Cockpit cushions

Mariadz had the same cockpit cushions for seventeen years and if we are honest they were a little “tired” and not as comfortable as they could be. We knew before we left on our big trip we would need to sort these out and Maria has also been keen to remove any semblance of the old, dated dark blue from the boat so she would be changing the colour at the same time.

Having reviewed a number of other people’s designs and after four years of our own use, we had a fair idea of what we wanted. A friend, James, has been doing canvas and cushion work around Ipswich and offered to help us. It was never going to be a simple job! Hopefully he doesn’t have too many regrets.

Looking at other centre cockpits, a number of people have seat cushions with a back that goes around the combing of the cockpit. This does look good but we felt although great as a seating area, it restricted us when using the cockpit as an entrance. It would be difficult to lift out the seat if it was covered by a back.  This would mean that the cushions get stood on by outside dirty shoes.  So we decided to mix it up.

20180325_171933The design exercise was quite complex since we knew how the area was likely to be used. Just looking at the access areas for the cockpit made that clear. We have two side entrances and also access at the aft end of the cockpit. During the winter, most people come in via the aft entrance.  We were keen to make sure that people didn’t stand on the seating, irrespective of the entrance and so a number of folding sections were incorporated so that these could be lifted to provide a step and to stop the cushions being spoilt. These folds were two at the aft area of the cockpit and one on each side. James incorporated a nice way of fixing these with Velcro underneath the seat and a flap which meant that the join was very strong and invisible when the seat was setup – much better than two cushions butted up to each other with Velcro on the edges. This works for all four entrances into the cockpit.

When we are sailing, our normal position is under the spray hood. 20180325_171902When I say “our”, I do mean Maria, Bonnie, Clyde and myself, since the cats like to be on deck when we sail.  This area has full backs to make it comfortable but these were a real headache to get right with the curve of the cockpit and the shape of the back that cushions need to rest against. All other areas have a selection of loose cushions, in a couple of contrasting colours, that can be used for the backs.  This gives flexibility and also means that when Maria sits behind the wheel steering with her feet, she is surrounded by comfy cushions.

So the design is finalised but colour is also important with cushions since a dark colour absorbs too much heat meaning you can’t sit on them comfortably and too light a colour attracts a lot of dirt and always looks mucky.  Hopefully we have struck a nice balance with a shade of tan that matches the colour themes on the boat but hopefully won’t be too hot.  If we ever get some decent weather in the UK, we will know for sure. Our final aesthetic feature was to have all of the cushions piped in a different colour to provide detailing and a contrast.  This worked really well. These two colours reversed gave us our contrast cushions.

Mobile karaoke – only Maria would demand that…..

Maria likes a good sing song and will often be heard belting out Whitney as well as forcing me to sing to Islands in the Stream with my own “Dolly”. 20180317_233602Sometimes she is brilliant and other times not quite at the top of her game. In the early days of our relationship, I probably didn’t go into this wholehearted. There was some recognition that I wasn’t the best singer! But now I give it my best shot, and I apologise for any bleeding ears brought on by my enthusiasm.

A little while ago, Maria requested a karaoke set up so that she could enjoy herself anywhere – I will make no judgements on whether anyone else would be enjoying themselves! This allows us to set up on beaches, in fields, wherever….as long as we aren’t disturbing anyone. This has proved really useful since it allows us to subject our friends to our singing even if there is no 240V power!

On a couple of occasions, I have beeen asked what to get so below is the definitive list of karaoke gear for the true Mariadz experience.

  •  StreetCube – good speaker beloved by buskers the world over with three inputs and able to run off batteries or mains powerD9232A80-B1B7-47AD-BEB7-819C1D71EC9E
  • Wireless Microphone – one of the few that I could find that had a wireless microphone and a wireless base station. You need this if the diva is going to be able to do her dance moves although she would probably prefer the whole Madonna headset!
  • ipad – other devices are available…. basically something to play the music with a phono output that can plug into the cube
  • Tablet Tripod Mount Stand holder – something to hold the iPad with the lyrics on
  • Wired 3.5mm long connector or Bluetooth Receiver which the iPad can link to and remove a trip hazard
  • a selection of music on the iPad which can be standard karaoke or original songs with lyrics, we find the original songs work better for getting people who are not karaoke pros to get up
  • a good bag, we use a dolphin sails bag made from old sails. Strong and water repellent
  • finally a lot of batteries!

This is allows you to run the full karaoke setup. And don’t forget the camera! One final word of warning though, don’t video yourselves doing Islands in the Stream and put it on YouTube- warner music will claim copyright infringement even when it is clearly your imperfect voices on the soundtrack!

Winterising and other Mobile Home improvements

We have now had our Autotrail Tracker RB for two and a half years and I feel we have learnt a lot. We originally spaced the van with water heaters on the waste and cold water tank. We did this because we expected to be taking the van away for ski holidays and we have had two and it has been great.  The heaters stop these tanks from freezing which would not be good and could cause quite bit of damage.

0C400575-7033-4043-8DB6-2AE92C16DA0EIn our first few weeks of ownership, we found the small round table that spins out in the lounge area was failing. This is made from a very poor plywood which has several screws into it. Within a few days, these screws were wobbling and within a week the table was broken. We fixed this by using copious superglue in the screw holes.  This seems to help bind the ply better and by putting the screws in when it is still tacky, a solid grip is provided for the screw. In the two and a half years since, we have not had an issue with the table, although we had to do the same thing to the bracket that attaches the table foot to the seating. Again this seems to have held up well.

The motorhome also comes with a large table which is designed to fit within the two imagesofas in the lounge. We selected the optional travel seats in the lounge and so have an L-shaped sofa. It means the legs of the table do not fit in the space without removing seats, very poor design. It does work well outside though! However, on Mariadz we have a teak table that we use either in the cockpit or the aft deck.  This fits perfectly and also fits in the storage A1746835-FBE8-425F-AEBB-456A6BEEC1FCarea at the back of the van. The only thing we need to do is move the locking bar that stops the table coming out when you are travelling or at the very least but something to heavy to block it.

The van comes with hooks on the back of the toilet door. This is always propped open because the shower was is used for the cat litter and they need access to it at all times. But we decide to add some additional hooks behind this door.

When we bought the van, 5DE7427A-1DB5-4266-81B7-CC80B6461C84we still had a cello 32in 12v TV in a box and rather than buying a new TV decided to fit this in the bedroom, it is a bit big but means you do get the full cinema experience in the bedroom 🙂 we also often use a bose  soundlink to provide the sound since the TV sound is quite poor.

The base of the Autotrail Tracker is a Fiat van. The cab of the original van is sealed from the rest of the van and in order for the doors to shut easily, there are ventilation holes under the passenger seat. In a motorhome, there is a lot more space and so the shutting of the door is not trying to compress the air in a small space, so this ventilation isn’t required. The problem with this ventilation in a motorhome is that it lets in a strong draft of air from the outside which makes the front of the van cold, since there is limited heating to the front of the van. 20180316_141031Fortunately, Fiat have the answer, there is a blanking plate (part number 1355707080) you can fit on the outside of the van replacing the ventilation and it stops the draft! You just have to remember to remove the panel that is there and put the blanking plate in the hole rather than treating it as a lid to the existing vent. 20180316_141026Bit of personal experience for you there. The alternative and low tech option is to cover the vent with tape to stop the valve opening!

I have also been told that setting the ventilation in the cab to recirculating also has an impact by shutting the vent between the engine bay and the cab.  I personally haven’t noticed this improvement but that may be because in the winter we often use an external thermal cover which covers the vents over the engine and we believe this keeps the engine bay warmer.  58F7D4A8-9401-44CE-93F0-1B54BEA4406EThis screen also provides insulation for the windscreen which can be a major loss of heat, although with the sun screens on the inside we find it better. The picture shows this fitted when we are buried in snow.

Finally, we had a problem with the sink in the kitchen where the waste came off the bottom of the sink.  This meant that the contents of the sink went into the van.  After taking apart the sink, we found that there was no jubilee clip holding the pipe onto the sink.  I have put one on to stop the pipe falling off again.

The beast from the East

We’re in the middle of the hardest winter since we moved onto the boat and now we have been hit by the Beast from the East. IMG_1361Now I have to say that my first thought on this was that it was a woman that we met in a Colchester night club, that I needed Maria to protect me from! But no, apparently, it is from Siberia, freezing cold and dumps a load of rubbish on you. So completely different then!

IMG_1363We often get asked how we survive winters on the boat, surely we get cold! The answer has always been that we have heating, however, this winter is sorely testing our heating setup.

On Mariadz, we have three reverse cycle air conditioning units that pump out heat backed up by a cheap and cheerful 2kW heater in the bedroom and a posh Dyson heater in the saloon. From a heat generation perspective, that is a lot, but it also requires a lot of power to run them all. Each of the aircon units takes 4-5A on average and the two heaters need 8A although one can be set to half that. So if we wanted everything on, we would be using 31A which is nothing in a domestic setup but a lot for a marina where our current is limited to 16A. If you go over the 16A shore power limit, a trip goes on the pontoon, which will result in a lovely stroll in sub zero temperatures through the snow. Definitely not something to do if you were in the shower when it tripped! Of course there are other loads too which further reduce the availability for heating, such as the hot water and lighting, so it is a balancing act with the power. We are in a slightly better situation with our large domestic battery bank and inverter setup which can top up the shorepower but this drains the batteries which then need recharging requiring available power. So the batteries will loan you power but you have to pay it back. However, the inverter does stop the tripping on the pontoon so no cold walks!

IMG_1362Reverse cycle air conditioning isn’t the most efficient system either and I suspect the fact that the water in the marina is frozen in places is not helping. So we use a combination of a couple of air con units boosted from time to time by the Dyson heater. The other useful item for our comfort is the heated blanket on our bed which has individual controls for each side. This goes on early evening, makes the bed warm for bedtime and keeps it lovely and warm all night.

With the battery monitoring we have onboard we are able to play the balancing game quite well but you wouldn’t describe the boat as tropical! So we are not quite as toasty as we have been in the past, when it hasn’t been quite so Siberian outside. One thing that surprisingly seems to make a difference is closing the curtains in the saloon and bedroom, the temperature is noticeably higher.

A recent acquisition which is helping us has been a small supply of smart switches. These work really well and allow some items to be controlled by timer or an app on the phone. It’s really nice to put the heater on in our bedroom half an hour before I get up.  It can also be voice controlled by Maria’s Amazon Echo – don’t ask – she had to have it and loves it. It will be interesting to see how the home technology can be deployed on a boat in the future.

Having recently returned from skiing, IMG_1359we’re accustomed to a bit of snow and the few inches we got in the first few days was less than the light snow we had just before leaving Austria. In Austria, that didn’t take much effort to clear but in the UK the story is very different. Fortunately we have the land cruiser to drive around but the roads are terrible around the marina and in Ipswich itself. The pontoons will of course get more treacherous as the snow melts and refreezes overnight. Our snow boots will be tested then.

All of this reinforces Maria’s commitment to only be in warm places, if the butter is starting to solidify then we are obviously too far away from the equator. Maria is definitely counting down the winters before she can go!

So it’s the beginning of March, officially the start of spring, as I recall. Spring is meant to be nice and warm, it is when you start to think about going out in the boat again and going sailing, hmm maybe a few weeks yet!

Throttle and generator changes

As always with a boat, there were a few niggly things that we need to get done before the start of the season. The first of these is the throttle on Mariadz.  This is located on the steering binnacle next to the forward facing radar control but Maria has always struggled when the engine is in gear. Out of gear, the throttle is smooth and works a treat, having changed the throttle cable some years ago, but in gear it is incredibly stiff and you find yourself using excessive force, going too high on the revs and then having to pull back to where you wanted to be. This is something we wanted to have fixed before starting a new season.

helmWe had spoken to Lindsay at Seapower about this some time ago and there was concern that we may need to replace the entire throttle control with a completely new and very different unit. The first job though was to check that we didn’t have issues with the throttle cable and particularly the gear cable that allows you to select between forward, neutral and astern. This was one of the jobs arranged for while we were away skiing in Austria. On our return from holiday, Maria was planning to turn the boat around so she was bows-to the pontoon. This is our preferred wat round and gives her a nice view over the stern to Ipswich Centre. It provided us an opportunity to test the new setup. After the work was done, there was a complete lack of swearing when Maria was turning the boat around so I think we have a result!

The second job that had been outstanding for a while were the calorifier pipes for the generator. These move the heat from the generator cooling system into the hot water tank, thereby heating up the hot water and also cooling the engine coolant. We have this setup from the main engine but there were a couple of reasons for getting the more complex setup that supported twin coolant inputs to the hot water tank. Firstly, we have a source of heat in the generator coolant which we would be wasting, I don’t like that. Secondly, we like to have redundancy in our systems so there is no single point of failure. We can now heat water electrically on the shorepower (or generator), electrically using the inverter charger and the batteries (very sparingly), from the engine coolant and now from the generator coolant. Surely one of those must work at any given point in time? If not I have a solar bag, that heats water from the sun, on deck!

There was one consideration regarding this which related to the use of the generator. It is important to work the generator when it is turned on. The last generator was 11.5kW and had been continually used at very low loads which killed it. It was scrap after 700 hours. Although in retrospect we could have rebuilt it, the advice at the time was not to and hopefully we will have none of the issues that the last owners had with a flaky generator. imageTo avoid this problem, we took the decision to buy a generator with a lower power output (7kW) so that we were always using a high proportion of its capacity. In the few instances where we need more than this for a very short period, the inverter charger could pull from the batteries but this was likely to be for seconds and so wouldn’t impact the batteries too much.

The electrical part of the hot water system requires 1kW which is a good start load for the generator, especially when you add battery chargers and aircon units. So by using the pipes and removing that element of the load, I may make my job of loading the generator harder. I guess I can always switch off the heated water element if I want!

Lindsay had to do some design work with the Onan generator to get this setup to work well but it is now a very neat installation. Unfortunately as part of the testing of the new setup, Lindsay discovered that five vanes from the impeller, that drives the cold water around the engine, had broken.   D78BCC4B-7405-46FC-8B71-412EE38F6AFAThis has been in place exactly two years and had around 70 hours of use so a little worrying. Of course a broken impeller is not good news and we are grateful that the generator hadn’t overheated because of the lack of water flowing through the system. We are now investigating what has happened but I understand that we may need to be more careful at checking the generator when it hasn’t been used for a little while. I suspect more frequent changes of impeller will be required too.