Category Archives: Product Review

Pots and Pans

Very few pieces of gear on our boat get as much use as the pots and pans in the galley. In addition to my treasured cast iron skillet set, I have nesting stainless steel pots by Galleyware. I’ve had them for several years now, and aside from a few dings (from kids using them as drums), they are in good shape. The detachable handles aren’t doing so well, though, and when I looked at the replacement parts at www.galleyware.com , I saw that they had improved the design of the set and the way the handles attach/detach, so I decided to replace the pots and pans entirely. And boy, am I glad I did!

Drums

I love these pots and pans. There are 12 pieces in the $138 set: a stock pot, a skillet (which can also serve as a cover for the stock pot), a 3-qt. pot, a 2 1/2-qt. pot, a 2 quart pot, 2 detachable handles, a large universal lid, and 4 plastic covers for storing leftovers. I also bought a small universal lid which fits the three smaller pots. They are made of heavy, marine-grade stainless steel, with an aluminum core for good heat distribution. The whole set nests neatly in the stock pot and fits in a drawer. One of my favorite features of this particular brand is the plastic storage lids; you can detach the handle, cover the pot and stick it in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch, making leftovers easy to warm up.

IMG_1520

IMG_1531

This product is tried and tested—one I can recommend wholeheartedly to those who own boats or RVs or who simply want to reduce clutter and save space. For what it’s worth, these pots and pans get the Take Two seal of approval.

These Shoes Were Made For Walking

…And hiking, and sailing, and biking, and spelunking, and playing ball. I have found the best shoes for our traveling lifestyle. Two-and-a-half years ago, I bought two pairs of ECCO Yucatan sandals, in black and brown. At a hundred dollars a pair, they were pricey for sandals, but since we sold the house and gave away all my other shoes, I needed something  to wear that would be versatile, attractive and durable. Those shoes saw a lot of diverse mileage, I can tell you. And they survived a pregnancy, which is a feat. I recently replaced them…with two new pairs of ECCO Yucatan sandals, in black and brown.

They are extremely comfortable, have great traction and support, and are cute to boot. I know lots of people swear by TEVAs (Jay has a pair of flip-flops, complete with scuppers), but I’ve never heard of a TEVA lasting for 2 ½ years of daily use! Jay replaces his about once a year, and they spend the last couple of months outside because the foot bed eventually takes on a distinctive aroma.

Because children are so hard on shoes, grow so fast and spend so much time barefoot, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on their footwear. The best option for them is the Croc. Waterproof, relatively inexpensive, comfortable, quick and easy, the Crocs live in a basket outside the door, and the kids can grab them and go and be ready in an instant. They usually grow through about two pairs each year, and ordering online and shipping them wherever we are means we can avoid going on the dreaded shoe-shopping trip.

One thing we love about our lifestyle is its simplicity. Less stuff means less clutter, less to keep track of, and less to take care of. That goes for everything from head to toe—or I should say, buzz cuts to Crocs.

The Mercedes-Benz of Pressure Cookers

Having the right tools in the galley is essential to making great meals on a boat. I have written elsewhere about how much I love my Vitamix blender/grinder and my Foodsaver vacuum-sealer, but the newest addition, a Kuhn-Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker, may end up being my favorite.

The Swiss engineers at Kuhn-Rikon are obviously very proud of their product, congratulating the purchaser for buying “the Mercedes-Benz of pressure cookers.” Of course, that implies that it was expensive, but it was also the only pressure cooker that met my requirements: it is a 12-quart, stainless steel, 2-pressure-setting beast of a pot. It has won a prominent spot in the corner of the galley, more because I have nowhere else to put something so large than because I am particularly proud of it. Also, unless an appliance is easy to come by, it will get neglected due to the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” syndrome.

I was always a slow-cooker kind of girl, but the crock-pot and the boat’s electric system used to have the occasional disagreement that led to ruining dinner. I knew many boaters had pressure cookers instead of crock pots, and now I know why. So far, I am very pleased with it. I am incredulous how quickly it cooks things that used to take forever—a chicken, for example—which takes almost two hours in the oven, took only 20 minutes to pressure-cook! And with the carcass, I made a bone broth in about an hour, something that I used to simmer overnight when we lived in a house and didn’t worry about conserving fuel. I have also made a pot roast, a rice pudding, Boston “baked” beans, a 20-minute meatloaf, butternut squash, potatoes, and a few soups. Though I have not (yet) noticed fuel savings, I have noticed that the galley doesn’t get as hot as when I use the oven, especially if I take the pot to the cockpit to de-pressurize.

Other uses for the pressure cooker about which I am excited are canning and sterilizing. I have up until now only done boiling-water canning with jams and other acidic items. Pressure canning allows me to can soups, meats, and vegetables. Not that I am planning a big canning spree, but you never know. When we did our emergency medical training, we learned that surgical instruments can be easily sterilized using pressurized steam. Hopefully I won’t need to do that, but now I can.

I am not only looking forward to modifying my favorite recipes for the pressure cooker, but also trying some new things, like pork shoulder for BBQ, black beans and rice, corned beef and cabbage, and the world’s-best creamy coconut flan for which my friend Chachi gave me a flan pan and recipe at Christmas (thank you)! While I wish I had known about the pressure cooker before now, I’m not sure I would have used it when I lived in the house. An oven with a timer and a slow-cooker may have made the pressure-cooker overkill. And, unless someone is cooking for a crowd, a cooker as large as mine is unnecessary. Lots of fellow boaters swear by these pots, and it has certainly earned a place in our galley. Initially we were resistant to buying one, but now that we have it we can’t figure out what we would do without it.

PFD Review

For those of you outside of boating, PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device, or, in plain English, life jacket. Everyone in our family has one, though they are all slightly different. We’ve had several types, and since we spend a good bit of the time underway wearing them, we’ve searched and researched until we’ve found ones that place safety and comfort at the top of the list. Jay has a Mustang Survival Type V Inflatable jacket with a hydrostatic gauge and D-rings for a harness. Mine is similar, a West Marine Brand inflatable vest, which I find only slightly uncomfortable, and which does not have D-rings for a harness. It is a lovely shade of lavender, though. We only wear ours when sailing at night or when on watch by ourselves, or during rough weather.

The kids, on the other hand, wear their life jackets any time they step out of the door and into the cockpit when we’re underway. Their life jackets, with the exception of the infant jacket, are Mustang Survival Type II Children’s life vests. The 30-50 pound jacket zips and fastens through the legs with webbing, and also has a flotation “pillow” behind the head with a webbing strap, designed to help a small person stay face up in the water, and be easy to grab. The other jackets are 50-90 pound vests and have zip closures without the crotch strap or pillow. They are nylon with mesh sides for ventilation and we rarely hear complaints about their being uncomfortable. Of course, it wouldn’t do any good to complain, anyway, but the four older kids are able to go about their business without impediment while wearing them. Jay customized them with reflective tape last year and a kid would light up like Christmas if we had to find one in the dark with a flashlight.

IMAG0228 

Rachel poses a bit of a problem when it comes to life jackets. She’s too little to understand why she must wear one, and the most vocal when uncomfortable. The nylon one we had for infants to 30 pounds simply swallowed her up and was so bulky it was hard to hold onto her when she was in it. Plus she screamed the whole time she wore it. The neoprene life jacket (HO Sports), on the other hand, was much smaller and seemed a lot more comfortable. The one disadvantage we noticed is that it doesn’t breathe and she got really sweaty wearing it. But until she gets bigger and grows into the yellow Mustang, we’re happy with the softer neoprene one and recommend it for the smallest sailors.

Splendide Indeed

After having used the Italian-made Splendide marine washer/dryer for about a month now, I feel comfortable offering praise for it and have only a few reservations. First, some recommendations—if you’re in the market for a washer/dryer unit on your boat, the Splendide does live up to its name, presuming you get the vented model (the un-vented one leaves clothing feeling damp), and have budgeted for power and water usage, and have it plumbed to dump the gray water directly overboard. Jay had initially hooked it up so it drained into the bilge (for convenient installation), but that didn’t work and he had to come up with a better solution.

The Splendide appears to be very energy efficient and uses water conservatively. It takes very little soap. It gets clothing cleaner than I could ever do by hand and does a great job on Rachel’s diapers, provided I run a rinse/spin cycle before washing. It is easy to use once you figure out their system (I have a cycle description cheat sheet), and it is extremely quiet.  The load size is significantly smaller than a normal household machine, but then so were the loads I would stuff into the Wonder Wash. This thing makes life on Take Two so much easier. At the dock, I’m no longer tied to the laundry room all day and on the hook I will not have to wash clothes by hand, though we will probably use the lifelines instead of the machine to dry them.

The small reservations I have revolve around my not knowing how it will behave once we are “off the grid.” Will we have to run the generator while it’s washing? Will the water pumps supply the water it wants? How much more water will we be using than before (or how much less)? My one tiny complaint is that it’s hard to do sheets and towels because they are inherently larger loads. Also, it takes a really long time to do its job, so running more than one or two loads a day isn’t really feasible. Aside from these concerns, I am completely satisfied and regularly thank Jay for installing it—I know I’m not supposed to love an inanimate object, but this thing really is my new best friend.

Best Baby Gear for a Boat, Part I

I’ve been a mom for almost ten years now, and have familiarity with—and sometimes intimate knowledge of—a lot of baby gear. Much of it, I have come to realize, is extraneous and some borderline ridiculous.  As we have streamlined our lives I have had to reassess things I thought were “needs” and re-categorize them as “wants.” Need, I used to tell my kindergarten students, involves dying if you don’t get it. For a newborn, needs are relatively few: they need food, a safe place to sleep, a safe/easy way to travel, a clean diaper, and someone to cuddle with.

Our baby is lucky—she has six people to cuddle with, so we can check that one off the list. (I do, however, highly recommend getting a seven year old girl if you have a newborn around as they are very helpful. Sarah has some cuddle time every morning with Rachel while I am making breakfast.)¬ As we are firm believers that “breast is best,” we can check food off the list, too. I will note that my favorite nursing bras are the Bravado bras ($30) and that a Boppy pillow ($30), though not necessary, does come in handy. Where to put it on a boat is another question entirely.

As for a safe place to sleep, we have had a crib built into a single berth in one of the hulls, but for the first weeks aboard, Rachel has been sleeping in our berth, at the foot of our bed in a straw “Moses” basket that was woven for her in the Bahamas.  We love the basket, but it has limited usefulness because babies grow so fast—by the time she is five months old, she’ll be too big and also able to roll out of it. On the other hand, having a mobile bed is great—she has taken several naps in the shade up by the pool, and in the cockpit. It sure beats a large and unwieldy playpen/folding crib like the Pack n’ Play that we used for the other children. I can recommend a basket ($40-$80), but it will have to be stored somewhere after it has become obsolete. The crib, incidentally, is perfect and we are really happy—it will break down easily for access to the compartments underneath, and the end of the crib is removable to make the sleeping space available for a toddler or larger child.

[flickr: 5752826701]

For safe and easy travel, I can recommend two things: the best stroller I have ever found, the Chicco Liteway Stroller ($140), and the best baby carrier, the Ergo ($115).  Having had four strollers at one point when we lived in the house (a travel system, an umbrella stroller, a double stroller, and a universal stroller for transferring a car seat without disturbing the baby) and having used virtually every kind of baby carrier, I feel pretty confident in using the word best. The Chicco Liteway can be lifted, folded and unfolded with one hand (and a foot), fits in our dock box or a lazarette on the boat, reclines for newborn or naptime use, has a five-point harness to keep a toddler in place, has a sunshade, cup holder and storage basket, and is constructed of aluminum, plastic and canvas to make it weather-resistant. What more could I ask? (Maybe a snack tray and rain cover…) The Ergo is, as the name suggests, ergonomic for mother and baby. Mom bears the weight on her legs (like a frame pack), and the baby’s spine is supported (as opposed to dangling a by the crotch). It works for newborns as well as toddlers up to forty pounds, is washable, compact enough to stuff in a bag, can be fastened by the wearer (without help), has a sunshade and zipper pocket, and can be worn on the front, back, and even hip. I love this thing—I actually walked around Publix last week with a two-week old baby and was able to discreetly nurse her while I shopped—the ultimate in multi-tasking!  I can even go to the bathroom without removing the carrier or baby. Because it is so comfortable, I can wear it for hours without a backache. Sam spent a good amount of his infancy in it, and I was able to handle lines and help with docking and anchoring with him on my back! It’s great for dinghy rides, hiking, and beach trips, too. As a bonus, when people make the annoying and repetitive comment, “Boy, you’ve got your hands full!” I just hold up my hands and say, “Actually, I’ve got both hands free!”

The last item, diapering, is near and dear to my heart, as I have spent eight of the last ten years taking care of small butts. We have always used cloth diapers, even when we lived in the house, because I couldn’t stand the idea that my children’s diapers would probably outlive them if they were made of plastic and buried in a landfill somewhere. Because we live on a boat and travel, buying and storing enough diapers would be difficult to impossible. Cloth is economical, better for the baby and the environment, and encourages earlier potty-training.

For the other four children, we used a brand called Indisposables and I really liked them. They are pre-formed cotton flannel diapers, with thick padding in the middle, elastic legs and waist, and Velcro fasteners. They are used in conjunction with vinyl covers (either waterproof pants or Velcro-closure wraps) and flannel wipes. They cost about $300 and last on average 2 ½ children, assuming two years of use per kid. They were falling apart by the time Sam arrived, so we bought new ones. They can be washed and hung to dry, and don’t require folding. For Rachel, I was looking for similar diapers, but wanted something that would dry faster and look more innocuous on the lifelines. I found a great deal on a starter kit: the Bummis Organic Cotton Diaper Kit ($170), which came with two dozen tri-fold flat diapers, six waterproof Velcro-fastener covers, a waterproof hanging bag (to use as a washable diaper pail), polyester liners for nap/night time use, and other assorted accessories. I love them, and they do dry faster, spending less time on the lifelines. I have to do a load every day or two, but as we now have a washer/dryer on the boat, it’s no big deal. There is a third kind of diaper which I have not tried, an all-in-one where the waterproof cover has a cotton liner, and is fully adjustable for newborn-through-toddler size—but my sister-in-law is sending me some, so I’ll have write later about those. For now, the Bummis are working great and seem to be ideal for a boating family with a baby.

Needless to say, we are enjoying our new crew member immensely. She is a joy to be around and sleeps like, well, a baby. I’m also loving the new baby stuff—it seems like I have finally figured out after five kids how to identify gear that makes sense and gives me a lot of bang for my buck. If I’m not an expert by now, I guess I never will be.

A Perfect Kitchen Faucet

The summer project schedule is in full swing.  We’re in the process of commissioning the big ones requiring wood and fabric work beyond our time and skill, and there are also a bunch of little ones that we are equally excited about.  

One of the little ones that we are unduly excited about is the new galley faucet I put in yesterday.  It may seem mundane, but it is a huge improvement and we can’t believe we didn’t do it before.  

The old one was a standard household “pull-out spray” faucet.  We had several complaints about it, all of which center on water and energy conservation.  First, the faucet was a “single lever” type.  It probably doesn’t bear explanation, but the lever is raised and lowered to control flow, and articulated left and right to control temperature.  It was a challenge for us to keep the lever pointed all the way over to the cold side to avoid unnecessarily mixing in our hot water.  It was also natural to simply flip the lever up to full height to turn on the water, especially for the kids, who often wash their hands in the kitchen sink.  You really had to consciously think about using less water, and as a result the faucet was often on full flow unnecessarily.  

The primary purpose of the galley sink is washing dishes and this is where most of the water goes.  No matter how careful she was, Tanya was constantly using too much water or hot water.  The reason is because it was a three-handed job:  one to hold the article being washed, one to hold the spray handle, and one to turn the water on and off.  The result is that the water wasn’t turned off as often or as quickly as it should have been, and then it was turned back on with too much force or the wrong temperature.  

In a house these problems probably wouldn’t be noticeable, but every gallon counts on a boat, even one as lavish with power and water as ours.  So we started looking for a new faucet with three basic requirements: separate hot & cold valves, a way to regulate the flow unrelated to turning it on or off, and a pause button on the handle.  

You can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and see a whole wall of faucets.  Our old one is there.  If you remove the cosmetic factors, there are very few differences between them.  That alone says something about all of us as consumers.  Of the features that we had determined were essential to water and energy conservation on our boat, the only one offered by this wall of faucets displayed to millions and millions of homeowners was the separate hot & cold valves.  And most probably view that as a cosmetic choice.  I think that says something else.

We did find a new faucet that satisfied our requirements.  It was in our bathroom.  It is made by ShurFlo, a company that markets products for marine and RV use.  They make many faucets, but only one that has the crucial pause button.  They call it a “trickle valve”, but it can be used to effectively stop the flow (not entirely, hence the “trickle” name) with one hand while using the spray handle.  It can also be partially engaged to restrict the flow, and the setting persists between uses.  Perfect for kids and hand washing.  We bought this great faucet (model #135-0204-CW) by accident.  It happens to be their least stupid-looking.  

One quirky thing about it is that the knobs aren't quite intuitive.  In our opinion the knobs turn the wrong direction or the hot is on the wrong side, depending on what direction the faucet body faces.  So we face the faucet the way we want the knobs to turn and swap the little red and blue markers to put hot on the side we want.

We’re expecting this new faucet to yield big benefits on our next cruise.  Less water use means less time running the water maker (and less noise), means more net power from the solar panels, means less generator run-time (and less noise), means more time between trips to the fuel dock.  Conserving the hot water is important if we’ll be reducing generator run-time since that is how we heat it.

Shaft Retention Collar

Not many things will ruin your day on the water like losinga propeller shaft.  We once backed down underpower to spin some grass off the props and had one of the shafts slip out ofits coupling.  Thankfully, there was azinc nut on the shaft that kept it under the boat, but it wasn’t in the boat,and there was a large hole in the hull where it was supposed to be.  These types of things are typical fordelivery trips, but not really something you ever want to happen if you canhelp it.

So the Shaft Retention Collar from PYI seemed like cheapinsurance.  And they were easy to put on,even with my ridiculously tight bilges. 
Getting a picture was tough, though. 
There isn’t much room to swing a camera, much less a wrench. 

Shaft Collar

I placed them right up against the couplings so any movementwould be apparent.  If the shaft comesfree, it will slide back until the collar hits the shaft seal.  Ideally I want enough space between thecollar and the shaft seal so the shaft can completely exit the coupling.  This would let the prop freewheel,drastically reducing the pulling force against the collar and letting the helmsmanknow something was wrong. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have that much room.  I will only know if the coupling has failedby making visual checks, or until the collar lets go too, probably making thecollar pointless in my case.  I shouldhave had the shafts through-bolted to the couplings the last time they werepulled, but didn’t think of it.

The shaft seals are new and quite a bit bigger than the oneswe had during the delivery fiasco.  Lookingat the picture above, I suddenly realized that if I do lose another shaft I’m goingto have a hell of a time getting a plug in there.

SeaTalk NMEA Bridge

The Raymarine ST 60 Wind instruments can calculate the TrueWind Speed (TWS) and True Wind Angle (TWA) from the apparent wind data (AWS& AWA) and the boat’s speed. 
Unfortunately, they’ll only do this from the speed as measured by apaddlewheel in the water.  This measures theboat's speed through the water and is itself an apparent measurement, as opposed tothe true Speed Over Ground (SOG) that can be obtained from a GPS receiver. 

There is some disagreement among sailors as to whether thetrue or apparent speed should be used for the true wind calculation. 
Frankly, I think those using an apparent speed definition are from oldersources that haven’t fully incorporated the changes that GPS has made tonavigation.  For my boat, I want to usethe SOG in the TWS calculation.  I alsowant to see the SOG displayed on my other Raymarine instruments that are designedfor the paddlewheel.

Opinions true vs. apparent aside, Take Two’s paddlewheel is not accurate and I’vebeen unable to calibrate it.  I think theproblem may be because of water turbulence where it is mounted.  Keeping the paddlewheel in the water all thetime gets it fouled with growth and swapping it in and out with a plug getswater in an otherwise dry bilge.

The solution that works for me is a SeaTalk NMEA Bridgefrom gadgetPool.de.  Its primary purposeis to translate sentences between a standard NMEA instrument network, and Raymarine’sproprietary SeaTalk network.  I don’treally need it for this purpose, but it has a very nice feature to specificallyaddress the speed problem.  When the optionis enabled, the bridge can translate the SOG sentence from the NMEA network intothe SeaTalk sentence from the paddlewheel. 
This effectively tricks the Raymarine instruments into using the GPSspeed. 

I’ve been using it for about a year now and it works well.

Lego-rama

If you have spent any time at all reading cruising magazines or looking at other boating family blogs, you by now realize that Lego bricks are the ultimate toy for children on boats. They are among the best toys for any child anywhere, but because of their compact size and endless creative possibilities, they provide hours of entertainment and exercise for small brains in the confining space of a boat. For rainy days and weekends they are indispensible. Our kids, if they had to pick one thing to take with them to a desert island, probably even before food, would pack the Lego bin.

My brother loved his Lego toys as a kid, too. Actually, he still loves his Lego collection, which is much improved and expanded. He sometimes even shares it with his four boys. Our boys’ collection, seen below, is quite small compared to the cousins,’ and it exists in a state of chaos. With a collection the size of my brother’s, a bin and a pile would be preposterous. Plus, they have two smaller kids that would be forever eating or choking on them. So they came up with this ingenious solution for organizing Lego and making playtime more productive and less frustrating. It worked so well, my brother decided to build and sell his sorting cabinet/building tables through a terrific website, BrikCrate.com.

Lego Room

He generously offered to build our boys a crate to mount in their cabin, but upon further reflection our boys looked at the trade-offs and decided against it. The two options are: find all your pieces easily and build quickly, then re-sort to clean up, which can be slow and laborious; or build slowly, searching for pieces in a pile, and clean up quickly with a dustpan for a shovel. Because our boys’ play space is also their sleeping space (they inflate/deflate their air bed depending on how they want to use the space), they opted for quick cleanup. This choice is not without cost. They are forever losing pieces; sometimes they fall out of the bed and roll into the bilge. And it can take all day to plan a project, search for the right pieces and build something. At least the collection is out of the way, either locked in the bin or up in their berth out of the reach of small children. But for other boat families, a BrikCrate might make a Lego collection easier to manage.

For families with a large or sprawling collection, a BrikCrate is an ideal solution. Each cabinet is hand-made of solid wood in my brother’s workshop and comes with drawers and customized labels. The cabinet has a hinged cover that folds down to become a table top with a locking support leg. The stools for sitting at the table also serve as storage for road plates or large pieces that don’t fit in the cabinet. While the crate may seem expensive, considering the price of electronic toys that turn kids’ brains to oatmeal, and how much more valuable an organized Lego collection is made, the price is well worth it. And for families with small siblings, the crate protects pieces and projects from grabby toddlers as well as protecting crawling infants from choking hazards.

This may seem a shameless bit of nepotism, but it’s actually a fantastic product, and considering how long Lego has been around, I can’t believe no one has thought of it before. In any case, you might like the website. In his “links” link he’s got a great stop-action film he made with Lego bricks and a web cam. Check it out at www.brikcrate.com.