Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, 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. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Refinishing Formica RV Tables and Countertops

Many RVs, especially older ones, have Formica tables and countertops.  While there is some appeal to upgrading to more modern and luxurious materials, such as granite or composite solid surface, these are usually cost prohibitive for the average RVer.   Exotic materials may also add a lot of unwanted and unnecessary weight.

If you have faded Formica, you may have gotten discouraged looking for solutions to restore the color and shine on the Internet.  Mostly what I found in my initial search was that it could not be restored, but had to be sanded and painted or the faded Formica ripped off and replaced.  Some folks recommended various waxes and furniture polishes, but in my own attempts, none of them worked.  A good aerosol furniture polish made it look good while it was wet, but as soon as it dried it was back to its old dull, faded color.  Not an acceptable solution.

Then my wife suggested trying the SC-1 detail spray we use on our dirt bikes.  And wa-la! Instant success!  We had a badly faded walnut grain Formica table in our nearly 50 year old sailboat.  I thought I was going to have to paint it or get a new one.  But the SC-1 brought it back to like new condition with just a single application!  So far it has lasted 3 years and still looks good!

A second trick for restoring old table tops is to replace missing or damaged edge trim.  It is easier than you might think.  The edge trim was long gone from our boat table, exposing the rough edge of the plywood it was made of.  I bought some iron-on walnut edge tape at my local home center, sanded the old edge, and ironed on the tape,  trimmed it with a razor knife, then sealed it with a good clear coat and now instead of ugly old exposed plywood the edge is a nicely finished walnut that matches the restored Formica table top.  You can also get iron on edge tape in the form of white Melmac for edging shelves.  I didn't want to take any chances ruining my wife's good iron so I picked up a used one at a thrift store for a couple of bucks.  You can probably get away with using your regular household iron if you are careful with it. 

Of course, if you want or need to change the color of a table or countertop or if the surface has been physically damaged by scraping or badly stained beyond redemption, you can still paint.  Sand the old surface to remove any contaminants and smooth out imperfections, fill any holes, then clean it with rubbing alcohol or acetone, the paint according to the paint manufacturer's instructions.  A gloss paint will be easier to clean but a semi-gloss will hide imperfections better and still look good.

Another option for RV tables is to simply replace them.  Most of them are removable and can be easily replaced by a new table, available at most RV stores.  Or you could custom design and make your own if you have the DIY skills and tools to do so.  Butcher block cutting boards can sometimes be found in a size to match smaller tables, like the ones in front of an RV sofaReplacement tables can be had for $30-$100 and you can even order them custom made to your specifications.  Custom made tables can run into the hundreds of dollars, depending on size, material, and features you specify.  Brand new, ready made tables can be purchased at RV stores, usually for less than $50.


There is no need to live with ugly tables or countertops.  With a little creative effort they can be restored to give new life to your RV.

Happy restoring!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Alternate Hot Weather Activities

When the hot summer weather arrives, camping and dirt biking in dry, desert or even mountain environments gets to be a little more than uncomfortable.   During the hot summer months in southern California we sometimes opted to drive a little further than our usual Mojave Desert haunts to more mountainous regions where it was cooler.  However, for REAL relief from summer heat, you might want to consider water based activities like swimming, fishing, and boating.

For desert camping in the summer we often brought along a kiddie pool and a 55 gallon drum of water.   Obviously you won't be swimming a plastic pool less than a foot deep, but it does let you get wet enough to cool of on hot days.  At first we took a lot of hazing from bring it along but eventually it was really a lot of fun to see big, burly bikers cooling off in our little pool.  The only downside I recall was that it seemed to attract every sweat bee within miles!

Water activities usually provide opportunities for cooler recreation -- swimming, boating, or just lying around the beach (and taking advantage of the water to cool off now and then).  For that reason, and because I've always liked sailing, we have recently acquired a 24' Venture sailboat, complete with outboard motor for windless days and a trailer to get it to and from the lake.  It is small enough to trailer and for two of us to comfortably sail but has a large enough cabin to provide protection from sudden squalls and room to stay overnight in a remote cove.

Personal cooling devices can provide an amazing degree of comfort on hot days.  You can buy little battery powered portable fans to create a little personal breeze, some even come with water bottles attached so you can add a cooling mist.  For easy , inexpensive, and convenient personal cooling, we use simply spray bottles.  Spritz every now and then can be very refreshing.  We picked up our bottles at our local Dollar Tree.  That's got to be about the cheapest air conditioning you'll ever find!

Yes, I know, it is said that a boat is merely "a hole in the water into which you throw money".   But, like any other recreational pursuit, it will be what you make of it.  Just like RVs and OHVs, you can spend a lot of money on boats and related equipment and accessories, but you don't have to.  For example, we got our 24' Venture for free! There is even a web site that specializes in free or low cost boats:  http://www.free-boat.com/.  I was surprised at the number and variety of boats I saw there.  I have also seen inexpensive boats on ebay.  Some are offered by an organization that solicits donations and then sells them to fund their charitable operations.  I recently saw 25' sailboat in seaworthy condition go for $611 on ebay!  But, if you find a good deal, be aware there will be title and registration fees to be paid and, if the boat is in a marina, you may have proof of insurance and have to pay moorage fees.  If it comes with at trailer there will be DMV fees for the trailer.  If it doesn't come with a trailer you may have to pay to have it transported from where it is to your home or the port where you will moor it.  So, even a free boat will not be entirely with some up front costs.  And then there are the costs of maintenance and for renovation and/or restoration, if you choose to go that route. 

In some ways, our sailboat is like a floating RV and many of the lessons learned while RVing can be directly applied to "living" on a sailboat, for example, limited and scale down resources, and water and power conservation.  However, there are unique safety and operating procedures we all need to become familiar with before be embark on any maritime activities.  You can often get started with a free online instruction, then augment it with hands on training classes or guidance from experienced sailors.

Unlike RVs, which usually have standup headroom in even the smallest campers and tent trailers,  the cabins on many boats may be considerably shorter, except in larger yachts.  You can stand up somewhat bent over enough to move around inside the cabin of our little 24' sailboat and it isn't too uncomfortable to cook on the camp stove inside and very comfortable to eat at the dinette or sleep in the berths, but we always have to walk bent over and be sure to duck our heads unless the overhead companionway slide is open!  Sleeping in the v-berth (in the bow of the boat) has the headroom limitations of a truck camper with the added narrowing at the bow that pushes our feet together.  Some boats have a "pop top" that is mostly used when at anchor to give stand up headroom in the cabin. 

Our sailboat is a 1970 MacGregor Venture 24.  It is structurally sound but shows some signs of nearly 5 decades in the sun and water.  The gel coat on the deck is crazed and will need to be sanded and painted.  The once lovely teak trim had weathered to a dull uniform grey.  The nice walnut grained Formica table in the cabin was faded until near the center edge it was about the color of hot chocolate powder and the edging was gone, exposing raw, rough plywood.  A few feet of iron-on walnut edging tape painted with clear coat quickly solved the edging problem.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and effective the iron-on tape was.  As for the Formica, my attempt to find a suitable solution on the Internet resulted in a few, ineffective suggestions:  furniture polish or wax.  I tried a variety of products and while some made it look nice while it was still wet, it returned to its dull, dingy color when it tried.  Then my wife suggested using the same SC-1 Clear Coat detailing spray I use on my dirt bikes and in just minutes, we had a table that looked like new!  You can usually buy SC-1 at your local off road bike shop but if they don't have it they can probably order it.  It is made by Maxima, who produces a number of products most bike shops regularly carry.    SC-1's tag line on the can reads "New bike in a can" and you will be surprised how well it works to improve appearance.   It has been fun to find cross-over skills between our RV/OHV lifestyle and our new maritime addition.

As you might imagine, our nearly 50-year old sailboat needed some TLC, both the make her look better and to prevent further deterioration.  The paint inside the cabin was chalky and peeling.  It took some scraping and sanding to get rid of the damage.  A coat of Kilz is then a good idea as a primer and to reduce the possibility of mildew.  Marine grade paints can be quite expensive.  However, the small area involved may help keep the cost down and they may provide longer life than house paints.  I've heard of people using ordinary interior house paint inside their boats, but I would prefer to use and exterior acrylic latex or at least a paint rated for kitchens and bathrooms since the inside of a boat will by its nature be exposed to a lot of humidity.  We're now going on three years since refurbishing and the paint is still holding up very well.

Outside, the teak trim was barely recognizable as it had weathered to a dull, uniform grey color.  I was delighted to find it can be cleaned with oxaclic acid to bleach out they grey, then a coating or two of teak oil to restore the luster and depth of the color gets it ready for a suitable clear coat like polyurethane to protect it from the element and give it a deep, rich shine that both looks good and is comfortable to touch -- especially nice for hand rails.

Most boats, even sailboats, will have some 12-volt wiring for lights.  Lights may include convenience lights in the cabin and cockpit and required navigational lights for night time cruising. Wiring on a boat may not appear too different from wiring on an automobile or an RV, although some larger boats may have 24 or even 48 volt systems instead of 12 volt systems.   However, be aware that marine wire is different than automotive wire.  The same gauge wire will be made up of many more smaller diameter strands and each strand is tinned to prevent corrosion.  Yes, it will be a lot more expensive than ordinary primary wire for automotive or RV use, but it is necessary to ensure long life and good, safe connections in the marine environment.   You don't want your navigation lights to fail due to corroded connections while you're out on the water at night and even losing cabin lighting could be more than just inconvenient.  I found some cabin lights in our Venture had been wired using ordinary 2-conductor zip wire.  I'm sure it was cheap and convenient for whoever did it, but now all the connections are a badly corroded to a dull green and I had to replace the wiring to ensure safety, reliability, and performance.  For good measure I replaced all the old incandescent lights with LEDs, both interior lights and navigation lights.

If you decide to explore boating opportunities to augment your regular camping and OHV outings, be sure to get proper training on how to operate your boat or personal watercraft.  Also make sure you wear proper safety gear.  Personal Flotation Devices are required for every person on a boat or personal watercraft and larger boats (over 16') must have at least one throwable flotation device.  This could be a life saver ring or simply an appropriately configured cockpit cushion.  You will also have to carry appropriate signalling devices (flags, lights, flares, horns, whistles, "day shapes").

There are also signals you need to be aware of to indicate to other boaters your intentions and for them to indicate theirs to you.  Boat horns have much more specific meanings than car horns.  When approaching another boat, a short single toot of your horn indicates you want to pass them on your port (left) side.  Two short toots means passing on the starboard side.  A hint for remembering which is which:  port has one syllable and one toot, starboard has two syllables and two toots.  Three toots mean backing up.  Five toots mean danger!  Or that you don't understand or disagree with the other boat's intentions.  For example, if they indicate passing you on the port side and there is a swimmer or an obstacle there they can't see, you would respond with five toots of your horn.  In poor visibility (e.g., fog) use one long blast when coming around a blind corner if you're in a power boat or one long and two short blasts for a sail boat, repeated about every two minutes.  You need to know these signals so you can recognize them when you hear them and be able to use them when necessary.  Short blasts or toots are about 1 second in duration.  Long blasts are about 4-6 seconds in duration.

Being near or out on the water means you are going to be exposed to a lot of sunlight and will need to pay attention to proper UV protection.  The sunlight reflecting off the water can burn as quickly and as badly as direct sunlight from above.   Sometimes you won't notice you're burning because of the cooling affect of the breeze and/or spray, but don't let that fool you.  Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are far more than fashion accessories when boating:  they are a necessity.

Personal watercraft, such as jet skies and SkiDoos, have a particular appeal to folks who usually ride dirt bikes or snowmobiles.  In fact, jet skis are sometimes called 'wet bikes' and are ridden much like a motorcycle.  SkiDoos are a lot like snowmobiles for the water.   However, just because the conformation and controls are familiar doesn't mean you don't need to take time learn how to ride them!  Taking a little time to get familiar with and learn proper use of any kind of motorized recreational equipment is essential and will pay back dividends in safety and fun for years to come.

Canoes and kayaks are popular vessels for personal use and use by small groups.  Since they have no motors or sails, there is a lot less that could go wrong and they require less maintenance.  They are economical to use, being powered either by hand or water currents, and are usually small enough and light enough to be easily transported from your home to various venues -- or around obstacles you might encounter on a river (like dams and falls).  About the only downside to these craft are that they ride very low in the water, are somewhat unstable and can be easily capsized if you aren't careful.  There are very few Boy Scouts who haven't gotten dunked in a canoe at summer camp!

Sailboats have a kind of nostalgic aura and there is a certain feeling of accomplishment and connection with the sea (or lake) that comes with operating them.  They may be as simple as a sabot (about 8' long with a single sail) or as complex as the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow's pirate ship in Pirates of the Carribean.  Most popular are boats in the 20-30 foot range, with a single mast (known as sloops) and with a small cabin that provides basic creature comforts out on the water and in port.  These boats are often called "daysailers".

Power or motor boats appeal to a lot of people.  The controls for a power boat are similar to those in a car, except that there is no brake!  To stop a power boat you have to reverse the rotation of the propeller.  They are mostly steered using a wheel like a car although some with outboard motors have a tiller (handle) connected to the motor.  They come in many sizes and shapes from sleek, high-powered racing boats and water-ski boats, to huge yachts that are like floating palaces.  A popular mid-sized boat is a cabin cruiser.  These luxurious vessels provide a lot of creature comforts on the water and at anchor.

If you take up water skiing, there will be additional safety measures and signals you will need to know and, even if you don't water ski, you should become familiar with some of these signals any time you are on the water since you are likely to be sharing the space with water skiers and ski boats.  One of the most important signals is the flag that indicates there is a skier in the water.  This is a bright, hunter orange flat about 12" square and is used when the skier is down.  When you see this, slow down and exercise extra caution around that boat to avoid running over the person in the water.

Most states offer boating safety courses to help you get acquainted with rules and proper practices.  In some cases, proof of having completed such a course are required before you can operate a vessel in that state.

Boats with cabins usually have some kind of sanitation facilities.  On larger boats there will be holding tanks like those on on RV.  Unless you take the boat out of the water and have a way to drain the holding tanks, they will have to be pumped regularly to empty them.  Most marinas where you can rent moorage offer these services.  On smaller vessels you may have a portapotti which you can remove and empty yourself into a suitable dump station or maybe even into your own toilet at home.  In either case these will require the same kind of care and treatment as a black water tank on an RV.  Use only RV-safe toilet paper and never put facial tissue, sanitary napkins, wet wipes (not even those designated flushable), or paper towels into a toilet on a boat.  And, of course, keep an eye on the level of waste in the holding tank, including the little one on your portapotti!  Be sure to empty them BEFORE they get completely full.

If you get a boat with a cabin and plan to sleep in it, either docked in the harbor or at anchor in a remote cove, be sure to try it out where you have a way to easily escape if you find it unsuitable.  For example, we plan to aclimatize ourselves by sleeping in our boat a few times while it is still on the trailer at home before we add the strangeness of the sounds and feeling of being on the water.   Larger boats may have comfortable staterooms equipped with very good beds.  In smaller boats, like our 24 footer, the berths are under the bow (v-berth), in the converted dinette (much like the bed on a truck camper but with thinner cushions) or along the port (left) side under the cockpit.  Sleeping in the V-berth in the bow is a little like sleeping in a truck camper with limited headroom but with your feet jammed together into the narrow prow of the boat.  It isn't as uncomfortable as it sounds, but it may take some adjustment.  Be aware that even when tied up at a dock (and even more so when at anchor) a boat is going to rock.  Wake from passing boats, waves in the water, and even a gentle breeze blowing against the boat may cause it to move.  For some people it is soothing, like being rocked in a cradle.  But for other people this can be disquieting, even to the point of usffering insomnia or getting seasick.

Speaking of getting seasick, it is not uncommon for people to get ill from the movement of a boat, especially until they get used to it.  There is popular commercial product to treat seasickness.  It is called Dramamine®. You can get it an just about any pharmacy without a prescription.  If you know or even suspect you are susceptible, be sure to pick some up before your first aquatic outing.  Some people even need it when traveling by car, train, or plane too.

If you can't get to the water, you may still be able to cool down in camp.  We used a kiddie pool on some of our desert outings and it was a hoot to see the big, burly dirt bikers in our group come over to splash around and cool off.   But you can cool each other off using squirt guns or cool yourself off with a spray bottle. 

Aquatic activities can provide a welcome respite from summer heat and a pleasant alternative to hot, dry, land-locked excursions.  As with any kind of camping and motorized recreation, boating is a great way to create quality family time and create family bonding.

Ahoy mate!