Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Artwork

While it has nothing to do with RVing, (well, maybe a little, which I'll get into one day when I talk about how I decided to RV) I want to share some other stuff on this blog too.  It is, after all, all about me.  :-)

I used to do a lot of computer generated art but somehow lost my inspiration for many years.  In the winter  of 2010, Northern Virginia got whacked by "Snowmageddon".  We got about 3' of snow, and I was confined to my house for a few days.  Having nothing to do, I fired up Netflix, and went looking for a show one of my coworkers had been badgering me to check out, Deadliest Catch.  Se said, "With how much you love boats & the ocean, I can't believe you don't watch this!"  I replied, "60 foot freezing waves & 50 mph winds are sooooo not what I love about boats and the ocean!  And I'd probably never want to eat crab again if I watched that.  I think I'll pass."   I'm not a big TV person anyway.  But, having reached the end of the internet, I thought I'd give it a try.  :-)  I did find it strangely entertaining, and before I knew it, I was hooked.  One scene in particular really grabbed me, one of the boats searching for a comrade in distress, with flashing sodium lights on a storm tossed sea.  It made me want to paint again.  As I watched a little more, I was intrigued by one of the characters, Russ Newberry.  He was on Facebook, and on a whim I sent him a friend request.  I was astounded when he accepted.  I was playing around with computer art again, and when he posted a photo of his boat I decided to turn it into a chart-style painting.  I used to do those featuring sailboats but had never added a person to one.  I was pretty happy with the final result.

I posted it on Facebook, and Russ loved it.  That spurred me to create more, and a love affair with Deadliest Catch and Alaska fishing was born.

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Batteries 4/11/14

Well, it's one of those things that I knew had to be done.  The batteries were original equipment and they were shot.  They were dated 2008 and wouldn't hold a charge for more than a couple days.  One even had a bit of a bulge.  There's an outfit in Leesburg that just does batteries, Battery Warehouse.  They're good guys, and have a great rep.

I worked till midnight Thursday night, and after working on a few little things, moved the RV over to their lot.  It was almost 2am at that point.  I decided to do it this way as I wanted to be there when they opened, as they get very busy as the day wears on.  And traffic in downtown Leesburg can be miserable. I put up the stealth curtains, had a beer and played Mahjohng until I was finally sleepy, around 3am.  It was a short night's sleep as I had the alarm set for 7am.  I had grand plans of getting breakfast, but instead hit the snooze half a dozen times and finally got up & dressed a little before they opened.

 Measuring  the old batteries & figuring out what might fit

We had talked on the phone a bit about my setup.  I had 2 group 27 batteries but I was *really* hoping 2 6v batteries would fit.  They didn't.  I wasn't up for rebuilding the battery compartment, and they don't do that sort of thing anyway, so another pair of group 27's was the best I could do.  Steve gave me a few options and I settled on the midrange Deka DC27.  They get good reviews and are made in PA near where I grew up.  So that's a big plus.

The new batteries, all clean and new

They did a nice job on the install.  There was a lot of corrosion and rust which they cleaned up.  It will be nice not to have to be sooo careful with using any power.  I still won't use much but it will be nice to have a little breathing room.

When they were done the house battery installation, I asked them to check the starting battery.  It had always started just fine, but when I got a new voltage meter that plugged into the 12v outlet, I was unpleasantly surprised to see 12.4 volts.  They hooked up the tester and came back with the report.  I don't remember the exact numbers, but the bottom line was that the battery was a 2008 as well, and probably had about 6 months to live.  I waffled a bit, but had them replace it as well.  I figured I was already there, and the last thing I wanted was to be out in the boondocks on a cold day 6 months from now going, "Crap, I forgot the starting battery was fading."  It was another 100 bucks, cheap peace of mind.

After that was all done, I took the rig back to the storage place and messed around with a few things.  I put up a wineglass holder.  I'm not sure real wineglasses will survive rv life but I'm determined to try.  I played around with a few possible locations but finally went with over the sink. 

(The little kitchen witch is made from a King Crab claw and was a gift from my friends from Kodiak.)

I added the felt pads to the end & then had the absolutely inspired idea to wrap the rods with a strip cut from shelf liner.  It works great!  I only had one glass onboard but will take another one next time I'm there.  I have a few ideas for how I'll keep the glasses from banging together.  We'll see how they work.

Another cool item I'm in love with is this $15 Walmart table.  It is just about perfect for my space.

Cheap, sturdy, lightweight, adjustable & folds flat & thin.  You can't really beat that.  

After all of that I needed a nap :-) so I headed home.  I left all the solar panels disconnected so when I go back in a few days I can make sure all the batteries are holding a charge.  And I don't quite trust the battery disconnect, so we'll see if there's some draw even with it in the "Store" position.  I had planned to go camping this weekend but thought I'd be having friends visit.  They didn't make it though.  Ah well. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Transitioning into this new life has been a little more difficult than I expected. I am preparing to retire from a career that has been somewhat defining for the past 25 years, and at the same time downsize from a 2000 square foot house to a 21 foot RV.  And dealing with the looming uncertainty of having no homebase, no destination and no real plan. I guess it's not surprising that I'm a little weirded out.

On Thursday Purple Heart Pickup came and picked up approximately 25 boxes of stuff. I was pretty appalled when they were done, because it didn't really look all that much different. Although yesterday after I got rid of a few more things all of a sudden the house started looking emptier. In one or two rooms at least.  

I worked a 1 to 9 tonight ( Saturday) and will work a 6 to 2 tomorrow. That's working out pretty well, Saturdays are a nice day to work, and Sundays are not too bad. And I get two shifts in in one 24 hour period.   It's much nicer to do the Quick turn since I have the little rolling home not far from work. I'm kicked back now with my little propane heater and my little LED light going listening to the wind blow. I'm still only going to get a few hours sleep, but at least I don't have an hour drive at 5 AM.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still really looking forward to retirement and traveling. No doubt about that. It's just a lot of change at one time.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Solar Setup

I get asked about this a lot on FB and in the forums so I think I'll type it once here.  :-)

I am a very light electrical user.  I don't watch TV, I try to camp in climates where I don't use heat or ac and I use led lights as much as possible.
Speaking of LED, this lantern right here is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It is perfect for me.  In fact, since I just noticed it's on sale, I'm ordering a second one.  (Actually, I ordered TWO!)

It weighs nothing, and is bright enough to read by.  The hanging hook is a bit flimsy but c'est la vie. Be gentle with it.  I have a small bungee (I have a lot of bungees) that I use to hang it from tha AC unit sometimes, or from the overhead cabinet knob above me when reading.  The dimming feature is sweet.  I'm working on converting all the house lights to LED but it's going slower than I'd like.

I have a Phoenix Cruiser 21' motorhome with 2 group 24 batteries that are about shot.  They have 2008 stickers so they're the originals.  They don't hold a charge well anymore.  They will be replaced within the next month, just couldn't see doing it when the rig was going to be sitting all winter.  The big things I need power for are the fridge, which uses electricity even when on propane, and charging laptops, phones, tablets and camera.  If I'm driving, I plug everything in and try to charge as much as possible while the engine is running anyway.  When I'm camped I have the most basic portable solar setup imaginable.  I started out with the 45watt Harbor Freight kit because I didn't know any better.  The panels work but they're old technology and they're heavier and less efficient than new ones.  And not sturdy.  The plastic frame cracked the first tie I used them and the hardware all rusted that first weekend too.  Back they went.  However, they did work, and I went looking for a better option.

I ended up with a Renogy 100watt panel from Amazon.

This kit puts out over twice the power for the same price as the Harbor Freight one, and weighs half as much.  This panel weighs 16 pounds so it's no problem to move.
I actually bought the panel, cables, connectors, and controller separately but this is a better deal.  I also screwed up and bought a 10A controller which left no room for expansion.  The kit above has a 30A which will allow another panel or two down the road.

I chose to not mount my panel on the roof.
First, I didn't want to climb up there.
Second, I like shade.  Solar panels like sun.  We each need our own space.  :-)

I can park in the shade and put the panel in the sun.  Yes, there's a possibility of theft.  If I ever decide that's a real concern I'll use a cable lock to attach it to whatever I'm leaning it up against. Or I'll move.  Who wants to park somewhere where you're worried about theft?  Right now I just use a bungee so an errant gust of wind won't blow it over. In this case I got to this CG in the afternoon and just set the panel up against the grill.  At sundown I turned it the other way and propped it up against the picnic table since the rig would be in the shade at sunrise.  Yeah, it's a bit more difficult than set-it-and-forget-it on the roof, but I sooo much prefer being in shade if it's available that it's worth it.  I plan to eventually mount one permanently on the roof at some point too.  Then if there's no shade I can just use that, or use both if I need more juice.

I bought all my components separately, which meant installing MC4 connectors on my cables and controller since that's what's on the solar panel.  This was a pain for someone like me who is new to all this. But even I did it.  Just buy the kit though, it's less than buying the parts and no screwing around.  :-)

The panel connects to the controller with cables and MC4 connectors.  These connectors are made to NOT come apart easily, and they don't.  In fact, you need a special tool to disconnect them.  It's cheap but it's one more thing to carry, store and lose so that didn't work for me.  I filed off most of the barbs on the male ends that lock the connectors together, and  made sure what was left was rounded.  They still lock but a good pull will disconnect them.  Like any connection, pull on the connectors, not the wire.  If you try this and don't file enough and they won't disconnect, two thin bladed screwdrives will probably get the tabs depressed enough to get them apart.  I attached the alligator clips you see above to the output of the controller and just clip them to the battery for now. One of theses days I'll install that permanently but for now it works just fine.  I had the clips left over from another charger or some other 12v thingy but you can get them at any auto parts store or from Amazon as well.
The controller is not waterproof so it sits in the battery compartment with the batteries.

I have two options for storage of the panel.  Right now, while I have it in storage, I keep the panel on the ladder rack and leave it connected to the batteries.  This keeps them fully charged even in this miserable winter we've had, and I have battery power when I go there to work on it or take it out for a day or whatever.

I have traveled with it on the ladder but I'm doing that less these days.  Being paranoid, I bungee the hell out of it and it takes too much time and effort to secure it and then remove it.  While you see one cord on the front, I use about 5 on the back, and when I'm done I think the ladder would come off before the panel did.  And that's not good as the ladder is a lot more expensive to replace!!  So most of the time I now throw it behind the seat.

I drape a washcloth over the corner so it doesn't dig into the wall, and use a small bungee around the headrest supports that keeps it from tipping over on curves.  I didn't think that would happen.  I was wrong.  On Skyline Drive it leaped out from behind the seat and tried to escape through the passenger side window.  I guess it wasn't thrilled with my driving.  It narrowly missed  hitting the window on the opposite side which could have been bad.  Now I secure it.  The cord & washcloth live in the seatback pocket so I don't have to search for them.  The cables & controller usually get stashed in the outside compartment next door to the battery compartment.  I don't like to leave it all connected to the panel, as the panel is always putting out power so if the clips get together they could spark/short.  Better to disconnect it all from the panels.  This is why I did the filing mentioned above.

Of course it's dark in this pic, but you can see the panel set up, poised to catch the rising sun.  I know it sounds like a giant hassle to set up but it really isn't.  After the first couple times where I was still figuring out where everything went, it takes only moments.  The longest process is untangling the cables if I was lazy stowing them.  It's quite the conversation starter too, as everyone who walks by will ask you about them.  This may or may not be a good thing.  :-)  All these campground photos were taken in Shenandoah National Park, Fall 2013.

Now, to the usage.  I have a 2000w whole house inverter built into the rig that I seldom use.  It works great but draws 12 amps just sitting there.  No bueno.  I use it for the TV and that's about it.  OR if I'm driving, I have that on & plug lots of stuff in to charge. When parked,  I have one 12v socket that is wired to the house batteries.  These are generally fused at 10A so one should not attempt to draw more than 100w.  I do NOT want to blow that fuse as god alone knows where it is but I guarantee it's a struggle to get to.  That said, I live on the edge and use this inverter:

Schumacher XI75DU 750 Watt DC to AC Digital Display Power Inverter

I've had it for a few years and used it in my car before I got the RV and never blew a fuse.  It claims less than 1A resting current draw.  It runs my laptop and Nikon battery charger just fine.  You could certainly get a smaller one cheaper.  This one will power stuff like drills, etc, you just have to connect directly to a battery for that. I do plan to add another house 12v outlet at some point as well. They're handy.

Hope this info helps.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cruising on the Carnival Pride, Day 4, 2/26/14

We arrived at our first port of call, Port Canaveral.  I wasn't overly excited as it's Florida.  :-)  I thought about renting a car but didn't really feel that motivated.

Arriving in Cape Canaveral on a sunny day.

2/26/2014 8:31:47 AM

I decided not to stay on the ship all day and headed down to the Shore Excursions desk to buy a ticket for the afternoon Airboat tour.

2/26/2014 9:31:10 AM

While I was down there I went to Guest Services to ask about moving.  The gal at the desk told me there were no cabins available. She asked what the problem was and I told her about the noise.  She was a good actress as she put on a convincing performance that she'd never heard such a thing before.  She asked had I called and I replied that I hadn't.  She said, "Call us next time"  I said, "For what??  What are you gonna do, tell folks "Don't eat here??"  She reiterated that I should call and I left feeling aggravated.  I didn't actually WANT to move.  I had 3 suitcases full of crap and I wasn't thrilled with moving but I asked as I knew I'd just more aggravated with the noise as the cruise went on.  :-(

I went up to the Lido Deck and grabbed some breakfast.  I hadn't been able to order it as my room service card hadn't been replaced.  Truthfully, my steward wasn't the best.  I didn't have a Do Not Disturb sign, and I finally had to ask him for one since he kept trying to get in while I was in there.  On previous cruises my steward had an uncanny knack of knowing when I left.  Not this one.  Ah well.

I killed a little time before my tour by wandering around the ship some more.

The Sports Bar

2/26/2014 12:37:51 PM

Sports Bar

2/26/2014 12:39:57 PM

2/26/2014 12:40:31 PM

The casino was closed in port of course. It has a horse-racing theme....note the horse reliefs on the ceiling & the horseshoe carpet. My stepfather loves these claw grab machines....wonder if he could beat the house here?

2/26/2014 12:42:48 PM

On my way to the tour I stopped by the Starry Night Lounge which I hadn't seen before.

2/26/2014 12:43:59 PM

Starry Night Lounge. Gorgeous!

2/26/2014 12:44:43 PM

Starry Night Lounge. Gorgeous!

2/26/2014 12:45:00 PM

I boarded the bus for the excursion.  Tim & Judy from brunch the other day had said they were doing this tour but they weren't on it.

Snap shot of the boat from the bus window.

2/26/2014 1:39:25 PM

Ibis at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp

2/26/2014 2:06:55 PM

Yuck. Fire ants.

2/26/2014 2:15:15 PM

Bald eagles on power poles in Port Canaveral.

2/26/2014 2:28:02 PM

Bald eagles on electrical lines near Cocoa Beach

2/26/2014 2:28:14 PM

We were kinda rushed from the bus onto the airboats as more rain was coming.  The weather was pretty iffy, it had poured earlier.  They said the gators don't like the rain so we didn't see many.  The ones we DID see were impressive.

2/26/2014 2:32:51 PM

Huge gator we saw on the airboat ride.

2/26/2014 2:33:17 PM

2/26/2014 2:33:52 PM

2/26/2014 2:37:26 PM

So surreal to see all the cattle in a swamp.

2/26/2014 2:42:57 PM

A flock of seagulls

2/26/2014 2:46:53 PM

2/26/2014 2:46:55 PM

Wasn't really expecting to see these guys in the swamp.

2/26/2014 2:48:19 PM

I see you....

2/26/2014 2:55:47 PM

I have to say, these were some kick-ass boats.

2/26/2014 2:56:14 PM

2/26/2014 2:57:55 PM

2/26/2014 2:58:07 PM


2/26/2014 3:26:03 PM

We got off the boats and headed into the restaurant.  We had tickets for one free non-alcoholic drink and then they brought out platters of fried gator.  It was pretty good, especially since I missed lunch.

Fried alligator snack.

2/26/2014 2:31:30 PM

After we ate we gathered to see a presentation by the Care Foundation.  The had several rescued animals with them, a monkey, a snake, an alligator and an opossum.

2/26/2014 3:26:46 PM

Blondie the albino Burmese python.

2/26/2014 3:27:44 PM

Opie the possum.

2/26/2014 3:32:21 PM

Never, ever, in a million years did I think I'd ever call an oppossum "cute". It LOVED to cuddle. When I was holding him I thought he would be purrring if he could.

2/26/2014 3:36:00 PM

Rosie the Capuchin monkey

2/26/2014 3:37:29 PM

2/26/2014 3:40:01 PM


2/26/2014 3:47:04 PM

Brutus is a runt, they believe he's 17 yrs old.

2/26/2014 3:47:21 PM

Showing off the business end of the gator

2/26/2014 3:55:54 PM

2/26/2014 4:01:00 PM

Holding Opie the possum.

2/26/2014 4:02:09 PM

2/26/2014 4:05:38 PM

Apparently it was getting windy :-)

2/26/2014 4:05:55 PM

2/26/2014 4:08:32 PM

2/26/2014 4:10:19 PM

Shot from the bus, the white on that island is birds. Lots of birds.

2/26/2014 4:27:24 PM

2/26/2014 4:31:03 PM

2/26/2014 4:42:26 PM

Pulling away from the dock in Port Canaveral

2/26/2014 6:24:40 PM

Beautiful view pulling out of Port Canaveral.

2/26/2014 6:32:07 PM

I have no idea what this building was but it's very cool.

2/26/2014 6:32:44 PM

A friend advises me this is supposed to look like a pineapple. Nope, not seeing it. :-)

2/26/2014 6:34:45 PM

Leaving Port Canaveral

2/26/2014 6:36:38 PM

I would like to stay in this RV park in Cocoa Beach!

2/26/2014 6:44:56 PM

2/26/2014 6:46:32 PM

2/26/2014 6:48:00 PM

2/26/2014 6:58:41 PM

2/26/2014 9:12:21 PM

2/26/2014 10:22:55 PM

I broght some LED lights since no candles were allowed.

2/26/2014 10:23:05 PM

Winds were @50 kts so they closed all the decks. Never saw that before. Capt. said they encountered 100kt gusts near Cape Fear in Jan.....not 100% sure I believed that! :-)

2/26/2014 11:18:00 PM

When I got back from dinner I was astonished to find a letter in my mailbox telling cabin 7242 was available if I'd care to move.  I was shocked that they'd followed up on that and wondered what had happened to open up a cabin.  Did someone leave in disgust?  Die?  Miss the boat?  Inquiring minds want to know.  In any event I started packing.