Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Liveaboard Galley

Haute cuisine on a retirement budget. 

You may or may not know that one of my professions is Personal Chef.  That is, I go to people’s homes and cook for them - either multiple meals at one cooking session, or one-time small event (party) catering “dinner for two to two hundred.”

Moving aboard put, shall we say, a certain crimp in my culinary style.  I have a two burner propane stove, very little storage space, even less work counter, and a 1 cubic foot (!) 12V solar powered cooler that began life as a literal icebox.  No oven, no microwave.  My Spice Rack is now limited to an 8” x 10” space.  I have two small drawers for utensils.  Counter space is non existent unless I use the dinette table.  Running water has not been hooked up in this boat for a number of years, so I have gallon jugs.  Down the road I may remedy that.

All that means that One Pot type meals are this shantyboater’s friend, whether prepared in a skillet or a stove top Dutch Oven.  I’m not just talking soups and stews here; there are lots of fabulous One Pot meals that are not primarily liquid.  That also means that I have to get creative in my galley kitchen, especially since I’m trying to eat healthier to counter my Type II diabetes and high cholesterol.   So I don’t do the single cruiser’s (or landlubber’s) usual fare of canned or packaged dinners like mac & cheese, canned soups and chili, or spagetti Os.  Also no frozen TV dinners.  All that stuff is too high in salt, fat and carbs for my new lifestyle.

One good thing is that I don’t mind eating the same tasty thing day after day.  EMPHASIS ON TASTY!  I once had pizza for lunch  every day for months in a row; and SOS (yummy) for breakfast nearly every day of the four years I was in the Air Force. While on Kwaj,  I ate a two egg omelet with ham & cheese every day for two years.  This make shopping for food a LOT easier!

Because of space requirements, and a desire for more fresh, less canned foods, I bicycle a mile or so to the grocery store usually every other day.   This is also part of my diet & exercise program as well as my retirement austerity measures (no car).

Here's a photo of a Boater's Sandwich that I created a few years ago for a Boating TV recipe contest.  I won first prize, but through a whole series of SNAFUs, never got my prize.

Shrimp & Chourco Po Boy


Breakfast
I like steel cut oatmeal.  Normally it takes 30 minutes of simmering - but on the boat that’s ‘way too long and too expensive in fuel.  But I found  McCann’s Irish  Oatmeal, a steel cut style oat that cooks in only 5 minutes and tastes just as good as the slow cook oats.    With a dollop of marmalade for sweetener  I get a tasty 600 calorie breakfast. 

When I can borrow a microwave an a blender for 10 minutes, I make my own marmalade.  Yep - 10 minutes. Chop  some citrus fruit - say a grapefruit, or a couple lemons and/or a couple limes.  Include the seeds, skin, pith, everything (the  pectin is in the skin and pith).  Take the fruit for a spin until it’s just short of a true puree.  Measure as you  transfer the fruit to a microwave safe glass bowl, and add the same amount of sugar, cup for cup.  Stir.  Nuke on High for 4 minutes.  Stir and taste again.  Too sweet add more fruit; too tart, add more sugar.  Nuke again for 4 more minutes.  Transfer to snap top containers and store in your fridge.  Will keep in a regular fridge for several months. 

Now Florida, in a marina, in the summer time, is just too darn hot for preparing oatmeal, even at sunrise.  So during the hot part of the year I make a 600 calorie breakfast out of a dozen or so pretzel-crackers, a couple tablespoons of peanut butter, and an apple or orange.  Breakfast is your most important meal, and it’s really helped me to go back to eating a regular breakfast.


Lunch
For lunches I normally make one of a dozen variations of tuna salad using an entire can.  I stuff this into pita halves usually, but sometimes change up with tortilla wraps.  Occasionally I change things up with an olive roll and cold cuts from the grocery deli.  Along with my sandwich I also have a piece of fruit and a 60-100 calorie individual pudding (the ones I get require no refrigeration.  Sometimes I’ll have a small bag of some sort of chips instead of the pudding.  Again, I’m eating pretty close to a 600 calorie meal with around 20 grams of carbs.


Dinner
When I’m cooking for myself, meals aren’t an Event so much as they are fuel stops.  When I cook for Sally or a group,  I’m making a production out of mealtime.  Cooking and eating with someone is much more pleasureable.

By myself, I make a variety of one pot meals.  I like ham, and the local grocery sells blister packaged ham steaks about 3/8” thick and 4-6” in diameter.  Combined in a skillet with a fresh vegetable like fried brussel sprouts, sliced zucchini, sautéed celery, or carrot ribbons, and I have a really tasty meal.  These ham steaks are fully cooked, so on really hot days I can eat them without cooking, making a Ham Chef’s Salad, for example.

I also eat Spam.  All jokes aside, it’s not all that bad, particularly if you buy the Lite and/or Low-Sodium versions.  They also make a great Turkey product, and Smoked products.  If all you see is the original, nag your local grocer.  I lived out in the Pacific, where you find “potted meat” in vending machines.  Spam, as a brand name is pretty darn good.  But beware some of the Aussie and Asian canned meats - they run as high as 50% fat!!!!  That’s not Good Eats!  Again the advantage to a liveaboard is that these products are fully cooked and can be eaten as-is. Without firing up a stove on a 90+F day.

In the canned veg department, I buy corn, white or gold hominy, beets, garbanzos, beans of several kinds, and occasionally mixed veg.  I’ll doctor up things with individual  cups of salsa (red or verde), Sazon spice packets,  or a small can of fruit cocktail. My spice selection also gets a workout.

Fresh vegetables and fruit are available not only at the local grocery but at a weekly Farmer’s Market which is even closer.  Again,because of storage issues,  I only buy enough for a couple days at a time.

I also buy packages of chicken, pork, and beef, just like landlubbers.  However, I get the smallest packages I can - ¾ lb or less - and split that protein over two or three night’s dinners.   If I can’t find a small package, I’ll ask the meat department to break a larger package down for me.   Often for dinner I’ll have just a protein and a salad.  I figure I get enough carbs in my day from breakfast and lunch. 

On the boat I only buy and cook fish the same day.  It’s too easy for fish to go bad without really good refrigeration, and I sure don’t want food poisoning.

Like other facets of living aboard, food and meals require some thought and some “downsizing” unless you’re aboard a 40 foot trawler with a conventional sized refrigerator and storage space. But for this liveaboard those are welcome challenges, not restrictions.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Costs of Living The Life Aquatic

So how much does it cost to live the Life Aquatic as a retiree? 

You can get some real deals these days on liveaboard capable boats from free to $500-$2000.  I paid $1000 for my Columbia 26 Model K, with solar panels, dinghy, 9.9HP outboard, two sets of sails and more.  I know someone who just got a 30 Ft Hunter sailboat with full bath head, for the same price.  I was offered the Hunter for free, just as I was moving aboard  the Columbia.  Ah, fickle fate!  Check around your local area marinas and boatyards to see what sorts of deals you can find.

To live in the marina I pay $9 per foot per month on an annual contract.  They require "first and last month" down but that's pro-ratable over a few months so you don’t have to drop a huge chunk of cash at move-in.  No apartment complex does that!  Some marinas cost more (as much as $25/ft), some less (as little as $5).  Some have different/better amenities (swimming pools/saunas), some much less (open-air showers/pay toilets/no internet or tv). 

My boat is 26 ft, so that’s $234 per month.  Plus a $70 “liveaboard fee” (helps to pay the cost of the guy who cleans the shower house, toilet paper, and water,  I suppose).  That’s $307 plus a couple bucks tax. 

For that I get:
  • Private tie up at the dock
  • Nominal security (see my previous post about Repelling Boaders)
  • 24/7 access to key-coded Showers and Toilets specifically for residents
  • 18 hour a day access to pay-as-you-go washers and dryers designated for cruisers/liveboards
  • Mail drop and pickup to a street address
  • 10 hour a day access to the air conditioned Cruiser’s Lounge with big screen TV, computer and lounge chairs; plus the Ship’s Store which sells overpriced drinks,  icecream, snacks, boat bits & pieces, etc.
  • Periodic Dock Parties where the Marina pays for (and prepares) burgers and dogs, drinks (including wine) and fixins, and we bring a dish to share
  • Camaraderie with a bunch of like-minded boaty folks from 21 to 90 years old.
  • Secure Wi-fi Access to the Internet

That’s about the same as landlubbers get for $650 - $900 a month apartment rent two blocks away in restored Olde Florida (sort of) downtown Fort Myers.

There are lots of things going on downtown as free entertainment - monthly Music Walk and Art Walk which are street parties with live music and other entertainment, vintage car and motorcycle shows, arts & crafts fair, etc..

I could move a few hundred yards out into the river and live “on the hook” for $50 a month and still get all of the above benefits except the dock itself.  However, I’d have to dinghy back and forth at least twice a day, and that would cost gas money for my outboard, as well as time.  Plus commuting by dinghy can be dicey when it’s storm season.  I know folks who’ve been stuck aboard, or on shore, for a couple days at a time when the winds blow 25+ mph.

 Sunset from my back deck...

If I were using Dock Power, I would pay metered electricity, which might be $30 per month.  But, since I use solar panels, my electricity doesn’t cost me anything. I now have a solar-powered cooler for food, so my $5 a week block ice bill is now $0.  I don’t have air conditioning, and I don’t really miss it; but I do have a 12V fan to make a “solar breeze” for those real sweltering summer nights.

I don’t have a car, so there’s no insurance, no gasoline, no car payment.   Living on Kwajalein for two years taught me to be a bike commuter.   I had gotten a free bike from the local Baptist Bicycle Mission, but it was stolen around Christmas (I guess some homeless Snowbird decided he needed transportation to the shelter more than I needed my bike to get around town).  My “new” bike is a second hand 16-speed fat-tire cruiser that I picked up for $50.  It takes me nearly everywhere I need to go -- grocery store, hardware store, downtown, and to the library.  My Lady Sally brings me from the boat to her house and back over weekends; plus occasionally I get to borrow her car if I need one.

Sally has me on an 1800 calorie (60 grs of carbs) per day diet, to help combat my Type II Diabetes and high cholesterol.  So  food runs me about $30 a week. 

My meds for High Blood Pressure, Diabetes and High Cholesterol run me about $25 a month in co-pays to the VA.  That number may come down as Publix has a bunch of drugs for free or very low cost, and that may be cheaper than the VA.

A pay-as-you-go cell phone sets me back about $20 a month, and my multi-address Earthlink ISP is $25.  I have some credit card debt that I’m paying off at $150 a month.

No other utilities.  My other expenses are entertainment and hobbies.  Among other things, Sally and I belong to a “dinner & a movie” club where once a month we get together with a bunch of folks for a meal and a picture.  The evening is $30 for the two of us.  That’s the same price as the matinee movie we went to the other day with popcorn and a soda, but the movie group is better company!

Rent    $315
Food    $125
Phone    $25
Meds     $25
ISP        $25
CCard $150
Total   $650


Compare that to a landlubbers expenses.  Start with that same $650.  Add  $100 a month for auto insurance, and another $400 a month for a car payment.  Close to $300 for gas for an average driver.  Utilities add at least another $150 per month.  That's at least $1600 a month by the time you eat out a couple times.  Buying a house?  Add a couple hundred or more PITI.

The life aquatic is looking a bit more appealing, isn't it?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Repelling Boarders and Other Adventures

The Life Aquatic (to steal a movie name) is usually - but not always tropically peaceful.  We don’t always live in Margaritaville with Jimmy Buffet.  Sometimes it’s more like a chapter from a Randy Wayne White novel!

Back on 1 December 2010, I was sleeping peacefully at the dock, with both the fore and aft doors of the houseboat open to facilitate a breeze, it still being some 70 degrees or so at night.  At 4 AM I awoke to a strange ‘thump’.  When you sleep onboard you sleep well, but lightly.  Shifting winds, tides, passing boat wakes and other things can rock your world .

I sat straight up, slipped on my glasses and looked out the bow door.  Nope, I hadn’t banged into the dock there.  Swung my legs over the side and glanced aft.  There, hanging in the doorway, was a human figure! 

I went ballistic, yelling at the top of my voice, grabbing at the Chinese sword hanging on the wall (hey!  I used to collect swords, ok?) as I lunged down the length of the cabin!  The sword fell with a clatter, and not taking my eyes off the invader, I reached for the dagger that was hanging next to it, drew and lunged at the figure who was scrambling madly to get back on the finger pier alongside the boat.

Still yelling, I charged back through the hull and emerged at the bow, just missing the perp as he stumbled back onto the pier with me right in his face.  He wouldn’t turn and run, but stayed facing me as I wove a figure eight of glittering steel towards him.  “Jesus God that’s a  big knife… Jesus God that‘s a big knife…” he kept saying huskily as I back him down the dock, still yelling at the top of my lungs.

After a minute or three  I’d backed him down the pier far enough that he could dart into the parking lot and make his escape just as Tim from another boat stepped out in answer to my yelling.

I’d yelled so loud that not only Tim was awakened, but Neal our resident Canadian errant over a hundred yards away woke up and called 911.  So did the janitor who was cleaning the restrooms at the same distance.  I also woke up someone in the HUD housing across the basin and the street!  Naturally the City’s Finest showed up a minute too late.  I heard the dispatcher tell them “1300 Lee Street” on the janitor’s cell phone, and watched the squad car come down Lee and turn a block west  on Edwards to go to 1300 Jackson street instead!!    It took them a couple more minutes to turn around and see me standing in the street in my BVDs, still waving a 12-inch Scottish dirk!  Not their finest hour, for sure!!

Oh well, all’s well that ends well, and no one at the marina has been boarded since.  I suspect that the word’s gone out…  Had the boarder come in the bow door I'd have woken up right in his face.  Things could have turned out radically different. Thankfully he jumped on to the back deck and woke me that way.  These days the Big Knife is next to my pillow, even on the new boat.

On a Lighter Note…
Sometimes as liveaboards we get to see things around the marina and on the water that most people in Fort Myers don’t.  Beautiful and/or fascinating things…

Sunrises and sunsets to be sure.  And early morning fogs that mute the sounds of the city waking up...  The city Fire Boats practicing their spray nozzle work.  Commercial crabbers hauling their pots.  Boats on the hook going adrift and running aground (although we try to help prevent that when we can).  Rescuing an old lady who slipped trying to go aboard a large cruiser from the pier, falling between the hull and the pier, and hanging desperately by a line until we could dash down the dock.

Foggy Morning

Things like a pod of dolphins fishing against the seawall of our A Dock.  A dock is the only one that is a solid concrete wall down to the bottom, the rest are concrete pads on pilings.  A pod of dolphin arrayed in an arc will herd a school of fish towards the wall.  When the fish start swimming in a ’trapped’  circle, dolphins from the ends of the arc will break off and swim at top speed parallel to wall and through the school of fish, grabbing one or more tasty bites as they go.  Members of the pod take turns herding and fishing until all are fed.  The school of fish are then allowed to “escape”. 

I’ve also seen parent dolphins teaching their young how to do this by forcing schooling fish up against a canal bank.  And I've had them swim under and around my houseboat feeding on the large catfish that tended to congregate there.  As I type this, a pod of half a dozen adult dolphin are making their way upriver, following the edge of the channel…

 These dolphins were surfing the wake of a 60 ft cruiser I was aboard.

Even though we’re miles and miles up river from the Gulf , the water here is still saline enough to support a variety of marine fish like needlefish, puffers, snapper and rays.  Also dolphin, manatees and bull sharks all the way up to the power plant.  Manatee congregate there in the warmer waters of the power plant discharge.  I see dolphin a couple times a week, and manatee at least monthly.

A month or so back, just as I was moving board Dulcemore,  a 7-8 foot tarpon was spotted next to my boat and hung out in that side of the marina for a couple of days.

Storms here on the Gulf Coast can appear seemingly out of nowhere, and disappear just as quickly.  This spring I was sitting in the Cruiser’s Lounge at the marina, looking across the river to the north.  A wall of rolling black storm clouds appeared and charged across the river.  The temperature dropped about 20 degrees and the winds went from zero to forty mph in less than a minute and stayed at that speed for about 30 minutes.  It was raining so hard you could hardly see the river twenty feet away!  After about a half hour, the winds dropped as suddenly as they’d risen, and within ten minutes the skies were clear blue as far as the eye could see.

Want to buy an island?  A few hundred yards offshore from the marina is a couple acres of island with all the mod cons - city water, electricity, and sewer.  Price?  About $1 million.  Apparently the owner a few years ago had delusions of restaurant grandeur and wanted to build a five-star eatery out there, serviced by taxi boats from the marina and passing boaters.  Permits were obtained, pipelines laid, and really nice docks were built.  Then something happened, and the building was never built.  No restaurant.  Now the place is for sale.

No, the towboat isn't pushing an island on a barge! 
In the background is Cape Coral

There are times when we wish we had RPGs or small torpedoes to use on passing boats which blatantly ignore the Manatee - NO Wake speed zone between the Us 41 Bridges.  Some idiots  go through here throwing a 3 foot wake!  And, there’s never a River Cop around when you want one, even when his boat is tend to the pier….

There are both bald eagle and osprey nests on the island, and it’s fun to watch them fish, and steal fish from each other. 

In the evenings, I’ll often sit on a park bench under a tree just a few yards from my boat, playing dulcimer and serenading the walkers and joggers who go up and down Edwards drive and across the Fowler street bridge and back.  People watching is a great sport.  You never know what you’ll see or hear.  I’ve met some really nice folks that way, like my Ukrainian/American friends Yuri and Ludi, who live about a mile downriver at a condo I can see from the back deck.  I also will sit on the bench and just read a book, rather than sitting inside the boat where there’s little breeze.  With no air-conditioning on the boat, I’ll take what cool I can find, where I can find it.

Well, that’s enough blether for one day…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Drifting Along

Yeah, yeah, I know.  It's been a LONG time since I updated this.  Best intentions and all that.  OK here we go.

I got the Seacamper trucked down to Fort Myers and put in at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin.  Great place!  I spent the first 3 days gutting the boat - getting rid of all the moldy, rotted wood and a bunch of dreck that was leftover from previous owners.  I got all my belongings inside.  Life is good - right?

Well, sorta.  I discovered in the first rainstorm, that virtually every window and door leaked  badly.  Enter the cans of spray foam sealer.  That solved most, but not all of the problems.  There was this on-going influx of agua on a daily basis - a couple gallons or so.  Over time I never did discover where the water was coming in from.  Not even when I hauled it out and examined the bottom for cracks/holes.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The boat came with a huge 200HP Suzuki outboard on the back.  It didn't work.  One of the guys here tried to get it working and when it finally turned over (once), out of the exhaust shot a huge Palmetto Bug (cockroach)!!!  I ended up selling the motor for scrap metal, just to get it off the stern.  I got $50 for it though!

Living aboard is really a fabulous experience.  It's even better if you have a dry boat to live in, but enough of that winge. 

The lifestyle is very relaxed and laid-back.  Just sitting on the deck and watching a sunrise or sunset is so soothing and calming.  Boat people, generally speaking, are great salt-of-the-earth folks.  They come from all walks of life.  One neighbor might be a millionaire doctor; another neighbor just 1/4" of fiberglass hull away from homeless.  There's a great giving and sharing of knowledge and materials.  Need help with something?  Ask around.  Need a left-handed monkey wrench or a thru-hull valve?  Ask and you will probably receive.  Over the last year I've received many kindnesses from dock neighbors - a gas can to go with the second hand 5HP outboard I got so the boat could actually motor around.  A deep charge battery to go with the solar panel I purchased for interior lighting.  Little bits and pieces here and there.

Life afloat is different but nice.  You begin to think of the boat as your bedroom and kitchen, and that nice bench under the tree just ashore there as your living room and lanai.  You live outside much more than most folks, and if, like me, you don't have AC on your boat, you find lot of places to cool off under tree or in a coffeeshop.  You put on sunscreen every morning after your shower, and bug spray if/as/and  when needed.  Nights can be hot sometimes, but I'm getting a 12V solar powered fan to take care of that.  In the winter it can be cool to cold here (temps down to below freezing occasionally.  But a candle lamp heats the interior of a boat nicely, and a good sleeping bag keeps things toasty warm for sleeping.  Unless it's actively raining, living aboard is no more humid, really than living ashore along the Florida coasts.

Living at this marina is great.  It's the best combination of liveaboard-friendly and inexpensive dockage that I could find along the entire Gulf Coast.  Plus, I'm a 2 minute walk from the heart of downtown/old town Fort Myers where there are lot of events and activities on weekends and evenings.  I've made lots of friends and acquaintances in the past year.  Number one is my Lady Sally, who I met at one of the Intellectualization Mondays, a weekly lead-in to the Fort Myers Film Festival.   She's introduced me around to a wider scope of folks and activities, and become the love of my life.  I've also become fairly well known to the business folk of downtown.  On Monday evenings there's an Open Mic session at the United Cafe where I often play dulcimer.  Many of the younger participants are uncomfortable jumping up first in the evening.  But I'm old enough not to care, and the cafe management love me for kicking things off.

Meeting Sally made me sit up a bit and "consider my prospects" as they say.  The boat, IMHO, wasn't suitable for inviting someone over to visit.  I never got around to re-doing the inside the way I wanted.  Why?  I had foolishly bought the boat un-titled, which at the time didn't seem like a big deal.  Turns out that here in Florida it's really, really, difficult to get a boat re-titled in your name unless you're willing to spend over $300.  I wasn't willing to spend any money on "capital improvements" to the boat since it wasn't legally mine and could be impounded if I got busted.  Since I'd only paid $950 for the boat, and it was not very nice inside (a euphonism, to be sure), I didn't figure it was work spending $300 to have the court appoint me owner of the vessel.  So I spread the word around the marina that if anyone knew of someone trying to get rid of a liveaboard capable boat in better condition than mine, that I was seriously interested if the price was right. 

A month or so later, just before Memorial Day, the Dockmaster called me aside and told me to contact a guy who'd lived here last summer but was now up in New York state and trying to get shut of a boat.  He had bought a bigger boat that was also in dockage and working in NY and paying rent, and had been trying to sell this boat for 4 months, with no takers.  Initially offered at $4000, I got a beautiful island-hopping-capable 26 ft Columbia sailboat for just $1000.  Things are tough everywhere, and if you're looking for a boat bargain, now's the time!  I've seen $500,000 yachts being offered for less than $100,000 because the owners can't afford to pay for fuel or dockage!!!

So here's the new boat, to be named Dulcemore in honor of my favorite musical instrument.  The dinghy will be called Dulceless, just for the pun of it!   She's 26 ft long and about 8 ft in beam, and is the shoal draft version of the C-26 model K, drawing only 3.3 ft of water.  There's standing headroom in the aft galley which contains a built-in alcohol stove and cooler.  The stove I'm not using - gonna stick with a much safer and hotter propane stove.

The cooler some previous owner converted from an icebox to a 12V cooler by installing the cooling unit from one of those auto-coolers that you plug into the cigarette lighter (best use for that auto feature I've ever seen).  There's a built-in dinette that seats four and converts to sleep two, plus a couch, both with storage underneath.  A porta potty which replaces the defunct original toilet.  Opposite that is a hanging locker with lots of storage space.  In the bow is the V-berth that sleeps two; again with some storage under.  The boat also came with two complete sets of main and jib sails, plus the original factory logo mainsail.  Not to mention 3 very good solar panels in addition to the one I got for the first boat.  This is the Sunshine State - no sense is paying monthly charges for electricity from FPL!  And, there's a 9.9HP Evinrude outboard motor to get the boat out of the marina to where I can sail her.  Even though this boat was built in the mid 70s, it's in really good condition - just a few weather cracks in the surface coat on the cabin top, and some woodwork that needs varnishing,  that I'll be repairing when the weather cools off this fall. 

The best deal?  I sold the Seacamper hull for $300 to a guy from out of state!  So by the time I sell the 5HP outboard I bought for the Seacamper, the new boat basically will have cost me less than $500!  Now that's keeping housing costs to  minimum!!!  My monthly dockage fee for the hole in the water (plus access to the well appointed showers and toilets reserved for liveaboards and other benefits) is $9 per foot = $234 + $70 liveaboard fee = $304 per month.  Since I use only solasr energy for my electricity there's no extra charge.

After a year afloat, I'm still convinced that livingaboard is a wonderful lifestyle for those with minimal Social Insecurity incomes.  Much better (and less expensive) than the mini-motorhome alternative that several folks I know took up.  Across the road from here is a HUD apartment building with a 2 year waiting list.  The boat I'm in is nicer inside than those apartments, and only marginally more expensive.  Plus, I own the boat outright and can move it somewhere else cheaply if necessary or desireable and literally live for free "on the hook" anchored up a river or along a coast anywhere in the eastern US.  If I weren't living aboard, I'd be writing a blog about living in a country where my few Social Insecurity dollars spend a lot farther - Chile, Peru, or Ecuador.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Plan C from Outer Space

Well, I got disgusted with the guy I bought the boat from, acquaintances, so-called friends, and friends-of-friends who said they'd help get the boat down to Fort Myers on any given date... and then bailed, for various reasons, at the last minute.

Enter Plan C - hire a boat hauling company and let "the pros from Dover" do the job.  So I surfed Craigslist and found five or six haulers, and asked for quotes.  A couple never responded.  One wanted over $600.  Two wanted $450 or so.  One said $250. 

Guess who I'm going with.  Not just because of the lower price.  Company A ($450) is in St. Pete and I'd be paying extra mileage, two-way bridge tolls, etc.  Company B ($450) is in Fort Myers beach, but something just didn't sound right.  Moving things was only part of what he does; boat maintenance is the majority of his work.  The $250 Company not only was cheaper by nearly half, but also based right there in Bradenton just a mile or three from where the boat is stored.   He sounded at least as good as the others; and also offered to let me borrow his 3HP kicker outboard to maneuver Retirement Home into her slip at the Yacht Basin.

SeaCamper High Hopes finally makes it to the water!

I'd have paid "friends" at least $200 in gas, beer, sandwiches, greenbacks, etc.  That makes this guy a real deal.  And he's insured, bonded, etc...

So next week this time I'll be diligently removing all the interior junk wood and priming the interior prior to moving fully aboard.

That's it for now...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Closer and Closer

Well, Moving Day is getting closer.  I just returned my a short trip to Ohio for my niece Ellie's wedding.  While there I had the opportunity to share my upcoming adventure with my brother and sister and all.  Most everyone seems to think it's a great idea.

My brother-in-law Tim is a real "gear-head" as they say up there.  And when I told him I wanted to get rid of the 200 HP go-fast attached to the stern, his first two thoughts were   "small diesel" and "large electric trolling motors".

I recently joined a couple of sites you may find interesting:

LowCostVoyaging    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LowCostVoyaging/

and

http://www.livingaboard.com/forum/index.php

The first concentrates on low cost solutions to the variety of liveaboard and cruising dilemmas.

The second group is the on-line arm of the print magazine Living Aboard.

If you're not aware of, and reading these groups, and you're following my blog; you probably should check them out too.

Back to motor alternatives.  The old rule of thumb apparently was 2 HP per ton of displacement.  In addition to B-I-L Tim's suggestions, some suggested a 5HP British Seagull engine.  Others  a 10 HP conventional outboard.  Yet another the roostertail or 'mud" longshafts like those used on a Thai canaller.

So now I'm weighing pros and cons.  Seagulls are fabled in the world of small boat cruising for their simplicity and uber-reliability.  But they are no longer manufactured, almost vintage in nature, and hard to find; although a new friend is searching for one he recently left behind in a boat trade.  Parts are available but not inexpensive.

Small diesels are outside my price range at this time.

Electric trolling motors are pretty inexpensive when bought used, and what gasoline money you spend goes into a generator/alternator to charge the 12V deep charge batteries that can also be used for other things.  Electrics come rated in Pounds of Thrust, from under 20 to over 100.  A boat of this size needs something like 50-55 pounds of thrust to move reasonably well.  40-50 pound motors are on the order of $100, used.  I can use 2 or more electrics in a group, to get 1-1/2 to 2 times the requisite power.  If all else fails, I can rigidly mount electric motors along the hull, and hang a rudder aft for directional control.

I've also decided to do a nearly complete gut of the interior woodwork.  The 40 year old paneling has to go, of course.  But I got to thinking about the other cabinetry.  The original interior was laid-out well if you were going to use the boat as a weekender or annual vacation cruiser.  But for extended living aboard it's just not all that it can be.

I'm planning on using 1/2" thick expanded polystyrene insulation "blue board" or "Dow board for the new paneling.  It comes in 4x8 sheets for about $11 per sheet.  It will gain me an R or two of insulation, can be installed with carpenters glue, and is a pleasing blue color for the interior.  I can always glue paneling over that if I want. 

The first thing to go, even for the previous owner, was the dinette-table-folds-down-into-a-bed located between the aft wall of the cabin and the plywood wall of the toilet enclosure.

Underneath that table is where the toilet storage tank is located.  My plan is to build a permanent bunk there, with some storage alongside the black tank, and bookshelves hung along the wall and at the head and foot.   We spend a third of our lives asleep, and I want my sleep to be as comfortable as I can make it.  Taking a dinette set apart to make my bed is just not what I want as part of my nightly ritual. 

On the opposite wall are a series of shallow cabinets that I will remove.  There just isn't much storage space in them, and for my purposes, using modern plastic footlockers is a better solution for storage than permanently emplaced cabinets.

Along that same wall is the Kitchen, which I will seriously renovate.  A gourmet chef does want a great place to cook, after all.

Forward of the Kitchen is 6 or more feet of wasted space currently dedicated to the drivers seat, steering wheel, and controls.  All that stuff goes.  I want my driving controls outside; similar to the way they are on an English narrowboat.  If not like that, perhaps arranged on the bow deck.  Driving is going to be only a small (but necessary) part of living aboard.  The propulsion unit(s) and controls just should not take up so much living space.  So out they go.  I plan to put a rocker-recliner in that space, to make a comfortable Lounge space. 

Forward of the toilet is a built-in padded bench with storage space underneath, which is opposite the current Drivers space.  The bench  converts into a bed.  I plan on leaving the bench in place, and recovering/replacing the cushions as needed.   Folding wooden TV tray(s) will make that my temporary dining area.  Again, for me it's a matter of time vs function  - you only spend about an hour a day eating (if that).  Why take up so much space with eating impedimenta?

Enough for now... Turn in next time for the continuing stooo-ory...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In The Beginning...

...the Federales sent me a paper telling me how little I was going to make on Social Insecurity Retirement - just under $1000 a month. Face it. You can't live on that amount in America today if you are paying for a roof over your head, and a vehicle to drive, as I was; and want any kind of quality of life.

Some of my retiring friends had done the tenth-hand mini motorhome thing, and were living in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico - especially after Wallyworld refused to let motorhomes park in their parking lots anymore. The continually rising cost of fuel means they have to move less, and still find some place where they either don't pay to park, or pay very little.

Decades ago I read Shantyboat and it's sequel by Harlan Hubbard. The story of a man and his new wife who built and lived aboard a "floating cabin" for a decade or more post-WWII, on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and the bayous of the south. Those books really inspired me. I love the water -- being in, on, under and around it. I also respect the hell out of it. A river, lake or ocean will kill you if you don't pay attention, and keep your wits about you.

Looking around, I realized I  could still "go shantyboating" inexpensively like the Hubbard's  -  but with modern high tech. I once met some shantyboaters living on the Kentucky River at Frankfort, but they are living very 19th or 20th century - no electricity even.

Build my own boat, or buy an existing hull.  Rivers flow, and you can follow that flow "downhill"  for virtually no fuel cost - a huge annual savings over a motorhome.  Think about traveling 1300 miles from Pittsburgh, PA  to Cairo, IL, and then down the Mississippi another 1000 miles or more to New Orleans, for less than $100.    The only time you pay per mile is going upriver or traveling lakes and other non-flowing waterways.

Set the boat up with a USCG-approved composting toilet (no more pump-outs to pay for) and solar-powered LED interior lighting (no more running the engine/using fuel to charge the batteries so you can have lights). Maybe even wind or current powered generators. Water purification tech to make clean water from the river, and clean up my gray wastewater before returning it to nature. Remote connection to my worldwide friends on the Internet (anywhere I can get cellphone coverage I can get on the Internet - $40 per month).

With that technology, and more, I can be almost totally off the grid. Anchor along a riverbank somewhere. Grow some hydroponic veggies in a floating trailer for part of my food. Hunt & fish. Not have to come into town, or stay at marinas all the time. Cut expenses drastically. Save what money I can and use it for important things. I've been plotting and planning this adventure for probably close to ten years.

So now the time has come, as the Walrus said, "To speak of many things. Of ships, and shoes and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. And why the sea's a looking glass, and why do pigs have wings?"

June 14, 2010, I turned 62 and filed for my Social Insecurity Retirement. First check in mid-July.

I had been looking for an inexpensive houseboat hull for a couple months, via Craigslist and other Internet sites. I also had my dulcimer friends in Ohio and elsewhere up north trying to find a piece of riverbank where I could build the boat I'd designed for years, if it came to that.

I thought I'd found a 40 ft houseboat hull for $1K in Muscle Shoals, AL, but the marina folks never got back to me in a timely manner. Then on June 6th I found a 24 ft SeaCamper houseboat for sale just up the road in Bradenton, FL (I was living in Venice, FL at the time). I went and checked it out. Trashed inside, but everything was there and the hull was sound. Complete with 200Hp Suzuki outboard, and the asking price was $950.

Heck yes, I jumped at it! Tearing out a few sheets of 30 year old paneling, painting the interior with Kilz primer to remove the onus of dry rot, and putting in new paneling isn't RocketSurgery! Not expensive either. It'll cost me about $120 for paneling; $20 for a gallon of Kilz, and a long weekend to do the job. Then I can get started bringing the ship's systems on-line -- the existing toilet; fresh and gray water storage; stove & fridge or icebox; existing 12V electrics. Other projects can/will be done over time.

So I had to find a place to get started from. Couldn't do the renovation where I was living. So I spent time trying to find liveaboard-friendly marinas south of Tampa, that didn't cost two arms and a leg (less than $1K per month income, remember). Finally I found the Fort Myers City Yacht Basin, owned and operated by the City. Beautiful facility in the heart of what passes for downtown. Less than $400 per month slip rental. Moving day is August 7th (the time-lapse since purchase is a long story that doesn't need telling). I plan on staying for two months; to do the reno and start-up, as well as get accustomed to the liveaboard lifestyle.

As I move aboard, do the interior renovation, and travel on this next great journey of my life, I'll be chronicling the good times, the bad times, the joys and sorrows. Join me, won't you?