Thursday, June 30, 2011

Choosing a Dinghy (But not Really)

For cruising sailors, a dinghy is an essential. Most of the best places to sail have no place to dock or dockage is very expensive, and so a dinghy is needed to connect your boat to the shore--to food, civilization, etc. As full-time liveaboards, we will be keeping at our boat at a marina, so we will have little need for a dinghy on a daily basis. But it would be nice to be able to take it out for some fishing in shallow waters, and when we are lucky enough to be able to go cruising for a few days here and there, we will need to be able to get to shore and back. So we need a dinghy.

But what kind of dinghy to buy? Like most things boat related, there are many options and just as many opinions. Should we get an inflatable dinghy, such as this one?


Inflatables are the most stable and can carry the most weight, and some can be stored in a relatively small space. But what if they puncture or break down in the sun? And they can't be rowed very well, so you need a motor. And they aren't convenient to inflate every time they are needed, so most people keep them inflated all the time, and they are very bulky when inflated. And if we get an inflatable, should it have a hard bottom, and if so, what kind of hard bottom? And how big should the dinghy be? And what kind of motor? The options are endless.

Or should we get a hard dinghy, such as this one?


Hard dinghies are the most rugged and can be rowed easily, but they are tippier and hold less cargo. Should it be made of fiberglass? Wood? Plastic? How big? Oars or motor or both? Should it come in two halves that you can stack for storage and then assemble later? Or maybe a hard dinghy that folds flat but must be assembled on a flat deck and looks like an alien spacecraft? Options, options.

And, of course, there is no agreed-upon correct answer. If you ask ten sailors, you'll get ten different opinions as to what kind of dinghy you must have.

So what do we do?

Answer, for now: nothing.

While we have been living Louisville, I took advantage of the fact that we had a two-car garage that we did not need by building a kayak. I started with a kit made by Chesapeake Light Craft and used the stitch-and-glue method. I started with precut pieces that I glued together:


And, about 90 hours of work (several months) later, finished with this:


To be sure, a kayak is not a complete substitute for a dinghy. It only holds the two of us, plus Moishe and maybe also a small child, and has a very limited cargo capacity compared to a good dinghy. But for now, while we don't have kids and won't be doing any really heavy cruising, it should suit us just fine while we continue to ponder (and postpone) the dinghy question.

Monday, June 27, 2011

AhOY VEY!

I'm not certain, but if I had to guess, I'd say about 90% of all of our household possessions fall into one of two categories: books or dishes. Since I've already covered our book situation, this post will focus on the exciting topic of dishes.

In addition to the duplicates you’d expect to find when two adults move in together, since we also keep kosher, we had 2 sets of most all kitchen items, and a ton of dishes. Not including serving dishes, we had a set of porcelain Japanese dishes for parve meals, a set of 4 glass plates for restaurant leftovers, a large set of brown dishes for meat, as well as an identical set of blue dishes for dairy, plus formal china for holidays. We had a lot of dishes.

If you're unfamiliar with keeping kosher, here are the basics: meat and dairy products are not eaten together, and pork and shellfish are never consumed. Keeping meat and dairy separate comes from Exodus (23:19 and 34:26) and Deuteronomy (14:21), which repeatedly state “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (“kid” as in baby goat, not as in young human). For those who keep kosher, these passages are followed by preparing and eating meat and dairy separately. Avoiding shellfish and other non-kosher seafood comes from Leviticus (11:9-11:12) and Deuteronomy (14:9). Leviticus (11:1-11:43) also details more specifically which animals are kosher and which are not to be eaten (with the exception of pork, they aren't animals most of us eat with any regularity--or ever). I'm sure there are other passages detailing dietary laws, but these are the ones with which I am most familiar.

Keeping kosher can be as complex or simple as a person wants it to be. For us, we maintain a fairly kosher kitchen; however, in preparation for our future life on a boat, we’ve had to make some changes to our current kosher practices.

Right now, we cook only kosher meat at home. Sadly, this has resulted in us almost never eating meat because the only place to buy kosher meat is across town and we are too lazy to drive all the way over there. And, when we do have the energy to drive across town, we are pretty much limited to chicken, turkey, and generally unfavorable cuts of beef. Also, we don’t make meals containing both meat and dairy, and we have separate dishes for both meat and dairy.

What we do outside of our house is another story. For us, keeping kosher is an easy and enjoyable way to make Judaism part of our everyday lives, but outside of our home, it becomes more of a hassle and inconvenience. To avoid this, Eric and I routinely exploit every possible loophole within the kosher laws that we can find. For example, we eat chicken with cheese when we go out because chickens don't make milk, and therefore the law shouldn't really apply. Few rabbis would approve, but it works for us. Some foods, like pork, we never knowingly eat, even when we dine out because they are beyond any loophole we can justify to ourselves.

For some, keeping kosher may seem like a self-imposed burden, but we like it because for at least 3 times a day, we get to feel very Jewish. On a boat, we knew there was no way to keep kosher in the same way we had been (it simply requires too much stuff). To consolidate our dishes, we got one set of glass dishes. You see, in Jewish law (non-Orthodox), glass is considered to be non-absorbent and, as such, may be used interchangeably with meat and dairy. Unlike our old sets, our new dishes stack incredibly well. Here is a photo of one of our old sets of dishes next to our new set (both should have 8 settings, although the old set is short a few due to casualties over the years):


Sadly, there was yet another causality while taking photographs for this post:


On the positive side, since our new set, in addition to being glass, is also chip and shatter resistant, accidents, like the one above, should be a rare occurrence in the future.

Unfortunately, we did have to make some concessions when it came to how we prepare our food. For practical reasons, we now have only one set of pots and pans and use them to prepare both meat and dairy meals. We also got rid of our set of dairy utensils and now use only one set for both meat and dairy meals. Thus, although we will eat meat and dairy separately, we will be cooking and eating them with the same stuff (washed in between, of course). We are still going to eat only kosher meat on the boat, but thankfully, since Miami has a large Jewish population, there will be a lot of convenient places to buy kosher meat and other Jewish foods.

We are still adjusting to our new “rules,” but with the alterations we’ve made, we will be able to maintain a kosher lifestyle while living on a boat.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Goodbye, Buying in Bulk (Sort of)

Thanks to Costco and an abundance of storage space, we have become quite accustomed to buying in bulk.  When we move to Miami, Costco is not going anywhere--36-roll packages of toilet paper will be just as accessible then as they are now.  What will disappear is the extra space where we can store such a monstrosity.  A boat makes a very efficient use of a relatively tiny space.  Because a boat devotes almost every cubic inch of interior space to necessary functions, there is no available room for storing six or seven cubic feet of paper products.  The result is that our bulk-buying practices are about to be radically altered.

Some our bulk purchases have already stopped, not to prepare ourselves for boat living, but for purely economic reasons.  It is easy to presume that all bulk purchases are cheaper per unit than normal purchases, but that is not always the case.  For example, we used to buy a large tray of canned tomatoes at Costco every month or two, right up until I realized that we can buy them one at a time at our regular supermarket for less.  It is definitely worth doing the math on bulk purchases; some of the results may be surprising.  In addition, we realized that we were throwing away the remains of some our bulk purchases, either because we could not consume all of the product before it expired (e.g., five pounds of shredded cheese), or because we grew tired of it.  A bulk buy that results in some of the product going to waste is unlikely to be a bargain in the end.  So, an inability to buy in bulk is not always a bad thing.

Further, not all bulk purchases are too large to keep on a boat.  The bottle of allergy medicine that I buy at Costco is still, well, a little bottle of medicine that fits in a medicine cabinet.  The eight-pack of cans of tuna will similarly fit in our cupboard, the bulk package of dried fruit will fit in our refrigerator, and the big bag of frozen green beans--while big for a bag of green beans--is not too big to fit in a boat's freezer.  So some of our favorite bulk buys are not going anywhere.

Bulk toilet paper, on the other hand, well, it's days are through.  It is, to be sure, a fantastic bulk buy if you have the room.  It is cheap per unit, and there is zero chance that any of it will go to waste--it lasts forever and you won't grow tired of it.  But it is simply too big, much like the bulk paper towels, bulk pop cans (which are often not cheaper per unit than a 12-pack, by the way), and bulk potato chips.  So we are going to have to return to the pre-Costco days of buying toilet paper in smaller packages, paying slightly more per roll, and slightly increasing the odds of running completely out of toilet paper at an inopportune time. 

So, here goes one last look before we go our separate ways...


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Condensing the Kitchen, Part 3 – Glasses

It is kind of funny to think about some of the "necessities" Eric and I purchased in our early 20s. I'm talking about real grown-up necessities, like martini glasses. Ever person I know owns martini glasses, yet I have never been offered a martini by any one of my friends. Not once. I guess I can't complain--I have never offered to make a martini for any of my friends. Not surprisingly, both Eric and I brought into our relationship a set of fancy martini glasses. Also not surprising is that neither one of us drinks martinis. But we each owned a set. In addition to his martini glasses, Eric also had daiquiri/margarita glasses, beer mugs, pint glasses, shot glasses, wine glasses (white & red), and rocks glasses. Eric was justified in having such a vast collection of drinking glasses, though, because unlike myself, he had a bar complete with alcohol! One must overlook the fact that all of his alcohol bottles were covered in dust, and focus on the fact that at least in theory he had something to put in his glasses, whereas I just had the glasses and nothing to drink from them.

Much like our mugs, our collection of glasses was larger than what the two of us actually needed. Specialty glasses aside, both Eric and I entered into our relationship with our own set of everyday water glasses (30 in total).

Even before making the decision to live on a boat, we knew we wouldn’t be keeping all of our glasses, but choosing which ones to keep was difficult. We liked both sets of our water glasses and, even though we didn't use them, we were equally attached to our various cocktail glasses (so pretty to look at). We finally decided to give our cocktail glasses away to the few people we know who actually drink cocktails (I wonder if they use them...).

When it came to our water glasses, we decided to let fate decide which set we'd keep. Since both glass sets were fragile and prone to breaking (Eric’s were extremely tall and narrow and mine were thin and wide), we figured we were bound to have a few causalities prior to moving to Miami. We settled on keeping whichever set was most intact by the time we moved. Midway through our year in KY, my glasses were winning the race; however, once we made up our minds to live on a boat, we realized that neither set would work. In addition to both being fragile, much like our former mugs, they didn’t stack.

To solve our glass dilemma, Eric suggested we get rid of both sets and go with plastic cups. While plastic is certainly durable and boat-friendly, at the end of the day, I don't want to drink from plastic all of the time. So, we scoured the internet looking for sturdy, stackable glasses.

Eric and I have begun to notice that most space-savers seem to come from European countries. I suppose that, unlike the United States, which has an abundance of space, European countries are much more densely populated, and as such, they make a lot of practical space-savers.

Our new "juice" glasses (which will be used for alcohol far more frequently than for fruit juice) are made in France and our water glasses are made in Italy. Sounds fancy, but both can be found on Amazon. The juice glasses are tempered, which means they are resistant to breakage. They are also incredibly thick, which means we can use them for holding hot beverages (like tea) or beverages we want to keep at a consistent temperature (like wine). At almost 8 ounces, they are the perfect size for juice, milk, alcohol, etc.

Here they are neatly stacked:


Our water glasses remind me of something you’d see in a pub. They are tall but, like the juice glasses, are tempered, so they, too, should be sturdy enough for a boat. Here they are stacked:


The only downside to the water glasses is they don’t stack as compactly as our new juice glasses or mugs. As a result, they require a cabinet with a tall interior. Here are both sets in our current kitchen cabinet:


I was worried that the tempered glass would feel cheap and artificial, but I was pleasantly surprised by their quality. Both sets of glasses couldn't be nicer (unless they were crystal, then they would be much nicer). So far, we are pleased with our new purchase and look forward to testing their seaworthiness in the coming months on our boat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blackout? Not on a boat.

We have spent a lot of time discussing how we are going to cope with, compared to a house, the disadvantages of living on a boat, reduced space being the primary one.  I hope we have convinced you that we will be able to overcome those disadvantages, but simply being capable of making do presents a rather poor case for living on a boat.  It is therefore time to explain some of the advantages of living on a boat, as compared to a house, condo, or whatever you landlubbers are residing in.

Earlier this week, we had a power outage in our area that lasted just over 23 hours.  As a result, I had to shower without hot water, some of our food had to be thrown out, our house became hot and humid, and we were without the various electronic devices that we have become accustomed to.  Certainly not the end of the world, but the blackout was definitely an inconvenience, and we are fortunate that it did not last longer.

In the summer of 2003, when I was living in Michigan, I was without power for over 48 hours during the Northeast Blackout.  Power was out in the whole area, I couldn't get gas for my car to leave, and once my cold food that didn't require cooking expired, I had little more than potato chips to eat.  That was much more of an inconvenience, but again, not the end of the world.

Blackouts can last for much longer than 48 hours, however.  After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, for example, the power was out for over a week in many parts of the Miami area.  We were not in Miami at the time, but it is clear that, at some point in our future, we are due for an extended power outage that will cause serious problems...

...for suckers living in houses.  You see, cruising sailboats are designed to operate off the grid for extended periods of time and ours will be no exception.  All of the boats we are looking at have both diesel generators and engines with large alternators, and most of them have solar panels and/or wind generators as well.  With solar and wind power alone, we can run the refrigerator, freezer, lights, fans, and all of our electronics indefinitely.  With occasional use of the engine, we can have as much hot water as we need, too, with enough fuel to last at least three months.  Throw in the diesel generator, and we can even run the A/C if necessary, and still have enough fuel for at least a week or two.  And we will carry at least enough propane on board for two months of cooking.  At bottom, we will hardly notice the difference aboard our boat when the power goes out.

But surely, when there is an area-wide blackout, we will still be without phone and internet access like everyone else, you note.  Well, not really.  With our antennas mounted high and boosted by electricity (which, again, we will still have), we will be in a much better position than house-dwellers to pick up whatever signals might be out there.  And, even when we are without cell-phone or internet access, our marine radios will keep on working, so we will always have a means of emergency communication no matter what situation.  And, more significantly, if power is out in the entire area such that the entire city is shut down, we'll just sail our house somewhere else.  No packing, no fighting traffic, no dirty motels, no stress--we'll just cast away the dock lines and take a vacation (in our house) until the city turns back on again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Which Boat Should We Choose?

We have narrowed down our list of boat contenders to four. Our finalists are the Northwind 43, Hans Christian 44 Pilothouse, Taswell 49, and the Gulfstar 54 Sailcruiser.

Eric and I will be traveling to visit each boat in the coming weeks. Before we do, we’d love to hear your thoughts on which boat you’d pick if you were in our shoes!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Choosing a Boat, Part III - The Finalists, Subpart D - Gulfstar 54 Sailcruiser

The fourth of our four current finalists, ordered from smallest to largest, is the Gulfstar 54 Sailcruiser. By most measures, it is an enormous boat--54 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 50,000 pounds. Indicative of its size is that the Sailcruiser has two diesel engines contained in a walk-in engine room beneath the salon floor. It's a big boat. Gulfstar built both sail and motor yachts in Tampa Bay, Florida, from 1970 to 1990. Many Gulfstars continue to suffer from the lingering effects of poor-to-middling build quality, although quality greatly improved by the mid-1980's when the Sailcruisers were produced. Gulfstar produced a total of 23 Sailcruisers, all between 1985 and 1986. Gulfstar was a massive operation, often producing more sailboats in a year than a small company like Northwind has during its entire existence. The Sailcruiser was one of the last sailboats that Gulfstar designed and produced, before the company completely switched over to motor yachts.

The Sailcruiser is a very unique boat in a variety of ways. As is by now something of a ritual, I'll start with the interior:


Starting with the stern (right side of this drawing), there is first an aft cockpit. The Sailcruiser is a center-cockpit boat like the others, but it has a second, smaller cockpit in the back of the boat for lounging, fishing, dining, etc. The aft cockpit is directly accessible from the master stateroom, which is forward. The master stateroom has a center line queen, a settee, and lots of storage. Attached to the stateroom is the master head with separate stall shower. Forward of the master stateroom on the starboard side of the boat is the galley. It is big and easily has enough room for two cooks. Forward of the galley is the massive salon. To starboard is the dinette, and to port is a bar and entertainment area with room for two armchairs (the Sailcruiser is one of very few boats with dedicated space for regular armchairs). Also to port is a large office area. Forward of the salon is a staircase leading down to the large engine/mechanical room and also a closet contained a washer and dryer and storage shelves. Further forward is a guest stateroom with two bunks and storage to starboard and the guest head with separate shower to port. All the way forward is the second guest stateroom with a queen bed, lots of storage, and a settee.

The Sailcruiser easily has the most interior volume of the boats we are looking at. The salon is also the closest to a real living room. It has a lot of open space and we could personalize it by selecting our own armchairs (which would need to be strapped down when sailing). The Sailcruiser is also a raised-deck-salon design like the Northwind, so it has large windows and is very bright below. Here is a photo of the salon:


The second cockpit also distinguishes the Sailcruiser from the other boats we are considering. It is a nice, comfortable place to relax and fish, and it is also lower to the water than the rest of the boat, which make it easier to get in and out of the water or dinghy. The Sailcruiser does not have a built-in boarding platform like the Northwind and Taswell, but the lowered aft cockpit will make access easier than in the Hans Christian, for example. Here is a good photo of the aft cockpit:


To get a sense of how everything fits together, here is a photo of the exterior of the boat. Note the second cockpit in the back and the large primary cockpit in the center of the boat. Note also the multi-tiered wedding-cake design, which allows for all sorts of room on deck and below but creates a rather bulky appearance:


One downside of the layout is that, in order to create room for the door from the master stateroom to the aft cockpit, the master bed needs to be placed directly underneath the main cockpit. The result is that headroom over most of the bed is limited, as indicated here:

The Sailcruiser is also unique as a sailboat. Although the boat is huge, the masts are very short--a full seven feet shorter than on the Northwind, the smallest boat we are considering. The result is that the Sailcruiser can make it under shorter bridges than the other boats, but clearing bridges that short is not essential to us, and the downside of the short masts is that the sailing performance, particularly when sailing towards the wind, is compromised. Similarly, the Sailcruiser has a far shorter draft than the other boats we are looking at. Of the three smaller boats, the Northwind has the shallowest draft, drawing about 6'4". Even though it is much larger, the Gulfstar draws only 4'11". Again, there are pros and cons to this shallow draft. The Gulfstar will have a much easier time navigating the Bahamas and other shallow-water cruising grounds, but its sailing performance will be even further compromised. Although the Sailcruiser may be slow and ungainly under sail, it excels under power. It is the only boat we are considering with two engines, which allows for redundancy as well as better handling under power.

And now a brief list of pros and cons of the Gulfstar 54 Sailcruiser:

Pros:
Largest interior
Shallow draft (4'11")
Short masts
Two engines (redundancy and may be easier to maneuver under power than others)
Big engine/mechanical room makes maintenance easier
Fiberglass decks easier to maintain than teak
Aft cockpit is an ideal place to lounge and fish
Layout allows us to bring armchairs aboard

Cons:
Builder is long gone and brand is known to have quality problems
Most Sailcruisers will require frequent observation and repairs to minor structural problems
Interior build quality and materials are generally good, but not equal to the other boats we are considering
Worst sailing performance
Low headroom over master bed
Least attractive exterior (bulky appearance, no teak decks, etc)
Most expensive to dock and maintain (more length, more engines, etc)
Getting old (all at least 25 years old)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Books Galore!

I come from a book-loving family. I would say a good 75% of the walls found throughout my parents’ house are covered by books. My siblings, too, are all avid readers with growing libraries of their own. I enjoy reading as well, but for some reason, I am known within my family as being mildly illiterate.

Here is why: in 4th grade, I scored in the 4th percentile on a standardized spelling test. I think we can all agree that is a very bad score. However, in my defense, I didn’t try--and I’m not just saying that after the fact. I didn’t want to take the spelling portion of the test (I already knew I wasn't a good speller), so instead of taking it, I made little designs with the fill-in bubbles (drawing, something I am good at). Admittedly, I am not the best speller, but I’m not as bad as my 4th grade test results might imply. Unfortunately, this test score concerned my family (rightfully so) and tainted their view of my capabilities in language-related subjects. I guess the logic is, if you can’t spell a word, you are incapable of identifying it on paper, and therefore unable to read. So, I got a bad reading reputation early on, and it only got worse as I got older.

You see, I do read. I just read really, really dry books. They are all very informative, but not exactly page turners. They aren’t the kind of books you’d discuss with your friends, unless of course you don’t actually like your friends and want to bore them to death. I don’t recommend most of the books I’ve read because they simply aren’t enjoyable. So, my reluctance to discuss books I’ve read, coupled with my embarrassing 4th percentile score, has caused some family members to conclude I don’t/can’t read.

So what does this all have to do with living on a boat? Well, my reputation as a non-reader in a family of bookworms made me rather self-conscious. To prove my intellectual equality, I began hoarding books (most of which I have read) and displaying them for all to see. I wanted a bookshelf that said, “See, I am smart.” With the help of Powell’s Books (which was conveniently located just around the corner from my building), I was able to build such a bookshelf at relatively no cost. When I married Eric, his books became joint property, and since he was in law school, this meant I was the owner of some really big, important-looking books. I was in book heaven.

As it turns out, no one in my family actually thinks I’m illiterate, and no one cares about how many books I own, or whether or not I read books at all. So all of this hoarding was for nothing, and I was left with a massive book collection, which deep inside made me feel, well, stupid. When Eric and I moved from Chicago to Kentucky, our books accounted for at least 50% of our boxes. After straining various muscles from hauling our books up and down flights of stairs, we vowed to reduce our collection. Once we started considering living on a boat, getting rid of our books became imperative; they are simply too bulky to consider keeping.

You get a lot of reactions from people when you tell them you are getting rid of all of your books, but the central theme is always: “What?!?! How could you?!” Eric and I are certainly not advocating that people remove all books from their homes; however, for us, it doesn’t make sense to have them. We’ve read all of our books and have no plans to read any of them again. Therefore, keeping them serves no purpose (sort of like our DVD collection). Should the urge to re-read one of our old books arise, we can always go to the library and borrow a copy. So, we boxed up a good portion of our books and donated them to the West End School, a local boarding school funded entirely by donations from the community. The school was looking to expand their library at the same time we were looking to get rid of ours, so it was a perfect match.

Now, just because we are getting rid of our books and moving to a boat doesn’t mean we are going to stop reading. That would be silly. To keep books in our lives, we got Kindles:


Eric’s is black and mine is white. We love them!

Kindles have a lot of benefits. The obvious advantage is they can hold an entire library, yet only take up the space of one thin book. In addition, all of the classics and many recent publications are available for free, which is wonderful. We’ve owned our Kindles for almost a year and have yet to actually pay money for a new book. Kindles also don’t strain your eyes because they use E Ink, which makes the screen look almost identical to a page in a book. Also, unlike a laptop screen, you can read the Kindle's screen in direct sunlight, which is ideal for reading on a boat. Kindles also consume very little electricity, which is also ideal for a boat. Additionally, they have internet access! For surfing the Web, a Kindle doesn't rival an actual computer or smartphone, but for light internet use, they work well.

Eric and I (well, I) still have a stack of books to read before we move:

Will I get through them all by August? Doubtful. But, I’m going to try. I am sure we’ll take a few book with us when we move, but once they've been read, they will be donated.

I know there are some purists out there who will insist a Kindle can’t replace a book, and they are right. Kindles don’t smell like a book, they don’t feel like a book, and the reading experience isn’t quite the same. But, unlike a book, we can look up something we are reading about on wikipedia with a Kindle, and for us, this makes them superior.

Choosing a Boat, Part III - The Finalists, Subpart C - Taswell 49

The third of our four current finalists is the Taswell 49. Taswells were built by the Ta Shing Yacht Company in Taiwan. Ta Shing in still in business, but it is currently focusing on power boats (more people need to learn how to sail!) and no longer builds the Taswell line. Ta Shing has been building boats since the late 1970s and is considered to be one of the highest-quality boat builders in the world. They built a few lines of sailboats over the years, from the very traditional Babas, Pandas, and Tashibas (which look sort of like the Hans Christian), to more modern designs such as the Taswells. The Taswell 49 was introduced in 1989 and is a fairly contemporary design, much like the Northwind. The 49 was eventually modified slightly to become the Taswell 50, and production continued until 2002. I haven't been able to figure out exactly how many were built over the years, but I suspect between thirty and sixty. The Taswell 49 is 49 feet long, 15 feet wide, and weighs 32,000 pounds.

**UPDATE 6/15/2001**
I emailed Ta Shing to find out how many Taswell 49's were built, and they responded within 24 hours with the following:
We are pleased to hear from you and noted you are interested to our Taswell 49. 
There are about 50 Taswell 49 been built, including the Taswell 50 as the Taswell 50 was extended from Taswell 49, that both used the same mold of hull.
The tooling was destroyed, so there is no plan to resume the production. No complete information is left either.

Taswell series were well recognized in the past, I would wish you find one soon.
So, about 50. Turns out my original estimate of 30 to 60 was pretty good!

 
Let's start with the interior layout:

Although the Taswell is similar to the Northwind in design, a comparison of the two layouts makes it clear how much larger the Taswell is (6 extra feet in overall length makes a big difference). Starting at the stern (left), there is a massive (for a boat) master stateroom with a centerline queen, two settees, a large hanging closet, a vanity area with a seat and storage, and a large private head with a separate shower stall. Moving forward, there is a navigation station/office area to port. To starboard is a U-shaped galley with large sinks and good counter space. Further forward is the salon with a large dining area to port and a sitting area to starboard. The boat we are looking at is slightly modified--the dinette settee does not wrap all the way around into the center of the boat, which opens up the salon and provides space for our rug. Further forward is the first guest stateroom to port, which has two bunk beds and a hanging closet. To starboard is the guest head, which has a separate shower stall. All the way forward is the second guest stateroom, with a double bed, a hanging closet, and a seat.

The layout leaves almost nothing to be desired. The third stateroom is what really distinguishes the Taswell from the Northwind and the Hans Christian. Between the room with bunk beds and the room with the double bed, we could handle any combination of kids that we would ever want, and could even accommodate guests as well. One possible downside is the U-shaped galley. Although it is a nice size and keeps the cook secure while the boat is moving, it has only enough room for one person at a time, as opposed to the linear galleys found in the other boats we are considering.

The Taswell 49 is not a raised-deck salon like the Northwind (although later Taswell 50s were), nor is it a pilothouse like the Hans Christian. The result is that it has no area with huge windows and is darker throughout. The Taswell is brighter than many similar designs, but still darker than the other boats we are considering. To illustrate, here is a photo of the salon in the Taswell, which is the brightest part of the interior:


A casual comparison between this salon and the salon in the Northwind reveals just how much of a difference the raised-deck-salon design makes in interior brightness. That said, Ta Shing's craftsmanship is among the best, and the interior is built and finished to an extremely high standard.

Here is a view of the exterior of a Taswell 49, which is appropriately nestled next to a tropical island:



Looks right at home, doesn't it? Note that the Taswell, like the Northwind, has a built-in boarding platform at the stern, which makes it very easy to get in and out of the water, and also to transfer cargo and people to and from the dinghy. Although you can't tell in this photo, the Taswell has teak decks, which look great and offer great traction, at the expense of substantial maintenance every ten to twenty years. Like the Northwind (and unlike the Hans Christian), the Taswell has little or no exterior teak trim that needs to be varnished, resulting in a low maintenance exterior.

The Taswell is also both fast and seaworthy. Taswells are fantastic offshore boats and can be found cruising all over the world. This photo sums this point up nicely and features a Taswell looking graceful while beating into some pretty nasty weather:


And now for a brief list of the pros and cons of the Taswell 49:

Pros:
Three staterooms that should accommodate all of our current and future sleeping/bedroom needs
Fast under sail
Low-maintenance exterior
Extremely well built and seaworthy
Functional interior plan
Boarding platform
Builder is still in business
Great interior woodwork

Cons:
Only one person can comfortably cook in the galley
Deepest draft (6'9")
Darkest interior
May be difficult to maneuver under power
So-so appearance (flat lines and eighties-style stripe)
Steep and long ladder into the interior (may be difficult for some to enter and exit)
Most difficult to sail (large sails)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cooking Under Pressure

My dad called me the other morning and told me that NPR had just featured a story on pressure cookers. In it, the journalist describes how pressure cookers used to be very popular in kitchens throughout the United States, but due to the volatility of the first models, they fell out of favor. Internationally, however, pressure cookers remain a fixture in the kitchen because they are economical.

Several years ago, Eric and I saw a demonstration at Strictly Sail Chicago for the Fagor Pressure Magic (which unfortunately is no longer available through Fagor’s site). We were blown away by its capability and practicality. We purchased one immediately, and just as we suspected, we use it all of the time. The Fagor model Eric and I own is specifically designed for use on a boat. It is made from stainless steel to resist rust, has two back-up pressure releases, and can be configured to desalinate seawater in an emergency. In addition, unlike most pressure cookers, ours is also a pressure fryer (we have never used it for this purpose, and unless your pressure cooker is designed for frying, do not attempt). The particular marine model we purchased was pricey, but there are a lot of alternatives on the market for home use.

I still struggle to accept the fact that our pressure cooker will not explode. Rationally, I know it is completely safe, but I can’t stop myself from picturing the lid popping off, flying across the room, and decapitating me (I have a vivid imagination, I know). Truthfully, the pressure cooker is Eric’s toy. On the nights he cooks, it is his go-to tool, and when I cook with it, I rely on him for assistance (clamping the lid down, releasing the steam valve, etc.). Even though I know it is harmless, due to all of the sounds our pressure cooker makes, it is still a little scary for me. Although the NPR article likened the sound of the new models to that which a baby makes, I, for one, have never heard a baby hiss or seen steam escape from a baby’s mouth. Perhaps babies do this, I have no idea, as I am not a mother. Compared to the first models, I’m sure ours is rather quiet, but when I hear something hissing under pressure, I instinctively duck for cover! With time, maybe I’ll get over my fear, but I’m not holding out too much hope. I’m already into my 30's and remain distrustful of gas stoves, space heaters, and electrical sockets. Here is a picture of our current pressure cooker (the photo has been altered in order to convey how frightening the pressure cooker looks in my mind):


Despite all of my unfounded fears, I absolutely recommend pressure cookers. They are efficient, easy to use (in my case with help), and pay for themselves. On a boat, a pressure cooker is essential. Under pressure, food cooks at a much higher temperature, which means dinner is done faster and less fuel is consumed in the process. Even more so than on land, cutting fuel consumption on a boat is extremely important. Additionally, because the pressure cooker can re-hydrate dried foods in minutes, while on a long journey, you are less reliant on perishable food items. A pressure cooker is also more comfortable to use in hot weather. Whereas an ordinary pot spews heat and steam while you cook, a pressure cooker retains the steam until you are ready to release it, and that may be done outside without heating/steaming the cabin. A pressure cooker is also extremely flexible. You can cook anything you'd make in a slow cooker in it, except it cooks extra fast. You can also cook dried beans without pre-soaking, make stocks and stews quickly, roast meat in 1/3 time as in the oven, and even bake bread (although the bread doesn't come out with a crust, but rather a skin - like a weird bagel). Overall, the pressure cooker is a great kitchen tool whether on land or at sea.

To get you started, here is one of our favorite pressure cooker recipes:

Red Bean Mishmash

Ingredients:
  • 8.8 oz package Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 can red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
  • cubed raw chicken breast, sausage, or hot dog (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced or crushed (optional)
  • seasoning (oregano, parsley, etc)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • olive oil for cooking
In addition, Eric and I have also added (although, not all at once):
  • Baby spinach (several handfuls, washed)
  • Onion (medium, chopped)
  • Kale (1/2 bunch, washed and chopped)
  • Bell pepper (washed and chopped)

Directions:
  1. With the lid off, heat olive oil in pressure cooker over medium-high heat
  2. Reduce heat and add garlic; cooking until lightly browned (optional)
  3. If using raw chicken, add now and lightly brown (1-2 minutes)
  4. Add couscous and lightly brown (1 minute)
  5. If using pre-cooked sausage or hot dog, add now
  6. Add chicken or vegetable broth
  7. Add seasoning, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste
  8. Add red beans and tomatoes; stir a few times
  9. Cover pot with lid and clamp down tightly (follow directions for your model)
  10. Once cooker is at pressure, reduce heat to low and cook for 3-4 minutes
  11. Remove lid (there will be a lot of steam, so don't stick your head over the pot)
  12. Serve hot and enjoy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Choosing a Boat, Part III - The Finalists, Subpart B - Hans Christian 44 Pilothouse

I mentioned in my last post about choosing a boat that I would describe the models were are most seriously considering in a particular order, from the smallest to the largest. Accordingly, I started with the Northwind 43, which is uncontroversially the smallest boat we are considering. It is the shortest (43 feet), the narrowest (14 feet), and the lightest (25,000 pounds). Now that it is time to write about the second-smallest boat, things get complicated. This post features the Hans Christian 44. At 44 feet in length, you'd think it is only barely larger than the Northwind. And at 14 feet, 7 inches in beam (width), it again appears not to be substantially larger. But here is the thing: the Hans Christian weighs 60,000 pounds. It is more than double the weight of the Northwind, and is a full 20% heavier than the "largest" boat we are considering. Weight (displacement in boat-speak) is also a very telling statistic. It indicates in general terms how much stuff the boat can carry, how it will be impacted by waves, and its volume. So, many people would agree that the Hans Christian 44 is in fact the largest boat that we are considering, even though it is barely longer and wider than the Northwind, the smallest. But length is what people think of first when talking about the size of boats (and is also what you pay for at the marina), so I'm sticking to length here. Just note that it is an imperfect indicator of how big these boats really are.

The Hans Christian 44 is a pilothouse design, which means it has a raised cabin area where most of the cockpit would ordinarily be. The result is that you can operate the boat from indoors--out of the sun, wind, rain, etc. In addition to the controls for the boat, the pilothouse also contains the galley (kitchen) and a dining table. The pilothouse has large windows (so you can see where you are going when steering the boat), much like a raised-deck salon, so the inside is bright and airy. Hans Christian is a builder formerly based in Taiwan (now Thailand) and has been building very traditional, heavily-built boats since the 1970s. Hans Christian built fifteen of the 44's, all in Taiwan during the early 1980s.

Here is the interior layout:


The first thing you may notice is that it is hard to tell the bow of this boat from the stern. The stern is at the left. This boat, like most Hans Christians, has a canoe stern. This type of design is also known as a "double-ender" because the back has the same shape as the front. There are some theoretical advantages and disadvantages to this design, but for the most part, the practical differences are aesthetic only. Ok, on to the accommodations. Starting at the stern (left), there is a master stateroom with a centerline queen bed, two hanging lockers, and large settee. The master stateroom has a curved stairway to port that leads up to the pilothouse, which is really like a second floor because it is above deck-level. Beneath the pilothouse is the master head, which has a large shower stall lined with porcelain tile. It looks sharp. The pilot house has the galley, the inside steering station, and a long dining table with single bench. Going back downstairs and towards the bow is the salon with a curved settee with coffee table to port, and two seats with a bar sink (and bar storage) to starboard. Forward of the salon is the guest stateroom, with a very large closet, a head with separate shower stall, and a queen bed. We consider the queen bed in the guest room to be a disadvantage because, as is, there is no way that we could have two kids (thinking ahead) share the same room. That problem is not here now, though, and boats can be modified, so it doesn't disqualify the whole boat.

Here is a photo of the master shower with tile:


And a photo of the downstairs salon (note that is is much darker than the Northwind's salon because it is not a raised-deck salon):


But here is the pilothouse area, which is very bright, much like the Northwind:



And here is a photo of the exterior of the boat:


Note the raised pilothouse. Also, the boat is a ketch rig (two masts placed a certain way), and is a very traditional design. It has lots of exterior teak. Not only does it have teak decks like the Northwind, but it has teak trim everywhere. The teak trim looks fantastic, but a lot of maintenance (varnishing) is required to keep it that way.

Finally, a brief list of pros and cons of the Hans Christian 44:

Pros:
Heavy (won't feel it move while at dock)
Bright, well-ventilated pilothouse area for dining and cooking
Easy-to-manage sail plan (multiple smaller sails instead of two big ones)
It is an eye-catcher, very shippy
Extremely well built
A real "living room" area separated from the dining table
Excellent woodwork, inside and out
Builder is still in business, sort of (new ownership and location)
Easy to move around in (only a few, shallow steps to get below, compared to a steep ladder)

Cons:
Slow
Hardest to maneuver under power (hard to dock)
Deep draft of 6'6" (same issue as with the Northwind, but slightly worse)
Most maintenance
Outside cockpit is small - less room for lounging around in the sun
No boarding platform (see Northwind description for the advantages of having one)
Only two staterooms, and the guest stateroom has a double bed, which isn't very flexible
Parts of interior are dark
Likely have to pay for longer marina slip to accommodate the bow platform (50 feet total length)
Smallest galley with very little storage
Getting old - all of them are 25 years old or older
Builder out of business, sort of (see pros)

But What About....? Part 3 – Laundry (Alternatively: “Airing Our Dirty Laundry”)

The question of how we’ll do our laundry was one of my initial questions, and one we frequently get from others. We have 3 practical options for doing our laundry in the future: 1) Use the laundry facility provided by the marina (a key-access room with coin-operated machines), 2) Have an on-board machine (picture a miniaturized washer/dryer combo), or 3) Outsource the entire process to a laundry service (we drop off our dirty clothes and come back later to find them clean and folded).

We have decided upon a combination of option 2 and option 3. We will use a service for most all of our laundry, but will also likely have a small washer/dryer combo on board for small jobs & emergencies (i.e. it’s 10pm on Sunday night and we realize we have no clean underwear).

Now, before you go thinking Eric and I are a couple of divas who are too good to do our own laundry, you need to understand a bit about our laundry history. You see, once you have a sense of what my husband has subjected me to with regards to doing laundry, you will understand my request--no, my demand--that we use a laundry service.

I debated whether or not to even address the issue of laundry because revealing our laundry history is both shameful and completely embarrassing. However, I think providing a bit of context is important to fully understand our decision, so I will forgo humility and reveal all.

Let me start by taking you back in time, to just before Eric and I moved in together. Prior to cohabitating, I lived in a beautiful building, while Eric lived in what can only be described as a slum. My building had a doorman and 24/7 security guard, while Eric’s had bars on the doors and a drunken super who stole tenants’ packages. Mine had gorgeous elevators lit by crystal chandeliers, while his building featured dank hallways and crumbling drywall. Upon seeing Eric’s apartment, his father commented “this looks like the kind of place where people are murdered in the hallways,” as opposed to my former residence which provided complimentary freshly brewed coffee and baked goods on Wednesday mornings. So, why didn’t Eric move into my building? Because mine was nearly twice as expensive (a major factor for two grad students) and it was not as well insulated as Eric’s (a problem in Chicago). In general, his place didn’t bother me--I can make lemonade out of lemons. But, his building’s laundry room was beyond awful. It showcased all that was wrong with his building: It was dark, dank, smelly, murder-scene-reminiscent, and within it lurked the building’s alcoholic super (or his vodka-soaked lady friend). As it happened, we never had a reason to enter the laundry room because the machines didn’t work. Essentially, his building had no laundry facility.

Under most circumstances, I don’t mind doing laundry. Dirty clothes go in; clean clothes come out. Not a big deal. What I do mind is when laundry involves more than what I just described. To solve our laundry predicament, Eric purchased a Wonder Wash, or what I affectionately refer to as the "butter churn.” Compare for yourself:

Wonder Wash vs. Antique Butter Churn

Take a look at this video showing how laundry is done with the butter churn. Please note the user in the video states the butter churn is “not going to take the place of a washer.”

Now, in the video, the Wonder Wash doesn’t look that bad. Seems simple to use, right? Well, it isn’t. A more accurate depiction would have featured a weeping wife kneeling before her rusted bathtub on the crumbling, cold, hard tile of her slum’s bathroom floor, while churning 5lbs of laundry in a plastic bucket, as she cries out “I’m not a pioneer! This isn’t how normal people live!” In addition to this sad picture, the entire process involves getting completely soaked by scorching hot water. You see, the butter churn was so wide we couldn’t fill it with the tub’s faucet--it simply didn’t reach. Eric’s solution: make a faucet extension with an empty plastic Dr. Pepper bottle. That’s right--we cut a hole in a Dr. Pepper bottle and stuck it on the end of the faucet in order to extend its reach. Classy. Of course, this didn’t work well because it was a Dr. Pepper bottle and not actual hardware. Water would spray all over the place and by the end of the entire process, a change of clothes was needed (which only added to the problem). I’m not even going to discuss the “dryer.”

Finally, the butter churn broke; however, my joy was short lived. Eric found some wire and jury rigged the butter churn back together. The butter churn limped on, but not for long. Like all things cobbled together, the mend failed and the butter churn was no more. Eric insists I broke it intentionally, but that is simply not true (not that anyone would blame me if I had).

So, for 2.5 years I put up with the butter churn contraption. Thankfully, our townhouse in KY has an actual washer and dryer, thus marking the beginning of a Golden Age in our laundering. I’m not eager to ever see this new age come to an end. I refuse to go back to anything remotely resembling the butter churn situation, hence, option 3: the laundry service. In addition to being traumatized by the butter churn, the advantage of living on a boat is that we can sail whenever we have free time. Since we want to enjoy sailing, we aren’t going to do laundry while at sea (boat washer/dryer combos also aren’t big enough to use for a full-load anyway). We aren’t going to do laundry at the marina's facility while docked because neither Eric nor I want to spend our evenings running back and forth between our boat and the laundry room. So, while paying a service to do our laundry may seem indulgent to some, I believe it is a price worth paying in order to enjoy our free time and get the most out of boat living.