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On Living Aboard

The winter cover went up in November, which was a bit early for us. However, since using the aircraft tape, the same stuff airplane people use for temporary repairs, we’ve had zero problems with the cover. This year will be the longest period of the cover’s deployment since we began this lifestyle. One of the projects on the table for spring fitting out is changing the cable steering on the little Century runabout, Mustard. The plan is to change over to hydraulic steering, making things much easier. With hydraulic steering, I will be able to take my hand off the wheel for short periods without having to worry about the boat wandering all over the ocean. The other item on Mustard’s agenda is replacing the fuel tank. My intent is to have a tank fabricated that is lower, wider and smaller, thereby lowering the center of gravity, making her a bit less tender. Also, with the new engine, she uses significantly less fuel. This is going to require some more research before being implemented. It’s becoming more difficult obtaining the hard coal that we use in our coal stove, which is our main source of heat. We typically burn around a ton of the stuff and for the past several years, we’ve been getting it at a local hardware store that deals with pellet stoves and their fuel. The owner recently advised me that there was a good chance that this would be the last year that they were going to carry coal. He cited the lack of sales and that this year, we were the largest user. After some online research plus visiting other establishments that sell coal reinforced the fact that obtaining sufficient amounts in the future was going to be difficult. Visiting several stove stores plus poking around many online forums, I found that pellet stoves aren’t all that rare aboard boats that spend time in commission in colder climates. Size wise, it would be an easy swap for the coal stove. The only difference is that a pellet stove requires AC power to operate. While not really a big deal as we do have 110 volts at the dock, and via an inverter while underway, plus there’s always the generator. Then, on one of the forums, I read about diesel heaters. I had many questions, of course. So many that in two cases, I called the guy up and had a couple very informative conversations. The first advantage is that there is no worry about fuel storage; it’s contained right in the main fuel tank. What I’ve done for the past few years is buy a pallet of coal up front, getting a nice discount for cash. He lets me keep it on site for a day or so because it does take a few trips to get the whole thing to our storage unit. And then, there is always the hassle of rearranging everything so it will all fit, and be easy to get to. That wouldn’t change with a pellet stove. The next pro for diesel heat is that the unit could be mounted in the engine room, freeing up the space taken up by the coal stove. That and the ‘Charlie Noble’ stove pipe would become a thing of the past. I could see only two cons with switching over to a diesel furnace. First is the cost. The initial units run around five thousand dollars, not including the delivery system. That and the installation itself which, can become quite invasive, especially the delivery system. There are two types of heaters, dry hot air and hydronic, much the same as a typical home system. The hot air heater employs a series of ducts to spew the warm air around the boat. These ducts can also be used to move cool air when the warm weather arrives. The hydronic heater uses a series of pipes which allows hot water to be circulated around, subsequently heating the cabin. For me, it was a no brainer. While the hydronic system is more efficient, the difficulty of plumbing the boat for this system gave me nightmares. Of course, the fact that domestic hot water is also gleaned without the need for an electric water heater is a plus. A hot air system is less than half of that of a hydronic system. The ductwork is a lot simpler to install, and vents can be placed where needed. It also can direct cool air when the season turns warmer. Many of the guidelines recommend the hydronic system for those of us who choose to live aboard. And for boats made of fiberglass or any other modern material I would have to agree. However, Patty O’ is a wooden boat and can tend to be quite damp in winter. The coal stove, along with a dehumidifier does a good job of keeping things dry and comfortable in all but the most extreme conditions. There have been a few, albeit very few times that the Blonde, my wife, has had to relocate due to weather. As an architect, she has to look the part at work and it’s not easy putting on a good face when the cabin is in the low fifties when you get out of bed. We use a small fan to move air around, and as I have said, it does work well most of the time. Calling several manufacturers and explaining what I wanted to do, they all replied with their own recommendations, which was unanimous, to go with the hydronic system. When I explained my reasoning for choosing the hot air system they somewhat begrudgingly agreed. However, all explained that the air system, when used in a boat Patty O’s size, would not last as long as the hydronic. They cited the reason as it has to be running more to get the same level of heat. While I’m not going to do anything about it right now, we will just have to struggle along with the coal stove for the rest of the season, it will be a priority for next year. The Blonde called and said that her conference was on for Phoenix, Arizona in a week, and did I want to come along? Although we’d talked about it, it had completely slipped my mind. There are years that we head off in the depth of winter for warmer places to recharge our batteries so to speak. This was going to be one of those years but, due to the damage from all the hurricanes, we were both loathe to go and look at all that even though most places we like to go are open for business. Her conference was going to be over one long weekend, and we could spend the rest of the week if we liked. All it was going to cost for us was my flight and whatever we were going to do on our own. Her firm would pay her flight and our hotel room as well as a rental car for the week. Not bad. A call to my friend Ritchie, who very kindly looks after the boat whenever we’re away and informing the yard we’d be gone and it was settled. I trust Ritchie implicitly and know that he would stop by several times a day to check on things and keep the stove going. That’s another reason to change over to a diesel stove. Having flown a lot when I was working a ‘real’ job I find, like most people, the experience these days to be quite unpleasant. In fact, it’s almost to the point where I’m about to quit doing it altogether. As with most flights today, it was a multi stop affair and the feeling of being rushed prevailed the whole time. We did not check any luggage, opting to travel light and using only carry on bags. All in all, the trip was a pleasant experience, air travel notwithstanding. We dined well, rented a car and checked out the desert. It boggles the mind how the early settlers got by out there. But they did. We got back to Patty O’ late due to our flight from Chicago being delayed. The boat was warm and snug in spite of the temperature in the low thirties. “Ya know, Bubba, she said, putting her stuff away, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” “You got that right.”

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