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Entries in cabin (7)


long range wifi for the boat

No matter how you slice it, wifi is nice to have. And if you're in a harbor with a wifi signal a hundred yards away, you'd really like to be able to use it.

Our new wifi setup kicks ass, and if you're looking for a way to pick up a distant signal, consider what we put together or pieces thereof. 

For starters we opted for the Alfa 1000mw USB wifi adapter. Although the older model from it's new type N counterpart, the Alfa 1000mw receives much higher ratings by users. It comes with two antennas, one small, and one HUGE. We installed the huge one. Both antennas come with the purchase of the Alfa.

For a cable, I wanted something long. We found a 32' USB cable. That's longer than the current recommendation for a USB, but ratings and reviews seemed positive so we went for it. Right now we have the antenna sitting inside the cabin in the butterfly hatch (not outside), but we have plenty enough cable left now to put it on the boom of perhaps halfway to a spreader.

lighter for size referenceWe've had this going for a few days now with terrific results. Signals that before were splotchy at best now come in nearly 90%, and that's without raising the transmitter power (available via the software utility). One of the next things we'll be looking to do is permanently mount it, probably on the exterior, and construct some type of weatherproof housing. Another nice thing about this model is that coming in around $40, I'm not going to feel too bad if it lasts a few years or if we decide to upgrade around then.

But the convenience of having a nice high quality broadband connection is terrific. We certainly don't want to spend the money for fancy satellite based options, but if wifi is available and the lack of a decent antenna and adapter is the only thing preventing it from working, that's just sad.

signal was unreachable beforeSo give it a shot, or at least consider your options for wifi on your boat. Most harbors (including some distant ones in remote areas) now have wifi (even if not always free). A "solid' weatherproof installation might work, but if you want to spend $40-$70 bucks like we did for what's probably going to be several years of good service, make it happen!


a couple steps closer with the diesel heater gravity tank

The Rebel Heart came equipped with an unplumbed diesel cabin heater. Noted as the Fab-All, that company renamed itself to Sigmarine many years ago. The idea with a diesel heater is simple: provide a steady flow of clean fuel to the heater, and once primed, it will burn it nice and hot. Diesel in fact burns extremely hot, one of the things that makes it such a great fuel source.

There are two ways of getting that diesel fuel to the heater. One is a low pressure fuel pump, which draws a steady 2 amps and provides a constant push of diesel, intended to be plumbed from the ship's primary fuel tank.

The other method is to use a gravity tank, or "day tank", which is a tank generally in the 2-5 gallon range. By sitting a minimum of 12" from the top of the burner (measured vertically, and allowing for heel angles), gravity provides enough pressure to deliver sufficient fuel to the burner.

Getting the fuel into the gravity tank can be accomplished either by pouring into deck fill cap (plumbed to the gravity tank), temporarily flipping on a low pressure fuel pump to fill up the gravity tank, or a fuel bulb (note: fuel bulbs always leak).

Originally This Was The Kerosene Stove TankAt this stage I'm not sure yet which one I'm going to go with. The deck fill solution seems the best although at 1-2 gallons a day full heat that's a jerry can of diesel every week or so. Maybe not so bad, maybe so bad. Plumbing a low pressure fuel pump from the primary fuel tank to the gravity tank seems like a better idea in the long run although much more of a pain in the ass to set up initially. Either way, I need to run a vent line off the tank to allow air to escape as the tank fills. 

As for why I'm choosing to run the gravity tank (and perhaps additionally a low pressure fuel pump) instead of simply a low pressure fuel pump plumbed from the primary tank to the heater the answer is simple: 2 amps is a lot of power to have on a steady drain perhaps for days on end. Especially when you consider that the days most needing warm, dry heat generally have the most cloud cover and worst weather (read: not a lot of solar energy and you probably are in the cabin anyway watching a movie and using lights).

I'll keep posting some updates as this continues. With the new baby here it's hard to find a good time to pull open the floorboards and start re-plumbing fuel lines, not to mention the electrical wiring of the low pressure fuel pump, not to mention the deck vent that needs to be drilled, and of course the whole thing needs to be tested to make sure we're not dripping diesel into the cabin. Even a single drip a day is enough to make the whole place smell like a refinery.


product review: Sensibulb by SCAD

I had tried LED's before. Our running lights are LED, and I had gone to West Marine looking for some interior LED's in the past. I installed some little LED bulbs into our existing double-contact lighting fixtures, and the results were laughable. There was enough "light", if you can call it that, to make out some shadows here and there, and maybe if you sat two feet in front of the bulb you could strain your eyes to read.

With a bit of reluctance, I ordered the Sensibulb by SCAD. I spoke with a gentleman on the phone who was very nice, and told me the adapter I would need to use these little lights. At $40 a piece, they aren't cheap, so I ordered two (with two adapters) to give them a shot.

We're getting closer to leaving, so it's time to get off the shore power, wire up some solar panels, and reduce our electrical footprint. At 0.2 amps, I was a more than skeptical about how much light these could deliver. After having been burned countless times by the marine industries claims of just how great a product was, there was no way I was going to be suckered into another snake-oil elixir.

Well I installed one, and let me just say that that these things are bright. They are easily as bright as a nearby 17 watt (12v) incadescent bulb, and they obviously use a fraction of the power.

It's not very often that you can simply buy a marine product and within a few minutes have it installed and working properly, but the Sensibulb might just fit into the category of an easy and worthwhile upgrade. At $40 a piece it would cost me $380 to replace all of my interior cabin lights. Tack on a few spares, and you're at half a grand for light bulbs. Not cheap.

But if they're durable (only time will tell: I'll keep the blog updated for performance), the savings in electricity will quickly make up for the cost of the bulbs. Quality product, and the folks at were very helpful.


Mineral spirits in the ship's oil lamp

Weems & Plath Trawler

We have ourselves an awesome Weems & Plath Trawler Lamp in between our galley and cabin table. Until recently, we've used standard issue paraffin oil to keep it going. It's a bit pricey however, so I asked around at what other people do. Because sail boats are very traditional, improvements can be found all over the place, because nearly everyone has the same challenges you do.

Mineral spirits (odorless, not "low odor") is 32% the cost of paraffin in most of the places I've found, so I gave it a shot. Not only is lamp still working, and I'm not on fire, but it's also cleaner, and the light is much brighter. Mineral spirits is useful for other stuff to (taking paint off of brushes, etc), so it falls into the double-duty category, which I also love.

It's a bit more flammable then paraffin, and is on par temperature wise with kerosene, although it's much cheaper. I found the wikipedia article on kerosene lamps, then a usenet person asking roughly the same thing.

So don't hold me accountable if your boat (or home) burns down, but for me, I've been pretty happy with mineral spirits in the oil lamp so far. My friend also told me that at Smart & Final, you can get liquid paraffin (the "normal" fuel) pretty cheap. I'm sure however that you can still get mineral spirits even cheaper, because it has an industrial value.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that on most evenings, so far, the oil lamp is enough to keep the boat warm, and we don't need the real heater to be turned on. The lamp puts out a decent amount of heat, which is another reason I'm considering putting it's smaller cousin into the v berth. $120 for the little light, and another $45 for the gimball mount. 12 hours of burn time on the little lamp, which for me equates to about a week or so of reading in bed every few nights for an hour or two.


As always, be careful about carbon monoxide. It's odorless, deadly, and will sneak up on you without warning. In fact when I was a kid, a neighbor of ours took his family on a house boat in Lake Powell. A small fire broke out near the air conditioning intake, and the entire family was killed during the night.


I'm healthy! Time to re-route the propane!

Oh propane! Behave!
Last night I thought I might head into work, because I'd feel well enough. I instead decided to play it smart and take today off as well, and I'm glad I did. I managed to get a lot done around the boat, but I needed to move at my pace, and I was still hacking up gross stuff.

I had installed the new stove a while ago, but the propane line wasn't routed properly. Propane is a great thing to have on the boat, but it's extremely flammable. The previous stove was kerosene, which is very safe, but a real pain the ass the cook with. Propane is clean, hot, cheap, and insanely dangerous. The main problem is that it's heavier than air, so if it leaks in the boat, it collects in the bilge. Then a spark shows up from somewhere, and the entire boat explodes into a huge ball of fire.

1161984-938098-thumbnail.jpgThe secret is to be safe with your install. My propane hose is roughly 50' long, and there's only two openings. One at the tank, and one at the stove. No T fittings, no nothing. Barring abrasion or hose cuts (which a good install and regular inspection protects against), the only two places it can leak is the tank (on our boat it sits over the water, so that's no big deal) or the stove itself.

Check out the technique that I use to check for leaks. It's the common "suds method", where you take some soap suds water and put it around the seals. If it bubbles up, you have a leak. Re routing the propane is a bit tricky, because you need to go through bilges and a lot of the ship's structure. You need to be cognizant of things that might heat up, bump into the line, and certainly things that might cause abrasions.

Bilge! You stink!
If you check out the picture on the left, you'll notice all those hoses going across that black thing. The black thing is our 150 gallon diesel tank, and the hoses are all the multitude of fuel, air, sea water, fresh water, and now propane sources coming and going, all that make it so that the boat runs like a champ.

Dahon Helios
Like all projects, I needed two screws that I didn't have. I've been monopolizing Charlotte's bike lately, but it makes for such convenient access to San Diego Marine Exchange. I hopped on the bike, and ten minutes later I had the screws and washers I needed, and was back doing the install.

When I yanked the stove I also cleaned behind it again. I think I'll make that a regular field day item, since it also allows me to inspect the propane line and fittings, which is important.

Charlotte and I went to Pizza Nova for dinner, and tomorrow I have a pile or work in store for me at my day job. I haven't touched Visual Studio, or anything related to my professional life, in nearly a full week. It's funny, but being sick is the only time that I really disengage from my technical life. I feel guilty admitting it, but it was really nice to be able to distance myself from .Net for a week. My motivation for being as go-go-development as I am stems from it helping me to achieve other things in my life, and those "other things" are truthfully where my priorities rest.

That being said, I'm looking forward to going back to writing some code and building some good products. The meetings and political stuff gets a little old, but I think I'm recharged and motivated to the point that even those won't be able to shake my smile. New idea.


We cleaned and organized pretty hard


This was the first day that we really started trying to organize. It's not perfect yet, and maybe it never is, but we got a lot done. The quarter berth is completely squared away, and the starboard sea berth will only have our backpacks in it. We really want to keep as much space open as we can, because a busy boat makes for a busy mind, and would drive us both nuts.

The nav table is completely clean and open, and the boat just became a bit more liveable. I made a crummy little movie that you can watch; it's a 60 second guided tour of our little world.

Having the head in proper working order is really going to make this whole thing complete.


Meet our new stove!

oldstove.jpgThe old stove was kerosene, and probably built around the same time that man first ventured out in canoes from the shorelines of some primitive tribal land. Only two burners of the three worked, and then only one of the remaining two worked, and it was only a matter of time until the last one went away as well.

True, I could have hunted high and low looking for replacement parts, calling people in Akron, Ohio (or wherever), trying to find the one guy who has the one part I need. But it sucked as a stove, Charlotte and I both hated it, and we wanted to get rid of it. The details on why kerosene is so bad is probably understood to every reader of this blog, but essentially it stinks, cooks slow, smokes (generates soot in the cabin), and takes a trained professional to prime and use.

The stove I went with was the Seaward Princess 2 burner gimballed. The measurements looked close to my existing, and I've heard nothing but great reviews of this stove. Here's a link, although I got the 2 burner instead of the three.

nostove.jpgSo first I had to remove the old stove, which I did by myself, and I don't recommend you try that. It's heavy, sharp, and will trash your bright work on the way out. It's also filthy, which is a reason that after I removed the old stove, I scrubbed the crap out of the stainless firewall that it sits in. It took about an hour just to clean it out, and it was pretty gross. One nice thing about switching out the stove was that the previous owner had a fire onboard it seems. Nothing huge, but they used a dry chemical extinguisher (the correct thing to use), and it caused a really crazy amount of residue that was still falling out even when I threw the thing into the dumpster.

ondock.jpgThe new stove showed up via UPS, and the driver was nice enough to use his dolly to take the stove all the way down to my boat, where's it's pictured. I ripped the packing material away, and then took the old stove completely out.

Getting the new stove in was a challenge. I lucked out a bit on the gimball blocks, and the width was pretty much right on the money. But the height was off; the new stove was much taller than the old one, and the gimball mounts are higher on the body, so although it fit, it slammed into the firewall and couldn't swing free at all.

I had to call in some backup on this one, and Ryan showed up with his arsenal of wood working tools to help. We figured out that we needed to take the old blocks and carve a groove in them, so they'd fit over the moulding.

ryanstove.jpgAfter we got the blocks grooved out properly, we dropped the stove in, and it didn't fit so well. So we took the mounts off, and re did it again. If you're planning on replacing a stove, understand right now that you'll probably be getting very comfortable with your gimball mounting blocks. However wide the stove is, there will be gimball posts that stick out a little wider, and your job will be to position some blocks with the exact height and width you need, in the exact position you need them. It's really not that complicated, but it's difficult conditions to work in, and the stove is heavy.

I ran the propane line as well, but I'll make another thread about that, since it's not entirely done yet, and I don't have a lot of good pictures yet.

newstove.jpgI haven't filled up the fuel tank, but by all accounts, it should be working like a champ now. One of the nice things with propane is that there are only two ends to the hose run: one at the stove, and one at the tank. Barring those two being screwed up, everything else should be fine.