I told you of my plan to add a 16’ rope of LED lights for my galley. I t had occurred to me that Dauntless is a bit dark at night in the salon and galley. While I have under counter lights, that do a good job when cooking or cleaning, looking in the cabinets are another story. I know where everything is or at least how it is organized, but thinking about Ti, everything on Dauntless will be new.
So, I decided to add those LED lights, but it as another project that started and then stalled. Last night, while in bed, I realized why I’d stopped.
My original plan was to just add the string of LED lights to the overhead dome light. Switch on the dome light (which I never use) and the LED lights would also light up, illuminating the upper cabinets and the spice rack. I had taken the light fixtures down, as part of the process and also got new warm white (2700°K) to replace the hot white LEDs I put in 5 years ago. Only in the engine room and these galley lamps (which I never use) did I put cool white LED’s (6500K). They are pretty ugly in the galley, so I am changing them just in case someone does turn on those lights.
Ti’s given name is Trinh, pronounced Din, rhymes with tin. Her childhood name and the name her family and friends call her is Ti, like tee or tea. In this last year I realized that it’s just easier for all concerned to say Ti. She was called Ti because in Vietnamese it means, small, like a mouse. She is small, like the runt of the family, at just under 5 feet. So last night in bed, it finally dawned on me that she could never reach the light without a ladder.
That switch is on the ceiling, 7 feet off the floor. I can reach it, but Ti will need a ladder. Now, I know she would never say anything, but still, I’ll put the new switch near the current one for the under-cabinet lights. That will be easier for everyone
I did finish one other project today. Last night I was excited to look at Dauntless with all her new exterior LED lights on, only to discover that the starboard side deck was still not connected. So, I got up this morning with that in mind.
I was so proud of myself. The picture shows my handiwork. Went to the salon to turn everything on and to my dismay, still no lights, but even worse, the pilot house eyebrow lights were on.
When I started working on the lights today, I wondered why I had left the end wires so short. Well, I figured it out, they were the END wires, not the beginning wires. In other words, I had hooked up the end of the wire line that was on the fly bridge!
Another warning sign that I had ignored was that I had already led the wires down to the starboard side deck. I wondered why I did that but didn’t bother to look up and see the light pigtail that needed connecting.
A comedy of errors.
After fixing that, again pleased with my work, everything worked and then if you are eagle eyed you will be noticed in the attached picture that the wire runs outside of the aft stay for the paravanes. Luckily, I just had to untie that stay, but it also means that I will have to check its adjustment again once we get underway.
I certainly keep life interesting. But it also demonstrates how much easier everything is when you have a partner to ask you, why are you attaching the wires there, when it is wired on the other side of the boat already? Or Are you sure you want that line on the inside of that wire?
I’ve noticed, not for the first time, I may add, that I never start and finish anything in a direct line. Project A starts, but at some point, I’ll start Project B and maybe even C, while A limps along.
Why, I wondered? It certainly seems inefficient and worse of all; I’m always tripping over all the “stuff” laid out. I won’t even take a picture of the chaos as it’s embarrassing, but evidently not so embarrassing that I would change my ways.
So, why do I do it? It’s combination of my ineptness whenever I do something the first time, coupled with my unease, once I see that I should have done it differently and probably better. My brain, all brains, need processing time. “Sleeping on it” is part of that process.
Therefore, while it may seem inefficient at first glance, there is almost nothing on Dauntless that survived the first cut and sometimes even the second cut.
My mast instrument project is finally done. I also replaced all the cotter pins and a few clevis pins also. The rigging for my paravane stabilizers was carefully inspected also. I was pleased to see only minor wear over the last 25k+ miles and 5 years. Sad to say, I’d say that 80% of my cruising has needed the paravanes deployed. Sad because it means I need to stay home more often, but then when your home is constantly on the move, …
I did update my C-Maps for the west coast and Alaska. Figured there was no reason to save it for the last minute. I also have a rough cruise plan to get to Seattle in June. That will be in an upcoming post.
I was hoping to finish the replacement of my driving light bracket and cross bar with the new stainless-steel versions. All has gone to plan, except I have discovered I made the driving light brackets 9 mm to narrow, that’s about a third of an inch.
Oh well, luckily, I’m flying to Vietnam next week for two weeks and I can get new brackets made for a couple of bucks. Now, the plane ticket is another story.
The words: a couple, a few, came in handy back in 2004 when I had to teach significant digits to my high school physics class.
While I’m pretty good in physics, meteorology really just being mostly math and physics, with a few fluid dynamics classes thrown in, I had to refresh myself (learn) about significant digits to teach it. As it turned out, it was the last year in was in the New York State high school physics curriculum, but I thought it important, so I taught it.
At the time I wondered why I didn’t it didn’t come quickly to mind as the other important concepts of physics did. Later, I realized because during my high school and university, I was using a slide rule and understanding how many digits were significant in any calculation was an integral part of it’s effective use.
Thus, I “knew” it, without knowing what I knew.
So, when thinking about this blog post today, I debated titles: Two steps forward, three back, no, I have made some progress, two forward one back, let’s not get carried away on the amount of progress, two steps forward, one and a half back, sounds awkward.
Two Steps Forward, a Couple Back about sums it up. Of my 6-item list I of last week, one, moving the fresh water selector valve is done, but now instead of 5 things left to do, I’ve already discovered a dozen more. I’ve already taken care of a few, like the hole I found in my stainless-steel sink (how does that happen??), but that still leaves me with half-a-dozen more.
Therefore, the ambiguity of “a couple” is perfect.
My re-positioning of the fresh water tank selector valve is done. Finally, with only a few missteps. In the process, I may also have found the problem with my fresh water pump. I had to replace the pressure switch back in the fall and at first, I taught all was OK, but then I noticed decreasing water pressure as the pump ran. For most of the winter, I assumed I had to adjust the pressure switch, but now I think I had a very small air leak in one of my older water hoses where it connected to the copper hose (and I put new hose from the output of the selector valve to that copper fitting).
I’ll know once everything is up and running and no matter where you live you will probably hear me laughing or crying in my shower depending upon the outcome.
I’ve also been working on a number of electrical/mechanical improvements:
Repositioning the Maretron instruments on my mast, including running a new Maretron cable and re-conditioning all the connectors,
Moving my Groove Wi-fi extender to the mast also and running its antenna cable thru a new route from fly bridge to pilot house, as the old wire race is full to capacity.
Adding switches, replacing a fuse box, adding a voltmeter and rewriting my AM/FF radio in the salon.
Adding some LED lighting to the side decks (more robust and waterproof than my initial effort 5 years ago.
Pictures and results to follow.
Moving the mast instruments has been a drama. After finally realizing I needed to tap and die the bolts for the spreader since the aluminum is so thick, 3/16th, to ¼”, I was “pleased” to discover that while I have two metric tap and die kits, I have virtually no metric bolts or machine screws, at least none that were stainless steel.
So, I spent some days, just sorting my stainless steel and figuring out what was metric and what wasn’t. It’s amazing the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated that really isn’t suited for boat life, but I don’t want to get rid of any of it, because you never know what you may need in the middle of the ocean.
Having said that, it’s so strange to get my mind around that fact that for the foreseeable future I will be in range of Boat US or Sea Tow. More so because in my first year, going up and down the ICW, I had Boat US on speed dial. But now, having spent so much time and miles being totally independent, it’s a mindset that is not easily turned off.
Now for those of still waiting anticipation of learning about significant digits.
It means that no matter how many digits your calculator displays, you need to use your common sense.
e.g. I walked 2 miles (a couple) today. There are 5280 feet in a mile, therefore, my calculator tells me I walked 10,560 feet. But did I walk exactly two miles? Or was it 2.1 or 1.8 mile, one cannot know from the information
5280 has 3 significant digits, 2 has 1 significant digit, when multiplied you take the minimum, therefore the answer will have one significant digit. So, even though the calculator says 10,560 feet, the answer with significant digits in mind is 10,000 feet (rounded off to the one significant digit).
You can get a very nice definition and explanation here:
Was just finishing washing the dishes after another scrumptious dinner produced by yours truly, when I noticed that the galley sink faucet produces much hotter water at full volume versus reduced volume. So, my next thought was I better add that to the list of things I need to brief Ti and Thien about.
Then, as I thought about it, I realized this was truly a big issue. I don’t think Ti in her 40+ years has ever lived in a house with hot water. In fact, I know she hasn’t. The poor girl didn’t even have electricity until after she went to high school.
Do any of us even know someone who didn’t have a TV, color at that, growing up?
Even at that, only she and her sister finished high school from their neighborhood. Why? Because they had to swim a small river, hide dry clothes and bikes on the other side, just to get to school. Most kids didn’t want to bother. Umm, maybe if they had school buses the graduation rate could get above the current 98%.
In the USA, we have to cook the books (continually lowering the standards) just to get to 70%. But you all know that.
I know I digress, but let me end it with this: as an educator, If nothing else, at least I’ve learned that children value what they earn and don’t value what adults give them.
It is as simple as that.
So, 20+ years later, when I met Ti, she had taught herself English and had just started teaching herself Japanese. Why? Because English has become the world language and there are some very big Japanese-Vietnamese joint venture projects, (like the subway) taking place in Saigon (HCMC). Ti, as an accountant, wanted to find a position in a multi-national company.
She found me and Dauntless instead. Thus, I am making a list of the hazards and operating procedures aboard ship.
All of my problems are truly First World problems.
The last months, Ti got to calling me “mister chess”, which replaced “mister com’on” as her main moniker for me. I earned mister com’on, by being ready to leave the house sooner than she and saying com’on, let’s go a bit too much. She learned to give me a 10-minute delay, “Don’t come down to leave until I tell you”, which solved that problem.
For much of the winter, I would play chess on my phone against the app, in my spare time. I realized that while I have always really liked chess, playing it with friends and lovers ended up being a lose-lose for me. I don’t like being competitive with my significant other and even playing with her son Thien, who is a good beginning player, I didn’t want to beat him, so I would give myself a handicap and then be irritated when I lost, because even though I didn’t want to win, I am competitive and don’t like losing. A no-win situation or lose-lose.
Micah (my nephew and crew in 2016) and I played a board game called Empire Builder all the way from Ireland to Panama for that 10-month journey. It was a great game, because unlike chess, I felt I could experiment with different strategies that kept the game interesting for me. It wasn’t just about winning but coming up with new ways to win. While Micah was very competitive, and he beat me two thirds of the time and at times he accused me of not trying. But I was trying, just in my own way. Once I found a winning strategy, the fun for me was to change the strategy and see how else I could win. As I said, more often than not, it didn’t work, but I liked trying and didn’t mind losing to Micah as he is very smart, and he always made my brain work hard to succeed. A win-win.
But for me chess is different, and I realized I just don’t like playing against people, any real people, but against the computer is fine and enjoyable. Much like Empire Builder, I aim for about a 50% success rate, at which point I have the computer play at a higher skill level (basically it takes more time to go thru moves). Now I still got really irritated when I would lose stupidly, but I like the challenge.
To a certain degree, being up for the challenge is why I love teaching and education. In the classroom or in a school there are always challenges. I like the fact that these challenges change from kid to kid, from day to day. I get true satisfaction helping others help themselves.
That’s also the connection I have to boating and Dauntless. If I can help someone else not do the stupid, costly or just plain not needed thing that I did, I feel valuable, same as helping a student see why we have seasons or where the copper in that penny in our pocket was made.
So, it was a bit of a shock the other day when I realized that I had not played chess since getting back on Dauntless weeks ago. I wondered why?
Teaching, whether to adults for children, exercised my mind, like running a marathon, without ever leaving the room.
Being back on Dauntless, now presented me with a number of challenging systems’ issues:
Rewiring my mast, moving instruments to collect better data and reduce cabling issues, so I’m not climbing up the mast in 15-foot seas because my wind instrument is not working and the higher the winds, the more I like seeing the numbers!
Moving my fresh water tank selector valve to a place that is more accessible
Moving the water maker test port and selector valve out of the engine room
These types of problems give my brain all the exercise it wants. I don’t need chess for now.
I also have some boring jobs:
Replacing the seals in my water maker
Taking my heat exchangers to be tested
Replacing anodes (zincs) in said heat exchangers.
But when I finally get to those jobs, I will probably play chess again, because those jobs are just that, jobs. No challenges, I can’t make something better, all I need to do is make it the way it was.
Easy, but boring.
And that’s where Southeast Alaska comes in. Much like the Baltic cruise on 2015, I so looking forward to Southeast Alaska:
Last week I returned to Dauntless, but then took a 5-day trip to Anchorage to attend a teaching job fair. I figure as long as I will be in the USA for the foreseeable future, I may as well work again and put my winter time to constructive use and replenish the coffers.
I spent much of the winter thinking of what had to be done on Dauntless. Since leaving Ireland two and a half years ago, I’ve asked for a lot from my little Kadey Krogen, but gave her only fuel and oil in return.
But 30 months, 10,000+ miles, 2100 engine hours later, the poor girl needs some TLC. While I revised and improved things like the paravane stabilizers as time went on, some other things, like my solar panels, were ignored, though I knew I needed to change the wiring from the controllers.
I also didn’t need to, but thought it was time to change the location of my fresh water tank selector. Too many times, I’ve had to sneak into the occupied second cabin in the middle of the night, open the closet, pull up the floor board and change the water tank so I could take a shower. Since I’m working with water, I may as well also, change the selector valve for the water maker output.
So, I have a list of about a dozen improvements and corrections (to some older half-assed jobs of mine) to do. Plus, the normal stuff of putting away the clothes and accouterments of a “normal” life after merging a couple of households. Now, where to put those dozen suits?
I’d also come up with a plan as to not to waste money. I cook very well and like my cooking. I often eat out only because I like getting out, not because the food is better. In fact, often it’s not, yet expensive.
Day 1 of 60 days, the next two months, on my first free day, with the rental car that I’d picked up in Sacramento Airport the night before, and which had to be returned by 18:00 here in Vallejo, I would do my shopping at Costco to set me up for the next two months.
All goes according to plan, with only a little warning flag. The freezer only got down to 20°F in the first 18 hours. Usually, it is minus 5°. Did it just need more time, I wished and hoped?
You all know that hope. The hope that is not based on any reason or even history. It’s just a hope that you don’t have to deal with it
So of course, on Day 2 of 60, instead of starting my dozens of projects I’d planned, I’m dealing with stuff that isn’t even on the list.
Freezer temperature is still too high. My Costco ice cream is more like a slurpy. First thing I did was to look online for solutions. Not hard, and in fact, on Cruiser’s Forum, there was a really well written story of re-charging the Freon in (my) BD50F Danfoss compressor. Not so hard, just finding a coupling fitting will be a PIA.
I check out the re-charge fitting and I notice the first fly in the ointment. I’ll have to move the entire compressor to get at the re-charge fitting, as it’s tucked up against the insulated copper tube for the refrigerant.
My compressor is behind the freezer, under the pilot house settee. Getting to the securing screws require an agility I never had. Yet again one of those situations in which a trained monkey would be very valuable.
By noon, the compressor is moved enough to start phase 2. Finding Freon.
Taking my new acquired $60 bicycle, it was only 10 minutes to the NAPA store. Sure enough, they have Freon, but not the hoses or fittings to connect it. I buy a can in any case. (Why you wonder, without the hose??)
Then, as I am walking out the door, I realize that I still need the hoses and connectors, so I may as well go to the nearby Autozone. Said Autozone was much better equipped than the NAPA and not only are their prices lower, they have a number of options with Freon and hose together. I still needed an adapter hose to connect the car sized fitting to my bicycle style fitting used on the Danfoss compressors.
They had something that may work, so I get that too, promising not to hurt the packaging so I can return it if need be.
Decide I may as well, return the Freon I got at NAPA. Apologize for that.
Get back to the boat and get ready to get to work.
As I am gently moving the compressor, trying not to make a small problem into a much bigger one by rupturing a coolant tube, I notice that the muffin fan that sits between the compressor and the radiator is not turning. I stick my finger in it to make sure and it’s still not turning.
Well, that will teach me to diagnose the problem on the internet.
Yes, Freon may still be an issue, but before I do anything, I need to get the fan working. There is no way I can take the old fan out without moving the entire compressor to a more assessable location.
But guess what? I have muffin fans! At least three or four!! Why? You wonder? Because back in the day, year one (as Asians would count it), the muffin fan went out in my inverter. The inverter overheats and shuts off pretty soon without the fan.
I bought 4 muffin fans online, they were advertised as being very quiet and would last forever. Spares are good. Of course, par for the course, once I took the old muffin fan out of the inverter, I realized the fan rotor had just fallen out of its housing. I just needed to glue it and put it back. It’s worked the last 5 years without a hitch. Though of course, noting is that easy. I cut the wires very short when I pulled it out, so of course, it took half a day to reconnect them.
But now, when I really needed one, I had muffin fans to spare.
I installed it on the opposite side of the radiator, so that it blows thru the radiator, the defunct fan and the compressor. I hooked it up to an external 12v power because before I went to the trouble of hooking it up normally, I wanted to make sure it was the solution to the problem.
Within hours the temperature of the freezer was down to zero. By morning, it was -5°.
I was good to go.
Now, at the end of Day 3 of 60, my to-do list is the same as ever and Alaska is no closer.
Getting or not getting “seasick” is a subject I have been meaning to write about for quite awhile now. I had partially addressed it in the excerpt below which I published two years ago. But I never made the follow-up post of my reflections on the subject and conclusions after the three month and 5,000-mile passage from North Africa to the Panama Canal. A video I made on our nice Christmas Day
That’s 5,000 miles in strong, 18 to 36 knot winds produced by the northeasterly trade winds. While these winds are called the NE Trades, because that is their long-term direction, the actually winds on this passage were NE through SE, with three distinct swells from those directions with differing amplitudes and periods. This produced 8 to 16-foot seas with relatively short periods of 6 to 8 seconds from the NE thru the SE. Not the most pleasant conditions, even for a boat like Dauntless that loves following seas. In fact, this was the most difficult conditions with following seas we’ve ever encountered.
Some of the worst conditions possible if one is prone to seasickness, with the boat corkscrewing its way across the Atlantic at 7 knots. I expected that as I got my sea legs, sea sickness would be just a bad memory. But no, in fact, it was to the contrary. It got me to wondering what was really going on.
Stress builds and crossing an ocean is stressful in the best of conditions. For one, my insurance does not cover me past 200 miles off-shore. So, abandoning ship is not an option. For another, with a three-week passage, you are asking every component to work 24/7 for that time period and if something does go wrong, how to minimize the damage. Therefore, it’s a constant weighing of risks, rewards. E.g. Can I fix this problem with the engine running or do I increase the chances of something else going wrong by turning off the engine?
This is what I had written two years ago, just days after leaving Morocco for the Canaries at the very start of my second Atlantic Passage:
Morocco to the Canaries
Four days on the North Atlantic, 600 nm, four days, 1 hour, 35 minutes, what could go wrong?
For one, we found the weak link on this Krogen, it’s me.
In my first year of cruising, I would get sea sick maybe a quarter of the time. Now in my third year, it’s more like three-quarters of the time.
What’s changed? Who knows? I’m older, but usually one’s body becomes more adapted. No, I think the problem is in my brain.
When conditions are rough, I know to take a remedy or put on the Scopolamine transdermal patch. I’ve been using the patch for more than 3 years, now all of a sudden, the patch gives me a bad rash, but it’s also very effective as long as I put it on the night before departure.
With nice cruising conditions, or I should say, relatively nice, with winds and seas less than 15 knots and 3 feet (1m), respectively, I never had to worry, now, if the slightest unexpected event happens, I get seasick.
This last episode was one of the worst I’ve ever had. But I’m not 100% sure it’s “seasickness”. It’s more like my body gets a whole load of adrenaline and then when crisis is over, my body doesn’t know what to do.
We were heading 240 degrees, with Southeast winds 20 to 25 knots, producing seas from the south of 4 to 8 feet.
The paravanes work most effectively with seas on the beam, so our ride was actually not so bad with a gentle rolling of 8 degrees to the lee side and 4 degrees to the windward side.
On the 3rd day out of Morocco, I was in the galley filling my water bottle, when I felt the boat motion change. I looked out the salon window to see the windward paravane bird being dragged on top of the water, clearly broken.
I purposely take my time and want to remain calm. I finish filling my water bottle. I go to stop the boat, neutral, idle, then up to the fly bridge to retrieve the pole and the broken bird.
Dauntless is quite tame when not underway, in other words, she rolls much less. So, there was no big crisis.
The two spare birds are stored in the lazerette. The one that broke had been repaired in Ireland, as it had previously broken crossing the North Sea. So, I wasn’t too worried as to the cause. We had two spares in the lazzerette. The one on the starboard side was easier to reach, but as we tried to get it out, the fin of the bird became lodged under the generator exhaust hose. And the more stuck it became; the more stressed I became. I didn’t like the idea of leaving it as it, with its metal fin pressed against the exhaust hose and the wooden bird, so close to the hydraulic rudder piston. But after 10 minutes of trying dislodge it, I gave up, unloaded the port side of the lazzerette and got the other bird that was stored on the other side of the lazerette.
It took just another minute to replace the broken one and we were underway again, finally 20 minutes later, having spent most of that time, trying to get the one bird out.
Underway again, all was OK, but I was feeling very strange. Very strange.
I went to change my clothes, as I was very hot, sweaty and covered in anti-corrosion oil I had sprayed liberally in the lazzerette before leaving.
But after changing my clothes, I felt worse; like overheating badly, I figured a shower would help.
I shower, figuring that cooling off would make me feel better, but now, I can’t even dry myself off. It was a bizarre feeling. I wasn’t able to stand up or move. I dragged myself to bed and lay on top.
I figure I just need a little rest, but had wanted to walk around the boat, make sure all is OK before we get underway again. So, after a few minutes, getting more stressed because I knew Micah and Dauntless were waiting for me, as I go to put on my shirt, I became violently ill. First time that’s happened in years, even though, I get sea sick a lot and have that miserable nauseous feeling, I don’t throw up. This time I did.
I finally understood that I can do nothing but lay on top of my bed naked. I couldn’t even dry myself off. I use what little strength I have to tell Micah to make sure everything looks OK and to get underway.
I stayed on top of the bed and went to sleep.
Three hours later, I am up and OK. Like it never happened.
After I posted the above, my friend Dan added this comment:
“I have read of at least one person who has spent decades at sea who get sea sick every time they set to sea for three days or so. They, like so many, take a while to get their sea legs, and then they are just fine. What was interesting about this person is that they ONLY get sea sick when they are captain. If they are crewing on a boat, they don’t get sea sick at all. Their guess was that the stress of being captain was what caused the sea sickness.”
By the time we arrived in the Caribbean, I’d had two more stressful incidents and very similar physical reactions. Not only that, but suddenly, my skin was very allergic to the adhesive on this particular batch of Trans-dermal patches. So, I couldn’t wear it anymore and I’m left with these two quarter sized areas behind by ears of no pigmentation. No Michael Jackson jokes please.
I had also started to see a pattern. On Christmas Day, it was one of the calmest of the trip, with seas not more than 8 feet and winds in the mid to high teens. We saw whales that day and had a couple cruise with us for about 15 minutes. They were 30 to 40 feet in length and swam underwater next to the paravane bird.
Christmas being more important to my nephew Micah than myself, I wanted to make a special dinner, so I BBQed the last of four delicious Canary Island Tee Bone Steaks. The best ever.
As soon as I had served our dinner, I had that feeling of “seasickness” come over me. A bit of nausea and overall weakness.
Sitting in Martinique in the wonderful marina Le Marin, I had time to reflect on what was really going on. In all my cases of “seasickness”, the motion of the boat was actually less than it had been over any given period of time. Also, it was clear that I wasn’t sick before a crisis, I wasn’t sick during the crisis, but as soon as the crisis was over, I was sick.
Didn’t really sound like motion sickness to me, but more a reaction to stress.
I’s already stopped using the Transdermal patch and now I decided to not take any more seasickness medicine at all, when we left Martinique for the Panama Canal
I also decided to take a shower every morning before my watch and every night before bed. The shower in the morning seemed to calm me down. I had no idea why, but starting my day at a lower anxiety level seemed to make a significant difference.
From Martinique to San Francisco, a distance of 3,600 miles and 90+ days of cruising, in some of the worst seas I have ever encountered, I’ve taken an anti-nausea medicine only twice.
I now understand that that terrible “seasick” felling was my body adjusting to the lack of adrenaline that the stress had produced and my para-sympathetic system was now getting my body back to normal.
Clearly the shower in the morning or before my watch, makes a significant difference.
And then in the November 30, 2018 Wall Street Journal, they did a book review of the book, Never-Home-Alone
And the shower in the morning starts to make sense scientific sense.
Here is the article from the Journal (bolding and underline is mine):
‘Never Home Alone’ Review: The Critters Chez Nous
In trying to rid our homes of insects, fungi and the like, we’re forcing the species around us to evolve ever faster—often at our own expense.
Lisa Margonelli reviews “Never Home Alone” by Rob Dunn.
When Rob Dunn was a young ecologist he rummaged through rainforests in search of biodiversity. More recently he discovered another type of wilderness: In a study of 1,000 houses in the U.S., Mr. Dunn’s team found 80,000 kinds of bacteria and archaea hidden inside—that’s at least 10 times the number of bird and mammal species observed in all of the Americas.
He soon also unearthed in our homes some 40,000 kinds of fungi and hundreds of insects, many yet to be named by entomologists.
“I was ecstatic,” Mr. Dunn writes. “Back in the jungle again, albeit the jungle of everyday life.”
In his fascinating new book, “Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live,” Mr. Dunn brings a scientist’s sensibility to our domestic jungle by exploring the paradox of the modern home: In trying to make it “clean,” we’re forcing the species around us to evolve ever faster—often at our own expense.
Mr. Dunn is a fine writer, wringing poetry out of the microbial explorations of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who spent half the 17th century documenting all the tiny living things around him—in his neighbor’s mouth, in the snow, in cheese rinds and in wasps. Leeuwenhoek “was to become an astronaut of the miniature,” Mr. Dunn tells us, “all alone exploring a realm that was more diverse and elaborate than anyone but him seemed to understand.”
Mr. Dunn also gracefully explains, without getting bogged down in details, the technology that has allowed scientists during the past decade or so to sequence the DNA of millions of previously unknown microbes, making his book an excellent layperson’s guide to cutting-edge research.
Mr. Dunn’s larger purpose is to explain how the ecology of the home has gone awry. Once upon a time, we lived in leaf huts, with interiors that looked a lot like our outdoor environment.
Soon we moved to round houses, then square houses and finally to air-tight apartments in cities.
Now we close our windows, use products that claim to kill 99% of germs and have unknowingly domesticated bedbugs—so they adjust their workdays around ours.
Our homes no longer resemble the garden outside but have a weird human-centered microbial signature that is also found on the International Space Station, and that’s not a good thing.
The problem, according to Mr. Dunn, “is not what is present but instead what is absent. The problem has to do with what happens when we create homes devoid of nearly all biodiversity except that which falls from us and then, for twenty-three hours of the day, we don’t go outside.”
To understand how mundane and occasionally deadly this evolutionary project of ours is, consider the shower head. In many American homes, water is treated with chlorine and chloramine, which kill pathogens but not mycobacteria, a genus that includes the cause of tuberculosis.
Meanwhile, in homes with water drawn from wells, nonharmful microbes flourish, including mycobacteria’s natural competitors.
By wiping out all the other bacteria in chlorinated water, we create environments where troublesome microbes thrive and even evolve.
This has led Mr. Dunn, together with his colleague Noah Fierer, to find that mycobacteria in shower heads can accurately predict instances of mycobacterial infections, as well as the regions where these outbreaks are likely to occur.
And yet mycobacteria are not entirely bad. One species has been found to enhance serotonin production, which can lead to greater happiness and lower stress. Mice exposed to a species of mycobacteria are more likely to remain calm when facing a bigger, more aggressive mouse.
Might this also explain how a morning shower helps us deal with a stressful commute and a bad day on the job?
These twin stories—of scientific discovery right under our noses and the perilous impact of our unwitting genetic engineering—thread through Mr. Dunn’s book.
Cockroaches were once easily lured with glucose baits but have now rapidly evolved to dislike sweet things. Good strategy for the cockroaches, more troubling for us.
“Just as military specialists study the battles of the past to prepare for the future,” Mr. Dunn suggests that “we might consider our battle with the German cockroach in contemplating our own evolutionary future.”
“Never Home Alone” is a prescription for more biodiversity in the home and, more specifically, a plea for more attention to ecology. The more we understand how different creatures interact and influence our immune systems, the healthier we may be. But in the service of getting more people into ecology, Mr. Dunn believes the field needs to deliver tangible products.
He wants to systematically explore the species in our homes to determine which ones could contain useful chemistry. The camel cricket, a previously unnoticed and rarely studied thumb-size little bugger that lives—possibly by the billions—in American basements, has gut bacteria that can break down black liquor, a highly alkaline toxic waste produced by the paper industry.
The thief ant traipsing across your kitchen counter also produces an antibiotic that may eventually be useful against hard-to-fight infections. Personally, what I want to see is a home “makeunder “show dedicated to “rewilding” homes—similar to what you’d see on the Learning Channel, only more anarchic.
A bunch of giggling scientists show up at the door, toss the hand sanitizer, the shower head, the Sheetrock and the fungus-laden air conditioner.
In their place, they hand the homeowner a bar of soap, throw open the windows, install a ball of spiders to fight flies in the basement and start a batch of sourdough—all in the service of re-creating the garden indoors.
No doubt there will be tension in the idea of a wild domicile. Even King Tut, Mr. Dunn notes, was buried with a fly swatter.
Ms. Margonelli is the author, most recently, of “Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology.” ■
Since my first car days, driving around Mt. Rainier in the middle of the night, I have loved having extra lights on my car, driving lights. No video games, no internet, we didn’t pretend life, we lived life.
Fast forward 40 years and during my first year with Dauntless, I somehow found myself, cruising the ICW at night, a few times too many. Cruising at night in marked channels is so much harder than cruising on the open ocean. There are frequent course changes, by the minute or even necessitating hand steering. I soon found that that the spot light on Dauntless, mounted on top, forward of the pilot house, did little more than light up the foredeck, thus killing whatever night vision I had.
I found it more effective to stand outside, either in the dark or using a handheld LED flashlight. But when cruising alone, it’s difficult to be both outside the pilot house and steer the boat. The solution, a driving light. They also come in very handy when looking for an anchorage or mooring spot, with other small boats, like a dingy, that may not show up on the radar.
My first driving light for Dauntless was a large Hella (made in Germany) that I hung under the bow pulpit. I was worried about the anchor hitting it as it swung into place, but that turned out not to be a problem.
It got all the way to Ireland and on the second day in Ireland, as we were re-positioning the boat, rafting her to a fishing boat by hand power alone, we managed to punch the lens of the light out, with the anchor of the nearby boat. The light still functioned, so I left it.
Lucky for me, because 11 months later, as I was cruising up a very narrow channel in southern Sweden, looking for an appropriate place to anchor after an exhausting day, that light saved my bacon.
The channel of “deep” water was only about 8 feet deep and Dauntless needed almost 5 of those feet. But the channel was only about 40 feet wide and outside the channel was only three feet. I had already hit two rocks while in Finland. This was not the soft mud of the Eastern U.S. or even the southern Baltic, this was the jagged rocks of Scandinavia (similar to Maine, as they are related geologically).
I was terrified. In large part because the channel was marked with non-reflective buoys that were spaced too far apart. In other words, as I passed one buoy, I could not see the next one more than half a mile away. Then I thought to turn on my driving light.
It wasn’t exactly like the sun coming up, but it put enough light down range to pick out the marker buoys. My task became easy and 30 minutes later, I was at the spot on the chart that had deep water off channel, so I could anchor and get some much-needed sleep.
My driving light was not going to last with a broken lens, letting water get into the housing. Earlier in the year, I had discovered that the replacement lens, was almost as much as the entire light, almost $100. In Sweden, more than half the cars have some sort of auxiliary driving lights. Why? Because it’s dark and for Europe there are a lot of big animals, mostly European Moose, (smaller than the North American version) on the road at night.
I found three large lights for $100. Later in Ireland, I got a few more of those Amazon LED fog lights (5” diameter). Link My Amazon Fog lights
Originally, I also had two 4″ fog (diffuse lens) facing forward. But they turned out to be only marginally effective. Also, during the same trip, I had to anchor just off the channel in Northern Ireland. I left the spreader lights on for increased visibility and I turned the forward fog lights down to illuminate the hull (they only consume 4.5 amps/hr). I then realized they illuminated the anchor chain well as I was hauling anchor. So I left that way ever since.
All these lights are made for vehicles and thus are waterproof, but the weak point are the brackets. They are mild steel and rust quickly. So, one of my winter projects was to replace those brackets with stainless steel.
I realized Vietnam does so much in stainless steel. Every household has numerous items made from stainless steel: kitchen racks, shelves, shoe and coat stands, etc. Therefore, this was the place to have it done.
Ideally, aluminum would be better, since the housing of the lights is aluminum, but that’s more expensive and the Vietnam market couldn’t sustain it. For the same reason, the stainless steel is to specification 304, not the more salt-water corrosion resistant, 316.
The language barrier can also be formidable. In my neighborhood, virtually no one speaks English. The stainless shop I found last year did not. But that means the translator, must understand the concepts that are being translated and understand my diagram I drew for the two types of brackets and the frame I wanted made. Trinh was up to the task and two days later, we got a call, saying my brackets were ready.
The frame cost $31, each bracket $3.50.
I’ll be back to Dauntless in mid-March, getting her ready to move north later in the spring and southeast Alaska this summer.
If nothing else, I’ll be able to better see in the dark.
Day 13, Stbd deck view, seas 8 to 15 feet. An average day.
Day 14, View from the fly bridge looking east.
Day 14, I’m replacing the hydraulic hose in the lazzerette.
We are dead in the water and Micah didn’t like looking aft at waves that towered over the boat and then disappeared, as we bobbed on top of the wave. (View of seas at 2:40).
Day 14, I show the new hose.
Day 16, On our more steady days, we’d play a board game, in which I had glued a piece of non skid rubber to the bottom of the pieces.
Day 16, The only ship we encountered in the 3 week trip. Thank you AIS (for he avoided us).
Day 16, Our well travelled Kadey Krogen Flag on it’s second Atlantic Crossing
Day 16, Christmas, one of our best days. We had great steak dinner and had a whale with us for awhile.
Day 16, Our Christmas whale
Day 16, Christmas Dinner. I got “seasick” as soon as I finished cooking.
I’m currently visiting my friends for 40+ years in northeastern Italy, in a little town called Budoia. At the very foot of the Dolomites (a portion of the Alps), I first came here while stationed at Aviano Air Base in 1976.
Last night, while returning relatively late, it turned out, in spite of having all the keys to the doors, the shutters were also inadvertently locked. Now, these shutters are not the dainty kind we see on so many houses to give them that “homey” feel.
No, these shutters, like the house, were built in the 1800’s to keep the brigands out and to withstand a siege. So, the one door that I knew was kept unbolted at night and that I had the key for, was behind the brigand proof shutters. I know, I tried, not even a millimeter of give on those shutters.
I had already tried the other two doors, one in front, one in back, all bolted. I had even tried the door that is not used. Upon unlocking it, it seemed to give a millimeter or so, but is was clear that either the furniture in front of it was completing blocking it or it too was bolted. In any case, I quickly gave up and returned once more to the shutters.
Was it possible there was something I was not understanding in their opening? The matriarch of the house, knew I was coming back at this hour and had acknowledged not to lock me out, so I wondered what I was missing?
It was cold, already, 28° or -2°C. I couldn’t sleep in the car. My cell phone was dead, but I did have car charger and cable, I plugged it in and called the house. No answer.
I then tried her mobile number and minutes later after I successfully completed the “who is this? (It’s me) and why are you calling me at this hour? (the shutters are locked)” interrogation, I saw her coming down the stairs.
A half hour later, warm and cozy in my bed, was I ever so grateful to be in bed and to not have had to implement contingency plan number XYZ. But that got me to thinking, what was XYZ?
In my ten minutes of trying to solve the problem, trying every door a couple of times, even the windows, trying all sorts of key like objects in the lock of the shutters, all the while not thinking of the cold and me with no overcoat, (since I came from Vietnam). I realized never spent any time on “what if I can’t get in?”
What if I could not rouse the occupant? What if; then what?
No, I was totally focused on solving the problem.
While it’s impossible to cross an ocean in a small boat and not have some issues, in my two plus ocean passages, I’ve only had one problem that could have been, more than an inconvenience. That was when I burst the hydraulic line 1,000 miles from land in the middle of the Atlantic in 10 to 15-foot seas.
The hose that broke feed the hydraulic ram for the rudder. Without this hose, no steering and no autopilot. My Kadey Krogen does have an emergency tiller that attached to the top of the rudder post thru an opening in the deck, with a 6-foot lever arm. But this would mean standing, sitting, suffering on the aft deck for 7 straight days and nights.
I shudder even now just thinking about it.
As mariner’s who motor instead of sail know, a boat at constant rudder angle, will not go in a straight line. Wave action pushes the bow a little bit each time and the boat will be noticeably turning within 30 seconds in any kind of seas, thus requiring constant rudder adjustments. The primary reason an autopilot, to maintain a constant heading, is much required. More than likely Dauntless would arrive in Martinique minus any human crew, as we would have decided that swimming was better.
When this hose broke, my first thought wasn’t how we would now get to Martinique, it was how to solve the immediate problem. Just like last night, I didn’t spend any time on “what-ifs”. Oh, over the years I have some very general contingency plans, such as, engine stops, and I can’t get it going again for whatever reason, the prevailing winds will eventually blow the boat to land (as this wouldn’t happen in the Southern Ocean, that’s another reason not to go there!). Therefore, we have enough canned goods, water and peanut butter to last for months.
Many people have asked me what makes me able to cross oceans while other far more experienced sailors don’t. As I was reminded last night, one of the keys is the ability to focus on the problem at hand and not to catastrophize the problem. Don’t think of more problems when as you try to fix one.
When my helm wheel went slack in my hands in the middle of the Atlantic, I allowed myself one indulgence, I cursed at myself for being so stupid, but then it was to the task on hand. Let’s not spend any time on what-if I can’t fix it, let’s just fix it.
Another way to look at is Optimist versus Pessimist. The optimist sees possibilities, the pessimist sees barriers.
Not may pessimists cross oceans, maybe not even in planes!