Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Building a Custom Fiberglass Propane Locker, Part 1

As we continue outfitting Phoenix, one of the many questions that we've been pondering is where we're going to put the propane tanks? In Bruce Bingham's original Andromeda design, there was plenty of space between the main cabin and the main mast to allow room for a deck box to store the propane. However, one of Phoenix's previous owners extended both the main and aft cabin tops, so there's no room for a deck box on the foredeck.

As a stop-gap solution, we've used 1 lb propane tanks and Bill attached a 20 lb tank to the stern rail with a L-bracket that he made. While effective in the short run, we wanted something that was more secure and would permanently house two 20 lb propane tanks, and that vents overboard off Phoenix's stern.

Our temporary propane tank holder -- a L bracket attached to the stern rail and holding the tank in place with stainless hose clamps

We began researching different above deck propane locker options, and weren't really happy with sizes we found commercially available. Trident makes a really nice propane locker, if you're willing to spend $1,000+ for a box. That seemed a bit crazy to us, especially since the dimensions of their propane locker are too large to fit under Phoenix's stern rail.

Nothing we found really fit our needs, so we started to design our own propane locker. We began by purchasing a 12-inch cement form from the local Home Depot. There was a surprising amount of size variability between the "12-inch" tubes at our Home Depot, so we had to sort through the stack in order to find one that was truly 12 inches in diameter.

Bill cut down the cement form to make two tubes of equal height and then used some spare cardboard to make a bottom and to fill in the gap between the two tubes. He used packing tape to hold everything together and then systematically covered the cardboard exterior with more packing tape. Viola, his  "Frankenform" was complete!

Making our propane locker form out of cement forms

Bottom view of the propane locker form

Top view of our propane locker form. Each 12" tube is large enough for a 20 lb propane tank

We painted PVA mold release on the form, and then applied one layer of 10 oz Hexel fiberglass cloth, 2 layers of chop mat and a final layer of 10 oz. fiberglass cloth to the form with fiberglass resin to get the desired thickness. Once the resin was fully cured, we removed the cardboard form from our fiberglass shell and checked for fit. We purposefully made the locker taller than we needed, and Bill used a hacksaw to cut the fiberglass base to the desired height and to get a clean edge.

Several layers of fiberglass and resin on the propane locker base

Cardboard form removed from our propane locker base

Cardboard form removed from our propane locker base

Perfect fit for two 20 lb propane tanks!
Cutting the propane locker base to size and making a clean edge
We followed a similar process for the locker's lid and made it slightly larger than the base. However, we incorporated some exterior grade plywood (5/32") to help add some weight and stiffness to the lid.

Fiberglass and resin on the propane locker lid before removing it from its form
Once the lid was done, it was time for dewaxing, fairing and preparing to paint the propane locker.

Propane locker base fair and ready for primer

Propane locker lid with primer

Propane locker base with primer

Nice high gloss with the finish paint
Our new custom fiberglass propane locker

With the propane locker painted it's time to move on to installing the propane system and making it ABYC compliant. As you can see from the diagram, there's more to having a safe propane system than building a fiberglass shell, so in part 2 we'll talk about the gaskets, securing the lid to the base, venting, and the rest of the propane system. Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

From the Galley: Stove Top Pita Pockets or Flatbread

We love making (and eating) fresh bread, but it's not always feasible to bake on board, especially when underway. Last summer we experimented with making flat bread under sail and while at anchor, and were really pleased with the results.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate your dough for up to a week. We make these on the stove top, but you could also bake and or cook these on the grill, if you prefer.

Homemade Pita/Flat Bread

1 cup warm water (roughly body temperature or slightly warmer)
2 teaspoons yeast
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups flour (we use unbleached) plus more for kneading
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

Mix the warm water, sugar and yeast together and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to "proof" the yeast (it should be well dissolved with bubbly foam on top).

Meanwhile, combine flour, salt and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the water/yeast mixture to the bowl and stir until a shaggy dough is formed. Knead the dough in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the sides of the bowl. (Tip: I lightly spray my hand with olive oil before kneading to keep the dough from sticking and to help minimize the amount of flour used). Continue kneading until the dough is elastic (5-10 minutes).

Wash the bowl you used to mix the dough and coat the sides with a little olive oil. Set the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it's doubled in size (1-2 hours depending on the ambient temperature).

Gently deflate the dough and turn it on a lightly floured surface. Separate the dough into eight equal pieces. If you're making the dough ahead, wrap the pieces in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you are ready to make them. If you want to make a few now, return them to the bowl, cover with plastic and let them rest for another half hour or so. (Tip: you could make them right away, but they don't usually puff up as well into pita pockets. If your pitas don't puff, use them for flat bread pizzas).

Pita dough pieces, wrapped in plastic wrap and ready to cook or store in the refrigerator

When you're ready to make the dough, lightly flour your working surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll one of your dough pieces into a circle (doesn't have to be perfect) about 1/4 inch thick. It will typically be about 6 inches in diameter. Lift and turn the dough frequently as you roll to make sure it doesn't stick to your surface. Continue with as many pitas as you're making that day.

Roll until your dough is roughly 6 inches in diameter and/or 1/4 inch thick

Meanwhile, heat up your skillet. We use a flat, cast iron tortilla skillet. (Even on a boat, cast iron is excellent to cook with, as long as you take care of it, season your skillets and cover them when not in use). If your skillet isn't hot enough, the pita will not puff. Once you're pan is very hot (water droplets should sizzle immediately on contact), lay one rolled out pita on the skillet and cook until small bubbles start to form, about 30 seconds.

Ready for it's first flip
Turn your pita over and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until air pockets begin to form. Rotate while cooking so you don't burn your pita in any one spot. Flip your pita once again and cook for another minute. The pita should start to puff up during the second and third flips. Gently pressing the surface of the pita with a spatula will help increase the size of the air pockets.

Air pockets forming

Pita pocket ready to eat

Remove the pita from heat and continue cooking the remaining pitas, if any. They are much better served fresh, but you can store them for a few days if desired.

Puffed pitas can be cut in half and filled with your favorite sandwich filling (crab salad, tuna salad, etc.)

Don't worry if you're pitas don't puff. This usually happens if you're skillet isn't hot enough, or if you use the dough immediately after the first rise. They still make wonderful flat bread pizzas, or can be baked to make pita chips, or torn into pieces for dipping.

Pita pockets ready to serve. Could be stuffed for sandwiches, but these are ear-marked for flat bread pizzas tonight!


Friday, January 2, 2015

Painting Meandrous

Happy 2015 everyone! With the New Year upon us, it's time to catch up on the blog and to get you up do date on what we've been up to over the past few months.

In our spare time, when we're not working on Phoenix, Bill and I busy ourselves prepping for life as live-aboard sailors. Part of that process involves tackling the sometimes overwhelming task of downsizing and parting with all of the "stuff" that accumulates over time.

Aside from finishing Phoenix, there are three big hurdles to overcome before we can really begin our cruising adventure. We accomplished the first just after returning from our 2 week trip -- we sold our sports car! The second big hurdle is getting Meandrous  -- our beloved Yorktown 39 -- on the market. The third will be listing the house, and hopefully that will happen this year.

Bill purchased Meandrous as a previously owned but never finished bare-hulled kit boat. He painstakingly designed, rigged the boat, built and finished the interior in gorgeous, old growth teak. Bill lived aboard Meandrous for several years on the Potomac and she was the first boat that I ever sailed. We have many wonderful memories with Meandrous, yet now that Phoenix is in sailing condition, it's time for Meandrous to have new owners that can enjoy her as much as we always have.

We want Meandrous to look her best when she meets her new owners, and we want to give her a proper sendoff, so we both agreed that it was time for a new paint job. Her topsides were in great condition, so the focus was on the deck and non-skid.

We used Awlgrip when we painted Phoenix and haven't been happy with how the paint holds up over time. Air pollution (specifically jet fuel from airplanes overhead and soot from our local coal-burning power plant) is not Awlgrip's friend. The pollutants quickly etched and ruined the surface of the paint. It also does not seem to be compatible with UV 4000 or other marine caulks, and the paint lifted and tore from the substrate in areas where we used UV 4000.

We painted Phoenix's mizzen boom a few years back with Interlux's Perfection, and we have been much happier with that paint than Awlgrip. So for Meandrous we decided to use Perfection in Mediterranean White.

As with any paint job, the quality of the finished product is directly proportional to the prep work, so the first step was the meticulous process of sanding and fairing. Much of the old paint was sanded down to the the gel-coat, and we used fairing compound to fill any cracks, voids or other imperfections.

Sanded to the robin's egg blue gel-coat, taped and ready for primer

Meandrous' cockpit ready for primer
Once we were happy with the prep work, the next step was taping off and/or papering all of stanchions, cleats, tracks, ports, deck mounts, etc. and removing all of the caulk from around the ports, hatches, and deck fittings. Then it was time for the primer. We used Interlux Primekote, a two-part epoxy primer that both fills and seals the substrate. We liked working with Primekote better than Awlgrip's High Build (filler) and 545 (sealer) primers. Not that those primers were bad per se, but the Primekote did the job of both Awlgrip products with fewer coats. Bill sprayed two coats of Primekote, and we sanded between coats with 120 grit paper. We sanded with 320 grit after the second coat, and it was time for the Perfection topcoat.

Starting to put down the first coat of primer

Cabin top and sides primed

Painting outdoors has it's challenges and delays, and we had to wait for the right weather window to spray each coat. The temperatures had to be above 50 degrees, we had to have enough time for the solvents to flash off and the paint to cure before the evening dew set up, and the winds needed to be light enough not to effect Bill's ability to spray the paint or to blow any debris into the wet paint. Since we were painting in the Fall we also had to worry about getting the job done before the leaves began to fall as well. Needless to say, timing was everything.

When the weather window was right, Bill sprayed the Perfection topcoat while I served as his trusty hose-tender -- keeping the air hose from dragging through any of the wet paint and carefully removing any bugs that flew into the paint with forceps.

Perfection Mediterranean White in the cockpit

Glossy finish

We were really pleased with the high gloss finish, and with the topcoat done it was time to remove the tape/paper and let the paint set up before moving on to the non-skid. Depending on the temperatures, it's recommended that you wait 24-72 hours before taping Perfection. Even though we added accelerator the Perfection (to help protect the gloss from the heavy dew), we wanted to give the paint ample time to harden before taping, so we were once again waiting for the right weather window.

We used KiwiGrip when we painted the non-skid on Phoenix, and we continue to be happy with it's performance. We decided to use it on Meandrous too, but this time we opted for gray KiwiGrip to contrast the Mediterranean White gloss finish. We followed the same application process of troweling on the paint, then using the loopy-goopy rollers to go over Meandrous' molded non-skid pattern. The gray was lighter than we initially expected but still gave a subtle contrast, depending on how the light hits it, and was still light enough that the deck shouldn't get too hot in the summer.

We hated to paint over the molded non-skid since it was so tenacious and we didn't want to fill the grooves with paint, but from a purely aesthetic perspective it needed a face-lift. To our pleasant surprise, the KiwiGrip settled and shrank into the existing non-skid pattern and really cleaned up the look while maintaining the tenacity of the original non-skid. Since the weather was relatively cool and we had to work in sections, moving around the boat took several days. We painted some "squares" in one area of the boat while allowing other areas to cure and harden enough to walk on them, until we finally made our way around to all of the "squares."

Forward section of cabin top taped and ready for KiwiGrip

Forward section "after" KiwiGrip

Working our way around the cabin top
With the non-skid finished, we were finally ready to prep and paint the ports, then apply the finish bead of caulk around all of the ports and hatches and really button up the boat.

It took three months to finish the job in its entirety, though we're really happy with how Meandrous looks now. Hopefully when we put her on the market in the Spring and she meets her new potential owners, they will love and appreciate her as much as we have over the years.

KiwiGrip done, ports painted and caulked
s/v Meandrous