The Party Hard Corps crew are a fascinating group of partiers, gamers and drinkers from the midwest, who like us traveled to the desert for a few days of debauchery.

 

winning the archery competition

winning the archery competition

There were many (semi-)organized events, including robot battles and jugger matches, but the one event I was most looking forward to taking part in was the archery competition. The rules were fairly simple - scoring was based on points awarded for your five arrows to a mannequin about thirty paces down a range. I was relieved to find they had bows available for loan, as I hadn't owned my own bow in many years.

There were three divisions, for different sorts of bows: recurve, compound and crossbow. I can say proudly that out of about forty or so competitors, not only did I win the recurve division, but I also had the highest score over all three divisions - 28 out of a possible 30. The prize was a little disappointing however; a large black t-shirt. Not my size and I refuse to wear cotton t-shirts. In retrospect I should have taken the shirt and re-gifted it to one of the Party Hard Corps guys or something.

In case you're wondering, we did stop at an archery supply store in San Diego on the way back to Mexico, purchasing two bows so that we can practice on the beaches. At some point in our travels we met a guy who swore by iguana meat; as we get further south we're thinking maybe that might be a good source of free protein...

 

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

professional medical attention at Wasteland Weekend 2012

Our medical shift was Saturday night from 10pm until 4am - arguably the worst possible shift if your goal is solely to party, but we got enough of that in during the previous night and the Saturday afternoon, and as both the new jacks on the scene and late to the party to boot, we were happy to help out and glad to feel useful. We were surprised at how few emergencies there were, to be honest - the partygoers seemed to self-regulate very well, and aside from a few scalds from fire-show screwups and a few cuts and scrapes, we weren't actually very busy! There was always something going on, but we never felt overwhelmed.

 

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

Miya at the San Diego Zoo, riding an eagle.

After Wasteland Weekend, we had a couple of days to spend in San Diego - we slotted one of those days to provisioning and shopping, but the second day was spent touring the San Diego Zoo. This was something Miya had wanted to do ever since we left Vancouver but somehow we hadn't found the time during the two months we spent in San Diego back in December 2011. Many photos were taken, but surely if you'd like to see a photo of a giraffe you can find one on Google Image Search. ;)

 

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

Scott from s/v Sojourn displaying a feat of flexibility

After a long but uneventful drive back down the Baja Peninsula, we settled back into our routine by immediately having people over for another party. In this photo, Scott is demonstrating his ability to do a full split!

In the foreground of the photo, next to our friend Mike, is one of Miya's margueritas, made in the "proper Baja style". For a perfect Baja cruiser marguerita, combine:

  • one part decent tequila (100% agave only, José Cuervo is NOT acceptable!)
  • one part triple sec
  • one part freshly-squeezed lime juice

That's it; serve with ice cubes if you have them. Do not blend. Do not rim with salt. Do not use lime bar mix or Fresca. Do not add simple syrup. Mix and enjoy!

 

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

catching fish and shrimp in the party platform

Whoops - we left the party platform deployed under the boat while we were in the states! When we pulled it up, the side-pockets were full of life. If you click on this photo, you can clearly see the large fish at the top, and several big, transparent, shrimp-like invertebrates swimming around in the captive pool.

 

the new addition to the family!

the new addition to the family!

There's a really sad story here - but before it was sad, it was a very happy story. We adopted a scraggly little Mexican street kitten and added her to our boat-gypsy family. I'll tell the story of little 'Alice' in another blog post.

 

zombie walk La Paz 2012

zombie walk La Paz 2012

It turns out that the 'Zombie Walk' phenomenon is wider-spread than we'd previously thought, and La Paz actually played host to an entire horror-themed film festival entitled 'Morbido La Paz'. There are few things that Miya and I like better than an excuse to get dressed up and silly, so we put together the best zombie costumes we could with our limited boat resources and shambled out into the town.

Best part: wandering around for at least an hour looking for the meet-up point for the zombie walk, soliciting help from the other boaters over the VHF radio and getting drastically contrasting reports of where to find the rest of the undead. Fortunately when we finally did find the other zombies, we found to our surprise that instead of the expected dozen or so fellow walkers/biters, we found a huge herd of probably two hundred! We moaned and shuffled our way through the night in search of cerebros...

 

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

Alice assisting with the refrigerator build project

One of the things we brought back to La Paz from San Diego was a long-coveted item - an icebox conversion kit which would turn our little built-in icebox into a proper refrigerator, complete with freezer! The kit cost an arm and a leg, and came as a box of parts and a series of cryptic instructions, including a bunch of crazy tool requirements. I had to track down someone in the boating community who would be willing to loan me an industrial vacuum pump and a set of refrigerator manifold gauges. As it turned out, none of the tools were far away and even though the build took much longer than expected, our friend Bill on s/v Wandering Puffin was a huge help in getting the system up and running.

Now, for the first time since moving aboard in 2009, we have the ability to store food for longer than a couple of days at a time! What a huge step forward... though admittedly so far my favourite use of the fridge is making ice cubes. Sill though - just because nothing in our world can ever be completely normal - the fact that our fridge is a top-loading icebox means that we're forced to use an expensive vertical ice cube tray.

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

going-away party at the Libertatia apartment

One of the sad facts of cruising life is the realization that no matter how much you like your new friends, everyone is traveling, and sooner or later we all have to pull up the anchor and move on. This photo is of some of our friends from the summer; Malcolm and Lowell left on s/v Libertatia for California, arriving recently in San Francisco, and Mike and Nia left La Paz for Mazatlan in their boat s/v Azul, making it across the Sea of Cortez without incident... and without an engine!

Well, I think that pretty much brings us back up to current. More updates to come soon!

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:

 

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!

 

21Feb/123

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/114

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!

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.

 
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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.