Monday, February 18, 2013

Off Grid and Off Land

One of the big appeals of the Cruising Lifestyle to us is the ability to live off-the-grid.  As we work to narrow down our boat options, I'm currently taking a look at all the various systems and how to best meet our needs in a low-impact (both ecological and financial) manner.  Things that we pretty much take for granted on land by just paying a bill now need to be taken into greater consideration.  Propulsion, electronics and lighting, heat and air conditioning, cooking and refrigeration, hot and cold running water, etc. all require additional thought.

Lets take that last item of hot and cold running water as it makes a good example.  To have water on a boat (yes, there is some irony here as you are floating in it) you need a means of holding fresh water, filling the tank, heating the water, pressurizing the system so it will run, and getting the used water back out of the boat.

Live-aboard boats typically have fresh water tanks, so the only real concern is the size of the tank (and  I have no idea what to say about the size we might need at this point).

Filling the tank is another story.  To get fresh water into the tank, you can fill it up at a marina or run water jugs from shore in a dinghy, but that costs time and fuel in addition to the cost of the water itself.  You can run a water maker to convert that water you are floating in to fresh water, but that takes energy and you need relatively clean sea water to begin with.  Catching rain water seems to be the lowest energy usage option, but requires the weather to cooperate as well as appropriate clean surfaces to catch the rain and the ability to channel it into storage.
ECHOTec Water Maker components

Now that you have fresh water, you want some of it to be hot.  Homes can have solar hot water, and I did find at least one supplier of smaller marine solar water panels.  Due to the power consumption requirements, I don't think an electric heater is viable.  Tankless gas (propane) heater is a typical option. but that uses gas that then needs to be supplied to the boat.  Some systems use the heat generated by the engine(s) to heat water, but those require the engines to be run periodically to keep the temperatures up.

Getting the water flowing, both to the sinks and showers as well as from them, requires pumps.  There are manual pumps as well as electric ones.  I suppose you could run pumps on other fuel sources, but I imagine that is incredibly inefficient.

So, there is a lot to consider just looking at hot and cold running water.  Other systems have similar considerations.  Now we don't want to be spending all our time (or for that fact money) lugging fuels and water to the boat.  We also don't want to be leaving a large carbon footprint.

Electricity seems to be the best "fuel" option for many things.  With solar and wind generators, it should be in reasonably good supply.  It can run pumps, refrigeration, lights and electronics.   There is no doubt that we'll have solar and possibly wind to generate power.Unfortunately it isn't very efficient for cooking (I've heard a microwave can drain a typical boat battery bank in a matter of minutes).  Seems that propane fits the bill here. Would be nice to find a lower impact option.

For hot water, solar would be nice if it would work and propane makes a reasonable backup. For propulsion (when we are not using wind), electric would be a nice option, I just wonder if the technology is up to the task.  Otherwise we will be relegated to either gasoline or diesel.  Maybe we could do a hybrid....hmmmm.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How Do You Buy A Boat From 1000 Miles Away?

This is a question I've been grappling with for quite a while now.  The middle of Colorado is about 1000 miles from the nearest ocean.  The largest bodies of water in the state are what I'm sure many in other places would call ponds.  Needless to say, there aren't a large selection of boats you (or at least we) would consider living on full time.  Even if there were, we would still need to get it to the ocean where we want to be.  And I don't think we could sail it down the creeks we call rivers here (even though a few rubber ducks may fit).
Rubber Ducks on Boulder Creek
The internet certainly makes some research much easier.  Since we decided to go with a catamaran we've been looking at various boat specifications, plans and pictures online.  A task that would have been much more difficult 30 years ago without the web.  But I'm still a visual person, and I really need to see these boats in person.  What I see in a picture and reality often differ.

Of course, trying to see every possible boat that might work would only lead me to singlehandedly fund the US airline and hotel industry...and not something I can do for long if I actually want to buy one and sail away.  So we've got to narrow things down a bit.

The "longer list" of catamarans that might work (basically every catamaran that we could find that were sufficient to live aboard and under 40ft) are:

I know there are a few readers that have some knowledge or if you have any insight on what you would choose (or have chosen), I'd love to hear any thoughts.  We're looking for a coastal cruising liveaboard boat that may make occasional longer passages and can accommodate 2 plus 2 dogs and guests. Oh, and while the more reasonable the price the better, I'd better throw out a cap of $180K or so.

Right now the top 3 on our list seem to be the PDQ 32 & 36 LRC versions, and the Lagoon 37.  While some boat-specific items were considered, most of the appeal of the above is based on the creature comforts.  So, to my friends and family reading, feel free to click thru the links above and provide any thoughts you may have as well.