Thursday, 25 April 2013

Going Off Grid?

A blogging friend Kay commented on one of our recent posts "So you're going to live on a boat? Off the grid? Wandering? Wow!" Apart from her wonderful way with words reflected in her use back to us of "wandering", the words that really caught my eye were "off the grid" (OTG). To me a rather hippy, new -age phrase but it got me wondering what being OTG means for a cruising yachtie....

It's a rather US-centric term that primarily implies enforced surviving without mains electricity often in a rural area. However it can also encompass voluntarily living without all mains utilities like water, sewerage, gas etc even in the city as a way of reducing reliance on profiteering corporations and reducing costs. In other words a perhaps trendy lifestyle choice.

For liveaboards cruising on a limited budget being OTG is a necessity from the moment they decide to set sail. Likewise for Temptress' crew, we won't be able to afford to spend many nights in marina's at thirty pounds sterling per night, meaning plugging in to a 240v supply or using a hose to top up the tanks with fresh water will simply not be possible most of the time. So yes we will in that sense be OTG, our supplies of electricity and water being generated by gadgets carried with us. Our sea toilets flush directly into the ocean and our cooking is done with bottled gas.

But a yachtie isn't entirely disconnected - needing diesel to power the engine and hence charge the batteries which in turn power the water maker. And another essential, those bottles of gas need to be topped up from time to time. It's more that the umbilical chord that ties your house to the utility companies becomes for us a dotted line and we join the dots on an as needed basis.

However in trawling the internet on OTG living I came across a few interesting articles on the sort of lifestyle OTG-ers seem to aspire to. Plus some thought provoking comments on the pollution caused by diesel generators (greenhouse gas emissions, transportation etc) in remote wilderness areas vs arguably cleaner mains electricity brought in by a cable. The well prepared cruising yacht has other means to generate power apart from the boat's diesel engine; Temptress has a wind generator which provides 4 amps in a good breeze. This might seem a tiny amount but is sufficient to run the fridge all day every day. And we will shortly install a couple of solar panels for those days when there is no wind (or when we are sailing down wind) but plenty of sun to provide an additional battery top-up.

From Carolyn Shearlock's wonderful
Boat Galley Blog
We recently mentioned the high price of bottled gas in the UK  and that we are endeavouring to make our gas supply more convenient and cheaper to replenish. Over several years we've investigated ways of reducing gas consumption. The first of these was a pressure cooker, great for quickly knocking up stew and dumplings but still requiring a fair amount of gas. The second investment was the excellent thermal cooker from Mr D which we've been experimenting with since 2011 and has now become an essential bit of galley kit. Get the meal started then leave it to cook in the galley sink whilst we tack back and forth up the race course or make a bumpy cross Channel trip. And Dave (Mr D himself) publishes new recipes weekly which I save up to try on the Skipper the next time we are onboard. So far a brilliant success, including a wonderfully flavoursome Makboos. I fully intend to experiment with thermal bread baking next month.
Another couple of items I've recently come across are the Omnia Stovetop Oven (see picture above) which enables baking on a gas hob rather than in the oven again reducing gas consumption and the use of a pizza stone to ensure a more even and hence efficient spread of heat within a boat oven. Not certain yet whether Temptress will be equipped with either however both are worth considering in the pursuit of reducing the gas bill.

But what interested me most was that landbased OTG-ers face a very similar lifestyle issue to cruisers - that of needing to be more conservative in their use of resources. When it no longer comes from a mains supply landlubbers and boat crew alike find themselves in a world where you:
  • Don't clean your teeth with tap running
  • Turn the shower off whilst applying shampoo/soap (our push button shower heads enforce this)
  • Install LED bulbs because they consume less power 
  • Figure out ways to cook that reduces the amount of gas you burn
This article on Living Off The Grid neatly sums up the small changes a cruising lifestyle requires simply to conserve power, water and gas, though washing machines, chickens and growing your own veg (apart from beansprouts & herbs) are not so easy on a boat!

Monday, 22 April 2013

A Recovery Poser...

Ian's Prado came to rest nose into the sand
 During our weekend camping and driving trip across the Liwa Crescent from West (Arada) to East (Qasar Al Sarab/Hameem) one of the group managed not only to get stuck in a bit of an awkward dip but also to pop a tyre off the rim in the process. Here is how the team sorted out the recovery, but first a closer view of the problem:

Close up of the stuck
Side view - a lot of sand to shift....
Tyre buried in the sand
 First task; get a jack under the car to support its weight. Ian had to dig away and then level the sand under the Prado to get a jacking board (the red object near his shoulder) under first. Then the jack went in and was raised until it took the weight of the car but ensuring it wasn't lifted any further due to the precarious angle everything was perched at.

This is the angle they were working at

Next start digging away under the tyre

Working in rotation to clear the sand

Checking the tyre is not completely off the rim
Wet the rim to wash away the sand,
inflate the tyre and finally remove the jack
Job done - all that remained later (ie on the way home) was to find a garage where the tyre could be taken off the rim once more to remove the kilos of sand which will be inside. If you don't then at speed the wheel will be unbalanced. Fortunately many of the major service stations in the Emirates have tyre workshops and Ian dived into one off the E11 on the drive back to Dubai.

 With thanks to Ian, Clive, Antonio, Juan-Carlos, Ricardo & Mark for one last great weekend in Liwa.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Satellite Communications Controversy

Many friends and acquaintances have been a bit horrified that we've made a decision that is apparently controversial. And we are going to stick with it, probably. No SSB (shortwave radio transmitter), no satellite phones (and therefore no internet) and no GPS tracking device - that's our decision. In an age when everyone including us is on Facebook every day so we know where you ate last night and what colour today's socks are, has mobile phones (that connect to FB) to invite us to join you, and laptops with Skype plus webcams to call family and friends whenever we want, we are going to be - shock horror - out of touch for days, weeks even possibly months at a time.

Why controversial? Well the first reason people seem horrified is one of safety. What happens if we lose a rudder in the middle of an ocean (hopefully not our nice new one) or the mast breaks or.... (fill in your own catastrophe) they ask. Our boat is well found, we take good and continual care of her as well if not better than we do of ourselves but we recognise the unforeseen may occur. However many hundreds of boats have undertaken lengthy passages without major issues and reached other continents since Christopher Columbus first sailed west. The difference between today and say ten or twenty years ago is that technology makes it possible to communicate from almost anywhere at a price. And that is where our decision was made, the cost. Already working to a tight budget, we have  several higher priority items to purchase that will enable us to be more self sufficient whilst cruising - our number ones are a water maker to give us a reliable supply of potable water and a portable sailmakers sewing machine to enable repairs to sails and to maintain our canvas work without additional expense (and possibly the means to generate some funds for the cruising pot by assisting others).

From a safety communication perspective there is on board an EPIRB registered with Falmouth MRCC which once activated will contact via satellite, the relevant authorities to instigate a search and rescue. As rescue could take many days,  we also have a liferaft, in case we have to leave Temptress. It was recently serviced at great expense, plus there are grab bags full of additional survival gear like fishing lines, a GPS and a handheld VHF to communicate with anyone nearby, if there is anyone. For day to day safety Temptress has life jackets, harness lines and MOB devices a plenty as the person off watch sleeps better if they know the one on deck is securely attached to the boat with an alarm to sound if they do go over the side.

A barometer and observations of the sky always give the observant a good indication of forthcoming weather, sailors have used these for centuries. If we want to communicate with passing ships, a VHF with a 20 odd nautical mile range enables us to ask for a weather forecast or even medical advice. Then there is the radar for fog and low visibility such as in rainstorms.

We are though considering AIS - this is a system that broadcasts the position, speed and course of a vessel plus some info that satisfies the yachty's insatiable and idle curiosity on topics like "where did that tanker come from?" or "I wonder what is that liners next port of call is?". Mandatory for almost all commercial shipping it is a useful tool to help the yachtsman "see" over the horizon to that VLBC (very large bulk carrier) steaming at 20-odd knots on a collision course with your tiny boat. Funds permitting we intend to install what's known as AIS-B which is a transponder. Therefore those of you who really want to know where we are via the internet may be able to hunt us down when we are in range of a coastline where such signals are recorded on the web (geeky sites like this one can amuse away several hours if you let them, try zooming in on the Solent on the South coast of the UK at a weekend or look at the ferries moving back and forth across the Dover Straits)!  

So we will be as safe and snug as we can be in our white plastic cockle shell. If we don't post a photo of our catch of the day on FB or blog on what we had for breakfast for a few weeks please don't worry. Like a proverbial penny we'll turn up somewhere. But of course we reserve the right to spend some funds and acquire a second hand Iridium phone and SIM at some point in the future.

Monday, 15 April 2013

An Update - the Dubai Apartment Scam

Do you recognise this?:

Reader of Wanderings past posts may recall that early last year Susie had a close encounter with a landlord who was not quite what he seemed ie not a bona fide property owner in Dubai. Over the last week or two I have noticed a number of searches on the character involved in our Blogger stats (yes I am one of those sad people who look at their website stats.... my marketing training I'm afraid), one "othman m. s. sultan". Well that wasn't quite the full name he gave me, that was "Othman Abdulrahman M. S. Sultan Alolama".

Anyway one of the recent comments on my original post got me looking him up again. Above is a snapshot of the website this contributors was directed too. Below is the website he was using last year - this is an easy game of spot the difference - a change of colour green to blue, a small change to the content (though the use of English has not been improved) and a change of web address.... and bobs your uncle he/she is in business again.... you have been warned.

PS: If you really still think this is not a scam read their Quality statement which begins (my italics): "Property Way Ltd. management recognizes that it can achieve its vision of being one of the premier freight forwarding and handling agents through a Quality Management System."

Remote Fitting Out

Being several thousand miles away and in a different timezone getting on with the remaining fitting out tasks on our extensive list is simply not possible. Instead we've taken to reviewing and researching each of the items of kit that are on our list. Some are nice to haves others were classed as essential and some have not been on the list at all.

A tender you can sail
For example I've always fancied a hard dinghy instead of the inflatable rubber flubber that has served as Temptress' tender for many years (and still looks fairly new). Definitely not on the list as our Lodestar will serve for many years to come but a recent eBay auction was very tempting until the price started to rise (currently at almost £500)!

Then there are gas regulators. Not all regulators are equal - you need different ones for different types of gas typically propane or butane. The latter burns more cleanly and provides more energy, but propane is a better choice for situations in which temperatures may drop below freezing.

Currently Temptress has three Camping Gaz bottles to supply our galley stove. A 2.5Kg refill costs a whopping £23 in the UK and lasts about  three weeks when just the two of us are living on board, less when we have crew. Around a pound a day for cooking!. The other big disadvantage of Camping Gaz is that it is not easy to find outside of N Europe. Other gas bottles are fairly standard worldwide and often can be refilled at an ironmongers or garage rather than swapping empties for filled ones of a dubious vintage.

Gas Bottles come in many sizes...
So the plan is to change suppliers which, in the UK, basically means Calor. Assuming the gas locker will hold them Temptress will also be purchasing larger bottles which reduces the cost of gas significantly to around £16 for 4 Kg in the UK (roughly half the cost of Camping Gaz), as well as increasing the time between refill hunts in unfamiliar ports. Plus with the right regulator setup and assuming we can afford a range of bottles, we can indulge in whichever gas type is most suitable for the climate.  If there is room for at least two larger bottles we may also treat ourselves to a switch over valve making changing bottles so much more convenient, no more struggling to attach a heavy bottle in the pouring rain at night! For now though it is all theoretical, until we return to the boat we've no idea of what will fit in but we have done the research online and know what parts to order at what cost from where as well as the diameters of the various bottles that might fit. Oh and this wasn't an item on our fitting out list either, though we have been planning to do something ever since we arrived back from our Med cruise in 2002!