Monday, September 30, 2013

Cost to Cruise - September 2013

Another month already?   Well, that is maybe okay as this month is turning out to be a pill weather-wise.  Kristi and I just 'weathered out' a massive cold front - with up to Hurricane Force winds over part of BC - Yes, we get such strong winds up here - only we just call them Storms :-)    We picked a great hidey-hole here in Pirate's Cove on De Courcy Island.  Fully protected.  We noted only 26kt peaks at our level but it was wild to see the tops of trees dancing last night all around our nice snug cove.

Cost wise September of this year turned out to be not that bad, especially considering we spend almost 2 weeks IN A CITY!!!   But we managed to restrain ourselves.  And I think we have just about gotten out of the habit of getting Burgers and Beers (at around $70 a pop - wow..    am soo looking forward to getting back to Herbs in Friday Harbor).  Did get coffee now and then, discovered a WONDERFUL cappuccino place, and managed to keep Personal down  somewhat.  (Stopping in that store with $600 purses kind of put an end to Kristi's shipping trip for the day.  Will need to keep that one in mind!).   But overall, September turned out to be OK:

Our IMG international healthcare plan continues to payoff with almost no insurance/medical costs for several months (yearly fee paid in May).  Tomorrow the Obama-care exchanges open in Washington State and we will see how that impacts us.  Looks like we will need to change to one of those policies -- that or leave the country for 11 months out of the year (vs. 6 months under our current IMG policy).   Will see - there is a lot of confusion out there  (err, more correctly named misleading information / aka lies), and until the actual exchange opens will be hard to tell what truth will be.  OK - putting the Box away.

Solar output was down this year vs. last.  (72Ah/day vs. 115Ah/day last year), and below the modeled 99Ah.  Perhaps the biggest 'miss' of the model yet, at least in a month that counts (ala, when we actually depend on the power vs. say December).   Goes to show how Novemberish September has been this year (and yes, that is the talk around these Parts - November arrived early this year).  It also goes some to explaining the 59 hours of run time on the Generator, but not really.  Part of the usage is from us running the Watermaker, perhaps 15-20hrs of the total are directly related to us making water.  And then with this new controller we have been using the generator more - letting it top off the batteries while slowing the engine speed down.  It is our standard practice now to start it up when leaving the boat, knowing it will auto-stop when the batteries are 100% recharged.  vs. last year when we would run it for a couple of hours during the day, then turn it off when the batteries were only 80% charged.   The results is larger number of hours on the generators, but much of it spent at almost idle speeds (and using very very little fuel), and much happier batteries.   But it does LOOK like we have really gone off the deep-end . . . .

Alright, enough for now.  September is done.  October will be our last month 'out in the wild', looking forward to getting back to port for the winter  - already have a list of maintenance tasks to do during the down time.  And looking forward to Burgers and a beer for under $30!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Taste of Italy

Ever since we returned from Europe -- NINE years ago! -- we have searched high and low for a cappuccino that could even hope to compete with the wonderful coffee we could get anytime, anywhere in Italy.  Something that would bring to mind the cafe on the shore of Lago Maggiore, or Sant' Eustachio il Caffe in Rome, or in Verona, or Venice.

July 2004, on the shore of Lago Maggiore, Baveno Italy

The other day we were walking down Main Street in Vancouver BC Canada.  It was time for some lunch and I had a hankering for pizza.  We passed many pubs, cafes, and diners, but no pizza.  Finally there was a sandwich sign that even said 'Pizza:  Two slices $5!'  It was Caffe' Rustica, at 16th and Main.

We went to the counter and chose our slices, and then saw (and heard!) Mario making and serving espresso to his customers.  This was a genuine Italian!  Al asked him to make him a cappuccino, telling him of our search for the last nine years.  When he asked Al how he liked his cappuccino, al said 'like the ones made in Italy, where everyone learns how to make them in grade school- like I could get on the shores of Lago Marriore'.   Mario simply replied "Those people learn how to make coffee from Rome.  And I am from Rome." and went to work.

Mario learned to make coffee in Rome!  His father was an olive farmer in Italy.  We had high hopes, and he did not fail.
One classic cappuccino, and a latte with 'special reserve cocoa'.

We are a bit older, but we are still as happy as Italy!  Thank you, Mario!
Al's comment:  I have noted that there is a difference between making coffee, and Making Coffee.   It may all be the same steps, but it is the care that goes into it that makes the difference.  In talking with Mario, he said the same - it is the attention, and care that makes it.    And I will say - Mario did good.  Without a doubt, the 1st cappuccino outside Italy that was the way it should have been.    Thank you Mario!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Old-School vs. Computers…

Well, as threatened – I played around a bit more with the Wiper Delay module design and did two things:

  1. Drew it up as a dual wiper setup.  Seeing as many (most??) boats have two wipers, and there are some parts (ala the heat sink) that can be reused – making it more efficient to have one dual vs. two single boards.
  2. Took a stab at an Arduino** (Amtel) based design -   Yes, COMPUTERIZED!

Old School - Using discrete IC's to do it all..

New Kid - Pull out the 555 timers, half the op-amps , and a bunch of resisters and caps
And put in a small computer. . . . .

It has been interesting to look at these two approaches; both do the same thing – monitor current in the wiper motor to decide when the wiper arm is parked, and provide a variable delay for ‘intermittent‘ wipers..  Both use the exact same parts for turning power on and off to the wiper motors, as well as measuring the current flow.  But while the 1st design used a couple of 555 timer chips to do the timing, plus an op-amp to decide the direction of the current rate of change, the 2nd approach does all that inside a small computer.  .   The 1st approach is something one would likely see from a 70’s, or 80’s design  – discreet ckt.  While the 2nd approach is more of a late 90’s into 2000’s.

  • Both do the same thing.
  • Both use the same ‘logic’ approach (Monitoring current, looking at rate of change + a small delay timer)
  • Both will get the job done.

Ok, do both do basically the same – so come on, do we really need to ‘computerize’ the wipers???   Well . .  where it gets interesting is when I costed out the two designs.  Just purchasing the parts (quantity one, from

          Old-School:        $12.09
          Computer-Kid:      $9.51

And if we add on perhaps another $1 for the extra PCB space the ‘old school’ approach would need, due to its larger PCB – then clearly the new ‘computerized’ approach is MUCH lower cost.  (though it does need a 2nd person who knows how to program vs. only a hardware guy for the Old-School design).

I guess I find this interesting in that it does go a ways to explain why almost everything, from toasters to coffee pots, to car doors and now even windshield wipers have been ‘computerized’.   When one can purchase a small ATtiny16a CPU (the small computer I selected for the 2nd design) for $0.98 qty one (and under half a buck in larger quantities) it does not take too much to see the ‘power’ these little things can have…

And once we have a computer in there, well, features simple to add - are just a SMOP.  Already I figure I can eliminate one trimpot as the computer is able to decide for itself how long each swipe takes.  Maybe we can look at the peak amount of current drawn by the wiper motor to decide if we need to increase the time between swipes (think is:  too dry of a window makes it harder for the motor, and hence it draws more power - we can detect that to say we are swiping too often.).   Or, maybe an auto-shutoff?  Not sure how I could get an auto-turn on without some extra sensor.   Hum . . . .

So with a noticeable cost savings, and even somewhat  improved ‘functionality’  -  Computers clearly beats out Old School.  (In this case.)

** OK, the ATtiny16a CPU will not really run Arduino code, it is just too small - one would need to do direct Atmel 'C' development environment.  But that is not really that hard, and if one really wanted to retain the Arduino environment, then just put in a ATtiny85 CPU at $1.29, and load one of the mini-loaders (Just google Arduino ATtine85 to see lots of solutions).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What to do on a Cold and Wet Fall / Winter day???

Why, Design something – of course!

I have to say, the Nerd in me will just not die.  And doing this ‘retired’ thing gives me time to go back to one thing I really enjoy – designing small electronic things…   Like the Kubota DC generator controller and remote, and its off-shoot the stand-alone regulator (still in progress).   Well,  I have also been thinking of something that would really be nice on Viking Star – intermittent wipers.    Often times when we are in heavy water (or light rain) the forward windows need a quick swipe.   And of course, just as I put up with it long enough to stand up, hit the switch and clear the window - a new splash will come along.  Just like most cars these days, would it not be nice to have delaying wipers?   Well, there are two problems:

  1. Doing the delay
  2. Getting the wiper motors to return to their rest position after doing a sweep.

The motors we have are simple ones, and do not have an ‘auto-park’ feature.   Turn the wiper switch off half way through a sweep and that is where the wiper arm stays, half way done.  It is not too hard to time manually turning off the switch at the correct time, and at one time I had picked up some fancy Auto-park capable wiper motors which would continue their travel to the completion of a swipe - even if the switch was turned off.  But their shaft was too short at 3” to fit through the window header (I need 4-5” it looks like..).  Guess I could have new shafts made, but I have been playing with a design in my head that would allow me to  use the existing un-modified motors.   A design in my mind that would not only do delayed sweep, but also figures out somehow to park the wipers using the existing motors.  And here is an idea:

Click for Larger View

Be careful, semi-Deep Stuff follows here…..

On the right one of the 555 times will time out the delay period between cycles, while the other 555 delivers +12v to the wiper motor long enough to complete one cycle.  This part is simple, and if I had auto-parking wipers it would work great.  However, the challenge is one will NEVER be able to get the 2nd timer set just right to complete an entire sweep and return to the parked position – and if one did manage to dial it in, it would change once the engine was started (and the battery voltage was higher due to recharging), or resistance on the window changed from say rain, or temperature, or…..    So – the middle of the schematic are two op amps.  The left hand one senses the amount of current being drawn by the motor (using the Ron resistance of the FET),  and the 2nd op-amp is configured to detect a change from a falling slope of current to a raising one, ala:  the change I am EXPECTING to see when the wiper motors gets to one side of the window, slows down and changes direction.   Via the two Diodes in the middle the wiper motor is initially powered from the 555 timer which is adjusted to ‘time out’ somewhere mid-sweep of the wiper blade, and then the Op-amp takes over continuing to power the wiper motor until it sees a dip in current.  Q3 acts as a kind of one-time switch to make sure once the motors are stopped, we do not restart them based on current draw.

And there you have it – self parking of standard non-autopark wiper motors!

Possible PCB layout
OK, I have NOT built this.  Only designed it, and ran some SPICE modeling.   It looks like it should work, and maybe this winter I will build up a few…  Or, perhaps I will play with an Arduino based wiper controller!   Wow, that might be overkill, but to be honest, it also might work out to be about the same cost and more reliable...  Hum. . . . .

 Until then, I will now return you to your regular Blog…

Birthday 52

Yesterday I 'caught up' to Al.  We were both born in the same year but nine months apart, so for only three months every year we are the 'same age'.

We don't usually celebrate anything BIG.  The day started with the usual kiss, but with a cheery 'Happy Birthday!' along with it.  And as with most Americans, we celebrate occasions with food.  My request to honor my birthday was to get coffee and the peach tart I had skipped on a previous visit to Terra Breads.

There were even fresh flowers on the table.

Mmmmmm, peaches.

Being frugal cruisers, we don't go out for dinner very often.  I decided I just wanted a good steak done on OUR grill, with a good bottle of wine.  We hoped to find a bottle of Burrowing Owl merlot, the best BC wine we had tried, thanks to Canadian facebook friends Deneen and Evan.  However, this wine is NOT carried by the government liquor stores.  We had high hopes of finding it at the best-stocked independent we had found -- Legacy Liquor -- but the buyer told us she only gets Burrowing Owl shipments 4 times a year, and the next one wasn't expected for another week yet.  (We hope to be across the Strait again by then.)  So, Smoking Loon it is.

Al does the steaks to perfection!

And we fight the fruit flies for the wine.  We have been battling them inside the cabin for some time, but even OUTDOORS in a BREEZE we were finding tasters and swimmers.  We look forward to cooler weather to zap the fruit flies and mosquitoes.

Sweets at both ends of the day!  I don't think we would be able to find this flavor in the US.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Interesting Things Seen in Vancouver BC

We are really enjoying WALKING!  We are doing it as much as possible, because it is supposed to start raining again this evening, and be stormy on Sunday.

Here are just a few things that have caught our interest over the past few days:

Portland is known for being bike friendly, but we think Vancouver has a few things on Portland.  The waterfront here at False Creek has walking / bike paths all the way around.  These signs make it clear which side of the median you are expected to be on.  Some places are 'shared' spaces.  Keeps you on your toes.

See, walkers on left, bikers on right!

There is a  LOT of construction going on in this city!  In just this small SE corner of False Creek, we can count TWELVE cranes!  Yesterday  morning we stopped and watched one operating, and Al shared some of his knowledge about the building practices they were using.  The crane operator noticed us and waved!

The post title is 'Interesting Things...'  Well, this caught my interest!

We wondered if James Bond was also visiting in Vancouver, especially after Al looked up some specifications for this boat and learned that the hull is made of Kevlar carbon fiber -- bulletproof???  Capable of 50 knots per hour speed.  Can accommodate 10 guests and 6 crew.  Price for a used one is $17.5 Million.  One in Greece on 'fire sale' for $9M.

The Harvest Moon rose from behind the dome at Telus World of Science.  The official full moon was the night before, but it was cloudy.
More fun at another construction site.  This digger ....

... was skillfully separating the layers of materials he dug up as he went!

The coolest library we have seen!  A modern colliseum.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

All Nations Canoe Gathering

On Tuesday we had the privilege of front row seats for the All Nations Canoe Gathering.  This event launched a week-long event by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  We learned a bit more about the residential schools that many of Canada's First Nation children were sent to -- even a friend of ours.  We had heard a news story earlier in the year about starvation and medical experiments being done on the children, and I remarked to Al that it sounded 'Hilter-esque', with concentration camp conditions.

This solemn ceremony welcomed elders and representatives from many local peoples, and others from all across Canada.

The first wave arrives

They approach the dignitaries and crowd at the waterfront, on what was traditional Coast Salish land.

At first we thought there were only five boats, and though they were very beautiful, we were a bit disappointed there weren't more.  THEN the second wave arrived!

A few boats arrived singing

Rafted up to await their entrance

A local newspaper the next day

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A world apart, in only 12 short miles.

As the crow flies we are perhaps 12 miles from where we were 3 days ago, but in my mind it is a world apart.  Arriving yesterday to drop anchor in Plumper Cove, a place we last visited May, I was amazed at the number of boats here this time of year.  We even got to watch a few rounds of Anchor Wars – signaled by boats circling around in tighter circles, their ground tackle at the ready - often dangling ineffectually from the bow in anticipation.  Kind of reminded me of Dogs circling around –eyeing each other - before lying down, or perhaps before marking their spot.  And then one would do just that, mark their spot by releasing the anchor to the amazement of other circlers.   And there was the ‘race to the buoy’ (ever see a sail boat kick up roster tails?)  that ended with the victor all but losing its crewmate as she successfully claimed the buoy with her boat hook, but lacked the strengths to hold on as the boat’s momentum carried several tons of plastic / metal past.  Need either stronger crew, longer boat, or perhaps a different approach.

But in each case folks found their spot, few “words” were exchanged, and I sat watching this all kind of numb.

3 days ago.

Later today we will be in False Creek, completing our tour of the Sun Shine Coast for the summer.  I fully expect more of the same – boats, noise, lights, camera, action..   And THAT is what really is hitting me.

Just 12 miles away, in the Sechelt Inlet, things were different.  Things smelt different, looked different, sounded different.  Seals snuffing, sharp shadow lines casted on mountains at sunrise, Life and Deaths all intertwined at the Toonzie river delta,  the sky at night. . .   It is mostly the sky at night where I noticed the difference.  I grew up in the Suburbs of Portland, city lights and all.  At night we noted stars, thousands of them.  And sure, getting away those thousands became millions, of even ‘Billions upon Billions’ of stars.  But new to me while anchored at the headwaters of Narrows Inlet, or perhaps Green Bay, I notice not only the Billions upon Billions but something else:  the contrast, the darkness.  With the steep mountain sides becoming a black-as-coal frame against which the sky was painted.  And sparkles on the calm waters consisted either of reflected stars, or the bio-luminance of a disturbed creature.  At times a small fish would dash through creating a streak of light – a kind of meteor in the water.  And of course there was the billions upon billions of stars, lighting the whole moonless sky – the ‘heavens above’.  Where not just the individual stars became light, but the whole sky glowed.   Where the stark contrast between the black of the forest and the light of the sky became a dividing line, the delineation of worlds apart.  A contrast great enough to be disturbed by our own anchor light;  I would turn it off and then I too could feel a world apart.

In only 12 miles.

And that is what I am feeling so greatly now as we reenter the ‘developed’ world.  Where people circle like Dogs and give one-finger ‘victory’ waves.  Where the sky contains thousands of stars, but not Billions upon Billions.  Where the anchor light is not a bother, sparkles can only be seen in the head as it is flushed, and where the contrast between our world and the world around is not so great, so sharp, so crisp.

A world apart,



Thursday we left Pender Harbour and headed south toward Vancouver BC.  The sun was shining, and the wind was nil, leaving the most beautiful glossy water!  It made it very easy to see ANYthing else on the water, and strangely made things appear much larger than they really are.

At one point, I grabbed the binoculars, saying to  Al 'I either saw a HUGE porpoise, or an Orca!'  But several moments of surveying the area did not produce another view.

Later, I pointed at the AIS signal on the screen and noted that a boat that had been coming toward us had now turned around.  And later still, 'Why is that big boat just SITTING right where we want to go???'

Very soon, I got my answer.  'ORCAS!' I shouted and pointed, then moved to grab the camera.

Friday, September 13, 2013

One Job I Would NOT Like!

This series of photos was taken on Wednesday, September 11 as we motored down Agamemnon Channel.

OK.  This frightened me at first.  I thought the helicopter was stuck in the power lines!  Then  I saw a man dangling below!

The photo does a good job of  'freezing' the rotors, but my eyes do say they are turning. 

There IS a safety boat on the water (on the left edge of the photo), just in case!

And back up.  I don't know if he had to fetch more of the balls to install, or what, but they went back at it.

A second helicopter!  

Does this guy call this a 'sit down' job???

You MUST admire the pilot skill.  Wow.  Watch out for the wires and don't swing your guy.  Tough jobs on both ends!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Narrows Inlet

Heading north on Sechelt Inlet, out of Salmon Inlet, past Storm Bay, we enter Narrows Inlet.  The Tzoonie Narrows are ahead of us, with a 4-knot tidal current.  The Tzoonie River is at the head of the inlet.

This is where we FIRST notice leaves have changed colors, seemingly overnight!  Does it get colder next to the water?  Is this inlet shadier since it is narrower?  

There's a notch in that mountain on the left!  I wonder if it has been mined for granite.  Al says it is Paul Bunyan's axe rest, or boot jack.

There are several houses in the 'neighborhood' of Ramona Creek.

A closer view of one of our favorites, shows Ramona Creek 'falling' above.

As we round the curve and reach the head of the inlet, we see this 'turtleback' mountain.  There IS evidence of logging, and we believe the horizontal lines are logging roads, and the verticals are most likely slides.

Big Leaf Maple leaves float by and I think  'O Canada!'

Unfortunately, we arrive at the end of the salmon run.  Al researched a bit and learns that 'pinks' have a two-year life cycle.  There are many carcasses floating, adding a 'particular odor' to this inlet.  Also saw what I called a 'ghost fish' -- one very faded, but still slowly waving his tail to move along the surface.

We thought we had the place to ourselves (I even took off my shirt for sunbathing! Sorry, just couldn't bring myself to go nude, though)  But the next morning, this plane flies over, over the ridge, and circles back to land at the nearby dock.  We noticed a trailer with a satellite dish attached when we came in the day before.  He dropped two guys off at the dock, then idled over next to Viking Star.  We thought he was going to go around us and then take off, but he turned off his engine and climbed out on a pontoon with his fishing pole!  He was holding up while the two guys went to inspect a bridge.  Al asked if the pole was standard equipment, and he said 'Yes!'  Part of their survival gear.  He also 'rowed his boat to shore' at one point, before finally motoring back to the dock.  And, he told us that the banks of the river are clogged with fish carcasses.