In search of… the van

The next adventure vehicle! A van!!! Why not right?! After I’d been in Minnesota for a couple of weeks, I started missing the boat life and the freedom that came along with it. I started thinking about buying another one and keeping it in a slip on Lake Superior. I did some shopping around but it was taking a good bit of time to sell mine and I didn’t want to have two boats so I decided that I’d just hold off and take care of a few other things first.

Being here and near friends and family, I started thinking that maybe a boat wasn’t going to be for me anyway, at least not at this point in my life. It’s just too far to commute from the town I’m in to deep waters of superior so I had almost giving up thinking that I’d live that way of life again. I’m sure I’ll revisit – but until then… behold, the quest for the van!

One day I was on YouTube looking up some music and building my ‘sailing tunes’ playlist to remind me of the fun I had on the water. I came across a video about someone converting a cargo van into a camper. At first I thought, man, that HAS to be cramped and just uncomfortable because…well, its… a van. 👀 LOL

The more I watched and learned about cargo van conversions I started to see that maybe it wasn’t as crazy of an idea as I’d originally thought. Well, for me, when that sort of stuff happens and the old creative brain starts kicking in, I go into power research mode and mentally ‘try on the lifestyle’. I’d convinced myself that buying and converting a cargo van was the right way to go. So did online research and looked up interior measurements of several types and models of vans, drew it out on my whiteboard, researched power needs and diagramed that on the whiteboard. I’d even drawn out a few floor plans!

The build itself isn’t actually that complex, and can be done in a fairly inexpensive way. There are several ways to do it obviously but in general, the insulation, building in sub-flooring, installing ventilation fans, lights, water, power (both shore power and solar), and creating a compact living space is all actually quite doable in a full size cargo van. They are purchased as an empty shell with a drivers seat and a passenger seat, sometimes a bulkhead separating this area from the cargo area…and that’s it. It’s a blank canvas to create whatever you want!

I zeroed in on a chevy express, 2500 extended cargo van. That seemed to be the ‘van of choice’ for dependability, price and configurability. It has plenty of floor space for a bed, a sink, a porta-potty and, if I did it properly, a shower! All of these things are important to me. One of the YouTube videos that I watched stressed the importance of not under estimating comfort. So I thought to myself, what are the minimal things that I need in order to feel comfy and tried to plan around that. One other thing I thought would be ‘better’ for me, would be the ability to stand up in the van. Now, I’m not a tall person, (5’7”) but I’m tall enough that I’d need to hunch over once inside of the van. So, after a bit of additional research, I decided that a high-top cargo van would be the way to go. Once I settled on the van and the build blueprint, I went to work searching for the next adventure vehicle!

I did some digging on available vans in the area, and was disappointed to learn that there wasn’t much available. First, there simply aren’t any high-top cargo vans that are even out there. At least on in the model that I’d chosen to go with. So, I dropped back a bit in my plans, and started looking for a standard height van, with the thought that I could add a high-top to the right vehicle. What I found as I searched is that any of the vans that I did find out there were either junk/rusted out/worn out boasting several hundred thousand miles and were just over priced for my taste. Being that this is would be new territory for me, I wanted a low entry fee as well as a plan that wouldn’t break the bank for the final build out.

Not accepting local defeat… I broadened my search across the nation, and changed my criteria (size/year/miles, etc…) to try to find a good balance of price and condition, and of course the elusive ‘good deal’. I was able to find a few vans that appeared to be pretty decent deals but not a ‘steal’ and definitely not a good enough deal for me to fly half way across the country and pull the trigger. Seemed like making, even a loosely put together, deal over the phone wasn’t a real great idea. Then, lets assume that the haggling resulted in a satisfactory gentlemen’s agreement (pending inspection of course). I’m no mechanic. I can spot a decent running, reliable car most of the time but there are so many things that I’m sure that I miss. With a deal like that, driving it back 1000+ miles with any kind of confidence, just didn’t sit too well with me.

I got a little discouraged, I think because there is a deep seated need for me to remain unbound, untethered and to make my own way. There are many options for van life, and if a person is handy enough, and diligent enough there are deals to be had out there. I haven’t completely given up on it but I thought maybe I should give it a rest and see if there are other options that may be a little easier and less expensive to get started with. I mean, I could buy a van for 2-5k, do the build inside and it would likely be pretty sweet – but, if the exterior condition and the mechanical condition are such that it just won’t last long, well…it seemed like a ‘not-so-good’ idea right now.

So when I didn’t see a boat as a feasible option, and now the van idea seemed to be more difficult than I felt like it should be, I went into sulk mode and decided van life may not be for me, at least not yet… 😕

Stay tuned for my next update. As Paul Harvey used to say “…the rest of the story”

Long overdue update

Hi All! It’s been a while since I’ve put out an update to this blog. The past 15 months have been no less interesting than you would expect out of me. Though, from my perspective, it has been an interesting period of time in my life. Many changes, not only in geographical location, but also in personal growth. I’ll try to recap the last several months.

Just before my last update in April of 2017, I’d scheduled an appointment with an ENT to discuss the crazy ringing in my ears. As it turned out it’s tinnitus and its pretty common. While getting all checked out the doc noted that I have something called (Osteosclerosis) in my ears. Which is abnormal hardening and unusual bone density elevation. This was causing the little inner ear bones to basically lock up and significantly reduce my ability to hear clearly.

There is a surgery that can be done to correct it ( where they can replace the inner ear bones with a prothstetic to restore hearing to near normal. So, after some though and some research I scheduled the surgery. It, surprisingly, does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. The surgery itself takes about 4 hours and they send you on home with, a pile of pain meds, to heal up. Well, the healing process was pretty challenging on the sailboat, but I got through it. It only took about a month or so to feel comfortable enough to call it ‘mostly healed’.

While I was laid up and not able to get out on the water (had to refrain from any strenuous activity while my ear healed up) I decided to take some time to be with my sister and near some people that are very close to me. So, I packed my stuff and moved over to Minnesota. Once I arrived and spent some time here I thought it might be good to sell the boat as I didn’t intend on heading back to California anytime soon. So on the market went the boat! It took about 9-10 months to sell. I was able to get pretty close to what I paid for it and thought that was good since I’d been able to enjoy it and learn how to sail while I had it. Free education…kind of, lol.

I stayed in my sisters travel trailer in her driveway for about a month. After that I found a nice little townhome in Rochester, MN. to park my rear and my gear for a bit. It was kind of a nice little place that backed up to the bike trail and a lot of trees. An end unit with only one neighbor to the west of me. The neighbor’s name is Rhonda, she and I started talking about the first week that I moved in. She was from the neighboring town (Austin, MN) and had just moved in about a month before I did. Well, we hit it off pretty well and have just recently rented a home together. So far its really great, she and I click very well. We don’t get in each other’s way and we do lots of things together. It’s probably the healthiest relationship that I think I’ve ever been in! 🙂 We are spending this year exploring our relationship to see where it goes and how it may align with each of our future plans. Updates on that as they become available over time!

Since I’ve been here in Minnesota, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time that I’ve had with my nieces and nephews, and just being part of a group of people that I really care about. I think I was getting pretty lonely on the boat because I didn’t have a lot of people that I called friends, no real depth in relationships etc… So being here has been good for me, mentally and spiritually. I will say I’m not in as good of shape as I was while living in California. The weather here is a good bit different than I remember. The winter was seriously cold… weeks of below zero weather, snow, ice … apocalyptic looking terrain…ugh! It made it hard to get out and do much of anything. Just to take the dog out was a big ordeal. Bundle myself up, bundle the dog up…with booties for his little feet even.

I’ve decided that the people that choose to live here have either never been anywhere else and don’t realize that there is actually some ‘earth like’ areas out there that don’t require you to consider how you might obtain some seal blubber to sustain yourself during the coldest months of the year. Or, they stay here because they are simply crazy. No offense to the people here in Minnesota, but you all are crazy to stay here. The summer is like a hotbox of humidity. While the temps might only be in the high 70’s or low to mid 80’s it feels like walking around inside of a wet blanket, in a clothes dryer, that just won’t get dry. It’s miserable. Now, there are a handful of days when the weather is very nice. People here say that’s why they stay here. For those nice days that are like “paradise” … I wonder if it feels like paradise by comparison to the hell of the other seasons? 😐

It is my theory that the bugs belong to some sort of militant corp. The reason I think this is because when it is nice they seem to infiltrate in battle squadrons. First the little ‘no-see-ums’, they are sneaky because you can’t see them. Get it… no-see-um’s … clever right? No, I didn’t think so either. Anyway, there you are sitting outside in late afternoon as the sun is going down, trying to reclaim the outdoors as some temporary living space. Then with out warning, no buzzing, no visual on the attacker and boom, bite,bite,bite! Out of nowhere and the bites are definitely attention getters!

Well that lasts for a few days, maybe longer, then come the flies. They are bold too. Not only do they represent the fearless kamikaze pilots of WWII by diving directly into your face attempting to crash into your nostrils or your eyeballs, but they bite too! These are the black flies, people around here, just smile and shake their heads like “oh those crazy flies, yep, we have ‘em!” and don’t seem to even give it a second thought.

Then…the state bird makes an appearance. No, I’m not talking about the Loons…I’m talking about the mosquitos. They are huge, unafraid and thirsty. They come in packs…err..swarms. A bunch of them will distract you on your left while the remainder hit you hard on the right. Their tactics are effective and frustrating. If that’s not enough for you, well let me tell you about the rest of the infantry. They’re hiding in the woods, the weeds, the tall grass… basically everywhere. Ticks, and lots of them. No need to go into the details of Lyme disease, but just know that it will probably kill you if you get it.

They boast all kinds of wonderful fishing and hunting here. I’ll admit, it is literally some of the best fishing areas in the United States for trout, bass, walleye, northern pike, Muskie… lots of big and tasty game fish. The deer are plentiful and are nearly all corn fed as they invade the farmers crops around here. Guess the love of corn on the cob spans generations and species, huh…who knew?!

Now, if you decide to brave the winter and drill through 18-24 inches of ice to go an catch some of the huge game fish available, good fo you… bundle up. Maybe light a literal fire INSIDE of your snow suit… seems to me the only way to ensure you won’t freeze to death. If you decide to go after the fish in summer…great! Bathe in 2000% deet, don’t worry about the long term effects to your organs or your skin (which I think is actually an organ too…), just lather it on all over the place and get on out there to catch some fish.

Oh, but while you do that, make sure that you also wear a hazmat suit before entering the woods or traipsing around the rivers/streams looking for trout. Why you ask? Oh, this little thing called poison oak…that’s a wonderful thing straight from heaven. It truly makes you appreciate smooth skin and no itching. Because when you come in contact with it, and you scratch what feels like just a normal itch… suddenly you feel like you can’t stop until you scratch enough to wear your skin completely off! “Hey is that dude on drugs, is he seeing invisible bugs on his skin?? – Oh, no, not at all..he’s just got into some poison oak”. 😐

If that’s not enough to inspire you to get on out into the great Minnesota outdoors, how about this one… there is a plant around here called poisonous parsnip…now that’s some nasty stuff right there. Not only will it cause a rash, itching and blisters on your skin, it can also cause permanent damage to your skin and make you sensitive to the suns rays such that you have to forever wear long sleeves or pants for fear of your skin being boiled off of your body. Sigh… I suppose there are positives and negatives in every state, this one just seems to have an imbalance of negatives. 🙂

All-in-all, its really not a bad place. While I embellish some of the things that are distasteful to me, it does offer some beautiful scenery, great fishing, great hunting and nice people. I am fairly confident that this will be a good temporary stay as I plan to be here for another 12 months. After that, I’m strongly considering a move back to the west coast or somewhere in between here and there. More on that later.

Now you are all caught up – some of the details have been left out to protect the guilty, but the overall picture is now complete. More updates to come…stay tuned.

To the ocean…

In the last few weeks since my last post, there haven’t been many projects of which to speak. I have had a couple of business trips and in between, I’ve been mostly working and learning about sailing. In April, Jason came out for a visit and stayed about 12 days. During that time he and I did a couple of projects on the boat and spent a lot of time sailing.

The first trip we took we had only planned on sailing up to the bay from the marina. This is about a 2-hour trip one way.  We started out fairly early, just before sunrise, on the trip.

From the Chula Vista Marina up to San Diego, there is a bit of a narrow channel that parallels the boatyards where they work and repair damaged boats, Naval shipyards, and hotels on the bay front. When we left the marina we used the engine to get out of the marina then raised the sails once we got clear of the sea wall and into the channel.


There really wasn’t much wind. If you look in the background you can see the water is basically like glass. That’s a good indicator of how much wind is actually blowing. I don’t have an anemometer (wind speed gauge) yet, so I have to take a guess at how fast the wind is actually blowing.  Jason is looking up at the sail wondering if we have it trimmed well enough to capture the little bit of wind we did have.

It was enough, kind of slow going, I think we were maybe doing about 1.5 – 2 knots, which is pretty much the equivalent of a slow walk. HAHA! It wasn’t long, though, and the wind picked up and moved us along at approximately 4 knots. Not too bad for a calm day! Next, under the Coronado Bridge putting us into the San Diego Bay.

From here we tried a few other sail configurations, got used to how the boat was actually handling in better wind and just enjoyed the scenery. It was pretty cool to realize that the only thing pushing the boat along was simply a little breeze. We passed by a pretty large Navy ship. When thinking of ‘right-of-way’ a boat under sail generally has right-of-way, but as the warship approached we kind of thought it might make sense to give him the right-of-way…we didn’t want to hurt his feelings. 🙂 All kidding aside, if I understand correctly any commercial vessel or vessels with limited maneuverability automatically get right-of-way, so… we just got OUT of the way! Seemed like the right thing to do.

Of course, we needed a couple of action shots to prove its really us! LOL

We sailed a while longer toward the mouth of the bay. With Point Loma to starboard and the Naval Supply center to port, the ocean was directly ahead. We originally thought we would just go ‘take a look’ to see how rough it looked, but the closer we got the bolder we got and decided to just take it out for as far as we felt comfortable. After all, if there was any kind of issue we could drop the sails and kick on the engine to get out of any danger should any arise. Also, there are so many boats in the area, we felt that if something were to go wrong we could just radio and have help nearly immediately. Rubio approved so we went for it!

Into the ocean…


We sailed about 5 miles off shore, then in the interest of time (and not pushing our luck) we made a u-turn and headed back toward the bay and eventually back to the marina before the sun went down.

The whole experience was really pretty incredible. No issues, no near misses, no sinking boats or getting yelled at by the coast guard or harbor police… just a nice peaceful, yet exhilarating experience! I’ll post more from the other trips we took while Jason was here in a couple of days. Stay tuned!

Feeling dinghy

HAHAHAHA, like that’s new! I picked up a dinghy the other day for a fraction of the cost of a new one. With most ‘deals’ a little elbow grease is required to see the true benefit. So, today I washed,scrubbed and repeated until the thing was reasonably clean. Lots of work but it’s done. Now I just need a little outboard motor for it and I’m in business. 

For those wondering why a dinghy, there are some places that I plan to go (and keep it cheap!) that won’t have a dock for my sailboat. I’ll need the dinghy to get to land and back to the boat. Looking forward to the first of many of these kinds of trips! Here is the dinghy deal. 🙂 I think Rubio approves, that or he is giving me the ‘you are crazy’ look. Hahaha

Posting this from my phone. The pics are out of order. The bottom dinghy pick was how it looked before. I forgot to get a shot of the bottom after apparently. lol

Also replaced the dock lines today. New ropes make it look better and now I won’t have to worry about any of them breaking if we get more high winds. One thing at a time. 🙂 

Marina Queen

One of these days I’ll post a sailing adventure! For now, there are a few things that I want to take care of before I start sailing. I know that when I start, I’ll get into it and the projects I have on my list will become more wish list items than actual projects, then they will eventually fall off altogether until I ‘have’ to fix it. I know me, I have been around me a long time… most of my life actually. HAHAHA!

Today I spent the day with a bucket of bleach and a sponge. Hands and knees mopping and keeping things ship-shape. Then I  washed the exterior. It literally took me the entire day but she’s shining like new money now! Well, not new money, good and used money…actually not money or shiny, shes’s just clean.

Rubio doesn’t really like it that much when I clean like that. He generally heads for the aft-berth and curls up on the blankets. I think that’s his safe place. I had to put him up in the cockpit for a bit while I cleaned that berth. He was liking it for most of the time but then I think the sun got too hot for him cause he laid down near the companionway with his head on the threshold and just looked at me almost like “hey man, uhhhmm..i know you are busy and all but can I come in now cause this kinda sucks.” Hahaha – he cracks me up.

Finished out the day with some brats on the grill and some good old bushes baked beans. I’m tired but feel really good that Latro is spic and span now. After dinner, I spent a little time researching some data for one of my next projects.

Upholstery…I called a couple of places in the area today asking for an estimate to re-upholster the cushions in the cabin. One of them wants me to bring all of them to the store before they will give an estimate, the other one asked me to send some pics then replied with their estimate. Ready…? They quoted me 3700 dollars!!!???? I laughed cause I thought they were joking, so I sent a couple of clarifying questions and they were not joking.

So, this means I have another DIY project. I did some digging, as I mentioned, after dinner and found that I can do it myself for less than 1/4 of that cost. WITH new fabric and a custom logo (which I now have courtesy of a good friend of mine) sewn on. Stay tuned for that little project. I’m sure I’ll need some churchin’ during and after…

The logo is below (there are actually two versions) if you are interested. Thanks Megan!!! You are a rockstar!

Replacing The Fresh Water Valve…part 2

I finally located the part. I went to West Marine in Point Loma and found it in the fuel section. I’m not sure why but that gave me a pretty huge thrill. Pretty sure it’s because the other 180,000 places I called and/or visited turned up nothing. I may be exaggerating that number a little… it was actually more like 9 places. 😐

The fix is really easy once the part is in hand. Two bolts that hold the valve in place, 3 fittings that screw in, one for the pump, and one line per tank. I didn’t note this in the video and I probably should have, but it’s important to understand what position the lever needs to be in for the water to actually flow from one tank or the other. I made small marks on the lever indicating the position of the Aft and forward tanks so that I don’t have to try to remember later on. Not a big deal, just a convenience.

Also, it’s good to be 100% sure that the tanks are empty, cause if they aren’t and the fitting is unscrewed the water will just flow right out into the boat. Common sense right? Right, unless you are me. Somewhere along the line ‘common sense’ became less common that it probably should be! I didn’t get video of that incident… 🙂


Replacing the fresh water switching valve

Well, I am all moved on to the boat. I have all I need and nothing that I don’t, I think. 🙂 I am at a point now where I can start on some of the projects that need to be done. I figure I’ll tackle some of the easy stuff first. One thing that needs to be fixes is the valve that controls access to the onboard water tanks. It works but it is broken and leaking. Not a major thing but certainly something I should be able to handle!

The challenge is finding the part. I checked 9 different places today, from marine supply stores to plumbing supply. I haven’t checked the standard hardware store yet but I’ll swing through there tomorrow and see what I can find. So far, no luck with the exception of places that only sell wholesale to contractors. Since I’m not a licensed plumber or a contractor that kinda cuts those places out. Hahaha!

If nothing else, I think i have located the part I need on amazon. Once I verify its the right size then I’ll order it up and put it in. The good thing with this fix is that its a simple one, and nothing really DEPENDS on me fixing it. No pressure, the water still is contained in the tanks, and still flows out of the faucet when I need it. I do want to fix the leak though before it gets any worse. Once I have the part, I will document the replacement. Stay tuned…

Transition is nearly complete

Well, I have most of the things out of my apartment. Brought a few additional items to the boat and trying to make room for them. That is a challenge but it’s a fun one, for me at least. I have the apartment until the end of the month so I have the luxury of time on my side when it comes to moving things out. I should be all done by the end of the coming week, though.

Next area of focus is some of the projects that need to be done on Latro. I’ll need to get the navigation lights and the steaming light working, replace the running rigging (all the ropes for the sails), get a depth sounder and replace the compass. Beyond that, those are really all she needs. The compass will be around 100 bucks, the lines will probably be close to 500 based on the prices I am seeing online. I’m really not sure how much the depth sounder will be yet. I see lots of options so I’ll need to chat with a few seasoned sailors to get an idea of what is the most economical, yet reliable, way to go.

I mentioned a leak in the companion way in an earlier post. I think the fix for that is going to be a tarp or sunbrella canvas draped over the boom for the main sail. I’ve seen a few others in the marina doing this and it seems to be effective. I have a tarp already, so thats a free fix! 🙂

Also, doesn’t seem like I can feel good about doing a post without including my little buddy too. Thanks to Kevin Libby and his family for some nice ‘house warming’ gifts, including the sailor costume for Ruibo!

Rewarded with a sunset

All afternoon on Sunday, all day and most of the night on Monday it rained and was very windy. I was happy to find that there was only one leak letting some of the rain water in. The leak is in the companion way. I actually kind of expected it partly because of what I have read and partly because of how its designed. Its basically a big piece of plexiglas screwed into some wood rail sliders. They make a companion way canvas to mitigate this issue, that is on the list of things to get done.

Today it was sunny and warm, I opened all the hatches and let the breeze blow through. It was a gorgeous day. Also, the internet installer guy came out and hooked me up with some highspeed internet! I can’t believe that they can run it right to the slip, but also the signal is exceptional. I figured it would be flakey just because of the salt water and related corrosion.

Rubio and I took in the sunset tonight, seemed like a fitting reward after contending with all the wind and rain. 🙂

Let’s make sure we don’t sink

Before I bought Latro, I had it surveyed to find any and all things that are wrong with the boat. This is a lot like a home inspection only a bit more thorough as it requires a sea trial as well. The surveyor goes through every inch of the boat, looking for leaks, malfunctioning equipment, missing equipment/functionality etc…

After the survey was completed on Latro, one of the findings revealed that the packing gland required replacement. What is a packing gland? The gland nut allows packing material to be compressed to form a watertight seal and prevent water leaking up the shaft when the tap is turned on. The gland at the rotating shaft of a centrifugal pump may be packed in a similar way and graphite grease used to accommodate continuous operation.

The previous replacement resulted in the wrong sized material and the gland nut being tightened too tight. This causes everything to heat up which could lead to scoring of the prop shaft and other very inconvenient failures at the most inopportune time. Below is a video showing how to replace it. Enjoy!