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.

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 but is very important is the need to use Marine Grade wire in all marine applications.  Another is the need to waterproof connections.

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.  Each strand 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.  That being said it might have already lasted nearly 50 years since my boat was that old so for short temr use it might not be quite such an issue.  Virtually all  the connections were badly corroded and crumbling.  Several connections had literally turned to dust!  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 use 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 just like RVs.  Because of the potential confusion between black for negative DC and black for hot AC lines, newer marine 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!  Land based motor vehicles usually have a metal frame which can serve as a ground, but wooden and fiberglass boats need separate ground wires to every fixture or appliance.

For convenience and a good appearance when running wiring, use multi-conductor cable rather than running 2 or more individual lines.  It will be quicker and easier to install and will give a more finished appearance.  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.

Like most jobs, having the right tools will make things easier and make better connections.   While it is possible to strip insulation from wire using a knife, a wire stripper is faster, safer, and does a better job.  If you are using crimp terminals anywhere you will need a wire crimper.  I've seen folks try using pliers and it just doesn't work!  You really need the indentation crimpers make to form a good connection.  Just smashing the two sides of the terminal together with pliers will let the wire slip out if there is ever any tension on the wire at all.  A good soldering iron is also very useful.  Soldered connections will be sturdier and less susceptible to marine corrosion than crimped connections, making them last longer and less likely come apart or to cause a fire!

If you have a sailboat, I recommend pulling some extra wire through the mast when you have the mast down.  Or at least leave yourself a pull string for future use.  You may need to install or repair an anchor light or steaming light and it is a LOT easier to pull wire when the mast is down instead of having to climb the mast.  You may need to add a light or need to change wires if existing wiring gets damaged.  Of course, check all the lights when the mast is down to be sure they will work when you are out on the water.  If you plan to add or update any lighting, do it when you have the mast down.  The previous owner of my sailboat left an extra pull string in the mast I can use when I need to pull more wire.  When I use it I plan to pull another string in case I need one again.

When running wires in the mast you may need to install them in a conduit.  This is essential if your halyards are run inside the mast.  It also protects the wires against chafing and helps silence noise from the banging around inside the mast.  You can also use foam pipe insulation or a pool noodle to cushion the wiring if your halyards run outside that mast.  Cushioning is usually most important near each end of the mast where there mounting hardware intrudes where wires could rub.

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.   Of course, it is better to use soldered connections than wire nuts in a marine environment but there may be some places, like interior cabin lights, where you might want to use wire nuts to facilitate future lighting changes.  In many automotive and even RV applications you can get away with using wire nuts or 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 or wire nut connections are more likely to absorb moisture and corrode.  You might also seal them with the kind of plastic dip used to coat tool handles.  You want to make sure NO moisture gets into the joints!

120 volt AC systems on a boat must always be protected by Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupters (ELCI) and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI).  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 and/or solar panel.   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 immediately 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.  Even when docked boats can move quite a bit due to tides, currents, and wind.  You don't want a live power cord falling off into the water!  The water-proof requirement is pretty much self-explanatory for something plugged into a receptacle on a dock floating on the water.  If a power cord should come disconnected and fall into the water it may cause an electrocution hazard for anyone in contact with the water nearby.  Always use extra caution when connecting or disconnection shore power.  Any shore power sources SHOULD have their own ELCI and GFCI protection.  If they don't, lodge a complaint with the marina and avoid using them until they are brought into compliance.

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  or so 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 having 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.  Even riding OHVs requires a surprising amount of physical strength and activity.  In fact is is said that Supercross, a formalized professional form of dirt biking is THE most physically demanding sport in the world!  Think of having to wrangle a 300# machine at high speeds and make long, high jumps.  I can usually take my belt in a notch or two after a weekend of dirt biking!

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.  As I mentioned before, 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 and that is a good feeling.

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 rather 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 than 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 or  just taking a nice walk.  For some people even lugging an ice chest to and from the picnic table is the best workout they ever get.

Work  it out!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sanitation for Boaters

 The handling of human waste is not a pleasant topic, but it is an important one.  Some  inconsiderate and lazy boaters dump all kinds of waste overboard.  This is NOT a good idea!  Most of our recreational waterways also serve as water supplies for residential and agricultural use and, eventually ALL water will return to the ocean.  We must do our part to keep it clean!  That crap you dump into the lake just might end up in YOUR drinking water!

Some larger cabin cruiser and sailboats have sanitation facilities similar to those on RVs:  sinks and toilets, pressurized or battery powered water delivery, fresh water supply tanks and holding tanks for waste. Holding tanks on boats usually have to be pumped out at an appropriate dock facility.   Smaller "day cruisers" might have a porta-potti instead of a toilet you can carry ashore for dumping.  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.  Be sure to use approved facilities or, in remote areas, follow proper procedures for building latrines to avoid contaminating waterways or creating nasty "traps" for other users of the area.  ALWAYS do your business at least 200 feet from any water.  That is about 70 adult paces.  For you sports fans its about 2/3 of a football field.   Sinks on small boats often drain right out through the hull into the water so be careful what you put down the drain.

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.  If the boat is left outside in freezing weather, holding tanks will have to be protected against freezing.

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 (chemically or biologically) 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.

If you are into canoeing or kayaking, plan regular stops to take care of your bodily needs.  Sometimes you can pull into campgrounds where there are restrooms.  Lacking that you will need to find a relatively private spot where you can dig an appropriate latrine to take care of business.  A latrine always needs to be at least 200 feet (about 70 adult steps) away from any water source so be prepared for a little trek.  Plan ahead and don't wait too long before making your stops.  It may be appealing to keep paddling but you may regret not stopping sooner if you have an "accident" before you can take care of business!

Sail on!

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 with very low hours, 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.   It was exactly the kind of boat I'd dreamed of owning for most of my life and it seemed too good to be true.  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 that if there were still more than one interested party after inspecting the boat, whomever emailed him first on Sunday would get the boat.  Out of hundreds of inquiries he received about 18-20 people comprising 8 - 10 interested families or parties 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 gotten another free sailboat -- this time 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.  Having spent a few weekends on our 24 footer I can appreciate his zeal in getting a 36' boat to live on!  Not sure it would be as easy to sail though.  For weekends our 24 footer is comfortable and fun; living aboard full time would be a real challenge.  Our "seller" did warn us he had been told there was problem raising the swing keel but he had never tried it.

After looking over the boat and determining it was structurally 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 re-sending 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  definitely 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!   The topside gelcoat was somewhat crazed from sunlight and the bottom needed repainting.  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 special oil-based marine 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 at least 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.  Not only did it look brand new, it had colors we liked.  The original faded non-skid deck paint had been a bland beige.  We painted it sky blue.  We were very pleased with the results and the nice compliments we got from other boaters.  The seller ad disclosed that he had been told there was a problem with raising the swing keel, but we had no problem at all when we trailered the boat to bring it home.  We just cranked it up as we piloted the boat onto the trailer.

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.  None of the lights worked, inside our out.  I discovered someone had run the lighting using ordinary zip cord.  Marine wiring is quite specialized -- in order to withstand the rigors of a constantly moist and often salt-air environment.  Marine wiring consists of many more smaller, tinned copper strands than ordinary automotive wiring of the same gauge.  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 household 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, even fish finding and entertainment.  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 and drive trains.  The simple 2-stroke outboard motor on our sailboat should be fairly easy to work on when it needs service or repair.

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 might 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 camp stove and the dinette makes down into one of  the beds.  The main sleeping area is the V-berth in the bow.  It is as wide as a queen side bed at the head and about 9"  wide at the foot.  The walnut grained Formica table was very badly faded and the edging was missing 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.  Some folks suggested furniture polish like Lemon Pledge and I was excited when it perked it right up, but it quickly faded again as it dried  Then my wife suggested I try the SC-1 detail spray I use religiously on our dirt bikes.  But the SC-1 restored it to a near new color that lasts and lasts.  I found some walnut grain iron on tape to replace the missing edging.  The little 24' boat makes a really nice base for extended weekend outings, proving both recreational activities and comfortable weatherproof overnight 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 forested 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 as the wind.  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  and often spray on your face.  It isn't unusual to heel over so far water is coming over the rail into the boat!  However, I was told, 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.  Wind powered the first circumnavigation of the globe.  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 sailboats (6-8 of them) 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 day dreamed about one day owning a daysailer and when the Venture 24 ad popped up and I saw the photo 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, may have significant structural problems, or may have some hidden legal encumbrances such as past-due moorage, registration,  or storage fees.  Salvaged boats may have spent some time underwater and may have hidden damage.  Getting a professional marine survey is a good way to find out if a boat is worth buying, but the come at some cost ($18-$25 per foot).  Surveys will establish the value of the boat and expose items in need of repair or replacement.  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.  After all, there is usually a good reason if a boat is free!  And consider where it is located and how you will get it home -- or at least to its new home.  Sometimes you can hire a crew to pilot your boat from where it is to another marina of your choice, like buying a boat in Bermuda and having it taken to Florida,  but that is not always an option.  Transporting a large vessel over land can be very expensive so consider that if it doesn't come with a trailer or you don't have a vehicle that will pull it.  I saw a guy who bought a wonderful sailboat for just $200 and had to pay around $3000 to get it home!  A trailerable boat will mitigate that risk to some extent, but be sure the trailer is up to snuff.  Many times it has been sitting a long time and the tires will need to be replaced and the wheel bearings serviced if not replaced before it can be used to haul the boat.  Also check the hitch, safety chains, lights, wiring, and brakes.  If the trailer has wooden bunk boards, make sure they aren't damaged or weakened by rot.  Make sure you can fasten the boat securely to the trailer.  I use a pair of 2 1/2"ratchet straps around the hull and fastened to the trailer rails in addition to the eyebolt on the bow that is used to winch the boat onto and secure it on the trailer.

Sail away!