S/V Hello World's Travel Log

Dear Jabsco,

Thank you for manufacturing the cheapest toilets out there, but your products are supposed to dispose of crap, not be crap.

Hello World

Well, we finally dumped the ol' Jabsco in the trash. It was a long time coming. We decided while in Mexico that we will never allow Rule/Jabsco products on the boat any longer. We still have 1 residual toilet in the aft head, but it's been out of commission longer than I can remember. Therein lies the issue. They're cheap, yes, and you get what you pay for. Even after downsizing to one head so we could cannibalize parts in Mexico, our one working toilet still leaked because of cracks in the cheapo plastic, important parts breaking off, etc. We tried to convince all guests aboard Hello World that the leak was in the inlet hose (not the poo hose!) - I'm not sure anyone ever really believed us.

ANYWAY. Enough of my rant. We got a new Lavac!

Not only is it pretty, it doesn't leak. Also? It works. The mechanics are amazingly simple. The installation, as with any head, were a bit of a pain in the a**, but it's finally in and we can invite people over without embarrassment :)

A few lessons that I learned:
  1. I feel like I finally got the hang of removing and installing sanitary hose (I know, this is exciting stuff). The secret?? KY Jelly on the inside of the hose and the outside of whatever you're putting it on. Then add heat (both the heat gun and the hairdryer worked well). I had tried these options separately before, but together, that's the ticket. Now we can be embarrassed about guests finding our KY Jelly, instead of our leaky head...

  2. As much as I love that the hoses are hidden with our bulkhead mounted pump, it was a serious hassle to install and it will be a hassle to take apart if ever we need to take it apart. I'm still happy we went with the hidden hoses, but I had a different opinion this past weekend. I'm bi-polar like that.

  3. The key that no one ever writes about? When installing a Lavac, it requires a tiny hole at the top of the inlet hose loop so the vacuum will release. The size of this hole determines the amount of water left in the bowl. That much is well documented. What they don't tell you is that if that inlet line doesn't go straight to the toilet (ours dips to the floor then back up to the toilet), that hole needs to be at the highest point just before the toilet. Normal people wouldn't run their hoses this way, but we wanted to use existing holes in the cabinetry.

  4. And finally, thanks to some advice from our friends on s/v Former Pisces, we rummaged through the lockers and found some canned goods that we will never eat. Instead of testing the head with real "product", we used this stuff (which may actually be nastier). This way, if there was a leak or a problem, we're not dealing with even more poo.

Jamon de Diablo - Ham of the Devil. Maybe I was drunk when I bought that? I don't know what I was thinking...

Anyway, all things considered, it was a "relatively" easy job (maybe because I'm comparing this to the aforementioned fridge project). Only 3 trips to Fisheries, 3 trips to the hardware store and about 2 days of swearing. So far, that's about 42 times easier than the fridge project...which is nowhere close to done.

You didn't think we'd do an entire post about the head without the obligatory plumbers butt picture, did you?

fridge insulation

I figured it would take me one weekend to install the insulation for the fridge box. Possibly two weekends if something went horribly wrong. That was back in February. I just finished the insulation install Friday. By my count, that task took two weekends plus or minus 8 weekends. Granted, I really wasn't working on the fridge the whole time. There was a lot of downtime this winter due to weather and generally lack of motivation (at least two of those weekends back in February were devoted to The Wire marathons).

My original plan was to install 2" XPS (extruded polystyrene) sheets underneath the fridge box and against the hull. XPS is good at resisting water entry but has a slightly lower R value of R5. I planned on using polyisocyanurate on the inboard walls where I had less space for insulation. Polyiso is rated at R6.5 but it doesn't deal well with moisture. It also doesn't handle being cut and manipulated nearly as well as it tends to crumble. I decided to use it only on the inboard facing wall next to the sink, mostly because it proved to be a real pain in the ass. The rest of the walls in the fridge got the XPS treatment. Against the curve of the hull above the waterline where the sun hits the hull, I glued Reflectix onto the outward face of XPS boards and left about a one inch air gap between the hull and insulation. The idea is to reflect radiative heat transfer from the sun hitting the hull. I have no idea if this will make a difference but given the difficulty of matching rectilinear foam boards with the curve of the hull, I was going to end up with an air gap anyways, so I thought I'd take advantage of it.

XPS sheets being installed in the floor. The pink and blue sheets are both XPS, just different manufacturers.

Polyisocyanurate insulation installed on the inboard wall.

The reflectix insulation installed against the hull.

Given the oppressive amounts of cold beer and ice I plan on storing in this fridge box, I needed some structure to support the weight of the box. My goal was to provide some beefy structure without having to cut out much insulation. I ended up using 2" aluminum angle iron mounted longitudinally under the fridge box. I through-bolted epoxy covered brackets on the fore and aft cabinet walls and laid the aluminum beam on top of those brackets to sit flush with a layer of insulation. I used the same material mounted under the countertop to support the vertical walls of the fridge box.

Longitudinal aluminum angle iron support.

My construction process went a little something like this:
  • First, I installed an epoxy covered wood standoff on the cabinet floor so if any moisture got into the cabinet, the insulation would not sit in it. I drilled a few weep holes from the floor into the bilge so water couldn't build up.
  • I put a layer of builder's plastic against the hull. The idea was if the deck to hull joint or deck stanchion started leaking into the cabinet, it wouldn't penetrate the insulation. I didn't encapsulate the entire insulation in a vapor barrier because I've read that all that does is trap moisture inside the insulation. A more accurate way of stating that would be: I encapsulated the entire insulation in a vapor barrier THEN I read that all that does is trap moisture inside the insulation THEN I spent a weekend removing the vapor barrier and three tubes of silicon I used to hang the vapor barrier.
  • The only option we had to run wiring for the compressor install is currently crammed with wiring and would require removing some wire to accomodate the compressor wiring. Given that I had 9" to 11" of space for insulation against the hull near the top of the box, I decided to install a wiring conduit in the back of the box. I'm not wild about this choice. Cutting the insulation around the conduit was a giant pain.
  • Cut and dry fit foam for a single wall. This is a very iterative process when you have to work through the opening (oh, this perfectly cut piece of foam doesn't fit inside the opening) and when you have a complex curve and fridge box that steps down (oh, this perfectly cut piece of foam doesn't actually fit the space it's supposed to fit in).
  • Once I got all the pieces cut and dry fit (and labeled, all the pieces start to look the same after a while), I installed the insulation for that wall. I caulked every seam and joint with silicon to make sure that there was no air passage through the insulation. Every gap larger than 1/8", got injected with spray foam. Here's a tip with spray foam: wear latex gloves and a long sleeve shirt when using this crap. You'll think you're being all super careful and cautious and then your wife will point and guffaw at the cabbage-sized glob of spray foam hanging on your elbow of which portions will remain stuck to you three days later.
  • Once the spray foam cured, I'd trim it back down and coat any exposed spray foam with silicon. Spray foam doesn't like moisture either. One other note about spray foam: it cures with some pretty large air bubbles in it so don't depend on it for any large voids. I relied on it more as way to prevent air passage, rather than proper insulation.
  • Once the wall was done, I moved on to the next wall. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • After all the insulation was in place, I caulked all the seams a final time with silicon to make sure no air was going to leak through the box.

The end result of all this foam cutting and fitting and caulking:
  • 9" of XPS insulation below the fridge box.
  • Anywhere from 5" to about 11" of XPS insulation against the hull.
  • 4" of XPS insulation on the aft cabinet wall.
  • 6" of XPS insulation on the forward cabinet wall.
  • 3" of polyisocyanurate insulation plus 3/4" of layers of reflectix because I couldn't find 3/4" foam boards.

Bare fridge cabinet.

Standoff installed.

Plastic installed against the hull.

Floor insulation complete along with brackets for longitudinal support beam.

Aluminum angle iron acting as a support beam.

Inboard wall with polyiso insulation and then covered with Reflectix. You can also see the aluminum angle iron used as a support for the vertical fridge walls.

Forward wall complete.

Aft wall complete.

This was all the foam I used in just the top half of the outboard wall against the hull.

I think I cut about 30 individual pieces of foam to fit the outboard wall.

Insulation is DONE!

Sizing some of the foam pieces.

Our disaster of a cockpit during construction. I did all the foam cutting in our cockpit. Any attempt to cut foam on the dock ended up with foam particles in the water and that's no bueno.

If you feel that you just haven't gotten enough pictures of pink and blue foam, I took an extensive amount of photos and uploaded them here.

iverson dodger, bimini and cockpit enclosure

We sailed for a few years with Hello World's original canvas cockpit covers. The dodger windows were mostly opaque and distorted. The bimini canvas was easier to see through than the windows. The material was started to decompose and fall apart. The frames were rusty and flimsy. Any attempt to prevent a crew overboard in a seaway by grabbing hold of our dodger or bimini would have ended with a very startled crew member swimming next a pile of stainless steel and blue canvas.

No longer, people.

We employed the services of Iversons Designs to remedy our canvas woes. And remedy them, they did. We spoke with Jason Iverson at the boat show about what we were looking for. The interesting thing about Iverson's is that they don't really go to your boat and quote you a price. They have a standard price for their dodgers and biminis and standard prices for all the extras so he was able to give us a quote without knowing anything about our boat. The first time they step foot on your boat, they are there to build.

We requested a new dodger, bimini, solar panel mounts on top of the bimini, a full cockpit enclosure and just about every extra option we could get our grubby hands on. We also ponied up a little extra for the dodger that allows us to completely zip out all the windows and store them below. After handing over a $300 deposit back in February, we reluctantly waited our turn. If you want what they got, pack a lunch because you're going to wait for it. Finally, in mid-April we got a call asking if they could start the next day.

The build team came out and talked with us for a bit about what we wanted. They were very accomodating to our requests. Even though he didn't write anything down in our 30 minute conversation, he nailed everything I asked for. By the end of the day, we had our new stainless steel frames. I got to the boat after work and found the bimini frame to be a bit lower than I'd like. I sent an email asking them to raise it an inch or two. I waited for the reply giving me all kinds of excuses about why they couldn't raise it (the boom was perilously close, the stainless steel frames were already cut, bent and installed), but 10 minutes later I got an email quickly telling me "no problem at all". The next time they came out, the bimini frame was sure enough, two inches higher.

A word of caution about their install. They will bed every bit of hardware into the deck with 3M 5200. If you ever want a shot at removing any of their bedded hardware, you have to request they use something else. I didn't mind the snaps to the deck installed with 5200 but I did not want the frame footings mounted with 5200. Since all they carried was 5200 and silicon, I gave them a tube of 4200. Later in the summer when the weather improves, I'll pull the footings off, over drill the holes, fill with expoxy and through bolt the footings through the deck. At that point I'll bed the bolts with something a little more sealant like (3M 101 or butyl sealant) and a little less adhesive like.

Over a period of two weeks, they installed the dodger, bimini, solar panel mounts and finally the cockpit enclosure. Since then, I have poured over every inch of their work. The craftsmanship is excellent. Full of small details you don't notice at first like a small flashlight above the companionway, snaps to hold the cockpit enclosure panels out of the way when unzipped, and grab loops at exactly the right place when you need to pull the fabric together to zip panels together. Every possible chafe point is protected with at a minimum some kind of vinyl fabric and in several places with leather. Many of the seams and edges have two or three rows of stitching in place. And? It looks good. These guys have a keen eye for aesthetics. Covering the ass end of your boat with reams of canvas can turn out pretty ungainly. We've seen plenty of examples where canvas has gone horribly wrong. This installation looks like a natural extension of the boat, like Caliber had this in mind the whole time.

Let's be clear: this quality comes at a price. Iverson is not in the business of giving these things away. His prices seem to be incrementally more expensive than others out there. If you just went with the standard dodger and bimini, you're probably going to pay in the same ballpark as you would elsewhere (surprisingly, Mexico was not really any cheaper). We super-sized our canvas order so we're paying a pretty healthy bill. But given the quality of work and responsiveness we received, we'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Now, every night Christy and I have dinner out in the cockpit. We sit up there browsing the internet or reading. When we're home we rarely put the hatchboards in, even if it's 48 degrees and pouring rain. The cockpit enclosure has essentially given us another room on the boat. And this room has a bitchin' water view.

(Disclosure: We have no affiliation with Iverson's Design other than being a one-time customer. When a marine vendor does good work and treats us well, we want to let people know about it.)

geometry of to-do lists

Every once in a while, I run across a quote that's so relevant and well spoken I wish I'd said it myself. From Steve of s/v Nomadness:

To-Do lists are fractal. The closer you zoom into one item, the more it expands into a cluster of component items.

And so it goes. Continued progress on the fridge rebuilding front. A blog post coming soon.

Trust me, it's on my to-do list.