Friday, September 3, 2021

First Camping Trip with the Updated Trailer

Once I finished with the trailer updates, it made sense to take it on a trial run.  So, our first camping trip of the season was a simple long weekend.  But where to go ended up being an interesting question.

Colorado is well known for beautiful scenery and outdoor activities like camping.  Unfortunately, in recent years, Colorado is also known for having an exploding population.  When I went camping as a kid, one would load up the trailer and head for a campground or area of choice and setup camp.  These days, if you want a camp site, you apparently have to reserve them months in advance via or a private campgrounds website.  If you want to camp in other than developed campgrounds (what they call "boondocking" in the camping world), you take a big risk of not being able to find a spot. 

Image from CPR article on Denver traffic

We actually went on a couple of scouting day trips prior weekends to see what it was like trying to find boondocking sites that would work for the trailer.  Anything we found within a few hours of home was always occupied. Even worse, many of the ones closer to metro areas seemed to be occupied by people that appear to have been in those spots for well over the 14 day maximum stay.  I guess the homeless problem in the Denver area has spread into the nearby mountains.  So much for getting away.

We decided the best bet was to head up to Wyoming in hopes that there would be fewer people there.  We found a couple options and in June gave it a try.  Our first choice of a camp site was one a little off the beaten path in the Snowy Range area of the Medicine Bow National Forest.  Unfortunately it had been rather rainy in the area and it didn't take long on the forest service road to determine it would be impossible to tow the trailer to the camp site without ending up stuck in the mud.  

The Snowy Range in Southern Wyoming

So we turned around and backtracked to the Vedauwoo campground.  This area was lower altitude, drier, and paved so the muddy roads would not be a problem.  Not the ideal place, but suitable for a weekend test run of the new camper systems was at least out of the house. By the time we got back to Vedauwoo, there were only a couple spots left, fortunately we did fit in one of them.  So this is where we parked the trailer for the weekend.

Our camp site (and our dog Tucker
waiting to get in the camper)

For a designated campground just off of I-80 in an area that upon first blush isn't what one would call scenic, it is surprisingly nice.  The camp sites aren't as dispersed as one would hope, but the area has some nice rock formations and more woods than one would expect when looking at the area from the interstate.  There are a number of hiking trails to keep one entertained as well.

A nearby tent camp site.

A hiking trail just behind the
above camp site.

Testing the upgraded electrical system went well.  The inverter worked as expected.  The solar panels, setup facing south at a low angle, kept the batteries topped up the entire trip, and when not using power hungry things like the tank heater, we never went below 80% capacity based on the new battery monitor.  

I feel a bit sorry for we were far from the only people from Colorado that were trying to escape there for the weekend.  Just as we were trying to get away from the hordes of people flooding into Colorado, I'm sure those native to Wyoming would probably like it if they weren't pouring into their state every weekend.  

Other than the mass return to the Denver area on Sunday, the trip was a nice escape for us and we are happy with how the camper performed for our needs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Travel Trailers Aren't What They Used To Be

 I'm not intending to write a lot about the trailer on the blog, but there are a number of similarities between cruising and camping (at least how I want to camp anyway).  So, I hope this provides some useful information as well as entertainment value as I write a bit about these experiences.

I spent way more time in marinas than I wanted while I was on the boat and I don't want to spend time in the camper at RV park type campgrounds.  What I've found is the modern camper seems to be setup to work best with "full hook-ups" (electric, water, and sewer connections at the camp site) commonly found in the aforementioned type of campgrounds.  Personally, I'd rather camp a little further away from the crowds...more like anchoring out on my own.

Back when I was a kid, at one point my family owned a small 16 foot travel trailer built sometime in the 60's or 70's I think.  It had a table that folded into the main bed, a bunk bed that folded down from the wall, a propane stove, a propane lamp, a small propane refrigerator, a small water tank accessed via a hand pump, and a small portable chemical toilet that slid out from a small cabinet when needed.  If you had propane in the tank, you really didn't need anything else other than enough room to park the trailer and you were set.  Yes, it was a more comfortable way to camp than backpacking (which I did as well), but it was still a somewhat rustic way to travel compared to what seems to be the current standard.

Stock picture of our trailer model.

Modern trailers have many more creature comforts, but they come at a cost.  Our new-to-us trailer has a fold down queen size murphy bed, a large, two basin kitchen sink, propane stove and oven, propane refrigerator two or three times larger than the old trailer, a microwave, air conditioner, propane furnace, a myriad of electric LED lights, amplified TV antenna and cable hookups, and a power retractable awning.  It also has a separate bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower.  The water tank is probably 4 or more times larger than the old trailer and no hand-pumping is required.  If it doesn't run on propane, it runs on either 12 volt DC or 120 volt AC power.

Since there is a 12 volt DC system, modern trailers can be used without hookups.  Unfortunately most come from the factory with a single 70 to 75 amp/hour lead-acid battery (a bit less than Rover's nearly 700 amp-hour battery bank).  So, realistically, there is only about 35 amp/hours of power available.  There is no inverter, so 120 volt AC items like the microwave, air conditioner, TV, or the 5 power outlets are of no use if not plugged in to shore power.  If there were an inverter, the microwave or air conditioner could easily deplete the battery in mere minutes.  As it is, the camper's parasitic draw on the battery (from the electronics in the refrigerator, propane detector, etc.) is a little under 1 amp, so a couple days just sitting can deplete the battery without even turning on the lights or using the water pump. What all this means is that my, and I assume most typical, campers can really only last a day or two without being plugged in to either shore power or a generator to recharge.

So, I made a few modifications to the trailer once I got it back to Colorado.

Realizing the battery power was insufficient, I replaced the standard battery with two 6 volt golf car batteries sourced from Sam's Club.  Wired in series, this boosts the 12 volt power storage from 75 amp/hours to 215 amp/hours.  The single battery box was replaced with a dual battery box. This upgrade tripled the usable power for around $200.

In order to stay someplace without power for longer than 3 days or so, increasing the battery bank wasn't enough.  The trailer came with a pre-wire for solar from Furrion.  The pre-wire is nothing more than a little bit of wire and a non-standard plug outlet (I assume they hope you will then buy their overpriced 100 watt kit).  I was able to find the plug and I decided to create my own foldable portable solar panel system.  Instead of the usual PWM solar controller sold with the kits, I was able to find a relatively low priced MPPT controller.  This means I could then efficiently use a higher output panel.  I created a 140 watt foldable panel kit that will charge the batteries significantly faster than the pre-made 100 watt PWM kits for about the same price.  I would imagine this setup would work equally well for a smaller sailboat or any other smaller solar power setup.

The solar controller mounted inside the trailer.

The solar panels setup at one of our campsites

Rear view of the solar panel "suitcase".
(carry bag not shown)

This takes care of the 12 volt DC power supply, but not the 120 volt AC one.  I had mentioned using an inverter, but even 215 amp hours of battery won't be enough to power an inverter to support power hungry items like microwaves or air conditioners for long enough to be useful.  It can, however, supply enough power for some smaller things like a TV, small fans, chargers, a countertop ice maker, or whatever.  So, I decided to install a 600 watt peak, 300 watt continuous inverter since it wouldn't use as much power (and I wouldn't need to run new wiring).  I was unable to find a smaller pure sine wave inverter with a remote switch, so I removed the on-unit switch and dual color indicator LED of the one I found and replaced it with an RJ45 connector that I then wired to a switch that had a dual color LED to create a remote switch that provides the red/green indications of the original unit.  The inverter was then inserted into the outlet circuit on the trailer with an automatic switch that will allow it to use shore power if available and the inverter if not (and the inverter is turned on).  

Inverter, modified with a remote indicating switch.

Now that we have a way to store more power and generate power, it made sense to have a better way to monitor the power available in the batteries than the simple 4 LED display that came with the trailer.  Instead of the expensive Victron monitors, we decided to give the AiLi/QWork monitor a try. It seems to work well.  I'm considering adding one to the boat.

The inverter and tank heater switches,
the master battery disconnect, and the battery monitor.

There were a couple other modifications as well.  The first time we used the camper was late last fall and the trip was cut short because we ran into sub-freezing temperatures the last couple nights.  I don't know that the tanks would have frozen, but the lines might.  To prevent this in the future, we added a tank heater and some insulation to the fresh water tank lines.  We figured a jug of RV anti-freeze in the waste tanks would be sufficient to protect them, but you can't do that to the fresh water tank.  For a creature comfort feature, we also added a MicroAir Easy Start that allows the air conditioner to be run off of a small 2300 watt inverter generator.  One final addition was a master battery disconnect switch similar to what is found on most boats.  This way I could disconnect the battery bank to prevent discharge while it was parked in storage.

So, just like the boat, it didn't take me long to start customizing the trailer to better suit our needs.  If anyone is interested in any of the details on these projects, let me know and I'll try to post additional information.

Friday, July 30, 2021

A Sailing/Cruising Blog or an Travel/Adventure Blog?

Ok, I've got a question for you.  This blog was originally intended to document our conversion to a cruising lifestyle.  Obviously plans have changed and while I will continue to write about sailing I know these will be less regular than they were in the past.

When COVID19 became an issue, I was preparing for a trip to the Bahamas.  My hope is to reschedule that trip soon...but that is another story.  After the Bahamas trip obviously needed to be rescheduled, my focus then became how to get back home.  As mentioned in my prior post, the solution ended up to buy a small travel trailer.  

Since returning home, we have taken a few trips with the trailer.  We have also made some modifications to the trailer so it would work better for us.  Some of this is surprisingly similar to sailing/cruising while other aspects are obviously different.

So, my question to you is...are you interested in hearing about the travel trailer stuff?  Or should I keep the blog more sailing oriented?  I don't think this will turn into an RV blog by any means, but it would give me something else to write about during those dry spells when I am not at the boat.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

One More Hurricane and I'm Doing Fine

Yes, I'm still in Southport.  Yes, the area was hit by hurricane Isaias that spun off at least 3 tornadoes. Yes there were at least two marinas that experienced significant damage.  Neither me nor my boat were at those locations.  So, don't worry about me, other than being without power or internet for a day or so, I'm doing fine.

Often news reports tend to get the details wrong and if you saw the stories that hinted at the Bald Head Island ferry marina (where Rover currently is) suffered significant damage, it did not.  I wish I could say the same for all the marinas in the area, unfortunately there is some major damage at the Southport and South Harbor Village marinas.  Several friends and one sister ship to Rover were, unfortunately, staying at the marinas that were impacted.  I did try going over to Southport Marina to check on those boats, but the police have cordoned off the area and I was not able to make it out there or even find a vantage point where I could take decent pictures to send to my friends.  I was able to find some pictures taken by others and it looks like my sister ship, Tide Chaser, is still afloat without too many boats piled around it, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them, as well as anyone else in either marina, has survived with minimal damage. Unfortunately, I know that will not be the case for everyone.

Given my boats current location at a ferry terminal and a couple ferry captains that seem to think they should be driving for NASCAR, I have a tendency to over-tie-up my boat all the time.  When preparing for this storm, I really only had to double up and reposition a few lines and then hope that the marina facilities and structures are up to the task.  Yes, I also do other preparations like making sure nothing gets tossed about and all through hulls are closed, etc. Given that the storm had been categorized as everything from a tropical storm to a category 2 hurricane, I didn't take any chances and secured Rover to deal with just about any strength storm. Honestly, my biggest fear isn't in my preparation, but the preparations of others.  For this storm, everything turned out fine and both this marina and the one where my boat is normally stored came through just fine.

Rover after the storm. 
(I opened the hatch during my post storm inspection, it was secure during the storm.)

I actually did not stay on my boat during the hurricane.  But the reason may not be what you think.  Since I've been stuck in Southport for so long due to safety concerns with COVID19, I've been trying to figure out a safe way to make it back to Colorado.  Given that the virus seems out of control in much of the country; the idea of using public restrooms, hotels, and restaurants would only increase the risk that I could catch and then bring the virus back with me on a road-trip back.  So, my wife and I decided the best option would be if we acquired a camper trailer.  This way I would have a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen that I had control over. The past weeks I've been looking for said trailer and, naturally, finally found one last Friday.  I spent Saturday morning sanitizing the trailer and then left it locked up to bake in the sun to hopefully eradicate any "nasties" until Monday.

Of course, that means that I now had a boat, a camper, and a truck that were all in the path of the storm.  A fellow boater and dock mate that lived near Southport but several miles inland graciously offered to let me park my "new to me" trailer at his house and stay there for the storm.  Nestled between two sturdy houses that protected me from the expected wind direction and relatively clear of potential for flying debris, the camper and I were tucked in to wait out  the storm.  Other than losing power, internet, and phone service for a while, we all made it through just fine.

The camper hiding from the storm.

So, both I and my property are just fine and I actually may be able to head back to Colorado soon.  I have a couple small projects to complete on the boat and now the camper, but then I should be on my way.

My heart goes out to those that were much less lucky than I in this storm.  If you are near Southport and need anything, please feel free to reach out to me for help and I will do what I can.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Ice Cream On Board

Ice cream is often a special treat when you are on a boat.  No matter where you are, on a warm day it is nice to have a cool treat to enjoy.  But if your boat is like mine and your freezer doesn't really get cold enough to keep ice cream frozen, it is a rare treat that usually has to be purchased in a single-serving manner to be enjoyed at the time of purchase.  This isn't really a problem with my boat freezer, just a limitation of how a low power consumption 12 volt cold plate style boat refrigerator/freezer works.

Many people, in order to provide more freezer space for a long trip or just to keep things colder turn to portable refrigerator freezers.  These units often look like a cooler or ice chest, but inside they contain a small compressor driven refrigerator plate that usually runs on 12 to 24 volts DC.  The best units are well insulated, can maintain temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.8C) and don't use a lot of power.  Of course the down side is the best of these also cost $800 or more for something the size of a medium size insulated cooler.

Of course I' say thrifty...and the price of these coolers was a non-starter for me.  Being stuck at the boat in the middle of this Covid19 pandemic, a better freezer option became a bit more important.  A better freezer would allow me to make fewer trips to the store as well as pre-chill items before adding them to my regular freezer (adding warm items to a cold plate fridge or freezer warms the items near them and is a potential food safety issue).  After doing a bit of looking, I found there were several other options for small compressor driven coolers at a much lower price point (from $200 to $300) and would run on 12 volts DC.  Of course, the question is how much "worse" are these than the much more expensive units?  Will they actually keep sub-freezing temperatures?  Will they use way too much power for use on a boat?  I looked through the reviews and finally chose one to give a try.

The unit I chose was the Joy Tutus 26 quart portable refrigerator.  I chose this unit because it claimed to be able to go to -7.6 degrees F, had a reasonable size with no handles that stick out so it would fit where I wanted to put it, claimed to hold reasonable temperatures for a while even with power disconnected, and had a company that at least had a web site and email addresses available (other than through Amazon) in case there were any warranty related issues. It was ordered through Amazon and arrived on time with no noticeable damage, although the driver apparently didn't see the right-side-up logo as it was sitting upside down (so, I had to turn it right side up and let it sit for 12 hours to make sure any compressor oil drained back to the compressor before startup). They claim the unit can run at up to a 30 or 35 degree angle, which should be more than sufficient for any boat or road trips taken with it.

The unit has a plastic exterior with non-skid feet and nothing but the 90 degree angle plug that sticks out to get hung up on anything (of course you need to make sure to not block the air louvers so it doesn't overheat).  The "buttons" are a touch-sensitive plastic panel that acts similarly to a smartphone touchscreen (doesn't appear to be mechanical).  Inside the cooler, the bottom pan is plastic and the side walls are painted metal and contain the cooling (evaporator) coils that seem to wrap all the way around the sides of the cooling chamber. A half-gallon milk jug does fit standing upright inside the chamber. The lid is also plastic with a foam rubber seal around the edge and uses magnets to hold the lid closed.  Unfortunately, the molding of the plastic lid may have resulted in a little bit of a bow and, with the seal in the lid having a tight tolerance, it leaves a very slight gap for about two inches in the front center of the lid (the seal failure is apparent as ice builds up at that location when in use as a freezer). Overall, for a relatively cheap cooler, the fit and finish aren't too bad other than the door seal. The unit comes with a 12/24 volt cigarette socket style power cord for direct DC operation and a "power brick" style transformer (like many laptops) so it can be used with 110/220 volt AC sources.

Operation is pretty straight forward.  Touching the on/off icon on the panel for 3 seconds turns the unit on.  The display shows the current temperature inside the unit.  Pressing the (+) or (-) buttons adjusts the temperature, pressing the setting (gear) button switches between Max and Eco modes.  If you press the setting and (+) at the same time for 3 seconds, the display switches the display between Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature display (but there is no indication on the display as to which way it is set).  After a minute or so with no buttons pressed, the touchscreen locks to prevent accidental adjustment or power off.  To unlock, you have to press the setting button for 3 seconds. The unit remembers the last setting and will resume where it left off after a power interruption (tested by unplugging for 2 hours).

After turning the unit on, the display read 70 degrees.  I set the unit for -8F in Eco mode and the display read 24 degrees in about 20 minutes, which is in-line with their claims for cooling (with the chamber empty).  After another 15 minutes it read 12 degrees.  At this point I placed a pre-frozen (~20F) half-gallon milk jug that was filled half-way with water into the unit.  I noted that the thermometer read 28 F at this time. After an hour from the initial turn on (with the pre-frozen jug now inside) the display read -3F and the inside thermometer was around 10F.  The unit didn't seem to get much colder according to the display over the next 40 minutes (the thermometer temperature did drop by a few degrees), so I switched it from Eco to Max mode.  It did eventually reach the displayed temperature of -8F, but it took a while and I honestly don't know the exact timing as I was only checking on it every 30 minutes to an hour at that point.

Freezer holding 1/2 gallon milk jug and making
ice.  You can see the lid seal issue as well.

For the power consumption tests, I used a KillAWatt meter and the AC adapter that came with the unit as I don't have any convenient way to measure power consumption over time using the direct DC chord.  As a result, the following numbers should be higher than actual performance if connected directly to a DC source due to the inherent losses in converting power from 120v AC to 12v DC. After the one test getting it to go to it's maximum cooling setting of -8F for a short period, most of the rest of the testing used settings between -1 and -3F.  The only things inside the cooler were a small, simple, refrigerator thermometer and a half gallon milk jug filled half-way with water (ice). I kept the ambient temperature in the boat between 76 and 79F for the tests.

It has two power consumption profiles, MAX and ECO.  From what I can tell, ECO just runs the compressor at a slower speed...and in the grand scheme of things doesn't appear to be much more economical (I suspect it is actually less but did not run many tests in both modes) just limits the max power it can consume at any one point in time (I assume it runs longer to reach/maintain a given temperature).

In MAX mode, I saw power usage when the compressor was running between 37 and 57 watts with the large majority of that between 38 and 42 watts.  If you assume no loss in the transformer, that max range would be 3 to 4.75 amps at 12 v DC nominal.  So, actual DC usage would again likely be less.

In ECO mode, I saw power usage between 35 and 42 watts with the majority between 30 and 35 watts.  Again converting to 12v DC and assuming no loss, that would be between 2.75 and 3.5 amps.

Over a 72 hour and 24 minute period, the KillAWatt reported 1.89 kw of power used from a point where I turned the cooler on after it was at room temperature of 77F, set it for -3F in Max mode and placed the frozen jug of water in it.  During this time I made ice using two regular refrigerator ice trays 3 times and checked the internal thermometer readings twice a day and noted any differences between what the display read and what the thermometer said. I figure this activity would roughly equate to normal usage of a freezer.  1890 watts over 72.4 hours is 26.1 watt/hours.  At 12.5vdc (~12v nominal in ~80% charged state) that would be 2.09 amp/hours or around 50.2 amps per day as a freezer.  I assume power consumption would be less if being used at refrigerator temperatures.

If I were to take a guess, I'd say that the power transformer brick is probably in the 80% efficient the 12v DC numbers above would make for a very conservative over estimation of actual power used when directly connected to a DC source.  Unfortunately, I just don't have the means to run this test using the direct DC connection. 

The last test I ran was to see how long it would keep contents cool without power.  So, when the cooler was reading -1F and the internal temperature was reading 5F, I placed the frozen jug of water and thermometer in the cooler, let it sit for a few minutes to stabilize, and then turned it off.  I then turned it back on momentarily after an hour and the display claimed the temperature had jumped to 24F.  Another hour later, I checked again and it claimed the temperature was 29F.  Another 45 minutes later, I checked again and it was up to 34F.  At this point I opened up the cooler to check the thermometer and it read 42F. Not the 10 hours from 0 to 34 that the original listing stated, even when having the frozen block of ice in the milk jug helping out.  The initial jump may have been related to opening the cooler when putting the ice jug into the cooler and the fact the ice jug was stored in my boat freezer at 18F...but the rise still seems faster than it should, again indicating the insulation isn't optimal.

So, from an energy use standpoint, this portable refrigerator/freezer doesn't seem bad.  Yes, it may be a bit higher than the really expensive ones, but it meets my needs quite well.

Now, didn't I mention ice cream?  Well, I did perform an ice cream test.  After the initial testing, I plugged the unit directly into one of the boats new DC sockets and set the refrigerator to -2F.  I bought a half-gallon (OK, 3 pints...since you can't get an actual half gallon of cheap ice cream these days) of house brand rocky road for the final test.  Over the course of the next week or so, I had ice cream as desert after dinner. The ice I made for drinks was the other item normally in this unit.  In my regular boat refrigerator, if you put ice cream in the freezer it wold be OK the first evening, soft serve the second evening, and a milk shake by the 3rd.  With this unit, the ice cream remained frozen and at a serving temperature of about 4 degrees F over the course of a week.

Other observations about the unit.  So far it seems quiet.  I can just hear it if it is the only thing running on the boat.  But if there is any other ambient noise, it drowns out the quiet hum of the compressor.  It sits just outside the always open door to my berth and I cannot hear it at all inside the berth. That makes it quite a bit less noisy than the small bar refrigerators like you usually find in hotel rooms.  When acting as a freezer, some condensation does occur on the sides and bottom of the unit, so the insulation isn't perfect.  As previously mentioned, the lid seal seems to have a very small leak right at the opening handle notch as ice slowly develops there.  I notice that when I place items in the lower left corner of the chamber (as viewed looking down from the front of the unit) the displayed temperature tends to quickly jump, so I believe this is the general location of the internal thermometer.

And speaking of the the temperatures I was testing, I found the internal chamber temperature measured with a thermometer at roughly the center of the chamber to be about 5 to 7 degrees higher than what was displayed by the unit.  This is not unexpected and, as anyone that has ever used a refrigerator that doesn't have a fan to circulate the air will know, is quite normal.

Is the unit as good as the much more expensive Engel or Dometic units, probably not.  But it does meet my needs and at a much more wallet friendly price.  Longevity is still a question, but if it lasts a while, I think it will make a nice addition to the boat.  I do really like having the ability to pre-chill leftovers before putting them in the boat freezer, having plenty of ice for drinks, and of course ice cream on board.  Now that I can make ice and store ice cream, I might have to give one of those ice cream maker balls a try.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Making the New Water Heater Last

On a boat, particularly in a salt water environment, a lot of corrosion occurs. We usually do what we can on a boat to prevent, or at least delay, the corrosion.  We use materials that are resistant to corrosion, we paint things, and we even use replaceable sacrificial metals to protect other metals.  Well...most of the time anyway...

If you recall in January when I returned to the boat, one of the items I had to replace was the water heater as it had developed a leak.  Well, I ordered one and did the replacement and have to say I've been happy with the results.  Hot running water is a nice thing to have...particularly for washing dishes and taking showers.  And I hadn't really thought of it much until a discussion on the longevity, or lack thereof, of boat water heaters occurred on the Leopard owners Facebook group.  The original poster was wondering...or complaining...about how he was only getting a couple years out of replacement water heaters.  And, of course, the heater he mentioned was the same one that I had just installed.  The usual types of replies about favorite brands and/or how nothing was made well anymore occurred, and then there was one reply that made me think...well duh, why hadn't I thought of that.

A sacrificial anode for the water heater. that
is made by the same company
Even cheap residential water heaters at the local big-box hardware stores come with sacrificial anodes installed.  Why on earth doesn't the boat water heater have one.  We have sacrificial zincs on propellers and propeller shafts, in engine cooling systems, on outboard motors, and just about any other piece of metal that touches the water.  But unlike every house on land, these water heaters don't seem to come with a sacrificial anode.  I guess that is why the boat water heater has a one year warranty when, for about the same price, a residential water heater comes with a 6 year warranty.  Well, as it turns out, you can actually buy a sacrificial anode rod for a boat water heater.  So, not wanting to go through replacing the water heater again in a couple years, I did.

Out with the old...
Since the boat water heater doesn't have a dedicated mounting location for the anode, they are designed to replace the existing drain valve on the water heater.  It was a bit of a pain to remove the plastic drain valve (it would have been much easier if I had known to do this before I installed the water heater...which is why I'm telling you about it now) as there is limited clearance with all the connections on the front.  Installing the anode with the integrated drain valve is easier. with the new.

While it may look like the drain valve is much smaller now, the actual opening inside that plastic valve is not much, if any, larger than on the replacement petcock. So I'm sure it will drain equally as slow either way.  Hopefully this $16 addition will extend the life of my new water heater by a few years.

Monday, May 4, 2020

New Sunroom

After building the hardtop for the boat, one of the next items needed was a replacement dodger.  For those that don't own a boat, the dodger is essentially the front windshield for a boat.  It isn't strictly necessary as, unlike a car, you aren't cruising along at speeds fast enough that something flying in from the front isn't likely to cause injury...but anyone that has spent much time at the helm of a boat on a less than perfect day may disagree.  When we completed the hardtop in Virginia it was around Christmas and we were in a hurry to head to warmer locations.  At the time I jury rigged the old dodger so we would have at least minimal protection.

The jury-rigged temporary dodger.
During that cold and rainy trip south, it became very apparent that just a simple dodger up front wasn't really sufficient to protect someone at the helm from bad weather.  The cold rain always seemed to be blowing in from the starboard side and that made manning the helm a miserable experience.  So, back before this virus when I was looking at heading to the Bahamas in February, a better dodger and side least for the starboard side...was very high on the upgrade list.

Having an enclosure made was not going to be an option as that would be too costly for something just to improve comfort for the upcoming trip (small sailboat enclosures usually cost more than $4000 and I'm sure mine would be much higher due to the size).  A while back we purchased a Sailrite sewing machine and part of the justification of that purchase was to tackle projects like this.  My goal was to create a cost effective and serviceable solution that could be used when needed and taken down most of the time. Just like the hardtop, this would be my first time attempting to create something new for the boat, so higher end materials were less of a concern.  If I really screwed things up, at least I wouldn't feel as bad about it if the materials didn't cost a fortune.

First thing was to come up with a design. At first blush, it seems like a fairly straight forward process...create some fabric and clear vinyl panels that would enclose the front and at least part of the sides of the cockpit.  Of course, the devil is in the details.  I wanted to utilize the existing lower mount for the old dodger and then there was what to do about the sheet winches that are right in the middle of where enclosure panels would normally go.  Ideally, having all the winches inside the enclosure so you can stay dry while adjusting sails would be good, but in the end I could not figure out a way to make that happen.  In the end I came up with a design for a front panel and two smaller side panels that would wrap around behind the winches so that one could at least operate the winches with the panels in place.  I also planned for partial panels along the sides so the helm would be protected.

From there I came up with an estimate of how much clear vinyl and material was needed for the project.  5 yards of vinyl and 4 yards of material looked like it would be enough.  Checking online, I was able to find a supposedly marine grade vinyl for about $85.  Sunbrella, on the other hand was about $25 to $35 per yard.  I decided to check a discount fabric store in nearby Wilmington and found they had a roll of Sunbrella in an off-white color that just about perfectly matched my gel-coat for $17 at yard.  Another $100 worth of zippers, snaps, thread, pattern material, and other sewing notions from Sailrite as well as reusing a few zippers from the old dodger and it looks like I could make an enclosure for around $300.  On that trip from Virginia, I'm sure my wife and I would have gladly paid $300 for the added comfort of a dry helm out of the wind.

Creating the dodger pattern.
After watching and re-watching several of the how-to videos from Sailrite, I began the process of creating patterns for the front dodger. Of course, creating patterns by myself, outside, in the wind was a bit of a challenge. Trying to get the plastic stretched tight and marked before the wind would come along and blow it all down took several tries and in the end was not perfect...but good enough. Creating the dodger in the salon, when the dodger spans the distance across the salon and galley was an interesting task.  I cut the Sunbrella material into the numerous strips I needed using a straight edge and wood burning tool. Fortunately some of the tricks I picked up from the how-to videos as well as judicious use of the Sailrite seam-stick basting tape for canvas helped a great deal with the assembly and sewing tasks.  After a lot of sewing, I had a new dodger that took advantage of the extra viewing area afforded by the new hardtop.

Cutting long strips of Sunbrella
Next came the two small panels that ran behind the winches.  It was a pretty straight forward process to pattern and create those small panels out of the Sunbrella material.  These panels extend past where the existing mounting hardware was, so I had to add snaps to hold the bottom of the panels.  While on the Sailrite site I found that they had a new type of snap called a Snad that utilizes 3M VHB tape so I wouldn't have to drill holes in the hull for conventional snaps. The only downside to the VHB based solution that I've found thus far is that it takes up to 72 hours for the snaps to fully bond to the surface.

Sewing the dodger.
After getting the winch panels done, I realized I actually had enough material to make full side panels for the cockpit instead of the half-width panels that I originally planned to make.  I was having a difficult time determining how to best secure the half panels, so this solved that problem...but created another.  Snaps were less likely to hold such a large panel in place in the wind so I had to come up with another solution to attach the panel to the arch.  While trying to figure out the best way to attach the panels, I went ahead and created the panels.  When I made the hardtop, I included a design element that would hopefully aid in the installation of a full enclosure.  The bottom of the "handrail" edge around the hardtop can be slit at the bottom creating an awning track.  This track would then allow for installation of enclosure panels using a pre-manufactured bolt rope that slides into the slot. The solution for holding the panel to the arch is essentially the same solution.  I took the old awning track that came off of the arch when I installed the hardtop, cut it in half, and attached the segments to the arch.  One more zipper per panel and more of the bolt rope, and viola, the panel is attached.  The boat now has a 3/4 enclosure, with the back left open.

The end result isn't perfect, but it is functional and doesn't look too bad.  The vinyl isn't as optically clear as the expensive stuff (it has minor distortions that I think are due to the manufacturing process) but it is good enough and well worth the trade-off for keeping warm and dry. If I keep up with the maintenance of the vinyl (regular polish and UV protectant...same as is recommended for the much more expensive vinyl products), I have confidence that they will last a long time and will be a nice addition to the boat.