We have a poop box 🤣

Today Jane did a great job with epoxy fillets and epoxy coating the mizzen supports in the aft cabin. Sorry no pictures.

Meanwhile, I built a poop box 😁

I haven’t finished the lid.

The box fits directly onto the Natures Head composting toilet base. So you can tie it on, turn the toilet upside down and empty it into the box. No mess and no need to carry the full toilet base through the boat. While we have a home with compost bin we can bring the poop box home to empty into the compost. Later we can have more boxes to store until we find a good place to empty them.

Short and Longer term plans for Instruments, Navigation, Communications, Safety

True to form we are going to be ripping out all the original instruments, after 44 years they are all well past their useful life. Both the speed and depth sensors used holes in the hull (and we are determined to minimise holes!). Nothing is connected to anything else and their were no updates to technologies such as DSC on the VHF radio (allows private direct calls between radios), AIS (potential to receive and transmit details of your boat, location, speed and direction for warnings of potential collisions), or GPS (position). Even the compass has problems as it’s light doesn’t work and there is air inside it instead of oil.

Later we need to get onto other essentials such as navigation lights, as the current ones are all either broken or very UV damaged and none of then are LED.

When thinking about instruments and navigation there are almost an infinite number of options available and the choice can be bewildering. Hence, a very common choice is to fully equip with a range of sensors and multi-function displays from a single manufacturer connected using (for new systems) NMEA 2000 (a wiring and data standard). However, this is way beyond our budget (probably by at least an order of magnitude). The biggest names supplying everything are B&G, Raymarine and Garmin.

Obviously, there are significant advantages in buying a complete set of instruments, and electronics from one company. Principally it should all connect and integrate seamlessly. Installation should be simpler and the learning curve should be reduced.

However, there are disadvantages besides the cost.

  • With a fully integrated system you can only see the output from a sensor (for example the depth) if the sensor, the network, the system cpu and a multifunction display are all powered and working. That is a lot of potential points of failure and potentially a lot of power consumption.
  • Another disadvantage is the extent to which you get locked (literally or emotionally) into a single ecosystem. That means when you decide to add something new (for example connecting to the boat systems using your phone over the Internet) you might find yourself waiting for the one supplier to add this feature or unlock it for others to connect to.
  • Until you start connecting items from other manufacturers you can never be quite sure how standards compliant the system is. So if a sensor breaks do you buy what is available locally or wait until you can get something from the same manufacturer?

At the other end of scale are the cheap but not connected products. For example you can have  standalone depth sounder (sensor and display), a GPS, a VHF radio with AIS that doesn’t share the data with anything else.

In the middle are options to buy individual items that can be connected using a standard interface (most commonly now NMEA 2000). This way you can start with specific paired sensors and displays (such as wind speed and direction) that can later be connected to other things. With some skill and luck you can mix and match from different manufacturers.

Once you have fully integrated instruments and navigation you can have a big chart plotter screen that doesn’t just show the chart and your position but adds radar overlays and AIS targets and predictions based on wind speed/direction (current as well as forecast), even camera views can be added. But at this point you have gone beyond the data speed/capacity of NMEA and are needing to look at using WiFi.

That brings us to some leading edge developments that are starting to bring in new competition and disrupt the marketplace. Principally Bluetooth LE, WiFi, 4G and solar.

An obvious example is to have a solar powered, wireless wind sensor for the top of the mast. This is potentially much simpler and more reliable than running data and power cables in the mast. The traditional companies now have these. However, they typically wirelessly connect with a proprietary protocol to a little black box that is physically connected to the NMEA 2000 network. As far as the rest of the system is concerned it appears exactly the same as a wired sensor. An alternative is skip a few technological steps and use other standards, such as Bluetooth. This means you can have a solar powered, wireless wind sensor that connects directly to your phone which displays the data using your choice of app. No NMEA network, no other devices needed.

Also there are more options than just the proprietary NMEA standard. For example there are black boxes available that connect to NMEA 2000 and make the data available over open Internet standards (both WiFi and wired). The Bluetooth sensor companies are also adding black boxes that connect their devices to NMEA.

Another development is to bring the Internet culture of Open Standards and Free Software, that can run on a variety of different hardware, to the marine instrument and navigation arena. Two notable examples are SignalK (an open standard that replaces NMEA and runs on Internet standards) and OpenCPN which is a free/open navigation tool (runs on many operating systems and also phones).

At this point these are not really mature consumer options, they require a fair bit of DIY (potentially to the level of soldering circuit boards), some familiarity with system setup & administration and even programming.

Given the constraints of our budget and time, the lack of anything to build upon, we have decided to get afloat with the things we see as essential, have them mostly standalone with goals of low cost, reliability, simplicity, low power consumption and the ability to add more DIY functionality later.

Instruments

Compass: New bulkhead compass to replace the original “Big Ben”. Not connected to anything but a light (at the end of the day a compass, a watch, a sextant and paper charts make a safe fallback situation that should be available even after a lightning strike)

Depth: Our first choice would be an in hull depth sensor (no hole in the boat needed) with a dedicated screen (with features such as a shallow water alarm) plus interconnection potential so that in the future  we could check the depth on our phones while ashore (in case we have miscalculated the tides and we are about to go aground, could also be that the wind changed and blew you into shallower water). Unfortunately, I haven’t found this combination so we will probably go for the Nasa Clipper Depth (approx £130) which doesn’t have any connectivity options at the moment.

Wind Speed and Direction: We want a wind instrument that uses a solar powered, wireless sensor at the top of the mast – that means one less wire in the mast, and one less hole in the deck to leak (hence a much simpler installation). This eliminates one of the most common causes of problems (the wire or the connections) and must surely reduce the chance of lightning taking out all your instruments. We want it’s own dedicated display for installation simplicity and to increase reliability by keeping the number of points of failure down. However, we also want the option to be able to connect it to other devices in the future. That allows better information on the chart plotter. Much more than that, by connecting NMEA to our Raspberry Pi systems (probably via SignalK) we can connect phones locally using wifi and remotely via 4g over the Internet. Not only does that let you to display things on your phone such as a graph of wind direction and speed over say 24 hours, but it also lets you pick that up while the boat is anchored and you are shopping. Then you can see if there might be a problem coming (is there a wind increase that will make it harder to get back in the dinghy? Or might your drying laundry be about to blow away?). The Clipper Wireless Wind (True) looks a good initial option (but only Nasa themselves seem to be selling the True wind version at the moment at £373) . While we would not have the true wind display initially, it would be available once we connect it to NMEA with a GPS device also connected. An alternative would be the innovative OpenWind.de solar, Bluetooth LE but it is over £100 more and we would have to use a phone as the display until we have a connected computer display.

No speed: We are not going to have any measure of speed through the water. It always requires a hole in the boat so we are ruling it out. We will rely on GPS (and there are going to be multiple GPS systems). These can now use multiple satellite systems which improves reliability. They don’t allow us to directly see the effect of tide or current but we feel this is something we can live with for reliability (the paddle wheels used in the ones we could afford are vulnerable to damage and growth) and safety (look at the Sailing Zingaro where he nearly sank his Oyster because the speed sensor leaked and note that he should have also had a working bilge water alarm and automatic bilge pump as we already have ready to install).

Navigation

Initially we are going to use our phones and Android tablet. There are plenty of apps that we can use. I’d like to start with OpenCPN which is what we eventually plan to run on Raspberry Pi computers.

While I have most of the stuff to setup the Raspberry Pi navigation system (and there will be lots to write about that in the future) I doubt I will have time before our first launch. Maybe it will be a project whilst we are out sailing on my sabbatical – but I don’t want it to be something we rely on without a lot more time to develop and test it. Even then I’m not planning to have it as the only way to view instruments or navigate – just too risky.

In the long term though the plan is for a “chartplotter” in the cockpit that can be seen and controlled when steering. It will be powered by a Raspberry Pi 4 below decks controlling a 15.6″ touch screen (with the option of bringing out a wireless keyboard and mouse in suitable conditions). This will display a chart with the boat position and AIS overlay. So it will be used primarily for live navigation.

We will have another Raspberry Pi 4 below, using a 21″ TV as it’s display (again a wireless keyboard and mouse). This will be able to function as a chartplotter (principally for planning, backup and keeping an eye on things when nipping below when on watch). It will also run our entertainment, office and editing software. We will have a 3rd system (with a more basic screen) pre-configured and up-to-date that will be wrapped with a battery in multiple layers of foil and plastic that will act as a Faraday cage so that it should survive a lightning strike.

Communications

We do have a basic handheld VHF radio which we will keep for emergencies and dinghy to boat communications (bit with mobile phones likely to be the preferred option if there is a signal).

We will add a fixed VHF radio with DSC and a new aerial. Possibly something like a basic ICOM IC-M330GE for around £200

We will setup a WiFi network for the boat and eventually we would like to add a full 4G mobile connection to that using big aerials to pick up a mobile phone signal several miles offshore.

Safety

AIS: We will install a minimum of a full Class B AIS system that both transmits and receives. We are looking for models from Digital Yacht that provide a WiFi interface (simplest for both our Android devices and Raspberry Pi’s). So at the budget end an iAISTX for £522.00

I think that if we upgraded to the iAISTX plus version (£642) which has an NMEA interface then it should be possible to connect the AIS to the VHF DSC system allowing you to pick a target and directly connect to them on the VHF using DSC. So if the AIS tells you that a ship will collide with you 5 miles ahead then you can call them to ask what they plan to do about it. Without this you can find the call details on the AIS and manually put them into the VHF (tricky if it is rough and you are stressed/tired and the wind is changing etc).

If we could afford it I would like the Digital Yacht Class B+ device as it transmits at twice the power. Hence, we would be detected by ships at a much greater range than 8 to 10 miles as well as more reliably in very busy areas with lots of signals. However, the AIT5000 with WiFi is £1,074.

Whichever AIS we get, we will add a Man Overboard alarm and Man Overboard devices to our life jackets. That means if we fall into the water an alarm automatically goes off on our boat (and any others within range) and the chartplotter will show the position of the person in the water so that you can find them again.

The AIS will probably use an aerial splitter so that it can share the aerial with the VHF radio.

Radar: For the foreseeable future radar will remain on our “would be nice to have” list. Cost is approaching £2,000 for the radar dome, mounting bracket etc. OpenCPN already includes support for a growing number of Radars so you can see the radar scan on top of the chart (makes it easier to work out if the radar image is showing land, rain, a ship or a buoy). For collision avoidance we think AIS is much cheaper, it gives much more accurate and detailed information, however not all vessels have it. Radar is great for fog, rain squalls and navigation in busy waters at night. Radar is much better for detecting fishing boats (who frequently don’t want to advertise their position on AIS).

At first launch

So we will have the following before we launch:

  • Compass
  • Depth with dedicated display
  • Apparent Wind speed and direction with dedicated display
  • 2 phones and a tablet all with chartplotter software and charts (with waterproof cockpit mounts and USB charging)
  • AIS class B (displaying on the phones and tablet) with MOB alarm
  • AIR MOB transmitters for our life jackets
  • VHF radio

Medium term

  • connect the devices that support it, with NMEA 2000 (gives true wind on the Clipper Wind, AIS integration with the Radio (including MOB support)
  • Raspberry Pi 4 powered chartplotter in the cockpit
  • Raspberry Pi 4 powered chartplotter, office and entertainment in the saloon
  • Spare Raspberry Pi system in Faraday cage

Long Term

  • Long range 4g connection for the whole boats WiFi
  • Additional sensors and monitoring through a web interface on all our devices anywhere as long as boat and we have an internet connection (battery state, solar, motor temperature, tanks levels, bilge pump alarms, lots of environment data such as temperature and humidity etc)
  • Mast mounted forward looking camera with night vision for watch keeping
  • Security cameras
  • Radar
  • Long range WiFi connection for the whole boat (as free WiFi comes to more places)
  • Extra Raspberry Pi powered screen in the cockpit for a customised dashboard next to the chart (wind, depth, battery, solar, cameras, AIS text).
  • Automation (alerts to phones, full management of solar power including control of dump power – eg heat water, run dehumidifier, electric blankets, boat heating)
  • Add PyPilot software to control original electric autopilot motor

That should be enough to keep us going for a while and also plenty to spend our entire living budget for several years  – which gives an idea of how much of it will happen 🙂

Diesel gets everywhere!

One of less pleasant things we originally found on the boat, when we bought her, were some incontinence pads. We thought they were there to catch water from leaks (we found that mostly these were from the windows, but also some from mooring cleats and other deck fittings).

However, I’ve just removed some plywood that was bonded to the hull as a sloped part of the floor as you enter the aft cabin. The plywood turned out to be saturated in diesel. So maybe the pads that were under the floor of the aft cabin were to absorb diesel.

We think that the diesel tank, on the outboard side of the corridor to the aft cabin, must have had a bit of a leak. The plywood covered a section where the grp covered foam stringer was cut away. This left a bit of a groove that the diesel must have run along.

It is well over a year since we removed the diesel engine and fuel tanks. Hopefully this is the last bit of diesel impregnated wood to remove.

Smelly diesel impregnated plywood
Where the wood was.

Improving the composting toilet experience

We have been using a Nature’s Head composting toilet on Vida since September 2019. We liked it enough to add a second in November 2019. Our experience has ranged from them being abandoned (after use) for 6 months during lockdown through weekend use by two people and upto a couple of weeks by two people plus occasional guests.

During this time we haven’t had a 12 volt electrical supply and so we have not fitted the extraction fan or vent.

So what would improve things going forward?

Improving the user experience

This is going to be the shortest section. Whilst, I am wary of calling anything perfect we don’t have any suggestions for improving the usability of the Nature’s head. Perhaps a step would make it more comfortable for very short people. The integrated, solid seat works really well. It is easy to keep clean and perfectly comfortable enough. The instructions are very simple:

  • Always sit
  • Open the hatch for solids
  • Put paper down the hatch
  • Close hatch
  • Spin the handle a couple of times.

Improving the Emptying Process

Here we do have some changes that we are planning.

  • Fit the extractor fan. Not to prevent smells (we haven’t had any problems), but to help dry the solid waste by extracting the damp air above it. That will make emptying the solids easier.
  • Widen doors so the Nature’s head fits through them. The doors to both our heads compartments (and the door plus corridor from the aft cabin) are a very tight fit for the Nature’s Head and it takes a bit of wrestling to get it through. So as part of our refit they are all being made a bit wider (even if not for the full height) to make it much easier to carry the Nature’s Head out. It will also make the doors less cramped for my shoulders as the doors were really narrow. Taking the whole toilet outside to empty the solids avoids any possibility of mess inside the boat.
  • Have a set of solid boxes with vented lids (that can be closed) that the solids can be tipped into (more detail below)
  • See if we can fill some of the “ledges” in the top compartment that loose bits of compost get caught on when you are a bit enthusiastic with spinning the handle. It makes a bit of a mess (of the driest, coconut coir) when you remove the lid to empty the solids.

Dealing with the waste.

The liquid is no problem. Just take to a normal toilet and empty. If no toilet or emptying point available then pour into the sea (outside the 3 mile limit) or onto the ground eg a hedge (well away from water supplies, people, crops).

The most common solution for the solids seems to be to bag it and put it in a bin. That seems rather unpleasant for everyone, it creates more plastic waste and it wastes a really good resource – compost!

We plan to fully compost the solids so that they can either be put onto any appropriate bit of ground or used in gardening. If necessary, once fully composted they can be dumped at sea with no risks to anything/anyone. Ideally that means they need to be kept for about 12 months. This is no problem while we are not live-aboards – we simply take it home and put it into the normal compost bin. Out of caution and wishing to be sensitive to our neighbours, we use a big plastic compost bin with a lid and every so often we put some grass cuttings on top of the compost.

Once we live-aboard we plan to have a set of boxes, each sized for emptying the base a couple of times. These will be custom made to fit inside our lazarette locker. We will label each box with the date that the last solids were added. Once that is more than 12 months ago the box can be emptied (appropriately ashore or into the sea offshore) and restarted. We think this will work out a reasonable size so they are not too heavy to lift or too big to get in and out of the lazarette. Obviously if we find that we are filling the boxes too quickly we can add more boxes (subject to the size of the lazarette)

Each box will have a vent (that can be closed for transport). We will also have an extractor fan for the lazarrette. This will ensure the compost gradually dries (desiccates) which we understand is good for the composting and good for ensuring no smells.

Building the first box will allow us to test the size and will also provide a better way to get the compost from the boat to the compost bin at home. At the moment we either have to take the whole toilet home (very awkward to carry down the ladder) or tip the waste into a plastic bag (which we then put in another plastic bag for security). These bags then get thrown away after tipping the contents into the compost bin, this obviously creating unnecessary plastic waste.

We hope (I’ll try to remember to measure it this weekend) that our fixed lazarette hatch size is bigger than the dimensions of the opening in the toilet base. Then each box can have catches (for it’s lid) that are the same as the toilet top section and so a box can clip onto the toilet base. To empty the base, the toilet top is removed, a box latched on it it’s place and the whole thing turned over so all the waste falls into the box with no mess. If, however, our lazarette hatch is not large enough, I’ll create a “funnel” intermediary to connect the box to the base, adapting from one size to the other.

Whether we can fit a whole 12 months of solid waste into our lazarette locker remains to be seen. It is very hard to predict as the toilet takes less days to fill if in continuous use than if used only at weekends (it composts down significantly in between the weekends). it will depend on how many guests we have and how much time is spent where there are other toilets we use.

The 12 months is a very arbitrary length of time. It is generally expected to be completely safe to use on a garden after 6 month with a recommendation that it isn’t used for food crops for 12 months. Our understanding is that even after quite a short time there is no risk to marine life if you empty the compost at sea (beyond the 3 mile limit).

Supplies

At the moment we buy bulk recycled toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap. Obviously, when cruising we will need to buy whatever is available where we go, however, we will still bulk buy when we find recycled, plastic free products.

We also bulk buy Coir Briquettes at the moment. A years supply takes very little space but there are plenty of alternatives that can be used if these are not available.

We use vinegar in a little spray bottle for cleaning the toilet seat, hatch etc. Cheap and widely available.

Conclusion

Composting toilets are great. So the only improvements are to make them a bit simpler to empty and reduce the impact caused by the waste you create.

The hidden dangers of your boat

No, I’m not being subtle here 🙂

Our experience from the beginning of our project on Vida has included uncovering a number of hidden dangers. In our case that included being close to having paraffin leaking into the engine compartment.

This can of fuel (for the heating system) was fixed and buried deep within the cockpit locker where most of it was invisible in a wood “box”. We put it in a bag and took it to the recycling centre. By the time we got there it had given up and all the fuel had leaked out.

We have many other things that we have uncovered during this refit. Including this important part of the steering system. The gear box on the right of the picture was boxed in by plywood nailed into place. The other side of the bulkhead is hidden behind the autopilot motor in the furthest corner of the cockpit locker.

So nobody knew that 3 of the 4 bolts holding it in place can fallout out and the 4th was about to do so. It wasn’t picked up by the survey and the lack of smoothness in the steering had come in so gradually that it hadn’t been noticed.

Or there was this as we were removing the galley sink drain. How well do you think the seacock tap would have closed off this pipe if there was a problem?

Or there is the issue that our foam back vinyl headlining was absorbing water and disguising where leaks were. Two we only discovered after returning following 6 months of Covid lockdown.

Or that the cupboards in the aft cabin had meant that the previous owner couldn’t work out where the leaks where coming from because they blocked access. They also hid the one place in the boat that we have found where the glass fibre tabbing for a bulkhead is not perfect.

Or that the bilge sump had a fixed floor 1m above the bottom with one tiny hole so that things could drop in and not be retrieved yet could block the bilge pump (let alone no way to tell how much water was in there).

Or the gate valve on the skin fitting for the bilge pump. Totally seized which didn’t matter so much as neither the previous owner nor the surveyor even knew it was there, if they had known they could not have reached it due to all the original systems in the way.

Or the original diesel system with tanks so well fixed and boxed in that it was impossible to inspect them, or trace all the pipes or have anyway to clean the tanks.

For us all this makes us very grateful that we are replacing pretty much all systems and that we are not trying to restore the original timber interior.

Others have it worse though. There are now a couple of YouTube channels with Lagoon 450’s which have serious problems with failing bulkheads that are completely hidden by furniture that was assembled before being fitted to the boat and which cannot be disassembled without pretty much destroying it. Sailing Parlay Revival was the first. Here is where they first discovered the problem:

They now have a playlist of videos where they are fixing the problems (which are enormous).

I’ve seen plenty of mocking Colin as causing the problem by putting far too much tension in his rig. However, some of what he has uncovered shows that there had been attempts to fix issues before it became the hurricane damaged catamaran he bought.

Then I discovered this video.

I’ve read some of the comments (yes, I know usually a mistake). Lots of hate and ignorance and general nastiness.

My concern is a wider one than the extent to which Lagoon have a problem to solve.

In order to have nice looking boats and to ft more and more features (like hot water, fridges etc etc), for decades, manufacturers have been building furniture that hides things. Sometimes, the furniture is designed to be part of the structure, others to hide it or conceal the services.

This has the potential to be a significant danger. Problems are hidden until they have catastrophic outcomes (such as paraffin leaking into an engine room with a hot diesel engine running; or a bilge pump hose failure that means water can flood into a deep bilge that you have no access to from a skin fitting that you can’t reach or close).

I’ve been writing a separate blog post about “Why we are changing everything on our boat?” and for us these are connected. When hidden problems are uncovered and fixed during a full refit you safe time, money and reduce risk significantly over a do the minimum now and then maintain on the way process.

For us this is also about Sustainability, not immediately in the environmental way (although at the end of the day that is impacted to). Sustaining the plan, the cruising dream is made more possible by reducing the potential for hidden problems. So we believe it is worth making (sometimes drastic) changes in order for you to be able to:

  • see every bulkhead along it’s length to check it is fully, properly connected to the hull
  • inspect every chain plate (thanks to our latest design ours will be a simple job per chainplate: slacken shroud, pull the dyneema chainplate loop out, inspect or replace)
  • get to every backing plate for every deck fitting to check for corrosion or leaks
  • get to every part of every length of fuel line (gas or diesel or whatever) to check. Be able to clean and remove blockages/sludge from every tank and fuel line
  • reduce the number of holes in the boat (seacocks/instruments etc) and be able to check them all quickly with good access for checking and servicing.
  • have headlinings that can be removed to check for leaks (as well as run wiring)

The way that this becomes more environmentally sustainable is that all these practices mean that boats can stay in use and not be written off for longer. Every extra year of use reduces the average carbon footprint and takes us closer to points where recycling of old boats is improved.

March breaks through 1,000 views

Very happy to see that March has been the first time that we have had more than 1,000 views in one month. That was over 420 visitors. Plus we now have 130 followers spread out between email, WordPress and social media. Good to see some consistent growth.

So if you are following us then welcome! If you are new here then also welcome

We are on a journey that hopefully will return to more practical progress in a couple of weeks when lockdown restrictions are due to relax. It will be good to get out of my head a bit.

Next week we hope to be setting our son up to get the plastic shredding started. We have a new stainless steel shredder and a second hand electric motor which he is going to connect and sort out. The injection moulding machine and moulds is all on order. We will be taking our shed to re-purpose as a workshop. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we have some recycled plastic products to sell.

DIY Washing Machine for Sailing

There are some things that (nearly) all Sailing Channels on YouTube have in common. One is the significant costs in time, money and hassle of maintaining Diesel Engines. Another is the pain of laundry, that is one I want to look at again.

I’m going to group the approaches to laundry into three categories: Electric Washing Machine; Laundromat; Handwashing.

All these have problems.

Electric Washing machines:

  • Purchase cost
  • High power requirements (almost certainly going to require a generator)
  • High water requirements (almost certainly going t require a watermaker)
  • Large space required
  • Not designed for a marine environment so don’t last very well
  • Potential to fit a filter to catch microplastics

Laundromat:

Well summed up in this video from Ryan and Sophie:

  • Quite expensive
  • Very time-consuming
  • Requires access to large enough town (in much of Europe now only common in marinas)
  • Unlikely to have filters to catch microplastics

Handwashing

  • Available everywhere (but not attractive in a cold/wet climates)
  • Drying laundry is a real challenge anywhere apart from the tropics
  • Unlikely to have anyway to filter out microplastics

Our approach

In the past we have considered a WonderWash, but at the moment getting one in the UK seems almost impossible (most sellers specifically not exporting to the UK, others might but shipping would double the cost).

There are a number of washing machines being marketed at campers, however, they look very flimsy.

So we plan to build our own, very simple and very robust washing machine. We will start with a watertight plastic key such as this from Solent Plastics

If we make a frame so that it can be rotated with a handle then it is just a matter of putting in the washing, some water and some form of reef safe detergent, then rotating it. We would need a keg large enough for the largest thing we need to wash (our duvet cover). We can use it to store our dirty clothes when we are not doing the washing. When clothes have been washed, all we need is a large funnel into a microplastic filter and we can pour the water away without dumping microplastics directly into the sea.

A side benefit is that we can easily use the same system to wash plastics before shredding them as part of our plastic recycling.

Drying. We think we need the combination of 3 things to be able to dry washing whatever the climate.

Spin dryer: However, you end up getting laundry to fully dry it is much faster if you first use a spin dryer. We haven’t seen a really effective human powered spin dryer. So we think a mains electric spin dryer is the best option. There are not very large and they spin out most of the water (which is easy to collect to pour through the microplastic filter).

Obviously in a suitable climate the simplest option is to hang laundry outside dry. That is not possible all year round in the UK and many places. So to allow drying inside we plan the combination of heating and dehumidifying.

We will have a dehumidifier in the motor room. We wrote about this in Sustaining Electrics and are still planning for something like an Ecor Pro Dryboat 12. Running this should help ensure that laundry dries quickly and without causing damp throughout the boat.

When we need heating it will be via a Refleks diesel heater that will not just provide direct heat but also distribute hot water through radiators. This is a dry heat which is important, we don’t want to introduce more damp into the air. We will have a radiator in our forward head with the shower drip tray and plenty of hanging space for our washing so that it can dry reasonably quickly. The water from the shower (like all our grey water) will go through a microplastic filter before leaving the boat. Obviously having a shower won’t be possible while laundry is drying and access to the forecabin will be inconvenient. However, while there are just the two of us we can use the en-suite heads in the aft cabin and so it won’t be a problem.

Summary:

We think the combination of a diy manual washing “machine”, a mains electric spin dryer, a dehumidifier and radiator heating will

  • be cheap to buy, install and maintain.
  • be good for collecting microplastic
  • be a good combination of low hassle and low cost laundry
  • take little space and not use much electricity or water
  • provide a good basis for washing plastic for recycling
  • work in a wide variety of climates and weathers
  • allow us to be off-grid for long periods of time

Our Scandinavian challenges part 2

In Our Scandinavian challenges part 1 I covered the time/permission complications of getting to spend time in the fantastically beautiful (and remote) parts of Scandinavia and the Baltic given the impact of Brexit.

I ended with “In part 2 I’ll look at the other key challenges these cruising grounds have for us (particularly heating and renewable energy).” so here we are.

We are not (definitely not!!!!) planning to spend winters where the sea freezes unlike some of those crazy YouTubers I linked to in the last post 🙂 However, we are going to be spending time where some heating is going to be needed, whether that means wintering in the UK or being further north in the Spring or Autumn (either heading towards to back from a summer in or close to the Arctic). As we are going to be living aboard full-time in or retirement we want to give ourselves as many options as possible.

It should be no surprise that when it gets cold an electric boat that is aiming to have zero fossil fuels gets hit by a double whammy.

If the weather is cold enough to need heating then it is almost certain that you will get very little energy from solar panels (even on those bright sunny winter days the sun isn’t very high in the sky for very long).

If it is cold then you are going to need to heat the boat and all forms of electric heating use a lot of electrical power. Plus of course we tend to prefer hot food and drinks when it is cold and on a n electric boat that too will use lots of power.

So we generate less power but need more power. Ouch.

If we stick with a zero fossil fuels target then there are a number of options to help out but no magic solution:

  • Sail the boat to somewhere warmer 🙂 Given Schengen I suspect Turkey, Croatia, Cyprus and Algeria will be more popular for UK cruisers than they used to be. But the weather in the Mediterranean is no picnic, if anchoring you can end up moving often to find shelter from different wind directions. Winds can be very strong coupled with large waves that might come from a different direction. Another option is to go further south for example to the Cape Verde Islands, but then you could continue across the Atlantic to the best season in the Caribbean 🙂 But we do want the option to be able to winter in the UK so that we can visit family and friends.
  • Insulate the boat better. This is an obvious improvement that miraculously helps in both hot and cold climates 🙂 We have been working on going from zero insulation to a minimum of 10mm closed cell foam. See here for our first attempt to fit the foam – it didn’t stay up. Next plan is here but probably we will put more layers of foam to increase this to at least 20mm and reckon the purchase cost will be worth it in increased comfort and reduced energy use.
  • Heat locally. So rather than heat the whole boat do so in zones (we already have not heated the forecabin at all, in very cold conditions we could close off the aft cabin and stay in the saloon) and also use thicker duvets, heated blankets and hot water bottles (yes we won’t use a hot water bottle with an electric blanket!!) to avoid heating the cabin as much.

However, these are not going to be enough when it gets very cold.

We do have electric heaters (both wall panels and fan heaters). I think we will try some of the low power “greenhouse” style tube heaters under the bunks. That will give us 3 options to compare for warmth, control, comfort and energy use.

Despite all these efforts we are sure that in winter, despite all our solar, we will consume a lot more battery power than we can generate.

That leaves us with two more avenues to pursue. a) what other options are there to recharge the batteries b) what else can we do to make the battery bank capacity last longer.

What other options are there to recharge the batteries

One strategy that solves the problem is to spend time connected to shore-power. We have seen many cruisers on YouTube spend the winter in Marinas (Salty Lasses, Uma, MJ Sailing, Sailing Fair Isle are all examples). This way you get a permanent connection to mains electric. You can keep your batteries charged, have all your electric heaters running and stay warm.

But there are disadvantages. In the UK this quickly becomes costly (a winter marina berth for us will range from maybe about £1,500 for 4 months to £2,500 for up to 6 months that without going to the more expensive parts of the country where £800 a month would be a starting point). More than just the cost is that we want to live aboard our boat so that we can go sailing not sit in a marina for half the year.

So we want to explore options where we extend the time we can manage on batteries and go into marinas/harbours for a night every so often to get the batteries fully charged (and maybe have groceries delivered). It looks like we could expect to pay up to about £40 a night. One option would be to spend a winter along the South coast of Cornwall and Devon. There is beautiful sailing along that coast, lovely harbours, rivers and towns to visit. There are very lots of rivers with good shelter and many where you can anchor (eg Helford, Fal, Percuil, Fowey, Tamar, Yealm, Dart). Then you have a wide choice of marinas and harbours when you need to charge the batteries. If we can keep that under 10 days a month in marinas then not only do we get the sailing and beautiful views we also save money.

One obvious strategy will be to invest in wind generators, given that cold and windy weather often come together. They work out at between £1K and £2.4K per generator (remember we need 48volt ones). Calculating how much difference this can make is difficult, it depends how sheltered a spot you find and the weather conditions. We have a few options for where we might install one or more wind generators. It is important that we don’t end up casting shade onto our solar panels from the wind generators as that would have a dramatic impact on the solar performance. Also, as with the solar panels I would prefer to be able to take them down and inside if we are expecting a storm. If the demountable option works well then potentially we could have a position at the side of the mizzen mast that could be used when sailing. Then we would only put them wind generators up when the gain will be greater than the loss in solar due to shading.

As a starting point I’m thinking one wind generator using a demountable pole fitting towards the bow. With that we would only have the wind generator up while at anchor and it would be as far away from the solar panels and where we sleep as possible so that neither the shade nor the noise will be a problem. That will let us properly evaluate how much difference it makes. If we think it is enough then we could explore other options.

With our ketch rig the only option for that won’t cause shading and can be used both at anchor and when sailing is a permanent mounting on top of the mizzen mast. That doesn’t excite me. The top of a mast is the last place you want to add weight. It will also be moving around a lot in waves which will affect it’s performance. Finally, the foot of the mizzen mast is above the head of our bed. I’m concerned about noise and vibration disturbing our sleep. However, it would be out of the way and (until it breaks) very convenient. If we want that option to be available we need a generator that can be remotely braked (manually or automatically) if the wind strength is too high.

It is very hard to estimate how many nights in a marina having a wind generator would save us. We would have to save about 40 nights to recoup the cost. We could achieve that saving over a couple of winters if we could reduce the need to get shore power to once every 10 days instead of once every 5 days (both are guesses and will be very weather and location dependant). Of course it would also help avid the need for shore power a bit in other seasons, particularly if permanently mounted.

What else can we do to make the battery bank capacity last longer?

The most obvious answer is to install another form of heating that does not use the battery bank. All the YouTubers who have visited the Arctic Circle or Scandinavia in the winter have some form of heating that is not electric. They all say they can’t manage long at anchor otherwise. While our goals are not so extreme (the midnight sun is attractive to us but the sun not rising above the hills at all is not) we would be crazy not to learn from them. So what do they have besides electric heating (that they all only use when connected to shore power). There is a great video from Alluring Arctic on this, our takeaways from what we have seen are:

Wood burning stove

Uma have one of these and we have seen a few others. However, recent reports that we have seen on the high levels of pollution they release into the boat (mainly ash whenever you refuel it) and the air pollution from the chimneys mean we have ruled this out.

Diesel powered hot air

Probably the best known brand is Eberspächer, these install out of sight and burn diesel to heat air. Then then use a fan to blow the heat through the ducts around the boat. They are a more modern replacement for the paraffin heater we removed. The provide lovely warm dry air all around the boat. However, the ducting takes up a lot of space in lockers and they use quite a lot of electricity. Ran Sailing for example can only use it for one night or so before needing shore power to charge their batteries. Sailing Yacht Salty Lass have one and it is clear that these also require regular, quite time consuming maintenance to keep the insides clean and efficient. Obviously they need a diesel tank (and would normally take it from the main diesel engine tank which we don’t have).

So we are ruling this out for the loss of locker space, the significant electric use (which is what we are trying to avoid) and the amount of maintenance needed.

Drip fed diesel heaters

The brand that seems to offer heaters most suitable for us is Refleks. Their 66MW would fit neatly to a bulkhead which would be safe and not get in the way much. However, there are other options. The 66MV is insulated so it only heats the boat by hot water radiators, we could position that in a custom locker out of the way. The 66MK includes a stove top for kettles etc which would really help cut out electric consumption but I’m not sure where we could fit one. It seems some models can provide hot water for domestic use such as showers but I’m finding the information about which models do that a bit hidden.

As they are gravity fed they don’t use any electricity (I don’t think they even need a pump for the radiators?) and they are supposed to be very low maintenance.

We think at the moment a Refleks heater would be a good option. Whilst it does mean some fossil fuels it is far more efficient to directly heat the boat rather than run a generator to charge batteries to then heat the boat. It also gives a backup heat source should we have a catastrophic electric failure.

Conclusion

By combining lots of these options we hope to get to the point where we can cruise in Arctic summers, stretched Scandinavian sailing seasons and British winters while stretching out the time we can go without needing to connect to shore power.

We will work up to the full combination of insulation, localised heating, wind generation and a Refleks heater (hopefully for radiators in all cabins and hot water for showers) with the goal of being energy independent (with care and some help from the weather) for a couple of weeks at a time. Only time will tell. If nothing else works we can sail to the middle the Azores high pressure and bob around for a few weeks to warm up 🙂

Our Scandinavian challenges part 1

For a while now we have been watching YouTube Videos that have made us want to sail the Norwegian Atlantic coast and visit some of the thousands of islands and Fjords, we have also long fancied visiting the Baltic. Particularly:

  • Juho with Alluring Arctic has spent two years spent entirely above the Arctic Circle, his experience and videos are amazing. We are not tempted to believe that we can become expert with skis (or even want to) or that we would want to spend a winter so far North. But there are so many places he has shown that would be wonderful to visit, even without going as far as Svalbard
  • Erik Aanderaa with his No Bullshit Just Sailing slogan. His video Sailing Haugesund to Lofoten- Around the Norwegian Sea pt.1 is a particular favourite.
  • MJ Sailing spent last summer sailing up to Lofoton (see their Northern Europe playlist)
  • Sailing Uma are wintering in Norway at the moment (I don’t know how they have managed the 90 days in 180 Schengen rule). Their videos are exceptional quality.
  • Ran Sailing have spent the year a little further south around Sweden and it too looks beautiful (both the Baltic and Atlantic coasts).

The challenges for us

In many ways we would love to plan for a couple of years of our eventual retirement cruising the Baltic and Atlantic Coast. There is so much beauty to see, so many places to explore. We could imagine needing a couple of summers to explore both coasts, while retreating some considerable distance South for the winters.

However, this is going to be a huge challenge for us. In this first post I’ll tackle one of those:

First, Schengen

We are living through the nightmare that is the tragic national self harm that is Brexit, and especially the appalling choices made by our government to go for such a hard Brexit. It is obvious that they never thought through (or maybe are capable of understanding or only care about their own pockets) the implications for Northern Ireland, for the Fishing Industry, for UK citizens who have retired to the EU, for musicians touring etc etc. If we were 5 years older and had been retired a few years we could have spent unlimited time exploring Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the rest of the Baltic.

Now, we will need to tightly plan 3 month summer cruises. Options to cope with bad weather are going to be a lot more difficult, at the end of your 90 days we have to be somewhere where we can leave direct to somewhere outside Schengen. That needs to be somewhere we can stay for another 90 days without going back into Schengen (or it needs to allow us get to other places outside Schengen until the 90 days are up). While attractive to visit, 90 days in either the Faroes or St Petersburg doesn’t really appeal (safe wintering also being a factor).

90 day cruises means more summers will be needed if we are to get to the countries and beautiful cruising grounds that we have seen are there without rushing.

MJ Sailing got as far as Lofoten from the UK in one summer, mostly using coastal hops. However, they didn’t get to spend much time there or have time for the amazing cruising grounds to the north. What is more to stay within the 90 days they spent hours and hours motoring to make fast enough progress.

Our situation is different. We have a more powerful electric motor than most electric boats, and a large battery bank, however, we need that battery bank for everything, not just for the electric motor. Coastal hopping with lots of motoring is possible for us, but only if we moor-up with mains power to charge the batteries for more than 12 hours between trips (realistically probably safer to assume 2 nights if we have pretty fully drained the battery bank). Anyway, we don’t want to spend our time motoring, we want to sail. We also want to anchor rather than always need to get a shore-power hookup. It isn’t just about a preference for remoteness, we can’t afford to pay harbour fees every night.

This probably means that if we want long enough to explore a Schengen cruising ground in some detail we will need to make long direct passages. Then we only check-in to a country as we arrive at the area we want to cruise in, then our 90 days are all spent where we want to cruise rather than getting there. That has significant implications for the boat, our skills and passage making. The difference between getting to somewhere like Lofoton using coastal hops (much of it protected by islands) or a direct passage from the Faroes is huge.

So for that beautiful area of Norway north of the Arctic Circle we could, perhaps, sail from the UK to the Faroes (not part of Schengen) and then onward towards the Lofoten Islands. We then would have to depart Norway within 3 months, again potentially doing this as a long passage rather than coastal hop south. Part of the significance of this option and what increases the challenge, the difficulty is that is just not what cruising yachts have been doing. Everything works on the assumption of getting somewhere like Lofoten by coastal cruising with occasional overnight passages.

We are very attracted to longer passages and to spending a larger proportion of our time actually sailing than seems the norm. We have a boat that is well suited to it but are very short of experience. An estimate of 90% of time anchored rather than sailing is often quoted by live aboard cruisers (not sure if they all count hours or if they mean nights). So this is a big deal which will require a lot of preparation and be a significant challenge.

Generally, if cruisers are forced to switch from coastal hops to direct passages to cruising grounds then this is going to change things for many people – but maybe few want to visit these places. Or maybe they are happy to spend a lot of time and money motoring to meet the schedule. Or perhaps they will pay others to deliver their boat for them. That is not an option for us a) financially b) where would we live while someone is delivering our home and c) we don’t want to fly due to trying to be Sustainable.

When it comes to the Baltic I’m not sure. A first summer route via Copenhagen (one of my favourite cities in the world), up to the Stockholm archipelago, through the Göta Canal and back to the UK would make a great 3 months summer cruise. But what about if we want to spend the summer in the Eastern Baltic? Could we get as far as Finland before starting to count our 90 days? Is it possible to sail into the Baltic without checking in at either Denmark or Sweden? Still Denmark, Finland, the Baltic States, even Russia and then back to Denmark in 3 months is possible, even if tight.

So we could be looking at needing 4 summers to explore a significant amount of Scandinavia. Something like:

  • Denmark, Stockholm archipelago, Göta Canal: winter in the UK, maybe based near Falmouth
  • Norwegian Coast and Fjords towards Lofoten and back: winter in the UK, maybe based around the Solent for a change
  • Eastern Baltic: winter West Coast of Scotland/Northern Ireland
  • Faroes, Lofoten, Northern Norway: winter head south and onwards to the Caribbean

But there are other options. You could include an Atlantic circuit. So instead of a UK winter head down to the Canaries, then the Caribbean for December, then the East Coast of the US before crossing back but keeping North of the UK to get to Norway but it would be a rush to arrive for any summer in Norway.

Obviously, these Schengen rules are not new for people from countries outside Europe. However, I suspect these cruising grounds have not been so frequently visited by non-Europeans. I’m very interested in different experiences and views as well as ideas for reading and research

In part 2 I’ll look at the other key challenges these cruising grounds have for us (particularly heating and renewable energy).

Recycling Plastic Progress

Following our post Transforming waste with DIY Plastic recycling we have made some progress.

Our son is going to build-up the machines we need and get the processes for shredding and injection moulding sorted for us. That will include getting some products built for sale with Sustainable Sailing branding. The idea is to get everything sorted for us to take onto the boat when we retire as a fully functioning system.

So we have now bought a stainless steel shredder with a stainless steel hopper from Reading Shredding (a Precious Plastic version 3.1 design). We are buying a second-hand electric motor with gearbox on eBay (just waiting for the final invoice reflecting us collecting as it is pretty local). The jury is out as to whether on the boat we will end up with a dedicated electric motor for the shredder or power it by a belt drive to our main boat motor.

We think we have found the right injection moulding machine as a kit, also made in the UK by Recycle Rebuild. We will probably replace some of the bolts with more quick release options and will look for a way to attach it to the boat rather than use it’s stand. They also make lots of modular moulds which will give us lots of things to make for use and for sale (being able to make tiles for our galley and heads from our own waste plastic is super cool).

Our lovely friend Jules is helping us with a version of our logo that can be used with these modular moulds 🙂

We are also working on how to get a mould created for our rigging tangs. Likely that we will start by making a cylinder (maybe 60mm or 70mm diameter and 20mm long) and then working with hand tools to create our prototypes. Basically it needs a slightly angled and beautifully rounded groove in the top so that the dyneema eye splice doesn’t slide sideways or chafe. I’m wondering about making a separate “hat” that will stop the dyneema jumping out of the groove when you are installing the rigging or lifting the mast on or off the boat. If it is a full “hat” it will also protect the main tang and dyneema from UV damage as well.

It would be possible, to make inner and outer chafe protectors for the chainplates. We could rout out a section of the G10 plates between and around the holes for the dyneema lashings. Then a piece of hdpe could fill that with “tubes” to extend into the holes to make them very chafe resistant for the dyneema. As all the sizing and angles would be very custom it is probably something we would hand carve after making an hdpe “brick”. A good thing about working with recycled plastic is that you can collect all your shavings and off-cuts and put them back into the process. So no extra waste 🙂

We have got a few other boat specific products in mind such as cleat boots (slot over each end of a mooring cleat when it isn’t in use so that you don’t stub your toes on it). Also clip on parts for fairleads to reduce the chafe on mooring lines.

If you can think of other products that we could make out of recycled plastic and sell to other cruisers please let us know.