Sunday, December 6, 2009

A vent, a head and a battery

So I have not posted in a while. It seems there are always things to do. If its not working on the boat its cleaning the boat, helping with a meal or on occasion, reading a book or magazine. So, I've been busy.

Anyhow, today we left Ensenada Grande on Isla la Partida for a day stop at Los Islotes, a sea lion rookery. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to swim with sea lions of all sizes from pups to bulls. They would swim up to us, nibble on our fins and do twirls and spins to perform and entertain. I am sure Danielle or Harrison will post more on this later.

Now we are on our way to Isla San Francisco (24 degrees 49.9 minutes north by 110 degrees 34.6 minutes west), Barb is giving herself a pedicure, Harrison is taking pictures and Danielle is reading and on watch. I guess Barb's venting yesterday is over with and she is more relaxed. I on the other hand (read venting), seem to always have to fix or tweak something on the boat. Boat ownership is fun but there are always things that need doing -- and this boat, like many cruising boats these days, have lots of systems on them -- including water makers, generators for charging batteries and producing AC power, inverters (for converting DC power to AC power), two diesel engines, an outboard engine, navigation equipment, email (which needs to be sent over a single sideband radio), vhf radios, sails, rigging, refrigeration and water heaters and pumps -- and all need to be monitored and maintained. So, while I might not be doing as much cooking and home schooling there are plenty of things to keep busy with.

When on land we take so many things for granted. Barb's already talked about water. I will talk about a few others. At home, we flush the toilet. Do we ever really think about where all that stuff goes when we flush that toilet? The system just works. Maybe the toilet bowl needs to get cleaned on a regular basis or on a rare occasion it gets clogged. On a boat however, we have special toilets, called heads. These heads bring in saltwater (saltwater with anything is usually never a great thing) into the toilet and then when you flush you either have a manual pump or electric pump that pumps and/or macerates the waste into a holding tank. At home we don't have holding tanks to worry about. However, on a boat, you can't just flush overboard (unless you are three miles offshore. Instead you flush/pump into a holding tank. So you have to monitor that. How full is it? What do you do when it gets full? Well, you try to time when it gets full to when you are leaving the dock (and heading three miles offshore) or you have to either have a service that comes to pump it out or you have to head (no pun intended) to a pump out dock and pump it out into the municipal waste system. Our preference, of course, is to pump out offshore. Its a lot easier.

Then there are batteries. I have not given amps much thought since engineering school, and I will be honest, I've forgotten most of it. We are constantly monitoring amps. At home we really take electricity for granted unless it is August 14, 2004 (not only Barb and my birthday, but also my nephew Sam's bris and the day the east coast went dark). At home we turn the lights on or off, we don't ask where the electricity is coming from or how it was generated and we really don't have any good way of monitoring how much we are using. It is not until we get a bill from the electric company at the end of the month do we say "wow did I use that much?"

On board, our electricity comes from our bank of batteries, our generator and/or diesel engines which run an alternator which generates electricity. We have batteries that when fully charged will hold 660 amp hours. That means if I use something that draws 10 amps I can run it for 66 hours. For example, our salon lights use 3.2 amps. Also, you never want your batteries to go below 50% (or about 330 amp hours). So, we are always looking at what lights, radios, computers, water pumps, refrigeration, navigation equipment, etc. are on to minimize how often we need to charge our batteries since charging them requires us to either run the engines or run the generator. We are also monitoring our battery meter to see what our battery level is at and how many aggregate amps we are using. So, we have a little game on board. We turn things off and see how many amps we save. We have an amp cop -- that's me. Did you turn your lights off? Why is that hull light on? Do we really need to charge that vacuum?

Even with solar panels and trying our best to monitor and minimize our usage, we seem to have to run our generator every couple of days -- which from what we hear from other boaters is not too bad (they run them every day). I do think a home based product that monitored electricity usage would be a great product. Because, if you can't measure something how can you really know if you are using something a lot or a little. And, as I like to ask, does anyone really know how much it costs to run their washing machine or dishwasher either? NO. But if they did, perhaps they would use them differently -- that is my cleantech plug.

So, as you can see, it is not just about getting a boat from point A to point B safely or dealing with home schooling or boat cleaning, it is also about making sure all the systems are working properly. Great fun and a great learning experience.

So, we now are approaching Isla San Francisco. Time to navigate our approach and think about where we will anchor. And then of course, there is fishing, swimming and dinner and tomorrow probably a hike to some salt ponds.

More later,


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  1. After reading the amount of work and monitoring that you need to do, I literally got tired...but I guess there a certain amount of routine check that is developed after a time. But I do admire your dedication.

    I enjoyed all the technical information (on heads and batteries) given (I do have a small physics background), and so did Allan. I'll bet you'll become a bit more of an economical environmentalist once you return home.

    By the way, Allan appreciates your giving us your coordinates - he is forever on Google Earth studying and showing me where you are.

    Back to your recreational activities - while swimming with sea lions, weren't you afraid?

    This was an amazing blog - so much detail and so clearly expressed. You are a great writer!
    You now have my permission to help out with homeschooling - another challenge in your life!

    Love to all...

  2. So my previous comment aside, you DO deserve some major kudos for all the work you are doing. (I think rather than a hug you need a's more manly, don't you think??) It is amazing the skills you and Barb (and I am sure the kids too) are having to learn/re-learn/wing it through. I am amazed at how many simple things that we take for granted here that you have to be so mindful of. I have to say, though, that your post reminds me of a conversation we had before you left. That Barb was going to be the principal/CEO and you were going to be the janitor. Maybe you are more like janitor/tech support/amp police/geek extraordinaire. What a fun job!
    Lots of love,

  3. One minor correction to your blog...blackout was on Aug 14, 2003...Hannah's babynaming. If that wasn't bad enough, I do not even want to think about if it had been on Sammy's bris! A bris in a blackout..yikes!!

  4. Wow - i got more info from you in that blog than i would have gotten if i was talking on the phone with you.
    One more correction to your blog (other than the date of Sam's briss) - Barb could not have "given herself a pedicure." I think that might actually be an oxymoron. You either just paint your own toes (and pretend you got a pedicure) or you go and have someone"give you a pedicure." Leave it to your sisters to correct you where we can :)
    Seriously - great blog.
    Wish i could have been there for the swim with the sea lions.

  5. Great Post, Michael! I too would like to see the photos of the sea lions (are there any?) and of the haircut!
    Used any calculus lately to determine travel equations, like if you head due east at 5 knots and the pirate ship is chasing you at 8 knots from the south west, at what time do you fire your cannons? So tell the truth, is there anywhere else you'd rather be this year? Sounds so awesome! Hope we will see you guys soon.