Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Boat Wiring

In some ways wiring on boats is similar to wiring on  RVs, but there are also some very important differences.   One that is often overlooked is the need to use Marine Grade wire in all marine applications.

Marine grade wire.  The high humidity and often, exposure to salt air, demands the wire itself be specially designed for the marine environment.  Marine wiring will  typically have more, smaller copper strands than automotive wiring of the same gauge.  It will also be tinned.  Using ordinary copper wiring on a boat is asking for trouble.  I had to completely rewire our 24' sailboat because some previous owner had wired it with zip cord!  I understand that zip cord is readily available, inexpensive, and easy to work with, but it corrodes way too easily to last very long in a marine environment.  Virtually all  the connections were badly corroded and crumbling.  Fortunately, it didn't cause a fire, but virtually none of the fixtures or connections were functional.

Like RVs, boats may have two or more wiring systems.   Power boats will have a wiring system for the engine, including instruments and controls.  Small pleasure boats may have a low-voltage (usually 12 or 24 volts) DC system for lights and some communications equipment.  Larger boats sometimes us a 48 volt DC system and may have an onboard generator or batteries and an inverter to power 120 volt AC systems to support residential style lights, outlets, and appliances.  The 120 volt wiring systems will normally conform to stringent marine codes that are typically an enhancement of residential wiring codes.  Older DC systems will probably use red conductors for positive and black conductors for negative lines.  Because of the potential confusion between black for negative DC and black for hot AC lines, newer systems use a yellow conductor for negative DC lines.  Of course the electricity doesn't care what color the insulation is so any color wire will carry the current, but the electrician who works on it (whether is is  you or someone who comes after you) will care so try to adhere to the normal conventions.  It will avoid future problems.

Because boats are often made of wood or fiberglass it is mandatory that every fixture has a ground wire  and that the ground connections are clean and secure.  A loose or corroded connection will cause performance problems such as dim, intermittent or flickering lights.  They might also cause arcing which could cause a fire or, if fuel fumes are present, even an explosion!

For convenience and a good appearance when running wiring, use multi-conductor cable rather than running 2 or more individual lines.  The additional insulation surrounding the combined conductors also provides extra protection against moisture and abrasions that could cause a short giving an extra measure of safety and longevity.

For added safety and protection against moisture, use heat shrink tubing on all joints.  It can even be used on wire nuts to help seal them.   In many automotive and even RV applications you can get away with just twisting wires together and wrapping the joint with electrical tape.  In a marine environment is is better to solder the joints and secure them with heat shrink tubing.  Twisted and taped joints are more likely to absorb moisture and corrode.

120 volt AC systems on a boat must always be protected by Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters.  It doesn't matter whether the power is coming from a shore cable or from on onboard source, such as a generator or battery banks and inverter.   Any failure in the electrical system can put both the people on the boat and any nearby swimmers at risk for their lives!  While people on the boat may experience a fatal or non-fatal shock, swimmers could receive a paralyzing dose of electricity and drown due to involuntary loss of muscle control.   Even on the soundest boats, water sometimes puddles and creates hazards we don't normally face on land or in RVs.  It would always be a good idea to enlist the services or at least seek the advice of a qualified marine electrician when installing or modifying 120 volt electrical components on your boat.

Shore power cords for boats differ from shore power cords for RVs.  They have water-proof, twist lock connectors.  The twist lock connectors are required to prevent accidental disconnects from movement of the boat while docked.  The water-proof requirement is pretty much self-explanatory for something plugged into a receptacle on a dock floating on the water.

Power  up!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Outdoor Activities -- Healthy, Fun, and Endless

One of the criticisms of today's lifestyle (at least in so-called "civilized" countries) is the lack of physical activity and exercise.  The very fact that we have fitness centers attests to the lack of normal physical activity.  A hundred years ago, when Western society consisted mostly of farmers, people got plenty of physical exercise every day.  It was part of their normal routine and something they had to do just to survive.  As we entered the industrial age we began shifting more and more physical labor to machines.  While no one would complain about having to not work as hard or to have more free time, we are paying the price in terms of things like increasing obesity and a couch potato attitude and behavior resulting in an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle for many people.

Some people turn to gym memberships for physical exercise.   If that works for you, more power to you.  Many people sign up for memberships and then don't use them.  Someone described a gym membership as a PE class you pay to skip!  I'm afraid I kind of share that attitude.  If you enjoy working out and can do it consistently it can indeed provide many health benefits.  Unfortunately, for a lot of people it isn't fun enough or interesting enough to keep them keep them motivated.  In just about any endeavor, having someone to share it makes it more appealing and easier to stick with.   Outdoor recreational activities usually provide enough fun and social interaction to generate long-lasting motivation.

Outdoor recreation provides a variety of activities that include physical exercise, mental stimulation, and even spiritual experiences.  RVing, camping, dirt biking, boating, bicycling, hiking, hunting, and fishing all give us a chance to escape the numbing daily grind, get outside, and get some good physical exercise to boot.  Given the plethora of available outdoor opportunities, there is something for everyone.  You might be surprised how much physical effort it takes to ride motorized toys like dirt bikes and jet skis and how many calories you can burn.  I usually find that I have to take my belt up a notch or two after just a couple of days of riding my dirt bike.

In my family we have found that RVing and camping are perfect companions for many outdoor recreational pursuits.   While RVing and camping by themselves are fun and rewarding, when coupled with additional fun things to do (like dirt biking, hiking, boating, fishing, etc) they provide a solid foundation of enjoyable and productive diversions from our normal, often rather sedentary, lives.  With so many white collar jobs where you spend all day at a desk or sitting in front of a computer and even many blue collar jobs being assisted by robots and other machines, it is all too easy to slip into a pattern of minimal physical activity.

Sometimes interest in some kind of sport (hiking, swimming, dirt biking) gives you a motivation to improve and maintain your fitness so you are better prepared and can more enjoy what you do.  If you can only get away once a month for your favorite outdoor playtime, you may need to add some daily exercise so you are strong enough and agile enough to participate in your chosen sport.  Having a reason for hitting the gym or run through your daily exercise routine makes it easier to find or make the time to do it and stick with it.

Often during the first day of riding my dirt bike after not being able to get out for a while I would feel like I either need to do a lot less or a lot more riding.  Given those two options I would certainly like to do a lot more riding!   Usually by the second day I get my second wind and thoroughly enjoy the strenuous workout I get riding my dirt bike on challenging trails.  It has been said and I've quoted it often in this blog, "You don't stop riding because you get old; you get old because you stop riding."  To me that is a pretty darn good incentive to get out and ride (or hike or sail) as often as I can.

RVing, camping, and related activities are a terrific way to escape our modern, sedentary lifestyle.  Outdoor recreation such as hiking, mountain biking, hunting, fishing, OHV riding, boating and, in winter, snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding, all provide outstanding physical exercise.  You would be surprised how much effort it takes even to operate motorized equipment such as OHVs, jetskis and snowmobiles.  Sailing probably takes a lot more labor that driving a power boat, but they both get you out into the sunshine and either kind of boating often encourages swimming, which is an excellent, non-impact physical exercise.   Just about any kind of camping, but especially beach camping, encourages things like playing volleyball or throwing a frisbee.

Work  it!


Monday, May 21, 2018

How We Got Into Sailing -- Free Sailboat!

Yeah, you heard me right!  We got a sailboat for free!  It was nearly 50 years old -- a 1970 MacGregor Venture 24.  It came with 2 sets of sails, a working outboard motor, and the original trailer.  It has a swing keel so it trailers easily.  I couldn't believe it when I came across the ad on our local craigslist.   But I figured it didn't cost anything to respond to the ad and, you know the saying, "nothing ventured, nothing gained".  I was pleasantly surprised when I got a fast response from the "seller".  He said the response to the ad had "exploded" (imagine that!) and since he couldn't meet with all the interested parties individually he scheduled a Saturday morning for us all  to come look it over.  The deal was if there were still more than one interested party, whomever emailed him first on Sunday would get the boat.  Out of hundreds of inquiries he received about 18-20 people 10 comprising 8 - 10 interested families or groups actually showed up for the showing.  My wife and I made a point of getting there early and it paid off because we got to meet the owner and his wife and chat with them a little bit before the other folks showed up.

OK, so why was he giving away a good sailboat for freeDefinitely a good question and one we all very much wanted answered.  Turns out HE got the boat for free off craigslist a little over a year before and had just another free sailboat -- a 36 footer!  The previous owner of the Venture 24 was getting older and had injured  his back so he couldn't sail anymore.  The boat needed a little work and he hadn't been able to find a buyer and his own kids were not interested in having it.  So he advertised it for free on craigslist and the gentleman I got it from was the only one who responded.  He re-did all the standing rigging and purchased a good set of used sails to augment the well-used set that came with the boat.  Then, when he got a 36' sailboat for free, he and his wife decided to "pay it forward" by giving away the 24' Venture.   He got his second free sailboat from an acquaintance at work who was tired of paying registration, insurance and moorage fees on a boat he never used.  Since the 36 footer is better suited to the couple's goal of eventually being able to live and travel on a sailboat, they jumped at the chance to upgrade.

After looking over the boat and determining it was solid (but could use some TLC), we decided we wanted to be first in that email line on Sunday morning.  With that in mind I began sending emails about 11:30 pm (not knowing  how long it would take to reach the owner) and kept resending about every 5 minutes until well after midnight.   You can imagine how thrilled we were to get a call Sunday morning telling us we  had been selected as the recipients of the Venture 24!

As I mentioned above, it  defintely needed some TLC -- the once beautiful teak trim was all weathered an ugly concrete gray and the gelcoat on the topside was crazed from nearly 50 years in the elements.  With a little research on the Internet I discovered the faded teak could be restored to very near its original color by cleaning it with oxalic acid, then rubbing it down with teak oil and re-varnishing it.  I was amazed at  how quickly and beautifully it cleaned up!  We decided to paint the entire boat inside and out, which was kind of a fun winter project, letting us enjoy and get familiar with our boat even though it was too cold outside for sailing.  We chose a semi-gloss, exterior acrylic latex paint for the interior and oil-based Topside and Bottom paint for the exterior.   As anyone who has ever done any painting knows, preparation is not only the key to success, but about 80% of the effort.   Cleaning, sanding, wiping down, and masking each section took much longer than the actual painting, but when we were done we were very pleased.

Although the fiberglass hull and all  the other major components (mast, boom, rudder, keel, and rigging) were all solid, the wiring was in sad shape.  I discovered someone had run a lot of the lighting using ordinary zip cord.  Marine wiring is quite specialized -- in order to withstand the rigors of a constantly moist environment.  Marine wiring consists of many more smaller, tinned copper strands than ordinary automotive wiring of the same guage.  Of course that makes it harder to find and more expensive, but seeing what happened to the zip wire quickly convinced me to use only marine rated wire when I re-wired the boat.  The little 12-volt power panel was such a convoluted tangle of wires that I completely stripped it down and started over.  None of the existing navigation lights were functional so I replaced them with modern LED versions that will use very little power and will last for thousands of hours.  I replaced all the interior lights with LED fixtures too, then added a 30 Watt solar panel to charge the battery.

There is a saying that "A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money!" and I can see how easily that could  happen.  I soon learned that in addition to special wiring and special paints that are both more expensive than their more common equivalents, there are hundreds and hundreds of very appealing options for boaters, ranging from basic shoes and clothing to exotic electronics for communication, navigation, depth finding and even fish finding.  I guess I can be glad I have a sailboat.  At least I won't be paying high prices for marine fuel or high cost of maintenance and repairs on complicated engines.

I learned several interesting facts about our little Venture 24.   They have a reputation for being almost unsinkable (but so was the Titanic!).  It is said you can heel one over until the top of the mast is in the water and it will right itself, due to the 500 lb swing keel hanging out the bottom.   I was surprised to learn it will sleep 5 people!  It doesn't have built in sanitation like a larger vessel would  have but it does have a nice little stainless steel kitchen sink and a porta-potti.  The galley has a shelf designed to hold a campstove and the dinette makes down into one of  the beds.  The walnut grained Formica table was very badly faded when we got it.  I was getting quite discouraged when I searched for remedies online only the learn the Formica would probably have to be replaced or painted.  Then my wife suggested I try the SC-1 detail spray I use religiously on my dirt bikes, and Wa-lah!  Success!  While ordinary furniture polish would temporarily restore the color, it quickly faded again as it dried.  But the SC-1 restored it to a near new color that lasts and lasts.   The little 24' boat makes a really nice base for extended weekend outings, proving both recreational activities and weatherproof accommodations.

 As much as we love dirt biking, I have to admit there are some summer days that are just too hot and too dry to enjoy riding the trails.   Here where we now live in Oregon, many riding areas get closed due to high fire danger during the late summer.  Being able to head out on the water and be able to dive right off the boat to cool off is a fun and welcome alternative.  One of the the things a really like about skippering a sailboat instead of a power boat is the choice of adventure.  If you like just relaxing, set a course downwind.  You can "ghost" along and since the wind is pushing you, you hardly feel any breeze at all as it carries you along at almost the same speed.  But if you want more excitement, turn around and sail back into the wind.  Now a sailboat can't really sail directly into the wind.  In fact, if the bow is pointed directly into the wind the boat is said to be "in irons" and it won't go anywhere, unless you count being pushed backwards!  Sailing into the wind means tacking back and forth across the wind at an angle.  When you do this the wind fills the sail and turns it into an airfoil (like an airplane wing) and the "lift " pushes the boat along.  When doing this the boat will often heel over 15° or so and you can really feel the speed and the wind in your face.  It isn't unusual to heel over so far water is coming over the rail into the boat!  However, it is said as long as the water coming over the rail is white and not green, you're OK.   Wind can generate a surprising amount of power and speed.  Remember, wind was essentially the only way to move large vessels on the water for thousands of years.  I've even seen sailboats tow water skiers!  When I lived in Marina Del Rey near Los Angeles, California some years ago, there was a guy with a little 10-12' sailing catamaran who would take it out and tow water skiers with it when most of the power boats were seeking shelter during small craft warnings.

My interest in sailing began long before we found a free sailboat.   I had joined a sailing club associated with a company I worked for in southern California many years ago and learned the basics on a 14' cat boat.  For a while I owned a little 8' sabot that I logged a few hours on and when I went to scout camp as an assistant scoutmaster with one of my son's Boy Scout troops, I spent most of the week getting their boats back in the water and giving a few basic sailing lessons.  One of their boats was a 19' lightning class that I found was really fun to sail.  Until I got the  Venture 24 it was the largest boat I'd ever sailed.  I had a day dreamed about one day owning a daysailer and when the Venture 24 ad popped up it was EXACTLY what I'd always wanted.

By the way, there are other ways to find free boats.  In fact there is an entire web site devoted to Free Boats.  You can also find cheap boats on ebay where at least one charity offers boats for sale that have been donated to them, allowing them to auction them off at ridiculously low prices.  However, as always, caveat emptor -- buyer beware!  Many free boats will need a lot of work or may have some hidden legal incumberances such as past-due moorage or storage fees.  Be sure you are prepared to handle what ever work is needed -- either by doing it yourself or having the budget to pay a professional to do it for you. 

Sail away!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sanitation for Boaters

Some larger cabin cruiser and sailboats have sanitation facilities similar to those on RVs:  fresh water supply tanks and  holding tanks for waste.  Smaller "day cruisers" might have a porta-potti.  Human powered crafts (row boats, canoes, kayaks) and personal water craft don't have any sanitation facilities and you have to stop somewhere when you need to go.

The process for using, maintaining and dumping the holding tanks on larger vessels is very similar to that for RVs with one exception:  RVs normally use gravity to transfer the waste from the holding tanks to the dump station.  The holding tanks on boats usually have to be pumped.   A well equipped marina will have facilities to pump boat holding tanks.  If you take your boat out of the water after each outing and trailer it home,  you might be able to dump the holding tanks in any standard RV dump station.  Of course, permanent holding tanks always need to be flushed and the chemicals refreshed when they are dumped.

Its very important to avoid contaminating the water in the lake, river, or marina.  Many of the lakes, rivers, and reservoirs available for recreational use are also sources of drinking water.   I've even seen some places where swimming is prohibited to avoid contamination.  The galley and head sinks on some smaller boats may drain directly out through the hull.  If this is the case with your boat be careful not put anything nasty down the drain!  

Handling the porta-pottis on smaller crafts is pretty much the same as for tent campers.  Carry the holding tank out of the boat and dump it into a toilet or approved dump station.   As always, be sure to rinse it thoroughly and add the proper amount of chemicals so it will be ready to use next time you go out.  Re-fill the clean water reservoir on the porta-potti each time  you dump it too.

Sail on!