Solar power and the 30 mile hose

They invented the way we Americans perceive our seasons here in the Atlantic North East. By they I mean, most likely, Ben Franklin, didn’t he invent “all things American”?

…Anyway when it went from February 27th to March 1st it was like flipping a switch from winter to spring and as we all know, springtime, especially March, means wind and rain. The weather reports were telling us that there would be an intense bout with wind and rain this week but only for Tuesday with the rest of the week shaping up to be perfect for our working projects.

So on Monday we loaded up the bikes with everything we’d need for a good long ride and took off early.  We knew that it was going to be a big day, so we planned to eat breakfast along the way.


This story really starts on Friday.  In the rental car, we did as much running around as we could in our efforts to get the doomed refrigerator and the propane stove working.  Our last jaunt of the day was to Airgas in Waterford.  I had called them and the person on the phone said that, yes, they stocked all kinds of hoses already made up and, yes, 25 foot lengths were standard.

When we got there (meaning when a mall sprung up in the middle of nowhere), we discovered that the person on the phone was a bad listener.  Though I had said I needed a 25 foot low pressure propane hose with female 3/8 inch flare fittings on each end, she must have heard 25 foot blah blah hose blah blah blah.  Cause all their hoses were for welding and air tools, not for propane.

At the counter, the guy told us that they might be able to make up the hose we need, but that Ranzie was the guy for that stuff and he was gone.  Wouldn’t be back until Monday.  That being, of course, not a day we planned to have a rental car.

When Monday rolled around and the weather was bearing down on us and we were still eating nothing but PBnJ, we did the only thing we could do to make life easier.  I (Dena) called Airgas – Ranzie’s direct line, no less – and left a message.  Right before we left, I tried again.  And then we rode to the community.  That was our first 5 miles.

Once there, I called again.  This time, I called the main number and was handed to Ranzie.  He was evasive about giving exact answers, but said he had the hose and could figure something out for fittings.  As much as I would have preferred a strong, definitive, and excited yes, that would have to do.

This was the point where we started really counting.  The trip to Airgas was going to be 10 miles, each way, from the community.  There’s a place called DJ’s Campus Kitchen, just on the other side of the Gold Star Bridge.  This is the same bridge we walked across this summer when we went to the Nautilus museum and we ate at DJ’s that morning and just loved the giant, plate-sized pancakes.  So 5 more miles and we’d get some breakfast.  Can do.

No go.  DJ’s is open 6 days a week, Monday not being one of them.  So we decided to hold out in hopes that there would be a decent breakfast place somewhere along the remaining 5 mile route (10 miles having already been covered).

Though we rode through a dizzying array of varied neighborhoods, not a one of them had a breakfast place on the main drag.  This is definitely not Maine.

So we made it to Airgas, feeling good and strong, but hungry.  The conversation with Ranzie was short and effective.  We’d come back in about an hour.

The hunger, though, that got us all tied up.  The only food within a mile was a piece of shit McDonalds in a Wal-Mart.  What could be worse than that?  But with 15 miles of bike riding under our belts with nothing to eat and another 15 to come, we were strongly motivated.  The idea of riding a couple miles to the Ruby Tuesdays brought a fleeting grimace to my face and we rolled on down to Mickey’s.  I’ve never like their fish sandwich.  If in a bind, I choose the King any day, but alas – we got two of our least favorite environments at the same time and James got enough onion from the tartar sauce to send him unhappily to the bathroom.

Shaking off the sense that I’d been manipulated and punished for not driving a car, we went to Lowe’s.

This part of the trip was largely exploratory.  We’ve been debating, for quite some time, on how we were going to build an aft rail for our boat without resorting to the expense of 316 stainless steel and the expertise we would have to hire in order to have it made up and installed.  We’d discussed whether or not we could do it ourselves, without welding, but still – the tube alone is extremely expensive.

Then James brought up an idea he’d been thinking about, and we had one of those moments where it felt like – of course!

Galvanized pipe can be primed and painted.  It can be wrapped with line that can be painted.  It can be protected all kinds of ways, basically, and is more resilient – less brittle – than stainless.  It comes with threaded ends and an array of fittings to apply to those ends.  Best of all, a 10′ length of galvanized pipe is 10-15% the cost of stainless.  Basically, we can do the whole thing for what we’d pay for labor on stainless.  Or another way, we can do galvanized now, whereas stainless would be off in the murky, no-sure-income-having future.

At the store, we priced it out.  We can do the whole project, including extra tube in case we mess up a bend, for $200.  That means getting work a little sooner, but it also means that we can do our entire aft deck project in the next couple weeks.  We’re going to clear the aft deck, fill all the holes, grind/fill/sand/prime/paint/etc, and reinstall all the things we really want, without all the random shit we don’t.  If we didn’t do the rail at the same time, we would have several problems.  Where to lead the propane hoses, since we’re relocating the tanks.  Whether or not to keep the stanchions that are already there and fix those holes later.  Etc.


Then we went and picked up our perfect propane hose.  Even better.

After 10 miles back to the community, we sat with the cats for a while, trying to make up for leaving them so much.  We each took showers and relaxed a bit.  Then we did miles 25-30.

By the way, for those of you who are bicycling badasses, remember that James did all of that hauling a load in the trailer.  He is the true bad ass.

Ah – finally.

We had wonderful coffee today, percolated on our completely functional gimballed stove.  Love it.

Tuesday, it rained.  We knew it was coming and batted around the idea of a day off, reading and such.  I (Dena) was pretty into that idea, but James was gently persistent.  He kept looking at the Blue Sky MPPT Solar Controller that had just arrived in the mail.  I broke our last one getting it into the dumb box they sent.  This one didn’t come with a box, but we were planning to build our own.

So, why not?  We built it.

First, we drew out the plan.  Second, we cut the holes for the ammeters.

The rest of the cuts went smoothly.

We cut the hole for the controller.

Putting it all together got us:

And then wired it up.

The rest of the box went on the aft bulkhead and this face went on the front.

By which time there was no sunlight left, so we couldn’t even tell if it was working correctly!

And this morning, we discovered that it wasn’t.

The ammeters require shunts.  Which we don’t have.  So James rewired the damn thing to bypass the ammeters, but it definitely works.  It was trickling power into our mostly full battery when we left.

Here at the community, we were meeting a navy wife with two kids who wanted to take our kitty.  We’re looking into finding them new homes because we’re not nearly done with the big projects on the boat.  The noxious chemicals they’ll be exposed to on the boat could be terrible for them, and they can’t leave when it’s bad like we can.  So yeah, the family showed up.

The younger kid jumped right on Tackle, as though he’d misunderstood the name.  He was rough with the cat and we were skeptical enough that we’re waiting to see if there’s another home for him.  Really, he’s just too good a cat.  He didn’t get up and run away when the kid roughed him up.  Weird, right?

Well, there’s no denying he’s a good cat.




  1. For breakfast in Groton, you can’t beat The Shack – 441 Long Hill Road. (But that would have been before the bridge!)

  2. Projects aplenty… Can’t wait to see the pipe bending. I know you guy’s have the skills to pull this one off. 316 S.d. is just for show. Yes, it is resistant to rusting , but not rustproof from salt. Anodes help , but hell we all get old. Galvanized pipe is a good fix. What size do you plan to bend? Over 1 1/4 is a bitch without a porta – power . Hell 1″ is tough. Eat your spinach James…Good to see the stove fired up and got a chuckle at the note you left the douche bags . Aloha and check back on ya’s soon.

  3. Stove working, YES! That’ll make all the difference in having a functional home, won’t it? And BTW that solar power board thing is super sexy. I can make stuff, but I can’t believe you just whipped that up! But of course you did.
    One time when I was doing The Artist’s Way (which I’ve tried I think 3 times, never made it the whole way through) I decided I would make myself something from the hardware store for my Artist’s Date. I was taken with the possibilities of threaded galvanized pipe, so I decided to make a clothes hanging rack, like an extra free-standing wardrobe. I was making schematic drawings in the plumbing aisle, got a store clerk in on problem-solving it, I was wild-eyed with crafter mania.
    I got all these pieces home and started screwing it together in the backyard. Took me all day. I hadn’t counted on the direction of the threading being an important factor — when I screwed the side rod into the brace, the motion was UNscrewing the other side. When I finally managed to get it all attached and ricketily standing up, it was beautiful! For about 30 seconds. It slumped over where I had not thought to cross-brace it and fell apart. Even if it had stood, it would have been too heavy to move into the house by myself. Artist Date FAIL.

  4. PS That last pic is such a testament to the character of your home. Happy cat, pensive pirate, abandoned Hitachi Magic Wand.

  5. Hey Tom,
    It’s good to hear from you again.
    We’re using 1/2 inch Gal-Pipe on the aft deck anything heavier and we wouldn’t be able to bend it right there on the boat…
    Hey Betty, we’ve tried The Shack twice, the service was rotten both times and the food was over priced for the quality. We’re pretty easy going about breakfast and don’t ask for much and we even gave it the benefit-of-the-doubt but in the end we decided it just wasn’t worth the bike-ride up the hill…
    Hey Kate,
    I think that you are pretty much the only person in the world, that I know of, that would scour a picture so thoroughly as to find that lonley Magic Wand… I mean, I know some people that have made sex toys their lively-hood that couldn’t manage that one.

  6. Dude, I was thinking about the pipe project. I would recommend a pipe dope called Grrip made by Hercules. This shit will keep rust out of your threads and will not let go. Teflon tape will not be enough. An easy ,but a little more cost would be to buy an electricians pipe bender . looks like a weird axe kine thing. or secure your middle and bring the ends to their home. giving you a big loop Hmmm I know you and Dena can handle it.Oh and If anyone asks just tell them the Wand is Re charging , you ran the batteries down to zero…Cheee HOOOO Aloha

  7. Fellas, I can spot a HMW at 100 paces with one eye blindfolded and both hands tied behind my back (which s hardly necessary for this illustration, but adds a titillating bondage element). I know my power tools.

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