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.



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!


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…


Countdowns All Around

It’s Thursday, and I’ve got three major, looming deadlines staring me in the face.  I think I’ve got a handle on all of them, but it’s definitely not a relaxing time in my life right now.


On the work front, I’ve migrated two very large web properties into the Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud over the past eight months or so.  I’ve been learning the ins and outs of the new technology as I go, and the playing field really has changed.  There have been a tonne of little headaches and bugs and glitches, and I’ve been pulled out of bed at 5am more often than I care to admit.  And now – just when we’re finally stable – a directive has come down from the Evil Masters to port both sites to a common backend using the latest new Drupal code.  On one hand this will open a lot of doors for us, allowing us to scale a lot quicker and use some of the more modern tools, like storing all images on a Content Data Network (CDN) instead of on our current frontend webservers.  Still, the deadline for launch is February 12th and that’s coming up faaaaaaaaast.  I’ve barely got the preliminary test servers in place!


On the boat front the engine work continues, though the work seems to multiply every time I put time into it.  I’m finding a great deal of satisfaction in it, actually – I mentioned to a friend yesterday that it is very much like ‘The Legend of Zelda’, in that the puzzles are difficult, but once solved there is immediate positive feedback (ie the engine works better) and you can move on to the next puzzle, often using knowledge or tools you gained from the previous level.

Yesterday’s miniboss was changing the zincs in the engine.  Sacrificial zincs are bits of… well, zinc.  The theory is that if you bind several types of metals together in a marine environment, the weakest metal will corrode.  Because of some kind of galvanic voodoo, the other metals will not corrode until the weaker metal is completely corroded away.  Zinc is a very weak metal, easy to work with and cheap, and so quite a few different parts of the boat have sacrificial lumps of zinc attached to prevent the more important bits from corroding.

The zincs in the engine should be replaced about once a year, more or less depending on use.  My engine has three zincs – at $7.00 per zinc, it’s a $21.00 job to replace them all, but compared with approximately $10,000 for a new engine, the price is negligible.  The zincs are attached to the end of thick bolts and screwed deep into the heart of the engine.

One of the three zincs is located right on the front of the engine, easily accessed.  The other two zincs are located far down the right side, between the engine block and the wall.  Once I stepped back and surveyed the engine, I found that I could just barely get a socket wrench in a gap, which allowed me to remove zinc #2 with little difficulty – but zinc #3 was a real hassle.  To get at the third zinc I had to remove the fuel lift pump (skills and items gained from previous level!) and the exhaust manifold – and even then the bolt holding the zinc into the engine was seized pretty solidly.  I ended up having to extend the socket handle and actually step on it to get the bolt free; never send a hand to do a boot’s job.  I swear I heard victory music when that bolt finally gave way.

So far in the past month I have rerouted the fuel lines, replaced the fuel filter, installed and plumbed a second fuel filter, replaced the damaged exhaust water trap ($300, ouch), replaced the impeller in the raw water pump, and replaced the zincs.  Remaining, I have to have the alternator tested and serviced, pick up new oil, drain and change the current oil, drain and change the transmission oil, take the heat exchangers to the radiator shop to have them boiled out, pick up antifreeze, install the secondary cooling pump, drain the engine cooling system and replace with antifreeze, reroute the raw water intake through the heat exchangers, rewire the instrument panel, and then get the fuel tank polished.  Whew!  Someday soon, I will have an engine that runs reliably; ideally one that I do not have to climb into the engine compartment with a screwdriver to start.  There’s almost no chance I’ll have all this done by Monday, so I really have to pick and choose what tasks are actually important.

…and then I get to start on the electrical system!  For some reason, since returning from Vegas the house batteries aren’t holding a charge anymore.  I have no idea why; I need to replace the batteries and purchase and install a modern charge manager.  I don’t expect to get that one sorted out for under $1000.

Lastly, I have Sequential Circus coming up on Saturday.  This is a huge show, with six live-pa acts performing 45-minute sets at a local show venue slash warehouse space.  Everything is coming together smoothly, mostly because it’s our sixth time running this show and we’re all getting really good at it.  It’s really starting to look like we’re going to have a solid crowd too, which takes a lot of the financial stress off of my back – if everything works out well, I might just come out of it a hundred bucks richer!

I still haven’t figured out where to go on Monday, and the False Creek / Olympic Village security lockdown continues… more on that soon.

Long Overdue Update!

Wow.  Three of the craziest, busiest, happiest months of my life.  How to compress them into one post?  WHY compress them into one post?  This seems silly, but I think the best way to re-jumpstart my blogging is to get this all out of the way in one post, and then go back to more regular updates.  *sigh*.

At my last major post, I was about to speak at the Open Web Vancouver conference at the Vancouver Conference Center.  My talk went pretty well, I guess – I mean, I definitely didn’t win any awards, but nobody walked out either.  I met some great new folks and had a good experience overall.  I know now that speaking at tech conferences is almost exactly like doing live-pa techno in front of a big audience – the more prepared you are, the easier it is to let go and just be yourself.

Since then, there’s been… God.  Seriously, where to start?!

I’ve had repeated, profound musical experiences on the boat, jamming with friends.  Picture if you will a mirror-smooth False Creek, with the boat anchored about fifty feet offshore.  Dan Ross playing guitar and singing, Chad Taylor playing muted trumpet and providing some percussive backup and myself on mandolin and backup vocals – folks walking past, double-taking and sitting down on the seawall to listen, applauding between songs.  Making music on the boat with friends has given me far more joy than I ever imagined it could.  Actually, making music on the boat at all – I’ve been spending on average about eight to ten hours per week sitting on my deck, playing my guitar and singing.  If there is a greater peace than playing music on the water, I haven’t found it yet.


I’ve gone on three epic sailing adventures, the third of which is still ongoing – as of this writing I am anchored in this lovely little bay, surrounded by million-dollar waterfront houses and a beautiful cliff infested with rock climbers.  More on that in future posts – but suffice to say this ongoing solo-sailing adventure is not without its trials and tribulations.

The first of the three epic sailing adventures was with a beautiful woman named Miya who I met at Burning Man in 2008, and who had come to visit me several times over the past year.  Her confidence in my sailing ability was appreciated, though perhaps unwarranted, as we left Vancouver and immediately ran into eight-foot breaking swells just off Point Atkinson, enroute to the Sunshine Coast.  The sailing got a lot better after the first day, but we still had to spend a few days on Bowen Island with engine trouble – mostly waiting around for a mechanic, until we tackled the problem head-on with the manual and some elbow grease, finally solving it ourselves and getting the engine back up and running.  We then cruised up the coast to Secret Cove and Smuggler Cove, where we spent a night before returning to Vancouver.  It was an amazing trip; the ocean opened my eyes and put a good fear into me, and the company was exquisite.  The parting of ways at the end was wistful to say the least.

Drew and Laurel spinning fire on Tie Fighter
Drew and Laurel spinning fire on the boat at Diversity

The second sailing adventure was with yet another beautiful woman, Carrie, who joined me on a trip to the Diversity Festival on Texada Island.  Technically we were supposed to sail with a crew of six, but Vancouver being the city of flailers that it is, the crew slowly called in to cancel until it was just the two of us.  The winds were against us the whole way there and back, forcing us to motor around 90% of the tip, so it’s debatable whether or not we actually saved any money travelling by “sailboat”.  We did get the sails up once or twice, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.  The festival itself was excellent, with us arriving in full pirate regalia to great fanfare, spending a weekend surrounded by beautiful people and great music, and rolling out again on Monday with a grand exit.  Sunday was a bit crazy, as the wind suddenly went from 5kn up to 25-30kn, and Tie Fighter danced in four-foot swells for the night – I now have a lot more faith in my anchor than before.  Another boat nearby actually did slip their anchor, and came within a few feet of hitting us, but we held steady and Monday was much calmer.  Another thing learned: rowing a dinghy in calm waters is one thing, rowing through four-foot waves as they break on the beach is another thing entirely!  I made very good use of the drybags my sister gave me for my birthday.

The next weekend after Diversity was the Emrg-N-See Festival just outside of Salem, Oregon.  I went to this festival with Trent last year, and it was probably the best festival I’d been to to date – it was as though someone had sent a personal invitation to every single gorgeous, blonde, dreadlocked, dubstep-loving yoga instructor on the west coast.  I cannot express how many times I had to stop and shake my head at the sheer beauty surrounding me.  This year was similar, though somewhat diluted, as though every guy who went last year went home and explained the situation to every guy he knew.  I know I did, which is why I was surprised that the crew going down fron Vancouver was much smaller this year.  Regardless, I definitely got my fill of amazing dubstep and bassline music, on very excellent soundsystems.  I also got to take a tablespoon of dancefloor dirt out of my nose every morning, which I am choosing to look at as preparation for this year’s Burning Man expedition.

The weekend after Emrg-N-See was Sequential Circus 5, an electronic music event that I guess I’m sort of in charge of.  I say that with some reservation, because the show couldn’t happen without every one of the seriously talented and driven people involved – we’ve got the whole thing pretty much down to a science now, and even with six live acts on a small stage, we continue to be efficient and competent, and we still have a good time doing it.  This SeqCirc was probably the best music to date, though we were up against some very stiff competition.  The capacity of the venue is about 180 people, and we had about 100 people, so while it was never packed, it never felt empty, and nearly everyone who was there at midnight was still there at 3am when we turned the lights on, so I count that as a win.  The next Sequential Circus, SeqCircSix, will be in January.

After recovering from SeqCirc, having a few sailing missions out and around English Bay, and basically settling down and focusing on dayjob work for a while, I took off on my first big solo-sailing trip, headed for Victoria…

Monday, Again

Ok, five days since the last post. Wheeeeere to start.

I survived the rains of last week without incident. Actually, the rains are a really good thing, as they help by pointing out any spots where the cabin still leaks. I *think* I’ve got them all now, and it’s almost time to start painting! I have to admit, the boat is looking better and better and better – I mean it goddamned well better be, given the amount of hours and money I’ve been pouring into her. Still, I needed a good project and every hour that I work on her she becomes more “mine”.

I spent the whole weekend working on her, again – third weekend in a row of two solid eight-to-fourteen-hour days fixing, upgrading, grinding, fiberglassing, sanding, sanding and sanding. I’m starting to run out of things to fix which is a really, really good sign.

Thursday was a bit odd though – I basically wore out my Mastercraft random-orbit sander. The bearings just “went”… I went back to Canadian Tire to see what they could do about it, and they said not much without a receipt or at least a transaction number. Of course, I can’t remember when I actually bought the sander, I think it was around two months ago. Two lessons learned: keep your receipts, and don’t buy the cheapest power tool just because it’s on sale. A hundred dollars later, I have a new DeWalt sander.

When I returned from the store with the new sander, I arrived at my rowboat and looked out to see a large, shiny, expensive fishing boat tied to mine! Obviously I jumped right in my boat and rowed out as fast as I could to find out what was going on. Apparently the guy lost one of his two transmissions, and wasn’t able to get his boat out of ‘forward’ to steer back into his marina properly, so he quickly dropped anchor and called his mechanic – but apparently where he dropped anchor wasn’t the best place, so he drifted right over into my boat. He put out his fenders so there wasn’t any damage, but he was still bumped right up against me. He explained the situation

“So,” he said, “I thought I’d just tie off to you for a while until my mechanic got here…”

Which he had – his docklines were now tied to my boat, and my docklines had been untied and lay on my deck. Now, I’m a pretty friendly and gracious guy, so I didn’t lay into him – still, I’m pretty sure that boarding someone else’s vessel without permission is considered a hostile act under maritime law, so at the very least it was very poor manners. I glowered at him some and hurried him along until he realized that he was utterly unwelcome to stay tied to my boat for any longer than absolutely necessary. He made some noises early on about leaving his boat there overnight, but I think my derisive snort got my point across.

To top it off, my anchoring permit, with my cellphone number written on it in sharpie with a message saying “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, PLEASE CALL:” wasright there, posted in the nearest window. If running into someone’s boat and having to tie off to it isn’t an emergency, I’m not sure what is.

Anyhow. Within an hour his mechanic got there, and they got the boat untied and moved along – I’m not sure if he was fixed or if the mechanic was just a better pilot, but whatever. Barely a thank you, and no hint of an apology. I don’t know whether he was just a newbie boater, or didn’t consider live-aboard squatters to have the same rights as people from an expensive marina, or if he was just utterly oblivious. Still, I have half a mind to borrow an RV from someone and go park on his lawn for a couple of hours with ‘engine trouble’.

The weekend was mostly calm, with twenty-odd hours of hard work in the sun putting a new layer on my tan. I got a tonne of work done on the deck, spent way too much money at the marine store again, and finally installed my LED lighting system. I had gone to Ikea mid-week last week to find the fixtures, and managed to find the perfect fixtures – these ones to be precise, in white plastic. They have a fixture-mounted switch, they accept the LED bulbs perfectly, they have a long cable, and they’re mostly plastic so they’re ideal for the marine environment. I am incredibly pleased with these lights! I had purchased five, with the intention of putting two in the salon, one over the navigation table, one in the bathroom and one over my bed – but instead I installed all five in the salon and will have to purchase more. WOW though – I do not at all regret the purchase, nor the decision. In one step, the salon at night has changed from “camping” to “home”. The light is warm and pleasant, and the difference in the general “feel” of the place is staggering. I will be purchasing another five of these lights, at least. The best part is that even with ten lights installed, I will still only be drawing a total of 30w of electricity to light the entire boat – just about half the draw of a *single* regular lightbulb!

Today, it’s back to the grind. We’ve committed to having one of the gossip sites live and launched in the Amazon cloud by Wednesday. Just in time, the weather has turned sour, and later today and tonight it promises to rain. I’ve still got a few holes in the front of the boat, so I’ll need to cover those with garbage bags or something for Tuesday, but then Wednesday and on through the weekend is supposed to be bright and sunny, so I should be able to get that job finished this coming weekend.

Just in time, too – coming up, I have a speaking gig on cloud computing at the Open Web Vancouver conference, an open offer of a live-pa set in Victoria, a possible second live-pa set at a music festival out on Texada Island (plus I can sail there!), and a third offer of an acoustic live set over on Vancouver Island. Furthermore I have a lovely young lady coming up from Michigan for a ten-day epic sailing adventure in June, a hacker conference in Washington the weekend after that, and I am putting together a live electronic music show on the only weekend in July without a three-day outdoor festival to go to. It never stops!

I have to pick and choose between the musical bookings, because I frankly don’t know how much free time I’ll have to practice up between then and now – but it’s all very flattering nonetheless. 🙂 Public appearances come with a thrill of adventure, but also with a dark sense of foreboding which drives me to work much harder on my music and performance so that I don’t suck. It’s one thing to play badly in your living room, it’s another thing entirely to play badly in front of hundreds of people!