Category Archives: Product Review

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.

Scrubbing Bubbles

I've discovered a product to help keep my head clean. 

That would be the toilet on the boat, of course.  We flush with salt water and there are some unpleasant downsides to that.  We get scale buildup in the bowl and the hoses, and there is an odor which isn't directly attributable to the use of the device.  The scale problem we address periodically with couple good doses of muriatic acid.  That's my type of cleaning, but one must always be aware that what he's flushing is not actually leaving the boat right away.  Pete used to joke that I was going to turn my 50 gallon holding tank into a 50 foot holding tank.  The rest of the problem fell on the housekeeper, which wasn't fair.  It wasn't a clean problem, it was a water problem.

The solution came to me on the magic box during a business trip.  Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Cleaner Gel.  It is a little gel turd that sticks to the side of the bowl.  The rinse water runs over the gel and carries the scrubby guys all over the inside.  I haven't seen the scrubby guys myself, but they were on the magic box so it must be true.  The gel lasts for about a week and then you put in another one.  We've been using it for about three weeks and the results so far are good.  Toilet looks cleaner, and smells MUCH cleaner.  In actuality it probably isn't, but who cares?  I'm willing to pretend.

Two things have to be considered when using chemicals like these.  First is how they'll react with our plumbing, and our plumbing isn't just pumps and hoses.  We have a septic tank after all, and there are little critters that live in there.  Those critters work on breaking down all the stuff we send them.  If they're alive and well and have lots of air (ironically) there shouldn't be much odor from the tank.  But if we kill them with the wrong chemicals, then its like living with a septic tank in the house.  Having used the Scrubbing Bubbles for three weeks with no apparent change to the tank, we're considering it a success. 

The second concern is what impact the chemicals will have if flushed overboard.  Considering all the other cleaners and detergents we routinely send overboard in our graywater, there probably isn't much additional impact, but it is still a good thing to think about.

Amazon Kindle

We finally bought a Kindle.  Tanya is a book snob a traditionalist, so it was an uphill battle for sure.  She could admit the merits, but refused to believe she could survive reading on a screen instead of paper.

But I'd been watching Eli read Lord of the Rings, his first big book, and boy is it a big one.  Being a young reader, he does better with larger type, but the print in this book was necessarily small.  And partially due to its size and age, the book was not surviving being handled by a 9-year-old — the pages were falling out about as fast as he was reading them.

I saw the Kindle as a solution to this problem and ordered one.  Because you're buying books in a proprietary format it feels like a bigger commitment than just the cost of the device, which is relatively inexpensive.  We also don't have room for stuff we don't use, so every purchase carries the potential repsponsibility of having to store or dispose of the thing.  I'm also an inveterate shopper, especially for gadgets, and try to make double sure that I need a thing before I buy it.  Double again if it's shiny.

We had friends over the day it arrived.  Everyone had heard of the Kindle, but nobody had actaully seen one.  All were amazed by the screen.

Eli took to it like duck on a junebug.  That big paper book went in the trash the next day.  The boat was already lighter.

A few days later, Tanya requested that book she is reading to the kids be acquired in Kindle format.  Another one in the trash.  Kindle wins!

When I converted our music from CDs to MP3s there was no additional cost, so I'm not looking forward to re-buying all of our books on the Kindle.  But if it means getting them off the boat, it will be worth it.  Unfortunately, we have lots of books that aren't available on the Kindle, so it isn't a 100% solution at this point.  But there are a lot of old classics that we don't have and are FREE (as in beer) on the Kindle.

There may yet be another benefit in the works.  Aaron is our techno kid, but doesn't read for pleasure yet, and it is driving him insane that he doesn't get to play with the new toy.

Right now we have seperate books being read by three people on the same device without conflict, but I'm sure eventually we'll be ready for one or two more.

Breeze Booster

Spending the summer at anchor in Florida is only possible with good ventilation.  When the boat is free to swing, it usually orients itself to any available breeze, but that breeze still needs to be captured and forced down into the boat.  This is the role of the ubiquitous windscoop, which is essentially a little spinnaker positioned over a hatch and held up by a halyard.

Some are chambered to capture the breeze from any direction.  This would be ideal if you were tied to a dock or the current were influencing the boat’s heading more than the breeze, which sometimes happens.  My objection to this type is how to close the hatch for rain.  This type has to extend down inside the hatch, or otherwise obstruct the hatch opening, making it impossible to close up without taking down the scoop.    Taking down a windscoop is normally not a big deal.  But doing it in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and naked, on a wet deck in a strong breeze and cold rain is no fun at all.  And that’s the way it happens.  Every.  Damn.  Time.

So we don’t use that kind.  Instead, we’ve been using the more common single sided variety.  Our hatches face backwards, and these scoops still recommend attachment inside the front edge of the hatch, but we quickly abandoned that for the above reasons.  Instead, we broke down and installed attachment points on the deck outside the hatch so we could simply close the hatch from inside, leaving the scoop in place.  With aft-facing hatches, we can often stay dry with the hatch cracked.  

Our complaints about these type of scoop are that they still require a halyard, the material is quickly destroyed by UV, and they’re too big.  The breezes we frequently get at night are too strong for these big scoops.  And I’m not sure the bigger scoop results in more ventilation anyway.  So I sewed reef points into a pair of them so to make them smaller, and that worked better, but was too much effort.  We considered designing our own out of more durable material, but don’t have that kind of skill or energy.

We chewed through a few Davis brand scoops before trying the West Marine brand, which we like better.  It has sewn loops instead of grommets and feels like sturdier material.  The West scoop hasn’t died yet, but it is still too big, and still needs a halyard.  Poor Sarah doesn’t have a halyard over her hatch.

Then we saw another boat with a small self-supporting scoop over its hatch.  Upon investigation we learned it was called a Breeze Booster.  We ordered one and like it very much.  A little more expensive, but it came with a note recommending 303 Aerospace Protectant to reduce UV damage, so hopefully it will last a little longer.  It still wants to go inside the front edge of the hatch, but it will work fine with our existing deck attachments.  We’ve now ordered a few more and hope this will be a good solution.