Review: Big Kahuna 12-volt Portable Shower

Thanks to a generous co-worker of mine we had the chance this weekend to test a Big Kahuna Portable Shower Shower.

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The system consists of the water tank (ours is 8 gallon, but they’re available in various sizes), the 12 volt plug, the hose with the shower head at the end, and a small water pump inside.  I was happy to see that both the plug, and the shower head came with very long cords because we had intended to put it down in the lazarette for after-swim shower and dog washing in the cockpit.

The pump inside is German made.

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The whole thing was very simple to put together, and even full of water was light enough for me to lift town into the lazarette. The top lid is supposed to absorb sunlight to give you warm showers, but I’m a bit skeptical of that claim.

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The pressure on it was similar to a standard shower head and about the same as what we get from the faucets on the boat. It wouldn’t do much good trying to spray mud off the anchor, but it has enough pressure to rinse soap out of your hair.

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It was also perfect for washing a certain smelly dog.

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It would definitely be more cost efficient to just connect a wash-down hose to our current water system. However, the Big Kahuna does have some advantages.

Not all boats have pressurized water systems, so it is definitely the easiest way to add a cockpit wash-down hose.

With the Big Kahuna you’re also adding additional freshwater capacity. It’s nice to know those cockpit showers aren’t cutting into the drinking water supply.

Portability is another perk. Take the Big Kahuna to the beach, and you no longer have to get back in the car with sandy feet or gear.

We’ll be testing the Big Kahuna further, but I’m definitely looking forward to rinsing the salt off next time I go swimming. Plus, no more dog hair in the boat drains.

Exploring the reefs of the Spanish Virgin Islands

I shot just a little bit of video during our week in the SVIs — most of it by accident when my thumb hit the video button while gripping the camera case. I do apologize for my underwater video skills. There’s not really anywhere to practice here in Galveston Bay, and I can’t actually see where the camera is pointed underwater. However, I hope this is still watchable.

The Majestic Brown Waters of Galveston Bay

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Galveston Bay is fed by both the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers as well as many other small creeks and estuaries. The record rainfall and flooding across Texas has sent tons of sediment and debris right into Galveston Bay.

Being only 9′ deep (except for the Houston Ship Channel), our water is always a sort of greenish brown, but this weekend it was just outright disgusting. Everyone wanted to be on the water to enjoy the break in the rain, but it was like sailing in a mud puddle.

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I’ve never seen the water this brown. It was pretty depressing.

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I definitely did not see anybody swimming.

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I really hope that as the flood waters subside the bay clears up … at least back to its normal level of brown.

Maintaining the raw water system: seacock, strainer, impeller, zincs

My sailboat to-do list has been growing all year, and there was no way around it, this weekend I had to do some maintenance and work off some of my lingering projects.

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Auxiliary power on Gimme Shelter is supplied by the original 1982 Universal 5424, a marinized Kubota diesel. This weekend I decided to work through the raw water system.

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I checked to make sure it moved freely open and closed. I checked the hose for cracking, and I checked to make sure the hose clamps did not show any signs of corrosion. Everything looked fine, so I closed it and moved on to the next piece of the system. (Closing the raw water seacock is a key step in all raw water maintenance and repair, as is opening it before you start the engine again!)

Raw water strainer

The strainer is basically a jar with a metal basket inside. Water is pushed through the top of the basket, and then shoots out all of the tiny holes of the metal strainer while leaving debris inside the metal strainer basket. If you look at the photo above, mine is very easy to access on the port side of the engine. I pulled out the strainer basket and found just a little mud, sprayed it with the hose and put it back together. No problems.

Raw water pump impeller

It’s recommended that you change the raw water impeller annually. I hadn’t had any water flow issues, and we hadn’t put many on hours on the engine, so I had let Gimme Shelter go two full years without replacing it. It was still working, but when I pulled it out, I could see the difference between the old and new impellers.

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I really like the Oberdorfer pump because it’s easy to access on the front of the engine, and it only takes four screws to open it up.

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The impellers just push onto the keyed center shaft, and you’re ready to go. The only catch is that you have to replace the paper gasket every time you open the pump. You also have to make sure you remove all of the old paper gasket before you install the new one or you won’t get a good seal. In the past I have resorted to cutting a new gasket out of construction paper with a pocket knife, but it’s definitely easier just to order a new gasket when you order the new impeller.

Sacrificial zinc anode

From the pump, the raw water moves to the heat exchanger where the antifreeze moves through tubes and transfers the heat of the engine into the seawater before it’s sent overboard in the exhaust. A sacrificial zinc anode is screwed into the heat exchanger to protect it from corrosion. If the heat exchanger tubes corrode out, you’ll end up with seawater in your antifreeze and vice versa, so this zinc is very important.

I’ll admit it. I’d been as lazy about the zinc as I had been about the impeller, and it hadn’t been changed in two years. When I unscrewed it, this is what came out.

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On the left is the two-year-old zinc. On the right is a new pencil zinc. This was bad. However, I didn’t have any seawater coming out of the hole, so I resorted to taking a selfie with the heat exchanger to see what was going on down there.

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There was still zinc left in the hole. However, two or three pokes with a screwdriver, and that little bit of zinc left crumbled to pieces and fell right out. I then installed the new zinc and promised myself I’d start checking it every six months.

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Once the new zinc was installed I opened the seacock and watched for leaks from the strainer lid as it filled. With no leaks from the strainer, I cranked up the engine and looked for waterflow from the exhaust. Water was flowing, so I popped back into the cabin to check for leaks from both the raw water pump and then zinc.

Once I’d verified that my maintenance hadn’t caused any new problems, I moved on to my next project, which I’ll blog about tomorrow — installing a NMEA 2000 backbone.

Clear Lake Shores Food Park

There’s something new happening in Clear Lake this weekend. The food truck craze has hit the area. Check out the new Clear Lake Shores Food Park.

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We stopped by for a look around and Mary made a beeline for the pastry truck.

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Prices were high, but both the creme brulee and the macaroons were excellent.

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The Fat Wagon prices were more reasonable, but they weren’t opening back up until 4 p.m., so we didn’t get a chance to try their food.

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The Clear Lake Shores Food Park should be open through Memorial Day.

My big question is, why don’t we have food boats out in the bay? Can someone please get on that?

Port St. Joe: St Joseph Peninsula State Park

We had one Saturday scheduled in Florida, so we decided to spend it exploring St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is consistently rated one of the best beaches in not only Florida, but the nation. Much more sunscreen was applied.

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The park is at the end of the St. Joe peninsula and has the larger gulf waves lapping on the west side, and the calm clear waters of St Joseph Bay on the east. The drive from St Joe was around 35 minutes. According to their site, the state park boasts 9.5 miles of “snow-white” sand beaches and “aqua-blue” waters.

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Entry to the park was a mere $6 per vehicle, but there are no dogs allowed, so our new friend Turtle had to stay home and catch up on his reading.

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The park also has 119 campsites for those that want to hang out longer for some serious fishing, kayaking or SUP.

The gulf had more beach, bigger waves and got deep quickly, which made swimming much more fun that it was at Salinas Park. Everyone spent lots of time in the water, which was also more clear than the water at Salinas Park, but still not quite clear enough to get a good underwater selfie.

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As we sat and stared out into the blue, I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. I finally grabbed the camera and stared at a couple of holes in the sand for the better part of 5 minutes. Then I finally saw this little guy flicking sand around cleaning out his burrow.

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These things are called ghost crabs, and once I saw the first crab, I started noticing them all over the beach. They’re pretty shy, but if you sit quietly for a few minutes, they’ll pop up to say, hello.

After several hours of playing in the surf, we began digging around and playing in the sand. There is something about pointless, mindless physical labor that is so relaxing. So naturally after digging what was a pretty impressive sand hole, we decided to bury two people in it, and make them into mermaids.

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After quite a bit more goofing off we decided to wander over and check out the bay. The water on this side was shallow for hundreds of feet out and totally clear. However, if you plan to venture into it, I highly recommend wearing shoes of some sort because it was teaming with crabs and spiky anemones.

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After exploring the area, we grabbed an empty shell and walked back to our chairs. As we packed up the car, we got a surprise when a crab made an appearance from the “empty” shell, demanding we put him (or her) back into the bay. We set the crab free and headed back to Port St. Joe.

4 Ways we Reduced Trash, on and off the Boat

In the general spirit of earth day, I decided to try to make 4 changes in our household that would reduce the amount of general trash that we produce. On the boat the reasons are obvious — there is limited space. Besides having a tiny trash can, it gets old to constantly haul tons of tiny bags of trash to the dumpster, and the dumpster is only an option in the marina. At sea you may have to live with that trash for weeks and weeks.

Instead of buying a bigger trashcan and increasing the percentage of our small boat that was full of trash, I decided to make some changes. Most of our trash on the boat is cans and bottles, almost 100%. There is no recycling offered at the marina. So that leads me to..

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#1. Reusable bottles. While I wish we could trust the water from our holding tanks, it tastes terrible. However, from now on we’ve committed to never buying disposable plastic water bottles. We have several reusable bottles of different colors that we refill and keep in the fridge — most of which were free at some event or another. This provides the added benefit of being able to take the big jugs of drinking water home to refill them for free.

Besides buying pony kegs of beer or one of those soda makers I couldn’t think of anymore ways to reduce waste on the boat, and neither of those options seemed highly practical for weekenders. However, I’m open to more tips or suggestions.  We can always use less waste!

Not wanting to give up, I turned to our land-lubbing abode to find my other 3 rules to inflict on my husband.

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#2. Recycling at home. I cleaned out our pantry and went to the garage to find Fred’s recycling crate. He has never once used it…ever. It was totally full of junk, as a lot of things are in our garage. After spending way more time than I expected cleaning the garage (once you start it’s hard to stop), I installed our new recycling crate right in the pantry where hopefully it will get lots of use.

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#3. Composting. To go right along with my gardening I have this delightful composter. While I don’t get a lot of dirt back out of it, it does seem to make all of my yard/kitchen waste go away.

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#4. Reusable grocery bags. I had about 100 of these bags scattered throughout my house, not doing anyone any good.  I combined them all into the biggest bag, and I moved them out into my car. I figure even if I forget to take them back out here and there, I should have enough bags for grocery shopping already in my car for about a year. No excuses.

I know it’s not much, but it’s a start. Please feel free to leave any more tips on reducing waste!

Boys with toys

After the boat show, a new vessel appeared in our marina — something unlike any of the others.

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This thing was fast, and it was definitely violating the “no wake” policy in the marina.

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But nobody seemed too concerned.

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I don’t know the exact price, but I’m pretty sure our neighbor paid more for this thing than we did for our first sailboat.

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It runs off a small one-cylinder two-cycle engine and sounds like a weedeater. You have to remove the cowling and pull a cord to start it. Then you’re off to the races.

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At least until it dies in the middle of the fairway, and your neighbor has to dinghy out to bring it back.

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Power boaters … SMH.

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!