Thursday, March 29, 2018

Hurricane Force

When we booked this cruise there were still some open questions about access to a couple of the ports. By the time we sailed, all of the ports were open but there was still some visible hurricane damage. Approaching San Juan, Puerto Rico, everything looked beautiful. I assumed a fort that had been there for centuries would survive yet another hurricane.

The buildings were colorful and the streets narrow, but I’d hoped for more of the spectacular doors like we’d seen in the old city portion of Cartagena last year. In our wandering through the city, we never saw anything comparable to Cartagena doors.

Perhaps the most memorable thing for me was the beautiful blue cobblestone tiling the streets.

We did go out to the east end of the island that evening to kayak a bioluminescent lagoon. Once we got out of old town, we saw lots more ‘blue roofs’ covered with blue tarps. The driver said that 40% of the island still lacks power and that some of the large resorts are still full of FEMA employees.

The next morning, arriving in St. Thomas, U.S.Virgin Islands, the first thing I noticed was a somewhat unusual ship at the dock. The Fremantle was built as a heavy lift vessel, outfitted with three massive cranes.

All around the dock long lines of power utility trucks and equipment from various companies. They had used the area near the docks as a staging area for the utility repairs after the hurricanes.

Around town, fences were propped up, roofs were sporting blue, and areas were closed due to damage but the community had made a lot of progress and most businesses were open.

Internet research suggested the Skyride gondola was repaired and operating but when we got there, the terminal was all boarded up. I'd hoped for a ride to the top of the hill, but not today.

Eventually we found a way to the top of the hill where there was a beautiful view of the harbor, some high class homes, and a geocache that had waited over two weeks for a First To Find. While at the top of the hill, I chatted with a roofing crew that still had jobs on the books that would be waiting months before crews could get to them.

We got back to the Rotterdam in time to see the Fremantle loading the last of the utility equipment. They'd finished their work repairing the island's infrastructure and it was time to head home.

As we departed St. Thomas, we passed some major resorts that were just now getting back to regular operations.

Puerto Rico and Saint Thomas took hard hits this year and both have a long way to go before everything is repaired, but both locations are open for business and clearly appreciate visitors.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Wet Wandering

We weren't so terribly bright when we booked this cruise a couple months ago. Turns out there's this thing call Spring Break that fills Florida hotels. BJ managed to find a 'boutique' hotel that offered airport and cruise port transfers and still had a room to reserve.

We managed to carefully pack two weeks worth of clothes into our luggage, assuming the ship would have a self service laundry facility. The Veendam did last year...

It was after lunch before we went to check in at the cruise terminal. The initial rush was over and we cruised right through.

The Holland America Rotterdam would be our home for the next couple weeks. It spent some time in dry dock in November so it was just a few months since they'd freshened it up.

One of the changes was that the self service laundry facility was removed. Not sure if it was to encourage use of the "you can afford a cruise so you can afford our laundry services" full service facility or if the rumor of reducing fire hazards was the real reason.

We enjoy traveling on HAL's 'small' ships. The Rotterdam handles about 1400 passengers. We find there are many advantages when compared to ships that are double, triple, or quadruple in size. Turns out there are a few disadvantages as well but we'll save that for another time.

We departed Tampa on schedule and passed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south of Saint Petersburg before sunset.

The next morning we were greeted by some of the Coast Guard's finest as we approached Key West. Not sure what they thought we were hauling other than seniors drag racing scooters in the passageways.

We'd been in Key West five years go, right after I retired. I didn't remember this statue, but it seemed like he had a good idea.

We wandered around town visiting a few key locations including the end of the OTHER Highway 1. Everyone knows the real one is on the west coast!

I had to take a picture of the lighthouse just in case Suzanne hasn't had a chance to visit this one yet, something I seriously doubt!

One of my key points of interest was the monument marking the southernmost point in the continental US. (There were two earth caches and a virtual cache near it.) It was a short walk, just about 1.2 miles from the ship, but we were only about half way back to town when the skies opened.

The windbreaker didn't do much for the downpour. My shirt, pants, shoes, and socks were soaked through as were BJ's. Turns out clothes have to hang for a couple days to dry out when there isn't a self-service laundry on board! That's OK, we had a couple sea days next on the agenda.

Plan B lunch was on the Lido deck where we had a view of part of town as the weather marched through.

It actually dried up and we got one more chance to get out and visit a different part of town for a bit before we left, headed next for points south and east.

(I don't know who the dude is, but he was in a park near a statue that we needed to find to fulfill the requirements of a virtual cache.)

Monday, March 19, 2018


Back in the dark ages, i.e. before the beginning of this blog, I switched out the single 12 volt battery that was delivered with the Scamp for a pair of 210 amp hr Interstate GC2 batteries. We've had six years of excellent service from those batteries, but the calendar was telling us we'd certainly received our money's worth. With summer plans that include extended periods in solar challenged locations like Vancouver Island, it seemed appropriate to follow Jeff's lead and put in a pair of U.S. Battery 2200 232 ah batteries from The Battery Guy.

One of the things I've disliked about our gravel guard is the extra work to service the batteries, so this time I picked up the Pro-Fill onboard battery watering system from Flow-Rite.

The 'speed cap' assembly was removed from the batteries and replaced with the individual caps provided in the Pro-Fill set.

Each of the Pro-fill caps incorporates a hole in the top of the cap that accepts a fitting from the flexible manifold. The caps have float valves built into them so that if the fluid level in the battery cell is low, water can flow from the manifold, through the cap, into the cell. If the cell level is correct, the float valve closes off flow from the manifold.

It looks a bit busy! Positive is upper right, negative is upper center-left, and the tube to the fill point exits upper left.

The tube from the battery manifold terminates in a special fitting with a beefy rubber cover. This connector is now ty-wrapped to the frame under the battery box where it is out of the way, but accessible without removing the front cover of the gravel shield.

The hand pump is a separate component. In my case, I ended up buying it from a different Amazon vendor because of pricing.

One end of the hand pump assembly mates with the special connector on the end of the manifold tubing. The other end goes in a jug of distilled water.

I was really impressed with how easy the installation was, and even more so, how easy the system was to use. Should have done it years ago!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Last Little Bus Project

Jeff did some research (sometimes known as what would Technomadia do?) and selected the EezTire TPMS system for his rig. Initially, he was planning on the flow-through sensors but we ended up selecting the cap style sensor since they were notably smaller.

He decided that he wanted the system installed using the supplied vaccum mount so that there weren't any new holes added to the dash. The selected position keeps the sightlines to the mirror and the windshield clear.

We had a couple options for power, but wanted to avoid even more cigarette lighter style plugs with cords dangling around. The other option was to used the provided direct wiring cord. I just needed to find a source of keyed power so that the TPMS would be powered only when the ignition key was turned on.

I started at the fuse panel below the dash in the left front corner but bombed out on anything that was easily accessible. Finally found what I was looking for at the back of the radio override switch. This switch had a ground wire, several always hot wires, and one keyed power wire.

I got my work area set up. I discovered there are some advantages to having an inverter. Works great for when you need to power the soldering iron and don't want to start the noise maker. It's worth noting that Mickey D's iced coffee is essential fuel for this project!

I half stripped short sections of the ground and keyed power wires, and then soldered the lead that was provided with the TPMS system.

Some electrical tape on the connections, sliding the conduit back in position, and we were good to go.

The best part was that Jeff arrived just in time to deal with the wire routing behind the dash.

He was also responsible for taking us to the airport a couple hours before he picked up his family and started the first segment of their multi segment roadtrip to Alaska with their motorhome.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Power & Light

Time is running out to get all the projects done on Jeff's Vista, but the list is getting very short as well. One of the projects was to change the stock lights above the bed. The stock puck lights are powered through a single switch and point straight down which isn't very conducive to one person reading while the other tries to sleep. They got re-purposed for lighting in the rear luggage bay.

They were replaced with a couple flexible LED fixtures that we picked up in Quartzsite.

Like nearly all RVs today, the manufacturer seems to assume that you're going to be plugged in or willing to listen to a generator. This rig needed more 12 volt outlets to be functional for dry camping. Dual outlets were placed on each side of the bed pedestal. One outlet has two USB ports while the other outlet accepts a cigarette lighter style plug.

The project was relatively easy since the power converter lives in the same space. It was just a matter of taking the plywood cover off the top of the area behind the converter and the faceplate from the converter, drilling the holes for the outlets, and then running the wires.

I made it a point to run the wire more neatly than the factory wiring. Apparently they figure no one will ever look...

We were fortunately enough to have one empty slot on the 12 volt side, between the blue 15 amp and the brown 5 amp fuses. I picked up the positive feed there and installed a 10 amp fuse.

I was going to run the wire in a plastic conduit but the conduit I brought with me was too small so I used the same technique that the Scamp factory uses to route their wiring - it's tacked in place with hot glue. Both power and ground have a second pigtail soldered into the main lead about 10" back to feed the second outlet. The solder joint is then insulated with shrink tubing - blue because that was what I had in stock.

With these projects done, I think there's just one thing left on the list. I still need to install a power lead behind the instrument panel to power the TPMS system.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Tiny Houses

For over 10 years, our church has sent a team to Mexico to work with Amor Ministries building houses for needy families. This year, I joined over 100 other individuals to build four houses over a four day weekend. Friday morning at 5 a.m. found us gathering for the trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico.

The caravan stopped in Gila Bend for hot coffee and anything else that looked good at Mickey D's.

Upon arrival in Puerto Penasco, we set up tents of all shapes, sizes, and colors that would serve as our homes for the weekend. With that done, we headed out to meet our families and get started.

Part of each house crew started sifting the provided sand & gravel mix for the sand needed for stucco.

Meanwhile, the other part of the crew laid out the forms and dug the trench for the footings.

As the sun rose on Saturday, the foremen and their assistants met near the bonfire to discuss the order of work for the day,

while the kitchen crew got started on breakfast for over one hundred people.

The unanticipated culinary delight (at least for me) was that ice for drinks was plentiful. Nothing like cold water or lemonade after mixing concrete.

We quickly lost count of how many wheelbarrows of concrete were mixed for the floor.

A couple of the young guys took ownership of the concrete pour, and did a great job of it.

Meanwhile, the other half of the crew was framing up the wall and roof sections.

Two roof sections and seven wall sections, with all the wood cut to length by hand. Just like the concrete, all of the work was done with hand tools. These wall sections make up an 11' x 22' two room house.

After a good night's sleep, we were back at it for what would be the LONG day. Work started by standing up the wall sections and getting everything squared up.

The same guys that claimed the concrete claimed the roof. The sheeting was nailed down and then they rolled on the roofing. Meanwhile, the most unusual technique was taking place on the walls. Nails were spaced vertically every five inches on the house corners and then the house was wrapped with bailing wire. The wire was tensioned by placing more nails in a zigzag pattern. Once the wire was tight, the house was wrapped with building paper,

covered with chicken wire, and then the first coat of stucco went on. While all that was going on, the two windows and two doors were hung.

It was a long day with the sun setting as we made our way back to camp.

The last day was a short day on the house. The second coat of stucco was applied and the stoops were poured. By this time, the young guys were starting to lay down on the job!

The family had heard that one of the young guys was celebrating his 21st birthday so they got him a cake.

With the house down, keys turned over to the family, and a prayer for the family said, it was time to head back to camp to break it down, load up, and head home. I was really glad I'd taken down my tent before going to the job site since the wind was really blowing when we got back.

We cleared customs homeward bound before the rains started. Eighty-eight hours after we departed, we returned to the church parking lot with everyone safe and four houses built for Mexican families. A pretty special weekend!

I'm looking forward to doing it again next year.