Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cutting the Cord

This is a post I started months ago but never completed. Arriving back on the boat I have found that this may be of some interest to those on a boat as well as those saving up for the experience. So the following is edited from the original and mixes experiences from time spent living on land as well as on the water.  Hope you find it helpful and not too confusing.

For all of those people saving up to go cruising or even those just trying to conserve a few pennies, I thought I would take a few moments to write about something I discovered moving back into an apartment in the Denver Metro area.  In the past I have written about my experience with our low-cost phone service (still like it, btw.) and this is another one of those technology things.  The thing I am talking about is television, the ol' boob tube.

Streaming "Man on a Ledge" from Crackle...on the boat.
The cheapest way to go, other than tossing your TV out (or better yet, selling or donating it), is to use an antenna for the over-the-air broadcasts.  This works OK in most metropolitan areas...or at least did in the U.S. until much of the broadcasts have concentrated on programming that highlights the POTUS screw up du-jour. This is still handy for the occasional check of the local news, weather, or occasional diversion. Since I get enough of the political shenanigans online to make my blood boil, I'm looking for more a entertaining diversion.

To start with, we needed internet anyway, so the simple choice for the apartment was to see what the local cable company (Comcast, Xfinity, or whatever they are calling themselves this week) had to offer.  A quick call to them resulted in my hysterical laughter followed by hanging up the phone.  Their cheapest package that included internet and basic cable was over $120 a month. Internet only wasn't much cheaper at around $100 a month.  I did a little more searching and found that our phone company (CenturyLink) had 40 MBit access for just under $30 a month.  A much better price, but that didn't include any television programming...or so I thought. If you are living on the water, hopefully you have access to marina WiFi or an open hotspot (perhaps using a long range WiFi antenna). At the marina we have a fairly slow WiFi connection that ranges from around 3Mbit down to 0.5Mbit.

We looked into satellite TV but it would be a severe hassle to deal with in an apartment and when we last had one it was around $50 a month for the basic channels.  This is even more complex on a boat as a dish has to point at the satellite and a moving boat complicates that (although there are expensive dishes that track...but that defeats the idea of saving money).

Then I started looking at the new streaming services. These are some of the services that are collectively called cutting the cord (as in cable cord). Many of these services can be accessed via an internet connection, so having internet solves part of the problem.

You can watch many of these services on a computer using a web interface or using an app on a phone or tablet. If you want to watch streaming content on a real television instead of computer device or phone, you will need a compatible smart TV or the modern technology equivalent of the old cable box. This box is actually about the size of a stick of gum, plugs directly into the TV's HDMI port and comes with a remote control. Various devices are available from Amazon (FireTV), Roku, Google, and others. They seem to run around $30 for the device, but if you need or want more of a TV experience, they are a relatively economical means of making that happen. Some of the pay services will even give you one for free if you sign up and agree to use their service for several months to a year.

Related image
A few of the devices for streaming to a TV.
There are a number of content options available when you have an internet connection. Obviously several major broadcast and cable networks have some online content available on their websites or via applications.  In addition, there are free services like Crackle, Tubi, and Pluto that provide access to on-demand movies and shows as well as some free channels.  A step above that are services like SlingDirectTvNow and others that provide cable-like service (minus any local channels) at a lower cost than cable or satellite.

At the apartment I tried all the services mentioned above.  With reasonably fast internet, all of the services worked well except for one.  DirectTvNow seemed to have streaming or application glitches that caused the video to stop playing or would hang or skip on a regular basis.  On the boat, I've tried using all but DirectTvNow and have found that they are usable, but with slower internet connectivity, the video will occasionally pause during playback.  Best I can tell, the services need around 3 Mbit speeds to provide a reasonably watchable experience with a limited amount of interruption. They do tend to run on slower speeds, but will periodically pause to buffer the video stream.

The one service I found to work the best was actually Sling. The service (or application) has the ability to monitor internet speed and adjust video quality to provide a more fluid experience. On a large TV the video quality changes may prove to be annoying, but on smaller screens like you often find on a boat, tablet, or phone, I find that it is far less annoying than the video pause.  With this approach, Sling seems to be able to run with as little as 1 or 2 Mbit connections as best I can tell.

So, if you are paying upwards of $100 or more for cable, one of these options may help put some cash back into your wallet.  Or if you are on a boat with reasonable internet connection and in need of some entertainment on those rainy and windy days (like I've had here the past few days), you might want to give one of these options a try.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Dealing with Water

Well, I've been back on the boat at the marina for a couple weeks now.  In some aspects it has been nice and in others...well, no so much.  As I mentioned, one of the main purposes of this trip was to get some basic maintenance done.  Unfortunately, even if you aren't actively using a boat, there is still ongoing maintenance.

In addition to the above-the-waterline cleaning I did a few days after arrival, I've also spent some time cleaning the interior and had divers come out and clean the bottom of the boat and check the condition of the sacrificial zincs.  The boat is starting to look a bit more cruise-ready once again. Below the waterline the report from the divers was that everything was looking good, with little other than some soft growth that was wiped away.  I guess that bottom job done in Baltimore has performed well and the Petit Hydrocoat is doing a good job at keeping growth at bay.

One of my many tasks was to test, sanitize and refill the fresh water system on the boat.  When we left the boat we made the calculated decision to not winterize since temperatures generally do not get all that cold for very long in Southport.  So, naturally, I arrived just after a once in 50 year cold spell and was concerned there might have been a bit of damage.  Fortunately, almost everything survived unscathed.  The only loss was a plastic fitting that feeds the main shower's handheld wand.  I guess there was a little water trapped in the hose and it managed to freeze and break the fitting.  The rest of the system was fine.  After the water was drained from the tanks, a sanitizing solution of bleach and water was used to clean the tanks and plumbing.  After the solution was circulated and allowed to work for several hours, I drained the tanks and then refilled with fresh water. I then replaced the drinking water filter that we have mounted under the galley sink and the system is again ready for use.
The 3M Drinking Water Filter

Recently The Boat Galley re-posted a write up on water filtration systems.  They mentioned 3 basic options for filtering tank water on a boat.  What I use is a variant of one of the "at the tap" systems they mentioned but I thought I would note a few things about the route I took and why I think it is a good solution for the average boat.

The system pictured above is a full flow filter designed to be used on a home sink.  Since the main difference between a home sink and a galley sink is the size of the basin, I figured this would work fine for a boat.  You can plumb it to a separate drinking water spigot if you wish (and have the space) or you can plum it directly into the cold water supply line of the galley sink.  Not wanting a second spigot in the counter of the galley, I chose the latter.  The filter claims it will last approximately 2000 gallons (6 months), and in using one at my prior home on land, I find that to be a reasonably accurate number if plumbed into the sink and it would likely last longer on a dedicated drinking water spigot.

Installation is simple using push on connectors.  The gray and black part at the top is the only piece that needs to be mounted.  Filters are installed and removed with a simple 1/4 turn by hand (no tools required) and water flow is automatically shut off when the filter cartridge is removed, so changing is a snap.  The diameter is smaller than the typical cartridge type filter and not having to use any tools makes it easy to mount in an out-of-the way location. The filter and mount are plastic, so there is little concern about corrosion, which is always an issue on a boat.  Filters can be found at most big box home improvement stores in the U.S. but may be a bit more difficult to source in out of the way locations.  The filters themselves are only slightly larger than the average cartridge filter element, so having a few spares on board will easily cover replacements in excess of a year of use.  The units typically sell for around $50 (and filters are around $25), so they are more economical than many of the systems marketed to the boating industry. I've found the filtration to be good, taking any plastic or chlorine taste out of the water and they claim 0.5 micron filtration.  Overall I am happy with the performance of this type of filter.

Another water related task has to do with the house battery bank.  One of the last times we were in Southport our house battery bank started going south and we were in need of a replacement.  Instead of going with the West Marine AGM batteries, we opted for a higher power and yet more economical solution.  We installed a bank of 6 - 232AH 6-volt wet-cell batteries.  The entire set of batteries were less than the cost of one of the AGM batteries and we gained about 100 AH in capacity.  The only down side is that you need to occasionally check and refill the electrolyte level (watering the batteries).  Fortunately, with the amount of money saved, it was easy to spring for a watering system that makes this task quick and easy.  I've had the caretaker perform this task regularly, but while I'm here I thought I would take care of it as well as inspect the battery bank and perform an equalization charge.  I'm happy to report that the battery bank is doing very well and the watering system works like a charm to keep the batteries topped off.

The other water-related item on the list was to exercise all the through-hull valves to confirm operation and make sure no growth is causing issues.  Not an overly time-consuming task, but still one that I think is worth performing on at least a semi-regular basis.

Well I think that covers much of the water-related tasks for the boat from washing to drinking water.  Work continues in other areas, but every day the boat is getting closer to the condition she was when we left.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I'm Back

I know, it has been a VERY long time since I've posted anything. There are numerous reasons behind that, but mostly I haven't had much sailing/cruising/live-aboard or "escaping the rat race" related to write about and, essentially, that is what this blog is all about. It had been just over a year since we left the boat and put her up for sale. So, why am I posting now...well...I have returned to the boat.

I'd like to say that I was here to prep the boat for a trip to the islands or some other warm and picturesque destination, but that is not the primary task.  The person taking care of our boat had identified a few minor issues that started popping up, so the main purpose of the trip is to check up on the boat, perform some maintenance and repairs. I'm also here to try and figure out what to do about the sale of the boat, the broker and the listing company. That whole mess has become quite a disappointment to us, however, that is a story for another time.

Snow along the side of I-95 in South Carolina
I arrived at the boat last Monday, just as the unusual winter weather was releasing its grip on the east coast.  It was rather bizarre to see snow on the side of the roads here while there was no snow in Colorado or much of the drive out.  Driving along I-95 in South Carolina there was snow on the side of the highways.  There was also evidence that it had been plowed since all the lane reflectors were neatly piled along the side of the road with the last remnants of the snow.

While it had been several days since the snow fell, there was still a fair amount on the boat.  Snow covered much of the deck and the trampolines. Under the snow was a good inch thick layer of ice. It took about half a day just to clean it up so I felt safe loading my stuff on the boat.

Snow just doesn't look right here.

Of course, only a couple days later I was in shorts and a t-shirt performing a much needed wash of the hull (that is, after the marina turned the water back on at the docks). It seems that a few weeks around November or December, all the birds along the east coast congregate in the area for the sole purpose of making a mess of the local boats.  It took about 6 hours for me to do a basic wash of the boat. Finally, the boat is looking respectable again.

Over the next few weeks I'll be continuing my efforts to get her back into a travel-ready state and deal with the brokerage issues.  Hopefully the weather will continue to stay warm.