How to use a French Press to make coffee

Most of you are probably thinking, what kind of idiot doesn’t know how to use a French Press to make coffee. However, many of us grew up in homes with an electric coffee maker. Some of us even invested in an espresso maker with a milk frother when we were in college. However, I had never even heard of a French Press and had no idea how they worked until I went looking for a way to make coffee on the boat without electricity.

Therefore, we decided to shoot a little video during our regular Sunday morning brewing session to help spread the joy of the French Press to anyone else who may need their daily caffeine fix.

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The cheapest way to add Wi-Fi to any camera (or your boat)

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When you’re boating or backpacking, it’s not so easy to just pull out your camera’s memory card and dump the photos onto a computer. Half the time I have the camera sealed in a dive case or wrapped up in plastic to protect it from the elements, and most of the time I don’t even have a computer with me.

When we were in the Spanish Virgin Islands I really appreciated the fact that my Sony had built-in Wi-Fi. I could climb back on the boat, towel off, then turn on the Wi-Fi to send all my snorkeling photos to my iPad for review without ever having to take the camera out of the dive case. I could then Instagram a good one and hop right back in the water to dive some more. I didn’t have to worry about unsealing and resealing the dive case, defogging the lens again, or any of that rigmarole.

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Unfortunately, not all cameras come with Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi SD cards have been around for a few years now and are getting better all the time. You might have heard of Eye-Fi. They were the pioneers of Wi-Fi SD cards, but an Eyefi Mobi Pro card still runs about $99. There’s also the Transcend Wi-Fi option.

I was almost ready to spend the money on an Eye-Fi when I came across the Toshiba Flashair. Apparently, the FlashAir has never been too popular, and the iPhone and Android apps were downright terrible when it first came out. However, a 32GB FlashAir SD card is now only $30 (I ordered mine on eBay). At that price, I decided to give it a try.

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Setup of the card was easy. You just pop it in the camera and download the free FlashAir app to your phone. Each time you launch it after the card has been formatted, it gives you the option to change the Wi-Fi name and password. This is a nice feature if you were shooting a professional event where lots of people might be using Wi-Fi, however, it has one major flaw. Every time you format the SD card in the camera, it resets the SSID and Password to the factory default. I might format the card three times a day when I’m working, so I gave up on setting a custom Wi-Fi name.

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Once the app is launched, your phone or tablet will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi generated by the SD card and allow you to browse the photos on the card. (I found Android devices are much faster at connecting than iOS devices, which sometimes need help finding the network.)

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Just select the photos you want to download to your phone, and it beams them right over. But here’s the cool part, the FlashAir app doesn’t just work for photos. It also does music and movie files, so you can use it in other devices like a Zoom recorder or a video camera.

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Perhaps you do have a computer, but you don’t have an SD card reader available, or maybe you just hate installing apps on your phone. If you connect the computer or a phone to the FlashAir Wi-Fi and then open the web browser, it reads the card in the web browser and lets you browse and download the photos that way as well.

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But wait, that’s not all! If you stick the FlashAir in an SD card reader, it still generates Wi-Fi. That means, if you need Wi-Fi on your boat, you could grab one of these FlashAir cards and a card reader, stick it in an SD slot on your chartplotter or even a 12 volt DC plug and suddenly have a portable Wi-Fi network for all the devices on your boat.

Now don’t get too excited. It won’t give you Internet, just a Wi-Fi network that allows all of your devices to connect to each other. For instance, if you have an AIS system that needs Wi-Fi to send info to your chartplotter, this $30 SD card will allow that. It can connect up to six devices. (However, if you do have an Internet connection, it also allows Internet pass through.)

So what’s the downside to a Wi-Fi SD card you ask? Well, although the transmitter has a very low power draw, it still drains the battery faster. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi like the Sony are able to turn it on and off to conserve battery, but with the FlashAir, from what I can tell the Wi-Fi is on all the time. However, in use I can’t say I’ve seen a noticeable change in battery life.

Yes, the FlashAir app does transfer RAW files. I shoot everything in RAW, but I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to transfer a 45 MB file over Wi-Fi. I shoot RAW + 1.2 MB JPG Small. The RAW is for my photo archives and for making prints. I download those files when I get home. The JPG small file saves space on the SD card and my phone or tablet but has plenty of resolution for social media. Here’s a few examples straight out of the camera via the FlashAir card.

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So there you have it, the Toshiba Flashair 3 Wi-Fi SD card, the $30 solution to adding Wi-Fi to any camera.

Converting an icebox into a refrigerator

The previous owner of Gimme Shelter converted the icebox to a refrigerator in 1985. I still have the receipt for the Adler-Barbour cold machine. However, after 30 years of service, it had seen better days.

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When it finally gave up the ghost we decided to start fresh, so we set about dismantling the system and cleaning out the icebox.

With the modern refrigerator kits from Isotherm and Adler-Barbour, converting an icebox is one of the easiest projects we’ve done.

The very first step when attempting a conversion is to measure your icebox and calculate the volume. Ours was 16″ x 20″ x 21″. With a quick conversion that’s 1.33′ x 1.66′ x 1.75’= 3.88 cubic feet.

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Knowing the size of icebox we needed to cool, we started browsing our available options. Based on price and reviews, we decided to try the $899 Isotherm Compact 2301 Icebox Refrigeration Kit. However, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between one brand and another anymore. They all use danfoss compressors, and the evaporators look mysteriously similar.

When the refrigeration kit arrived, the box was surprisingly small.

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In the box was the compressor, condenser and evaporator, pre-charged with r134a coolant.

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The unit also came with a bracket for mounting the compressor on either a horizontal or vertical surface.

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And the kit came with the thermostat, a fuse holder, and a short power cable, but we had to supply our own positive and negative leads to the battery as well as a breaker.

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The Isotherm unit turned out to be so compact that it could be easily mounted under the galley cabinets or a settee. However, since we already had a hole drilled and a location available in the lazarette, we decided to keep the new unit there.

That brings me to step two. Figure out where you want to mount the compressor and lay everything out BEFORE you drill any holes in the icebox.

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As you can see, we already had a hole drilled, but making sure you drill the hole in the right place is the most complicated part of this entire project. If you’ve got everything laid out and drill your hole in the right spot, you’re over the hump.

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For best results, you need to run power wires directly from the battery to a breaker to the mounting location. The instructions for you refrigerator will tell you the appropriate wire and breaker sizes.

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Wiring the new Isotherm unit was incredibly easy. Everything is very clearly labeled and uses push-on connectors.

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Once we had our wiring and coolant lines run, we screwed down the Isotherm mounting bracket where we wanted the compressor to sit. Then it’s vibration absorbing feet just slide onto the bracket and clip in.

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The coolant lines have self-sealing valves. In other words, they don’t open until you screw them together. And if you ever need to take them apart, they should seal themselves as you unscrew them. This not only makes install easy, it’s also much better for the environment not to have coolant leaking into the air.

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The lines are threaded with one male and one female on each half of the system, so that there’s only one way to hook them together. Just line them up straight and use two wrenches to tighten them.

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Meanwhile back in the icebox we need to mount the evaporator as high as possible while leaving space for an insulated lid. Trying to stick your arm down in the box while screwing at an odd angle can be tricky, so making a paper template of the evaporator and pre-drilling the mounting holes makes it easier. I was really surprised the unit didn’t come with a paper mounting template.

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The bare metal end of the thermostat lead needs to be screwed up against the bottom of the evaporator. (I forgot to get a photo of this, but I found out the hard way that it’s much easier to accomplish this before you screw the evaporator onto the wall.)

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Our unit also came with a lid that is held in place with a bungee cord. I’m not sure it really does much to make the icebox any icier, but it does give the refrigerator a more finished look.

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Our final step was to attach the positive and negative 12-volt leads to the control panel on the compressor. We flipped the breaker and were delighted when the unit hummed to life. However, it was an extremely quiet, barely audible hum. Our old unit had sort of a high-pitched bearing squeal that was audible anywhere in the boat. With the new unit we can’t hear it at all unless we open the lazarette and listen for it.

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As you can see, the footprint of the new until is less than half that of our old unit.

Once everything is connected and running, you can squirt a little spray foam into the icebox hole to seal it up. If your icebox lid isn’t insulated, it will also boost the efficiency of your new refrigerator to insulate that as well. Catalina Direct actually sells icebox lid insulation containers that just screw on to the bottom of your existing lid in a couple of sizes, but it’s easy enough just to make your own.

Her perspective: Packing for a 7 day charter

So in about 10 days we are leaving for the SVIs, and I am in full on planning mode.  I am the type of person who likes to have everything planned out in advance.  Thank goodness that our crew seems to be the same way.  Today at home I started to lay everything out and decide what I really needed for seven days.  Trick is that I need to fit it all into one bag.  For my bag I chose a waterproof soft duffel bag.  As a side note, I like this bag a lot, but would never get another one with a roll up top like this.  Every time you remember something and need to put it in the bag, you have to unroll and re roll it.  It’s a pain for a weekend bag.

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So here is the list:

  • Sneakers for walking/hiking
  • flip flops for on the boat
  • water shoes for Sea Urchins and other pokey things
  • 5 bathing suits
  • Light sweater for evenings
  • PJ pants for when its cold, or for being comfy
  • 4 Shorts
  • 4 Light tanktops
  • Sunglasses
  • Foul weather gear (at least the jacket)
  • 4 beach coverups
  • Outfit nice enough for a beach restaurant
  • Supercool hat
  • My make up (yeah, I’m not ready to give it up), and a comb

Also not pictured below, Razor, underwear, and ibuprofen

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Oops I think I forgot something!

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If You guys have any packing suggestions I’d love to hear them.

The easiest way to climb the mast ( … so far)

Last weekend I installed my NMEA 2000 backbone, so this weekend I really wanted to get my new wind instrument mounted at the top of the mast. After trying several methods over the past five years, this is the easiest mast-climbing method I’ve found if your mast didn’t come equipped with steps. (Well, not as easy as just sitting in the bosun chair and getting cranked up by someone else, but when you have to climb alone or don’t have someone strong enough to crank you up, that’s not an option.)

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First off, I have no affiliation with MastMate. I actually bought mine second hand from a guy in the Clear Lake Racing Association. It’s basically just a long piece of heavy duty nylon with triangles of nylon sewed onto each side and cars for the mast track sewn on one edge of it. It’s coils up nice and flat for storage.

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To use it I have to remove the sail cars from the mast track. Then I release the topping lift and lower the end of the boom to the deck.

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We only have two halyards, the main and the jib. The jib halyard is always in service holding up the roller furling, so I use the main halyard to raise the MastMate, and I use the topping lift as a safety line tied to my harness.

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The main halyard attaches to the grommets at the top of the MastMate, and you feed the cars into the track as you raise it. If the wind is blowing hard one way or the other, you might have to tuck the steps on that side under, so they don’t get stuck in the lazy jacks or standing rigging as you pull it up. Once you get it to the top of the track, you just cleat it off.

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With only about 10 minutes of work, you’ve got your own stairway to heaven.

Going up and down is all leg work as you keep your arms around the mast and just move from step to step as if you were climbing a ladder.

It’s still advantageous to tie off at the top, both for safety, and because you can sit down in your harness to work instead of having to stand and balance the entire time.

What’s your preferred way to climb the mast?

A glimpse into my garden

So, Fred has convinced me that I need to share a little gardening blog with y’all.  Even though it is not sailing related, I realize the world of self-sustainability can bring the two together.

At our house I try to only plant useful plants. Three years ago I started with a small garden plot and two trellises which we placed on our fences. I’ll start by explaining that we just have a small suburban lot that is mostly covered in house, so we try to use as much of the available space as possible, while still leaving space for the dogs to play.

The first year of gardening we planted a miniature dwarf lime tree and grape vines on either fence. The lime tree survived almost three years but then was finally killed off by a year of several hard frosts. If I had that to do again I would have planted a more hearty Myer Lemon tree. On the fence trellises we planted concord grapes on one side, and niagra grapes on the other. The niagra died after being mowed off by the lawn crew, not once but twice. Our concord grapes have grown in nicely every year, but we’ve only had one bunch of grapes. This year I trimmed them way back and fertilized well. We’ll see how they do. The first leaves appeared this week.

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For our vegetable garden I like to start some seeds inside while some things I plant outdoors when it’s time. Here in Houston the season starts early, and it will be different everywhere so just go by temperatures. About two or three weeks before the last freeze I like to plant my tomato and pepper plants in little seed pods. You can get about 40 pods for $3. I just put them in little food tubs with no drain holes. I water them every other day or so and always drain the excess water into my house plants.

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I like to reuse any of these seed pods that don’t end up growing plants by planting random seeds from my food in them.  The most recent attempt was several mandarin orange seeds. Some are actually growing! When they get too big for their little seed things, if the weather is still not warm enough for them, I will move them to some small pots like you see above.  The black plastic pots you get when you buy plants are the perfect size for this. To move peppers outside it needs to be consistently warmer than 60 degrees, even at night. Tomatoes need temperatures higher than 50 degrees. However, while you are growing your seeds inside it’s a good time to start growing your greens outside.

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You can grow these when temperatures are above 25 degrees, and they grow fast, so don’t be afraid to start early. Some cold weather plants that I currently have growing are spinach, kale, collard greens, cauliflower, carrots, chives and onions.

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With the greens I stagger planting. I like to do about two rows at a time and plant maybe every week or two weeks depending on how much salad we can eat at a time. There are only two of us. This way you can have fresh salad all spring. The larger greens can also just be picked and left in the ground. Pick from the outside in, and for sure pick leaves that are blocking sun for other smaller plants first.

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When you have a lot of small plants in a clump like above, just randomly pick around trying to thin them out. I chop off the roots and throw all of my greens into a big strainer. That way I can rinse them all off at once when I get into the house.

My recycling routine also ties into my gardening routine. I like to keep all of my vegetable scraps and grow them into new plants.  I cut off the base of onions, set them out to dry, and then plant them in the garden wherever I have an empty spot.  Later on you cut the green shoots off that grow up, and divide the base. Each old onion cutting will give you two new onion plants. Also with celery you can take the base, trim off the outside layers, and put it in a bit of water. New celery shoots will begin to grow, and then you can just plant it in the garden with everything else. Sure, it’s a slow process, but who doesn’t want never-ending celery?

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The last section of my garden is where I keep my squash and cucumbers.  I like to grow these on a sort of table shaped trellis.  I pull the vines up through, and let the fruits grow hanging.  This keeps them from growing all over my garden.  It also helps with keeping the fruit from bruising, and keeping the bugs off of them, which is a huge problem for these vines.

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Well there you guys go — a small window into my gardening routine!