Life in Trumpmerica – Chapter III – Betters

Geoffrey Adkin-Trump-Fitzhugh, hereditary Secretary of the Interior, dismounted after his morning fox hunt in the Virginia countryside and passed the reigns of his horse to a waiting groom.  Turning he nearly bumped into a waiter who held a golden tray with an iced drink on it.  Somewhat nonplussed by the close proximity of the waiter he snatched the glass from the tray and raised it to drink.  He had taken a deep drink of the mint julep before he noticed that the glass was beaded with moisture, which was soaking into his albino fawn-skin glove. Outraged he threw the glass onto the neatly raked white gravel at the waiter’s feet.  Before the shocked waiter could speak, Geoffrey slashed the fool across the face with his riding crop.

“You fool.” he shouted, shaking his water stained glove in the waiter’s now bloodied face.  “Do you know what this glove is worth?”  Geoffrey took a deep breath.  “Of course not.” he said with exasperation.  “Fetch your manager at once.”  he ordered.

The waiter ran off, his hand pressed to his bleeding cheek.  While he waited for the manager to arrive, Geoffrey noted that in addition to his wetted glove, the fawn-skin tip on his riding crop was stained with the waiter’s blood.  His riding boots and white jodphurs were also blood spotted.  His outrage built until the club manager arrived a few minutes later.

“I want to express my apolo…” the manager began before Geoffrey cut him off.

“Do you see this.” he waved the wet glove in the manager’s face, “and this”, he held up the bloodied riding crop, “and this.” he gestured at his blood stained clothing.

“Yes sir.” the manager replied, “The club will, of course, pay for the cleaning.”

“Cleaning!” Geoffrey shouted.  “Are you implying that I would wear used clothing?”  Before the manager could reply Geoffrey continued, “The Club will replace my boots and jodphurs, but this and this,” he gestured with the riding crop at the wet glove, “are irreplaceable.  Both are made from albino fawn skin from a deer I shot myself while on safari in Yellowstone last year.  Do you have any idea how rare albino fawns are?”  Before the manager could answer Geoffrey continued, “Of course you don’t.  The Club shall hear from my solicitors about this matter.”  Geoffrey turned and stalked away from the manager.

Later, while riding back to Washington DC in his limousine, Geoffrey thought about the hunting trip to Yellowstone during which he had bagged the albino fawn.  “The national parks really are a national treasure.”  he reflected, “particularly now that they are closed to the rifraf.  The hunting there was excellent.  The game was abundant and after over a century of the parks being closed to hunting, not at all timid of man.  I will have to head to Maine for some bird hunting in Acadia National Park as soon as my new shotguns are ready.  Peregrine falcon hunting is supposed to be quite a challenge.” he thought, then settled into the soft leather cushions and began dictating the letter to his solicitor about the matter of the club’s incompetence.

Two weeks later Thomas Smith, manager of the Virginia Sporting Club, looked up from the letter he held at the man who stood apprehensively in front of his desk.

“How long have you been at the Club, Mike?” he asked.

“Twenty nine years sir.”  the waiter replied.

Waving the letter Thomas continued, “I assume you know what this is about.”

“Yes sir, the Secretary.” Mike answered, absently fingering the partly healed scar on his cheek.

“Normally I would simply demote you back to grounds keeper over something like this, particularly now that your appearance,” Thomas gestured at the waiter’s scarred face, “is no longer appropriate for a service position.”  he paused and piked the letter up again.  “Unfortunately, they are demanding restitution for the gloves and riding crop.  They set that at twenty thousand DOLLARS.”

“Twenty thousand.” Mike spluttered.  “I can’t pay that.  The medical bills from this,” he fingered the scar again, “nearly cleaned out my savings.

“I know.  That is why you are leaving us.  You will be taking up a position in the Secretary’s service.”

“What?  I figured he would never want to see me again.”  Mike spluttered.

“Well I doubt he will see you again.  You will be going into indentured servitude until the twenty thousand is paid off.  The letter says twenty years and you lose your seniority.”  Thomas paraphrased as he read from the letter.

“He can’t do that over a glove?  Mike argued.

“The Secretary is a Trump.”  Thomas said.

Mike’s face fell as the reality of his situation hit home.  “When?” he asked weakly.

“Now, I am afraid.  The letter was delivered by Department of the Interior police.  They are waiting outside.”  Thomas said apologetically.

“My family?”

“They won’t be going with you, but two of your sons work here.  Your wife and younger children will move in with them.  I will look at your boys for promotion to fill your job.”  Thomas explained then pushed a button on his desk.  Seconds later two large uniformed police entered the office and took the sobbing waiter away.

The End of My First Calendar With Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia – Medical Costs

I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) in late February 2016.  I will be writing a future blog about the emotional impact of finding out that you have an incurable cancer.  This blog looks at the magnitude of my medical bills for 2016.  I will preface the discussion by saying that my total exposure to the medical world was minimal before 2016.  My total lifetime medical bills were under $1,000.  Other than as a visitor I had only been in a hospital twice.  The first time was in 1952 when I was born and the second time was in 1957 for a tonsillectomy.  Like most people I have heard that medical costs have gotten very high, but never having experienced those costs first hand I didn’t know just how high they could be.  Well after ten months with CLL I have a better feel for just how expensive modern medicine can be.  The following is a summary of my medical costs from February 17 through the end of December, 2016.  I now have a much better understanding of how medical costs can impact a person’s life.  The costs can be substantial even with health insurance.

What I am going to do here is give my total medical costs for 2016 and then break those costs down into the major categories.  I will also discuss the impact of having health insurance versus not having insurance.  Before I get to the money details I want to state that I was not admitted to a hospital during 2016 and never spent  more than about three hours at any time receiving treatment.  In addition, one aspect of my cancer (CLL) is that the initial treatment is simply monitoring.  In other words my medical costs did not include any treatment for my CLL.  All the costs below were for outpatient procedures incidental to CLL.

I will start with the overall costs for the year.  Since I have insurance I am going to give both the cost billed by the various medical providers as well as what my insurance actually allowed.  My total medical bills for 2016 came to $30,274.76.  Of that total my insurance allowed $23,057.02.  The total of my health insurance premiums for the year was $8,892.  That brings the total cost for 2016 to $39,166.76 (total billed plus insurance premiums).  Of that total insurance paid $15,809.55 and I paid $16,139.47 (medical bills plus insurance premiums).  The medical providers wrote off the $7,217.74 difference between what was billed and what insurance allowed.  No matter how you look at it, 2016 was an expensive year.  I can only guess at what the costs would have been if I had ended up in the hospital for a few days or had received treatment for my CLL.  If I hadn’t had insurance I would have had to pay the entire $30,274.76 that was billed, so even with my high deductible and out of pocket limits, having health insurance saved me $14,135.29.

Now I will take a look at the big ticket areas in the medical billing.  I am rounding these amounts off to nearest $100.

Blood Tests

Since CLL is a blood cancer, it is not surprising that the various blood tests I had were at the top of the list.  I had more than 40 blood tests during 2016.  The total billed for those tests was $9,200.  Of that amount my insurance allowed $7,400.  Within this category a single test (Fluorescence In-Situ Hybridization -FISH) accounted for the largest part of the cost (billed at $5,000 and allowed at $3,900).

Colonoscopy

My oncologist, at my first meeting with him, sent me back to my family doctor with a list of tests to arrange.  Those tests included a colonoscopy since CLL patients tend to have higher rates of other cancers than the general population.  The colonoscopy had three parts: consultation with the internist who did the procedure, the procedure itself and pathology studies on polyps (2) removed during the procedure.  The biggest part of the cost was the procedure since the local internist does colonoscopies in the hospital’s out patient surgical center.  Consequently, the procedure was much more expensive than it would have been had it been done in a clinic.  The total billed cost of the colonoscopy was $6,000 of which my insurance allowed $4,500.  That is rather a lot of money for a procedure that took less than half an hour with an additional two hours spent in the hospital waiting.

Skin Cancer

I was also sent to a dermatologist for a skin cancer checkup.  The dermatologist found a lesion that turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma and referred me to a surgical specialist.  The specialist (a Mohs surgeon) lopped a 1-1/4″ by 3″ chunk out of my face then did a plastic surgery procedure to close the wound.  Billing for the surgical procedures came to $5,100 with $2,900 allowed by insurance.  Not bad money for under two hours work.  That procedure was cheaper than the colonoscopy despite being more time consuming and more involved because it was done in the doctor’s office, not in the hospital.

Other tests and pathology

I also had a number of other tests done, including two CT scans, a chest x-ray, an EKG, a cardiac stress test, several biopsies and a variety of pathological analyses and radiological interpretations. All together they came to about $7,000 of which insurance allowed $5,700.  The two CT scans and their interpretation made up the bulk of those charges.

Doctor’s Bills

Surprisingly, the bills for office appointments with the various doctors I saw last year only came to about $2,900 with $2,500 allowed by insurance.   So actual billing for office visits came to less than 10% of my total medical bills.

Summary

The numbers above illustrate just how expensive medicine in the USA has become.  In my case charges for things done at the local community hospital made up about 80% of my total bills.  All together I estimate that I spent about twelve hours having things done at the hospital and in clinics and about eight hours in doctor’s offices.  Looking at time only, 40% of my medical “time” generated less than 10% of the charges and the remaining 60% generated more than 90% of the charges.  My doctor’s visits averaged about $365 an hour and my hospital and clinic time cost about $2,280 per hour.  I shudder to think what it costs to actually be admitted to the hospital for any kind of surgery or other treatment.

My cancer, CLL, is both chronic and incurable.  Consequently, barring some sort of medical break through, I can expect to have CLL for the rest of my life. I can use the costs I incurred this year to estimate my future annual medical bills, at least until I need treatment for the CLL.  As of now I get a monthly complete blood count (CBC) blood test.  I see my oncologist every six months and have additional blood tests done for those visits (metabolic panel, uric acid, etc.).  I also see the dermatologist and the opthamologist once a year for checkups.  Finally, I will see my family doctor twice a year for general exams.  Those tests and doctor’s visits make up my “base” medical treatment for a typical year.  Based on what I was billed in 2016, the total billing for those services would be approximately $3,600 per year.  If I continued to have commercial insurance the allowed amount would be about 75% of that or $2,700 per year.  However, I start on Medicare in early 2017, so I expect the allowed amount will be less, so lets say my base expenses will be about $2,400 per year.  That means that I can expect medical expenses of at least $2,400 (2016 dollars) a year for the rest of my life.  In addition, I will always have the specter of treatment for my CLL hanging over me.  The least expensive CLL treatment costs about $75,000 and current “novel” oral therapies cost $150,000 to $180,000 per year indefinitely.  What it comes down to is my future medical costs could be high, even if I don’t end up in the hospital, which is very likely because CLL does nasty things to the immune system.

As far as being insured or uninsured goes, all I can say is that even with poor insurance, having the insurance will save you a lot of money if you end up in a situation similar to mine  I had a bronze insurance policy with a $5,500 deductible, 50% copays after the deductible and an out of pocket limit of $6,850.  I ended up paying more than $6,850 out of pocket because my insurance denied coverage for some of my tests.  They did that retroactively after initially approving them, so I had to pay the full billed price.  That irked me and I did appeal, with support from my doctor, but the appeal was unsuccessful.

I want to note that I chose the bronze plan, despite its apparently poor coverage, intentionally over silver and gold plans based on financial considerations.  Those were simply that I added up the total of the premiums and out of pocket limits for each policy and used the total potential cost to compare plans.  The idea behind that comparison was simple.  All the available policies here in Maine for 2016 had substantial deductibles ($2,500 minimum), so routine medical care would be out of pocket for all of the plans.  Consequently, I looked at insurance cost from the perspective of having an expensive medical event and chose the policy that cost least in terms of the sum of premiums and out of pocket limit.  That turned out to be the bronze plan, where the lower premiums more than balanced the higher out of pocket limit.  Had I chosen a gold plan my total costs for 2016 would have been thousands higher than with the bronze plan. Basically, I view medical insurance as just that – insurance.  It is there to cover extraordinary costs, not routine costs.  I find that to be a significant failing of the US “health insurance” model.  Starting in 2017 I will have Medicare, which at a premium cost of $134/mo is much better health insurance than even the best “gold” policy available here in Maine.  Despite,that Medicare still has the disadvantages of deductibles and 20% copays for doctor’s services.  Given that I could be looking at substantial costs for deductibles and copays should I need treatment for my CLL or end up in the hospital as a consequence of my CLL impaired immune system, I felt it was necessary to buy a Medicare supplement policy to cover potential deductibles and copays.  With that supplement my health insurance costs come to $321 per month (or $3,852 per year). That is higher than my projected base expenses, but should I have chemoimmunotherapy treatment for my CLL at a cost of say $75,000, I would be looking at a $15,000 copay which more than makes up for the added cost of the Medicare supplement policy for more than six years.  Furthermore, with the supplement I chose (Medicare type F supplement), my out of pocket costs after premiums will be zero.  I am absolutely certain a 65 year old man can’t buy a commercial policy with zero deductible and zero copays for $3,850 per year, or for any price.

Life in TrumpMerica – Chapter II

Chapter II – New Revelations

Sal had just finished putting the last of the breakfast dishes away when there was a knock at the door.  She took the few steps and opened the door to see Joe Jr.’s wife Kat standing there holding the hand of her 3 year old daughter and holding her 8month old son.  The young woman was just starting to show with her third child.  Sal was glad Joe Jr. had been promoted to miner last year.  That promotion let him earn enough money to support his growing family without help from Joe and Sal.

“Come in dear, I have tea on.  Would you like a cup?”  Sal asked.

Kat herded the children in ahead of her, “That would be wonderful Sal.  I would love to just sit for a few minutes.”

Shutting the door, Kat returned to the stove and poured two cups of steaming tea.  She stepped over to the table where Kat was sitting and set the cups down.  “Here you go.  Sorry the tea is a little weak, but the bag is getting old.”

“it’s wonderful Sal.” Kat said, picking her cup up and breathing in the fragrant steam.  “Its not even 8 Am and I already feel like its late at night.  Tim here”, she patted the baby, had a bad night so I didn’t get much sleep.  I have been up since 5 AM making Joe’s breakfast.  He is sleeping now, so I had to get the kids out of the house.   I will be so glad when he gets his 20 year pin so he has a chance at the day shift and we can have a two room house.”

“Don’t worry dear, it gets better.” Sal consoled the young mother.  “The first years of marriage are the hardest.  At least Joe got promoted to miner.  Having more money makes it a lot easier.”

“There is never enough though.” Kat said, “The hospital charges so much for a delivery.  I was at the bank yesterday making my weekly payment on the baby loans and it took almost half of Joe’s pay for the week.  The interest went up too.  I don’t know how we are going to make it when the new one comes.”

“Don’t worry dear.  We’ll help as much as we can.  You’ll manage.”  Sal replied, thinking that it was harder for the young now than when she was first married.  Back then most births were at home, so the only costs were the birth tax and the name fees.  Now all births were required to be in the hospital, which was expensive.  Well it was safer than home birth and it provided for the mid-wives.  She remembered what it had been like before there were mid-wives.  Back then if a woman was widowed, which happened way too often here in coal country, she was dependent on the charity of her family for her upkeep and that of her children.  Now the widow was made a mid-wife and her children went into the company creche.  The mid-wives lived at the hospital and the balance of their earnings went to the creche to support their children.  “Everyone was better off, thank Trump.” she thought.

Sal finished her tea and set the mug aside.  “Kat I have to go to the bank this morning.  You are welcome to stay here while I am out.”

“Thank you Sal.  I will make sure the children get their schooling.”

Sal walked down the side of the road toward the mine.  She wore her winter coat despite the typical January 90 degree heat only because the law said that it was cold in Winter and required that all residents of West Virginia wear Winter coats.  “Well, at least it’s not 120 like in August.” she thought as she unzipped the coat all but the last inch or so.  She still had half a mile to go when she heard the town bus coming up behind her.  Despite the sweat dripping off the end of her nose she waved the driver past, then held her breath as the black coal smoke from the bus wafted over her.  The choking cloud had cleared by the time the “chg, chug” of the bus’s steam engine faded below the general noise level.  She was glad for the face mask she wore.  Ten minutes later when she was only 100 yards from the mine office she was finally ably to make out the buildings of the town center through the murky air.  She walked past the mine office to the Trump National Bank and pushed through the doors into the interior.

In contrast to its grimy exterior, the interior of the bank building was spotless.  The white marble floor was polished and the varnished wood work and leaded glass windows gleamed in the bright light from the incandescent bulbs in the golden chandeliers.  She felt grubby as she walked across the spotless lobby to an open teller’s window.  When she stepped up to the window, the neatly dressed man behind the partition said  simply, “State your business.”

“I want to make a deposit to my savings account.” Sal replied passing her bank book and a ten script note under the edge of the partition.

The teller opened her bank book and placed it face down on a glass plate.  A light flashed under the bank book and the computer screen next to the teller filled with writing and numbers. The teller typed into the computer for a few seconds then pressed a button, while pressing her bankbook down firmly on the screen.  The light under the bankbook flashed again.  The teller put the script note into a drawer that had popped open when he hit the button and handed her bankbook back. Looking at her book she noticed that the balance had increased less than one dollar.

“Has the exchange rate changed?” she asked.

“No, it is still 10 to 1.” said the teller “But there is now a 5% transaction fee on all deposits.  The interest rate has also gone up from one and a half to two percent.”

“Thank you.” she said feeling a bit stunned as she turned to leave the bank.  Back outside, she began the mile long walk home.  Her thoughts were on the new deposit fee and the increased interest rate.  She had deposited ten script, which after the conversion to dollars and the deposit fee left her with ninety five cents.  Two percent interest was two cents per year for each dollar in the account.  She furrowed her brow as she laboriously went through the calculation to see how much the ten scrip she had just deposited would be worth when Joe retired in 20 years.  It took several minutes to subtract two cents off 20 times, but she finally arrived at a figure of fifty five cents.  Sal knew the number wasn’t quite right, but her math skills were stretched thin just to do adding and subtraction.  She wondered if they would be able to afford to survive on their savings.  Everything cost more each year and despite frequent deposits her savings changed very little, but you had to keep making deposits to keep up with the interest charges or you could end up owing the bank money when you retired.  She knew people that had happened to and the prospect terrified her.

Life in Trumpmerica – Things to Come

This short story describes how I think Trump will make America Great Again.  Here is chapter 1.

Chapter I : The Working Class

Joe was almost finished filling his wheel barrow with chunks of coal when he heard the first clang of the shift bell.  It took him another few minutes to finish shoveling the last of the loose coal into the barrow, but there was no way he was leaving coal he had chopped out of the working face with his pick for the next worker to count toward his quota.  When the last chunk of coal was in the barrow he set his shovel and pick on top and began the long walk to the elevator pushing his last barrow of coal for the shift.  As he walked drops of sweat tinted black with coal dust ran down his face.  Ten minutes later he finally reached the end of the line of miners waiting to get their coal scaled.  Setting the barrow down he pulled a plastic water bottle from its pouch on his belt and took a welcome swig of warm water.  For the next fifteen minutes he gradually moved closer to the scale until it was finally his turn to get his load of coal weighed.  Before dumping his barrow of coal into the scale’s bin he told the operator “Joe Jones 217”.  The scale operator opened the ledger to his page then signaled for Joe to dump his coal into the bin.  The last of the coal had barely finished clattering into the bin when the scale operator pulled a lever which caused the scale to spit out a piece of paper with the weight on it.  After he recorded the weight in the ledger, the operator handed the chit to Joe, who took after wiping his had as clean as possible on his grimy trousers.  It took Joe another few minutes to push his now empty barrow to the gallery where the elevator was.

Joe had barely entered the gallery when his sons, Joe 365, came up to him.

“How was your shift dad?”, Joe 365 asked.

“Not bad son.  I made 20 barrows today.” Joe answered as he passed the barrow and tools to his son Joe.  “The coal is working easy today, but the seam is narrowing and it’s getting to be a long walk to the scale.  Should be switching to a new shaft soon.”

“That will be welcome.  It will be easier to make some money on a shorter shaft.  See you tomorrow dad.” his son replied then picked up the barrow’s handles and headed down the shaft toward their working face.

When his son left Joe joined the line for the cashier.  When his turn came he all his scale chits for the shift to the cashier.  The cashier entered the numbers from the chits into the cash register, tearing each chit into pieces after he entered the number.  When the last chit was entered he punched the total button.  For a couple of seconds light flashed and then the machine proclaimed, “You did great! six tons, two hundred weight.” and spit a series of gold colored paper notes into a tray in front of Joe.  Joe quickly gathered his pay from the tray and counted it as he walked toward the elevator.  On each golden colored piece of scrip was a smiling picture of Trump the First, under the words “Trump Coal”.  He counted six 10s and a solitary single.  Furrowing his brow for a second, Joe added up his days pay.  “Sixty one, not bad.” he finally concluded.  “I’ll take the elevator today and leave the stairs to the young folks today.” he said to himself as he walked toward the elevator.  Once he reached the staging area he slid a half scrip token into the turnstile and pushed through to the elevator platform.  The elevator quickly filled with weary older men and a few grinning youngsters.  When the elevator was full the operator pulled the gate shut and yanked on the long cord to the bell at the top of the shaft.  With a lurch the elevator began to slowly rise toward the surface 500 feet above.

At the top of the shaft Joe walked past the large capstan where a gang of young boys, their bodies glistening with sweat in the 90 degree January evening heat, leaned against the push shafts, waiting for the signal to lower the elevator for the next load.  Joe remembered doing that job when he was 14 and 15, before he had gotten enough seniority to work the coal.  That job paid strictly by the hour.  As a miner he was paid by the ton of coal so his pay as determined by how hard he worked, not by how long he worked.  He now made more than five times what those boys made. Trumpmerica truly was the land of opportunity where hard work was rewarded. Smiling at his good fortune, Joe walked home, stopping only at the company store to exchange his one scrip note for the mandatory daily ration of twenty pounds of coal in the gold colored paper bag labelled “Trump Coal”.

A few minutes later Joe pushed the door of “his” house open and stepped into the sweltering main room.  As a 40 year man, Joe rated a four room house for which the company only charged 1,000 scrip a month.  The house had a great room with a sofa, chairs, dining table and a kitchen area.  The other three rooms were bedrooms.  Four room houses had an outdoor privy cantilevered over the creek behind the house.  Joe looked forward to when he got his 50 year pin, which would qualify him for a five room house with an inside privy.

Joe set the bag of coal own next to the stove where Sal, his wife, had a pot of water warming.  He smiled at Sal, picked up the pot of water and went out the back door into the shower stall.  Once there he stripped down and washed himself off.  He used the last of the water to wash out his work clothes as well as he could.  After hanging his work clothes to dry, he dressed in the clean clothes Sal had laid out for him and went back inside.

Sal was at the stove putting a scoop of coal into the firebox when Joe walked up to her.  After she put the coal scoop down he gave her a hug and said,  “How was your day honey?  Oh, and what’s for dinner.

Sal pointed to two bubbling pots on the stove.  One held beans with sliced hot dogs mixed in and the other was full of peas.  “I talked with Clara this afternoon.  She said Tom applied for retirement yesterday.” She said.

“I didn’t know Tom was that close to 65.” Joe interrupted.

“Next month Joe, but they won’t be retiring.  Clara said they have raised retirement to 70.”

“Seventy, that’s too old.”

“Clara said they told her that Trump the First worked to 80, so we are getting off easy being able to retire at 70.” Sal replied.

“Well, if you put it that way, I guess it makes sense.”  Joe said thoughtfully.  “If Trump could make it to 80 I guess we can make it to 70, but I still think 70 years is a long time to work.”

“Speaking of work, how did you do today?” Sal asked, holding her hand out.

Joe pulled his pay out of his pocked and handed it to Sal.  “I made 61, but I spent one on coal.”

Sal counted the scrip.  “I think we can afford to save 10,  I will put it in the bank tomorrow.  The exchange rate is good right now $1 for 10 scrip.” she said, tucking the scrip into her apron pocket.

“Isn’t 10 over the limit for conversion?”

“Yes, but I saved last months limit since we didn’t save anything because of baby.”  Sal said.

“Having a baby is expensive enough with the mid-wife fees, I don’t understand why they insisted on naming the baby after Ann’s grandfather Donald.  The license fee to use a Trump name was $500 wasn’t it?” Joe complained. “How did they manage to convert that much scrip to dollars anyway with the limits?”

“Joe, you know that payments to the Trump family can only be made in dollars and that there is no limit on conversions to make those payments.”  Sal replied. “Besides, the prestige of sharing a name with Trump the First is worth the cost.”

Before Joe could comment the children ran into the room.  The noise they were making made it impossible to continue the conversation.  Joe shrugged and went to the table, where one of his daughters was busy setting out plates, spoons and forks.

“Dinner time, papa.” she said with a smile.

As soon as the table was set Sal started serving the food.  Before they ate Joe said the invocation, “Thank you President Trump and thank you Lord Jesus for the meal we are about to share.”

“Amen” said everyone at the table.  Before anyone could start eating, Sal reached into a deep apron pocket and pulled out a small paper bag.  “I have a surprise.” she announced as she pulled a bottle of Trump Catsup out of the bag and set it on the table in front of Joe.  Everyone cheered as Joe picked up the bottle with a smile and squirted some onto his beans and franks before passing it down the table.  Joe dug into his meal with a big smile.

An hour later Joe and Sal were snuggled up in their bed.  One benefit of the four room house was that they had a bedroom to themselves while the boys had a room as did the girls.  “Are you sure we can afford catsup?” Joe asked.

“It’s your birthday Joe.  Did you forget again?”  Sal said with a smile.

“I guess I did, you know how the days run together.”  he furrowed his brow for a second. I guess I am 60.”

“Yes you are and you will get your 50 year pin tomorrow.”  Sal said with a smile.  “I have already picked out our new house.  Can you imagine the luxury of an inside privy?  And, you only have 20 years to go until retirement.”  She cuddled up against him.

“Life is good isn’t it.” Joe said with a yawn.  It wasn’t long before he fell asleep with a smile on his face.Sleep came easily after a 12 hour work day.

Living the Prepper Life in Maine

I recently came across the term “Prepper” while looking at YouTube videos on installing solar panels.  At first I thought the term was simply the current name for what used to be called “survivalists”.  I watched a couple of short videos on the subject and discovered that my initial conception was only partly right.  It seems that a ‘Prepper” is primarily someone who plans and prepares for coming disasters.  The difference between the modern “prepper” and the “survivalist” seems to be in the sort of disaster one prepares for.  The prepper is less concerned about getting ready for the nuclear or zombie apocalypse than the survivalist and more concerned with being ready to survive natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, volcanic eruptions and tsunami).  Nevertheless, there are similarities between preppers and survivalists, the foremost being propensities to stock up and ammunition and to wear camo clothing.  There also seems to be a fair amount of vocabulary overlap.  The “prepper” videos I watched were liberally sprinkled with terms like bunker, bug out and hunker down that I could imagine survivalists also saying.  After watching the videos I mentally catalogued preppers as just another variant of right wing nutjobs.  Then, this morning as I sat in my button tufted leather recliner warming my feet in front of my Jotul Castine wood stove while the power was out and the 30 mile per hour wind blew yesterdays snow around in the -7F air outside, I realized that I was living the “Prepper Life”.

008-3-800x601Jotul Castine Wood Stove providing home heating.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I am a Maine Prepper.  I quickly catalogued my prepper attributes.

Stockpile of food – There is more than enough food in the house to feed me for a couple of months.  Heck, I have 50 cans of Progresso soup alone, not to mention 50 pounds of basmati rice, 20 pounds of frozen sockeye salmon and more frozen cooked lobster meat than I care to think about.

Off-Grid capabilities – I have a very nice Jotul Castine wood stove that more than adequately heats my house when the temperature is below zero.  I have several cords of split and seasoned firewood as well as an acre of woods and a chain saw should my firewood supply run low.  My water comes from my own well and is treated by my own ion exchange treatment system. I have an eight kilowatt propane fired generator to deal with power outages and 200 gallons of fuel for the generator.  I also have a two burner alcohol stove for cooking and plenty of alcohol.

Preparations for natural disasters – The primary natural disasters here on the coast of Maine are tropical storms in the summer and blizzards in the winter.  My house can withstand hurricane conditions (I know because it has).  Despite being 200 yards from the ocean, the house is 75 feet above sea level so no possible storm surge can impact me.  Also, my property slopes toward the ocean so flooding is not a problem.  I don’t have any trees close enough to the house to hit it if they are blown over.  When it comes to winter blizzards I won’t get trapped because I have my own snow plow which I have used to clear 2 feet of snow from my road.

Guns and ammo – I have 5,000 rounds of ammo for my rifle.  OK, I will admit it, my “rifle” is a Daisy Buck 105 BB gun.  But “HEY” that counts doesn’t it?

001_rifleThe Ultimate Prepper Firearm – Daisy Buck 105 BB Rifle

Camo clothing – I am a little weak in this area, but all my pants are khaki and the majority of my shirts are plaid.  That is the Maine equivalent of camo since it allows me to blend in with the natives.  I also have a full set of Grundens foul weather gear and a Hamilton Marine cap.  I draw the line at Bean boots though.  I will stick with my Herman Survivor and Raichle Montagne boots.  I have four pair of the Herman Survivors I bought on sale.  I suppose I could buy a pair of camo Crocs.

Bug Out Locations (aka bunkers) – During the summer I have two complete off-grid bug out locations (bunkers).  Both are fully prepared and stocked for instant use and have comfortable living accommodations for as long as I need them.  OK, some people might not consider yachts as bug out locations.  That said, both of my “Mobile Bunkers” meet all their electrical needs with solar panels.  Both can be easily moved to alternate “safe” locations.  My sailing yacht has a range only limited by how much food I can fit into it.  Both have radio communications and both can be underway to safe locations within minutes of my arrival.

tortuga_july_14

Mobile Bunker underway to safe location (notice back-up bug out vehicle)

Communications – Should the normal communications grid fail, I have a number of two way radios including two VHF/UHF hand helds, a VHF hand held, two mounted VHF radios and a HF/SSB/CW/AM transceiver.  I am also a licensed amatuer radio operator (i.e., a ham).

In addition to the above “prepper supplies”, I have a tent, several high quality sleeping bags and arctic capable winter clothing.  I also have a vicious guard animal ready to deal with intruders.

001guard_catFurocious Guard Animal

How Cheaply Can I Live in Washington State – A Thought Exercise

I grew up in western Washington state and often think about moving back.  Those thoughts generally result in visits to real estate web sites which leads to mild depression when I see the cost of housing in western Washington.  That has lead me to this exercise. Basically I am going to try to analyze just how cheaply I could live in Washington.  I am not talking about the way I would like to live there – in a beautiful waterfront house with a private dock for my yacht and a mountain view reasonably close to Seattle – since that is totally impossible financially.  Instead I am going to look at a few ways of living cheaply in western Washington.

I am going to start this exercise by laying out my basic expenses that are independent of where I live.  I will list those costs on an annual basis and I will try to be realistic about costs.  The categories are: food, health care, clothing, communication, hobbies/entertainment, transportation and miscellaneous.  Here goes.

Food – I am a semi-vegetarian in that I eat very little meat.  Most of the “meat” that I eat is poultry, fish and a little pork.  I eat almost no beef.  I do eat dairy.  Although I said I would do an annual cost analysis, it is easier to look at food on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and then simply multiply.  Although I haven’t always I am now eating three meals a day.  My breakfast is pretty monotonous since I eat more or less the same thin every day.  That is 1 cup of dry cereal, normally generic “cheerios” with a bit over a half cup of 2% milk and two cups of coffee with half and half.  I seldom eat eggs and almost never eat breakfast meat or potatoes. Given current costs, my typical breakfast runs about $0.90.  Now and then I go wild and have half a banana on my cereal, which adds a bit, I will go wild and say breakfast is $1 a day or $365 a year.

Lunch is a bit more expensive.  Most of the time lunch is a cup of some sort of soup and an 8 oz glass of milk.  I always buy my soup on sale and never pay over a dollar a can, which lasts two days.  So lunch generally costs about $0.75 a day or about $275 a year.

Dinner is my big meal each day and is a lot more varied than breakfast or lunch.  I  eat poultry or fish about three days a week. On non-meat days I normally have a curry or some sort of vegetable casserole.  I always have a vegetable of some sort and normally have a starch in the form of pasta, rice or potatoes and 8 oz of 2% milk.  My “meat” servings run about 1/4 pound.  For reasons of this calculation I will assume I have fish one time a week, poultry one and a half times and pork 1/4 time.  I like good fish so I normally eat things like scallops, wild caught salmon and wild caught haddock, halibut or sole.  Overall I spend about $1,000 a year on dinner.

I also allow myself some snacks. Those are typically fruit although once a week or so I go all out and eat a snickers bar or have a couple of cookies.  Snacks average about $4 a week or $210 a year.

So overall my food costs run about $1,850 a year, but I will round that up to $2,000 to allow for the occasional splurge.

Healthcare  – This is a big item for me.  I have an incurable type of leukemia so I get lots of medical tests and generally see doctors a lot more often than most people.  I also have the possibility of chemotherapy treatment hanging over me all the time, which would be very expensive.  Consequently I have gone whole hog on insurance.  I am on Medicare ($134/mo) and I also buy an “F” Medicare supplement that covers my deductibles and copays ($187/mo) and I have a Medicare Part-D drug policy ($17/mo( for a total of $338/mo or $4,056 a year.  Fortunately I only take one drug which is available as a generic and only costs me $12 a year under my drug plan.  So my health costs are $4,068 per year.

Clothing – I am not a clothes horse and tend to wear cheap clothes.  Major items of clothing also last me along time.  I bought my current winter coat in 1972 and it is still fine.  A few years ago I went nuts and bought enough winter boots and dress shoes to last me the rest of my life.  I also have a pair of quality hiking boots I will never wear out.  I do buy a couple of sets of clothing a year and a pair of cheap sneakers, but only spend about $150 since I tend to buy shirts at thrift stores (I refuse to pay $50 for a shirt).

Communication – This category includes my phone, my laptop computer, printer ink and paper, stamps and envelopes and internet access.  I don’t have, or want, a smart phone, so my phone is cheap at $84 a year plus about $30 every third year for a new phone.  I normally get about 5-6 years out of a laptop computer.  Since I buy relatively cheap machines that works out to about $70 a year.  Printer ink and paper run me about $50 a year plus maybe $10 a year toward a replacement printer. My mailing costs run about $40 a year mostly for envelopes and stamps.  Internet access is expensive.  I do a lot of on-line stuff so I need internet access, which runs about $500 a year.  So communications costs me about $760 a year.

Hobbies/entertainment – My main hobbies (reading, writing, watching movies online) are pretty cheap since I get my books from the library, write on my computer, etc. I haven’t been to a movie at a theater for over 20 years. My only expensive hobby is my cat.  The current cat costs about $300 a year for food and vet visits for shots.  My really expensive hobby now is yachting, but I am going to leave that out since I am talking about living on the heap and I would have to sell my boats to move to Washington.  My only other expensive hobbies are photography, but I already have a decent camera and lenses and shoot digital so that costs nothing.  I also enjoy a glass of good beer or wine now and then (say once a week) so figure $200 a year for that.  Overall hobbies/entertainment come to about $500 a year.

Transportation – Transportation is another relatively large item.  I have had a car since I was 19 and am pretty used to the convenience.  That said, I generally drive my cars until they die.  My current car is one year old and should last me another 15 years at a minimum. That will take me to age 80, so it will likely be my last car.  Thus my costs will be maintenance, insurance and gas.  Currently insurance cost me about $500 a year.  I don’t drive a lot now (<3,000 miles a year), but if I move back to Washington that will increase, so say 8,000 miles a year.  My car averages 30 miles per gallon so that works out to about $700 a year.  Maintenance will likely average $200 a year.  The total for this are is then $1,400 per year.

Miscellaneous – This category includes normal household expenses like laundry, cleaning products, light bulbs and other sundries.  I will budget $200 a year for this.

So the total of my “base” expenses comes to about $8,400 a year.  What is left is housing.  As I mentioned above, home prices in Washington are pretty scary, at least in the major population centers.  However, there are places where you can buy a pretty cheap house. Those places are kind of out in the boonies though and some of them are pretty undesirable from my perspective.  Nevertheless, I will include those places in my discussion.  As far as housing goes I see the following options for inexpensive living: renting an apartment or house outside Seattle, buying a small house in a smaller town, buying a house in the boonies, buying a mobile/modular home, buying a travel trailer and buying a boat to live aboard. I discuss each option below.

Rental Living

Renting is the cheapest way to get into a place to live, but of course rent goes on forever.  However, money not spent on buying a place to live can be invested and produce income, so that is a trade off.  Since I am no longer young and my health condition doesn’t give me a particularly long life expectancy, renting is certainly a viable option.  So what does it cost to rent outside Seattle?  I say outside Seattle because rents in, or close to, Seattle are just crazy.  A quick look at a real estate site like Zillow or Redfin shows that the minimum apartment rental cost in Seattle is around $1,000/mo for a tiny studio apartment.  One bedroom apartments start at about $1,500 in a not particularly desirable part of the city.  House rentals start at about $2,000 and go up quickly.  I guess I am biased because the last house I rented in Seattle cost $125/mo.

However, as you move away from Seattle rental prices for apartments and houses drop considerably.  By the time you get to Olympia or Everett you can rent an apartment for $800-$1,000/mo, or a house at $1,200-$1.500/mo.  Further north or south rents drop even more with apartments starting around $500-600/mo and houses starting around $750-$800 a month.  The same thing happens going east or west from Seattle.  If you look you an find a waterfront house on south Puget Sound for about the same rent as a small one bedroom house in a bad neighborhood in Seattle.

Perhaps the biggest plus to renting is the cost to get into a house or apartment.  Typically you will be looking at about two months rent.  That puts the cost to get into an apartment in a small town at around $1,200 and a house for $1,600-$2000.  Given my health issues I don’t expect to live past 80, so I would be looking at 15 years at most to rent.  I could rent a decent apartment until I am 80 for a total cost of about $150,000 or about $10,000 a year.  The only utilities in an apartment would be electricity at no more than $500 a year, so say $10,500 a year.  Similarly a small house would cost about $13,000-$14,000 a year.  In either case, my total yearly living cost would be in the $19,000-$23,000 range.  Renting would let me keep the money I might have used to buy a house invested producing income, which would make renting even more affordable.

Buying a House in a Small Town

Similar to rental costs, home prices in Seattle are currently nuts.  The floor seems to be around $500,000 with most “starter” homes in the $600K+ range.  I don’t know who can afford to buy a house for that kind on money, but I am not one of those people.  So if I was going to buy a house, I would be looking in a smaller town like Bremerton/Port Orchard, Centralia, Shelton, Aberdeen or an even smaller town.

I grew up in Olympia and Centralia so I know both towns pretty well.  Olympia is representative of towns at the larger end of the “small-medium” sized town range.  You can buy a decent house in Olympia for $175K-$250K.  The cheaper houses are either smaller (2 bedrooms) or farther from downtown, perhaps in a subdivision dating from the 60s or 70s.  The advantages of Olympia from my point of view are that it has decent medical facilities (needed for someone with cancer), it is on salt water and it is a big enough town to have pretty good amenities.  Also you can be in Seattle in an hour and a half by car, bus or train.  Centralia, 22 miles south of Olympia is cheaper.  You can find a small but livable house for $140K and a quite nice house in the best part of town for $220K.  Centralia is quiet compared too Olympia but has a real hospital and is 90 minutes from downtown Seattle via Amtrak or two hours by car (on a good day).  The negatives of Centralia is that parts of town are prone to flooding and it is small and conservative.

In general the farther you are from the water in western Washington, the cheaper the housing is.  There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. Shelton is on Puget Sound less than 20 miles from Olympia.  However Shelton is economically depressed and there are quite a few cheap homes there.  You can find a livable home there for not much more than $100K.  Aberdeen/Hoquiam on Grays Harbor is similar, but even cheaper.  It is also farther from “civilization”.  Also, if you think Seattle is rainy, don’t even think about going to Aberdeen/Hoquiam.

Overall, it looks like a person can buy a livable house in the south sound area for around $200K and a small fixer for $150K or so.  In either case you would have to decide if you wanted to pay cash or take out a loan.  The downside of paying cash is the money spent on the house isn’t invested and making more income.  The plus side is no house payments.  If you take out a loan with say a 25% down payment, you could get into a house for $50K or so, but you would have mortgage payments around $8,400/yr on a $200K house at current interest rates.  In addition if you buy a house you will have property taxes, insurance and utilities to pay.  Property taxes in this area run about 1.25-1.5%.  Insurance will be around $600-$700 a year and utilities (water, serer, electricity) will be $100-$150 a month.  So a $200K home will cost an additional $4,000-$4,500 a year. Sin buying a house on a loan will cost the lost income on a typical $50K down payment ($2,000/yr at 4%) plus $8,400/yr in loan payments and $4,500 in taxes etc. for a total cost of about $15,000 per year.  Buying the house outright will cost lost income on the purchase price ($8,000/yr at 4%) plus taxes and utilities ($4,500/yr) or a total of about $12,500/yr in continuing costs.  So buying a house will bring total living costs into the $21,000 to $23,500 range…  That is pretty close to the cost of renting.

House in the Boonies

Despite the huge population within 50 miles of Seattle, western Washington has it share of boonies.  I will give three examples of “out” there places that aren’t really all that far from civilization.  My first example is in Southwest Washington about half way between Centralia and Longview.  It is a former logging town called Ryderwood.  Ryderwood was a company town until the logging in the area died out.  In the 60s the entire town was purchased and repurposed as a 55+ development.  What makes it “out there in the boonies” is the fact that it is at the end of the road about 18 miles west of I-5 and there is nothing near it.  It is actually a nice village, but it is a 30+ mile drive to a real store.  There is also zero work there.  Consrquently ousing there is CHEAP.  You can buy a decent, small, two bedroom house there for $100K.  The property taxes there are around 1%.  So the cost of a $100K house will run about $6,500 a year if you buy it outright (considering lost investment income on the $100K) or $7,000 a year with 25% down on a 30 loan.  So buying a house in Ryderwood would bring living costs to about $15,000 a year if you bought the house outright or $15,500 if you financed the house.  I would probably have to add $200 or so to that because I doubt my cell phone would work there.  It is still pretty cheap.  The down side is that Ryderwood is a very small town (400 people) with little going on.

My next location in the boonies is Anderson Island. Anderson Island in in Puget Sound about half way between Olympia and Tacoma.  It is a beautiful location, but the only access is by ferry (or private boat).  The ferry runs on about a 90 minute schedule most days and costs $15-$20 for a round trip ride.  That is what puts it into the boonies.  The island was developed in the 60s as a vacation community.  Much of the island was divided into small wooded lots.  The development includes a golf course with restaurant, two small lakes and a seasonal marina on Puget Sound.  There is also a small community store.  Housing on the island ranges from quite cheap for houses in the middle of the island to $500K+ for waterfront.  A nice 2-3 bedroom home set in the woods in the middle of the island can be had for $120K-$160K.  Houses in the development come with a community association fee of about $830 a year.  Electricity there is also high and property taxes are about 1.5%.  A $150K house there would cost between $9,500 and $11,000 per year.  The ferry would raise transportation costs by about $350 a year, so total living cost there would be in the $18,500 to $20,000 range.

My final example of a house in the boonies is the Hartstene Pointe development on Hartstine Island north of Olympia.  Unlike Anderson Island, Hartstene Island has a bridge, but it is about a 40 mile drive to Olympia or Bremerton.  Hartstene point was developed by Weyerhauser in the 70s.  The houses there are on small round lots in the woods.  The development has a year round marina, pool, community center, community beach and lots of trails through the woods and along the beach.  Houses there range from from about $120K up with smaller homes at the lower end of the range.  Home owner’s association dues are around $900-$1,000 a year.  Property taxes are about 1.1%.  So cost of a $150K house here would be from about $9,500 (cash purchase) to about $10,000 (financed) per year.  That would bring total living costs to about $18,000 to $18,500 per year.

Of my three examples of living in the boonies, Ruderwood is the least attractive to me because there is basically nothing there.  Anderson Island is next despite the ferry ride because it is actually closer to amenities in Steilicoom/Tacoma.  Hartstene Pointe is at the top of my list because it is a beautiful location with the most amenities and no ferry although it is farther from civilization.

Modular/Mobile Home

Modular and mobile homes are another option for inexpensive living.  Modular homes have largely replaced traditional mobile homes when it comes to new construction so old fashioned mobile homes tend to be just that – old.  They also tend to be rather shabby and are correspondingly cheap.  A quick search for older mobile homes shows that you an get a single wide for as little as $6,000 and $10,000 will buy a newer and somewhat better condition model.  Nevertheless these are still 60s style mobile homes and are not particularly desirable given their typical condition.  Newer mobile homes are called Park Models.  They are built to a somewhat higher standard than travel trailers and can look a lot like a small normal house.  Modular homes have been around since the 70s and are built more like normal houses, but often have lower ceilings and thinner interior walls than homes built on site.  Both mobile and modular homes are factory built and transported to the site where they are set up.  A mobile home generally retains wheels and is simply jacked or blocked to be level.  Modular homes may be similarly blocked or may be set on concrete foundations.  New Park Models and modular homes can cost anywhere from the high $20K range to well over $100K.  Used modular homes differ from site built homes in that they depreciate and can be quite cheap to buy.  It is possible to buy a modular home with or without land.  The cost of a modular home with land is controlled by the value of the land, while those without land tend to sell for $20K to about $60K depending on age and size.  A ten to 15 year old double wide modular home on a rented lot can be found for as low as $40K.  In contrast during a quick perusal of real estate web sites I was able to find modular homes on waterfront property near Port Townsend going for over $500K.  A modular home without land (i.e., on a rented lot generally in a modular home development, can be desirable for inexpensive living if the land rent is reasonable.  Internet searches showed revealed land rants ranging from as low as $200 to as high as $650, dependent largely on location.  An average rent for a spot in a decent 55+ development seems to be around $450.

In summary, you can find a decent double wide, used modular home located on a rental lot in a nice location for $50K.  Property tax will generally be around $500 and land rent will be about $450.  You will also have to pay for electricity, but sewer and water may be included in the land rent.  So considering lost income buying a modular home and renting land will cost around $8,500 a year.  That will bring the total cost of this style of living to about $16,900 per year.

Travel Trailer

Living in a travel trailer or fifth wheel trailer is also an option in western Washington.  I know it can be done because my parents did it for 20 years after my step-dad retired.  A single person can live relatively comfortably in a 26-28 foot travel trailer or fifth wheel trailer.  At that size the trailer will have a decent kitchen, a separate bedroom, a bathroom with separate shower, a sofa and a dinette.  Smaller trailers generally lack the separate bedroom and room for a sofa.  A decent used trailer/fifth wheel in that size range can be had for $10K to $15K.  The only downside to a travel trailer is that you need a tow vehicle.  A 26′ trailer is about as big as you can easily tow with a half ton pickup, so realistically you will need a 3/4 ton pickup.  You can find a decent used one for $10K to $15K depending on age, mileage, etc.  Thus the total cost of a travel trailer and tow vehicle come to $20K to $30K. However, since the truck would replace my existing 2015 car, I could likely sell the car and buy a pretty decent truck with the proceeds, so the cost of the tow vehicle would be a wash (i.e., $0), so the cost for a trailer would fall back to $10K to $15K.  Assuming a 4% return lost income on the money spent on the trailer would be $400-$600.  Insurance on the trailer would likely be no more than $200/yr.  Also the truck would get worse gas mileage than my Subaru and likely need more repairs so I would add $900 per year to cover that.

The biggest cost of living in a travel trailer is the cost of a place to keep it.  A bit of internet searching of western Washington RV parks showed that monthly rates were from about $450 to $550 depending on location.  Parks closer to nominal “resort/vacation” areas or closer to Seattle were more expensive.  in addition, parks in resort/vacation areas often don’t offer monthly rates so while you could live at the beach in the winter, it would be necessary to move to a less “vacationy” spot in the summer (i.e., an inland town), which would bring average space rental costs to about $6,000 for the year. That cost may seem high, but it generally included water, electricity, sewer and wifi.  The result is that the cost of living in a trailer would cost somewhere in the range of $7,300 to $7,500 plus my $8,400 base expenses for an overall total cost between $15,500 and $15,900.

There is one other option for the place to live.  Back in the 80s my parents bought into a coop RV park near Port Townsend.  That park still exists and it is still possible to buy into it, although it might be necessary to be on a waiting list for a while.  At present the cost of buying into that park is between $10,600 and $16,600.  Once you buy in the annual cost is about $2,000 plus about $300 for electricity.  So considering lost investment income on the buy in cost (at 4%), the annual cost of this option is between  $2,700 and $2,950.  That brings to total cost of living in this particular RV park to between $12,400 and $12,900.

Live Aboard Boat

Living aboard a boat is attractive because you are on the water and you can travel around Puget Sound at will.  The down side of living on a boat is that you need a place to put it.  Of course you can be a vagabond and have no fixed location.  If you do that you can live very cheaply if you anchor out (free) or stay at Washington State Marine Parks (an annual mooring permit which gives free mooring is $5 per foot of the length of your boat).  The downside of picking up a mooring or docking at a marine park is the three day stay limit. Another downside of cruising full time is that you have no fixed address. Unless you have a friend or relative that will let you use their address it can be hard to get a drivers license or even open a bank account.  The alternative s to rent a slip in a marina.  Monthly marina space in western Washing costs between about $7-8 per foot in places like Olympia and can be as high as $15 per foot.  If you live aboard there is also a fee that ranges from about $75 to over $100 per month.  You also have to pay for electricity and may want to buy cable internet because marina WiFi is typically quite slow due to heavy use.  By far the largest determiner of marina costs is boat size.

So, how much boat would I need to comfortably live aboard.  In my experience sailboats are out because I can seldom find a comfortable place to sit.  That leaves power boats.  I would want a boat that was big enough to put an actual recliner type chair in.  That might involve removing a built in settee, but I can do that.  In my experience a boat would have to be around 35 feet to have sufficient room.  Looking on the Yachtworld.com web site you can find late seventies and eighties vintage boats that meet my needs for $35K to $50K.  So for purposes of this thought experiment lets say the boat will be 35feet and cost $40K.  That expenditure generates a $1,600 loss on investment income.  A $40K boat will typically coat about $600 per year for insurance.  In Olympia permanent mooring for a 35 foot live aboard boat including electricity would cost about $400 per month or $4,800 per year.  In Seattle a typical marina cost for a live aboard slip including electricity would at about $6,500 a year and could go as high as $7,500 a year.  In Tacoma you could expect to pay about $6,000 per year, in Anacortes the cost would be about $6,000 to $6,500 and in Port Townsend and Friday Harbor the cost is about $5,000 a year. The less expensive places tend to have long waiting lists and it may take a couple of years to get a permanent slip.

So living aboard a 35 foot boat will cost between about $15,400 and $17,000 a year although it could be higher in Seattle.  One thing to note is that living aboard a boat is about the only affordable way to live in Seattle.

Summary

In order to put all this in perspective I think I should look at how much it would cost me to stay where I am now on the coast of Maine.  I am only going to consider basic living costs and not the costs of maintaining my two yachts.  So here goes.  First, there is the cost of my house.  It has been paid off for nearly twenty years, but since I would sell it to move to Washington, the money tied up in the house now would be available to produce income in Washington.  So I have to include lost income on the value of the house to make the costs comparable.    That lost investment income, based on the current value of my house minus selling costs, comes to about $12,000/yr at 4%.  The fixed costs to keep the house include property taxes (~3,000/yr), electricity ($900/yr), propane for hearing ($1,200/yr), cord wood for my wood stove ($250/yr), incremental internet cost because internet is more expensive here than in Washington ($400/yr), maintenance on the house ($600/yr) and additional vehicle costs for my pickup truck and snow plow since I plow my 1/4 mile private road myself ($1,000). Factoring in my basic personal costs, the total to stay in Maine comes to about $27,750.  So that is my reference cost to compare to the costs of living in Washington.

Here are my annual cost estimates for the different options above.

Renting an apartment or small house – $19,000-$23,000

Buying a small house in a smaller town – $21,000-$23,500

Buying a house in the boonies -$15,000-$20,000

Buying a mobile/modular home – $16,900

Buying a travel trailer – $12,400-$12,900 or $15,500-$15,900

Buying a boat to live aboard – $15,400-$17,000

Looking at the numbers above, it is clear that the cheapest way to live is in a travel trailer if you can buy into a Coop RV park.  Failing that trailer living in a normal RV park, living aboard a boat in Olympia, Port Townsend or the San Juans and buying a cheap house in the boonies all cost about the same.  Renting or buying a modular home or normal house in a small town would be the most expensive.

Location matters to me, so I guess I would favor travel trailer living, living on a boat or perhaps buying a house in a place like Hartstene Island.  The small island house would be most comfortable, particularly as I get older followed by trailer living.  To be really comfortable on a boat I would have to go bigger, which would drive the cost up, but it might be worth it for the freedom.

Overall moving to Washington from Maine would lower my living costs somewhere between $4,000 and $13,000 a year assuming a similar lifestyle.  Over the 15 years I expect to live that comes to $60K-$195K.  I could certainly put that extra cash to work either generating more income or playing. Financially it looks like moving back to Washington and living cheaply is a no brainer.  Now all I have to do is convince my wife to move out of our 4 bedroom three bath house 200 yards from the ocean AND live in a trailer.  Hmmm.

Tiny House versus Boat

I had my go at a political post in my last blog, so this week I am going to consider a less contentious topic.  Which is a better lifestyle choice – A Tiny House or a Boat.

OK, perhaps this topic might raise passions in some, but hey, I could be talking about the relative merits of whole berry versus jellied cranberries at Thanksgiving.  Actually I wouldn’t touch that one with a 10 foot pole.

So on to Tiny Houses versus Boats.  Let me start by addressing the fundamental question – WHY?  Living small an be attractive to some people for a variety of reasons including:

Cost – Living in a small space like a tiny house or boat can be inexpensive both in capital outlay to buy the house/boat and ongoing maintenance and utility costs.  Note that I said “can be inexpensive” since both boats and tiny houses can certainly be very expensive to purchase.

Living Green – Living in a small space can be green in that you are heating/cooling and lighting a much smaller volume than is the case with a traditional house, or even an apartment.  The smaller space takes less materials to build and you can set either a tiny house or a boat up for off-grid living.  In addition the idea of not having more than you need can be attractive.

Do it yourself – Many people are attracted to the idea of building their own home.  Consequently, the idea of building a tiny house or a boat can be attractive.

Style – A tiny house can be built in pretty much any style.  The same is true to a lesser extent with a boat.  For those with an artistic bent this can be a large driver for living small.

Freedom – Freedom may mean getting out from under the mantle of government/corporate control, or it may mean not being tied to a specific place and the resulting costs.  Freedom may also be more philosophical and may reflect the freedom to live a lifestyle that is not centered around a house.

There are, of course, many more reasons for living small.  In addition the reasons above are strongly interrelated.  Nevertheless I am going to limit my considerations to the above in the interest of keeping this missive manageable.  So here goes.

What is Living Small?

Living small can mean different things to different people so a definition is necessarily a bit vague.  In addition there a number of elements to living small that go beyond the size of the physical “home”.  However, I think that one unifying principle in the concept of living small is to live so that you use only those resources needed to provide the needed/desired amenities of a home.  The definition becomes varied since different people need/want different levels of amenities.  Of course there are certain minimums that most people will agree on.  Those include places to sleep, prepare food/eat, relax/work and a bathroom.  Those functions an be combined in a single space or can have their own dedicated spaces. When you search the internet for the idea of living small you find a wide variety of solutions ranging from people who live in tents, cars, vans, travel trailers, motor homes and boats to those that consider a 3,000 square foot house small.  For the purposes of this discussion I am going to limit “living small” to the choice of either a tiny house or a “small” boat.  That of course requires me to define a tiny house and a “small” boat.

So what is a tiny house?  According to Realtor.com a tiny house is a small house built on a foundation or wheels that is less than 500 square feet in size and is typically between 100 and 400 square feet ( http://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/what-is-a-tiny-house/).   If you search the internet it seems that a large part of the current Tiny House movement is centered around houses built on trailers.  These mobile tiny houses tend to be between about 135 and 250 gross square feet (calculated using outside dimensions).  Mobile tiny houses are generally built to dimensions that allow them to be towed without permits.  Those dimension limits are 8.5 feet total width and lengths from 28 to 40 feet (maximum length varies depending on where you are towing the home) and a maximum height less than 13.5 feet.  How does a mobile tiny house differ from a travel trailer?  As far as I can tell the main difference is in the construction methods and appearance.  Travel trailers are normally built from aluminum and fiberglass with minimizing overall weight being a major construction goal.  Tiny house web sites argue that travel trailers are not built (or suitable) for full time living.  I question that assertion since my parents lived in travel trailers full time for nearly 15 years after they retired.  Just visit any trailer or mobile home park and you will see lots of trailers being used as full time homes.  Basically I think statements like that reflect some tiny house chauvinism.  In contrast to a travel trailer, a mobile tiny house is usually built using the same construction methods and materials used in standard house construction.  Tiny house designs generally include pitched or shed roofs and are higher than travel trailers.  A mobile tiny house looks like a small house on wheels while a travel trailer looks like, well, a travel trailer.  There is another type of mobile home that is closer to a mobile tiny house, that is the park model RV.  Park models differ from travel trailers in that despite being built in the same way as travel trailers, they are often too wide (12′) to be moved without a permit.  Many park models look a lot like mobile tiny houses, but the difference is in the construction methods.  Like travel trailers, park model RVs are lighter for a given size than most tiny houses.  Here are some of pictures I borrowed from the internet to illustrate that point.

tinyhouse

A typical mobile tiny house

trailer

A typical travel trailer

The differences are pretty obvious.  A less obvious difference is that the travel trailer probably weighs no more than half as much as the same size mobile tiny house.  That shows up in details like insulation and “sturdyness”.

park_model

A park model RV.  At first glance this looks a lot like a tiny house, but it is built using quite different materials and standards.  Note the wheels in this picture are covered by skirts.

Now lets take a tour of a typical mobile tiny house.  Since mobile tiny houses have to be sized to tow without permits, they generally are no wider than eight and a half feet outside and are limited to thirteen and a half feet total height.  That means that the “rooms” are normally no more than seven and a half feet wide and sleeping lofts have 4′ or less maximum headroom.  The smallest tiny houses are like small studio apartments.  That is, they have two rooms.  A bathroom with shower and a living/sleeping/cooking space.  Small tiny houses are generally in the 7’x12-14′ size.  All but the smallest tiny houses have separate sleeping areas, although the sleeping area in tiny houses less than 30 feet long is almost always a loft.

tiny_house

Interior of a smaller mobile tiny house showing the main living “room”, kitchen and sleeping loft.  The bathroom is on the left behind the ladder to the loft.

Tiny house interiors are very individual since they are totally up to the owner/builder.  Their style ranges from quite simple and rustic to elegant and modern.  In addition there are no fixed interior layouts.  Smaller mobile tiny houses often have lots of built in furniture, but as the houses get larger (say bigger than about 24′ lng) they may have normal apartment/condo sized furniture.  Space allocation also varies all over the place.  Some people want a large bathroom while others prefer a bigger kitchen, living room or sleeping space.  One pretty common feature in most mobile tiny houses less than 28-30 feet long is the sleeping loft.  Lofts are accessed either by ladders as in the picture above, or by a variety of different types of “stairs” often doubling as storage space (picture below).

th-loft-stairs

Shelves and desk that double as loft stairs in a mobile tiny house.

There are as many different mobile tiny house interiors as there are people who have them.  However, despite their diversity of design, one thing most mobile tiny houses have in common is lots of windows.  The windows are often normal house windows, but some people build their own more artistic windows to help define the style of the house.  Lots of light makes the tiny house feel larger.

What exactly is a live aboard boat?

At first glance this question seems pretty easy to answer.  A live aboard boat is any boat that has enclosed accommodations that include space for sleeping, cooking and a bathroom.  Live aboard boats range from as small as about 20 feet to as big as you could want and much bigger.  Live aboard boats come in two primary flavors – sail and power.  Power boats under about 25 feet tend not to have standing headroom which makes living aboard less comfortable, but that hasn’t stopped lots of people from living aboard those boats.  Sailboats tend to be a bit larger before they have standing headroom, but pretty much all 28-30 foot sailboats have standing headroom.  I will discuss sail and power boats separately.  I am also going to limit my descriptions to boats big enough to have standing headroom.

Sailboats – A sailboat that an be lived aboard will normally have a minimum of two cabins and a head (the boaty word for bathroom).  At the smaller end of the size range there will only be those two cabins.  As the boats get bigger there will generally be at least one more sleeping cabin, although it may not have standing head room.  There may also be a second small bathroom.  The two basic cabins will be the main salon which will contain seating, which normally can be used for additional sleeping space, and a table.  The table in smaller boats will normally be a fold down table.  Part of the salon will be devoted to the galley (boat for kitchen).  The galley will have a stove (with or without an oven).  Stoves are normally either propane or alcohol fired although you can get a diesel fired stove that also acts as a space heater.  There will be a sink with running water although hot water will require that the boat’s engine have been run for 30-40 minutes, or the boat be connected to shore power.  The final part of the galley will be cold storage for food.  Note I did not say refrigerator since almost all smaller sailboats lack an actual refrigerator.  Instead sailboats have a top loading ice box.  The ice box may or may not include electrically powered refrigeration.  When refrigeration is absent, cooling is accomplished by putting blocks of ice in the “ice box”.  There may also be an additional sleeping space are called a “quarter berth” which is a sort of sleeping nook under the aft deck of the boat.  Head room in a quarter berth is never more than 3 feet.  The second cabin is the sleeping cabin.  It is always at the front of the boat and contains a V-shaped bed called a v-berth.  Headroom always decreases as you go forward in the v-berth.  There will also be some storage in the form of drawers or lockers under the v-berth and possibly a small “hanging” locker (closet). The head (bathroom) is generally quite small.  At the smaller end of the sailboat spectrum the head will have a sink and a toilet (normally manually flushed into a holding tank via a hand pump).  There may also be a shower head attached to the sink, but there won’t be a separate shower – i.e., the bathroom itself is the shower.  You will start to find separate shower stalls in sailboats larger than about 35 feet and pretty much all boats larger than 40′ will have a separate shower stall.

Here are some pictures showing the living space on a 36′ sailboat.  This happens to be my boat.

seaquestor_main_cabin_fwd

The main cabin or salon looking toward the front of the boat.  This boat has a fixed table on the left with U-shaped seating and a simple seat on the right.  You can see that the windows (ports) are small and high. Note that all of the furniture is built in and that there isn’t a lot of open floor space.

seaquestor_v-berth

This is the sleeping cabin at the front of the boat where the v-berth is located.  The triangular blue cushion at the front of the v-berth fits into the triangular opening at the back of the v-berth to make it into a large v-shaped bed (it also makes the v-berth harder to get in and out of and decreases available floor space).  Note the location of the small windows (ports).

seaquestor_galley

This is the galley (kitchen).  This boat has a three burner propane stove with a small oven.  The sink is self explanatory as are the cabinets above the stove and counter.  The ice box is accessed by the rectangular panel in the counter to the right of the stove.  A common characteristic in sailboat galleys is a small amount of counter space.

seaquestor_vanity_sink

In this boat the bathroom is small (2’x3′) and contains only the toilet and a shower fixture.  The head itself is the shower stall.  The bathroom sink is outside the bathroom proper.

These pictures should give you a pretty good idea of the living space in a mid sized sailboat. A few noteworthy features are the built in furniture, lack of floor space and small high windows.  The boat in the pictures above has white walls (called bulkheads) which brightens the interior up, but many boats have all dark wood interiors which can make them feel a bit like a cave.

Powerboats – As I said above powerboats start having standing headroom at about 25′ in boat length. Powerboats also tend to be wider for a given length than sailboats, although that isn’t the case for all powerboats under 30′ since many smaller powerboats are built to be trailerable without permits which limits their total width to eight and a half feet. Larger powerboats are almost always wider than equal length sailboats. Powerboats that you can live on come in two distinct styles.  One is called a europa or salon style and the other is the aft cabin style.

gb-32

A typical europa/salon style powerboat.  This particular boat is a Grand Banks 32 and is 32′ long.

A europa/salon style powerboat has a back porch (called a cockpit by boaters).  From the porch you walk directly into the main cabin which contains seating, a table and the kitchen (galley).  In contrast to sailboat kitchens, powerboat kitchens almost always have an actual refrigerator.  On smaller boats it is an under the counter (dorm) size, but larger boats can have full sized home style refrigerators.  Toward the front of the boat, generally down a couple of steps, is the bathroom (head) and a sleeping cabin.  On boats smaller than about 38-40 feet the sleeping cabin will generally be a v-berth like on a sailboat.  On boats under about 36′ the bathroom will be small and not have a separate shower stall.  Boats from about 36 feet up will generally have two sleeping cabins toward the front of the boat,  One cabin will be the v-berth and the second will normally have bunk beads or a small built in double bed.  Naturally the sleeping cabins get larger as the boats get bigger.

Powerboats from about 34′ on up may have aft cabins.  The picture below shows a typical aft cabin powerboat.

gb-36

This is a typical aft cabin powerboat.  For comparison purposes I chose a Grand Banks 36.

Aft cabin powerboats tend to lack the back porch (cockpit).  Entrance into the living space is done by doors from the side decks on both sides.  Those doors enter the main, upper, cabin.  The upper cabin contains the seating area, normally with two sofa style seats and a table, and the kitchen.  On smaller boats the seating furniture will normally be built in, but larger boat sometimes have normal home style sofas, chairs and tables.   At the front of the boat, down a few steps, there is normally a small bathroom without a separate shower, and a sleeping cabin with v-berth.  Boats larger than 40′ may have two sleeping cabins at the front. At the back of the  boat, also down a few steps, there is a second larger sleeping cabin and a larger bathroom, normally with a separate shower and sometimes a small bath tub. The sleeping cabin normally has at least a double or queen sized bed with storage drawers around the outside of the cabin.  There may also be a desk/vanity table.  As power boats get bigger the number of cabins generally doesn’t change (at least up to about 50′), but the cabins get larger.

A difference between powerboats and sailboats is “windows”  the sleeping cabins in powerboats generally have no more windows than those on sailboats, but the main “salon” cabins on power boats almost always have large windows on all sides.  These larger and more abundant windows make powerboat salons much brighter than sailboat salons and also make it easier to view the surroundings from inside.

A significant difference between boats and tiny homes is that boats are built to be able to move under their own power.  Consequently, considerable space is devoted to engines, fuel tanks, control stations and associated “stuff”.  In addition boats always contain water tanks (sometimes quite large) and tanks for sewage since it is illegal to dump it and also impossible to make a permanent connection to a shore sewage system.  Boats also always have batteries to start the engines and run electrical stuff in the cabins.  Larger boats (36′ and larger) also normally have built in electrical generators in addition to batteries and connections for shore based electrical power.  These factors result in a boat of a given length having less living space than the same length mobile tiny house.

COST

Living aboard a boat and living in a tiny house can seem cheap, particularly when compared to costs to buy a more traditionally sized house in most places.  However there are some differences.

Perhaps the biggest difference comes at the initial purchase of the “home”.  Mobile tiny houses have only been around for a few years so there is not much of a used market.  The result is that most people that are looking to buy a tiny house will be buying a new structure.  Looking on-line I have found mobile tiny house prices from as little as about $35,000 for a basic unit on the small side.  Prices go up to over $100,000 for for a 30 foot unit with a lot of customization.  Prices I have found on the used market are close to new prices with a floor in the low $30,000 range.  Older used mobile tiny houses tend to be home built and are consequently of variable quality.  Note that these are the prices for the tiny house itself.  If you want to be able to move it you are going to have to buy a 3/4 or one ton truck or hire a someone for the move.  A decent used 3/4 ton truck will cost from $15,000 to $30,000 depending on the usual things (age, condition, etc.).  So if you want to get into a mobile tiny house that you can move yourself the cost for the house and tow vehicle will be at least $50,000.

Live aboard boats are quite different.  There are suitable boats being built, but new boats are EXPENSIVE.  You can figure at least $150,000 for a new small live aboard capable boat and if I limit the boat size to 50 feet, the costs of new boats can be over one million dollars.  A typical forty footer will cost $650K to $1 million new.  So for the cost conscious, new boats are completely out of consideration.  Fortunately there is a large and vibrant used boat market.  There is a huge price range in the used boat market with prices decreasing dramatically as the boats get older.  Anything built before about 1980 can actually be quite inexpensive and fiberglass boats as old as 50 years can still be in good condition.  Some of the factors that affect used boat prices are power or sail.  Sailboats are much cheaper than the same age and length powerboats.  For example you can easily find a decent 30 foot sailboat for as little as $10,000.  Powerboats sell for a bit more.  The big price determinant in powerboats seems to be whether they have gas or diesel engines. Gas powered boats are MUCH cheaper than diesel boats.  If you look around you can find a gas  powerboat in the thirty foot range for under $15,000.  Note, that a 30 foot powerboat will have considerably larger accommodations spaces than a 30 foot sailboat.  Similarly you can find a 35 footer in power or sail for $25,000 to $35,000.  If you are willing to spend $50,000 you can get a nice 35-40 foot live aboard boat with two sleeping cabins.  One advantage of a boat is that it is self propelled so you don’t need a tow vehicle.

So as far as purchase price goes, boats are ahead since you can get a pretty nice live aboard boat for quite a bit less than a tiny home, particularly if you factor in a tow vehicle for the tiny home.  Alternatively you can spend the same money and have a very nice live aboard boat.

Costs are not limited to the purchase price.  One of the major reasons I have read for living small is to reduce monthly costs.  Perhaps the biggest monthly cost to live in a mobile tiny house or a boat is the cost of a place to put your home.  One of the difficulties of mobile tiny houses is that many (most?) cities do not permit full time living in a mobile tiny house.  That means you are probably going to have to live outside the city limits, or if you want to be in the city you will have to live in a mobile home park.  Living in a mobile home park will require that your mobile tiny home is registered as an RV (either a travel trailer or park model).  To register as an RV your mobile tiny house will have to be certified to meet RV construction standards.  Most likely that will limit you to buying a new home from a builder that makes that certification and will facilitate registering your tiny house as an RV.  After you do that you can figure on anywhere from $400 a month up for space rental.  Fortunately space rental in an RV park generally includes hookups to power and sewer.  The alternative is to find a place outside the city to either rent space or buy a piece of land.  In either case you will need utility hookups (at least power and water assuming you have a composting toilet).  Buying a piece of land can seem cheap, but getting power and water on the land can be quite expensive.  Drilling a well and running power in from the road can easily cost $20,000 or considerably more.  You can, of course, set up your home for off-grid living (solar panels and bringing water in or collecting it from your roof).  On top of that buying a piece of land ties you down which may defeat one of your reasons for living tiny.

For a boar space is a different problem.  Pretty much any city with waterfront will also have marinas where you can rent space for your boat.  Marina costs generally run about $7-$12 per foot of the length of your boat per month. Electrical power is normally extra and can range from about $20 a month in the pacific northwest to as much as $150-$200 a month in New England. The biggest limitation is that marinas that allow live aboards often limit their number in the marina so you may have to be on a waiting list for a while to get a spot.  But you can get a spot in the city.  Of course, there is the limitation that there has to be water where you want to live to make a boat an option.  Also, while it is possible to live aboard a boat in a place with cold winters, it is a lot easier to do where the winters do not involve much below freezing weather.  That can be done on the east coast by moving south in the winter and back north in the summer.  A problem with that is finding employment unless you have an independent income (are retired or a trust fund kid). Unless you happen to be in the health professions you will likely be limited to low wage jobs if you move a lot.  The weather won’t be an issue on the west coast or the south coast (except for hurricanes in the south).  Overall it looks like the location costs for a mobile tiny house and a boat are about the same.

Another significant cost is insurance.  If you have a mobile tiny house and want to tow it anywhere you will have to get at least liability insurance.  That will be difficult unless the home is registered as an RV.  What little I can find suggests that insurance will likely cost about 1-2% of the value of your home per year so say around $500-$700.  Strangely it normally costs more as a percentage of purchase price to insure a lower cost RV.  Insurance for a boat will be in the same range.  Right now I am paying 1.5% of valuation for my powerboat and 2% for my sailboat.  An average cost might be about $50 per month for a boat or a tiny house for full liability and comprehensive coverage.  Note – my boat insurance is what is called agreed value insurance.  That insurance pays the policy value in case of a total loss.  I could buy cheaper insurance that only paid a depreciated value.  Alternatively you can buy liability only if you can afford to lose the money the boat/house represents.

The only other specific costs with either a boat or mobile tiny house are personal property tax (varies a lot by location), registration (required for both a boat and a tiny house that moves over the road), electricity (depends on where you are and if you are on-grid) and maintenance.  Maintenance is probably higher with a boat because you will have to haul out every year or two for bottom painting.  Maintaining the engine on the boat will cost about the same as maintaining the engine on your tow vehicle for the tiny house (if you have one).  Overall I would expect a boat to cost $30-$40 a month more than a mobile tiny house for these things.

Overall, except for the initial purchase cost where the tiny house will be a bit more expensive), the costs of ownership for both types of homes are pretty similar if you rent space.  If you buy land, a tiny house will cost a lot more than a boat neglecting potential resale value of the land at some future date.  That brings up one other cost consideration – depreciation.  An older boat will tend to hold its value if you maintain it since it will be essentially fully depreciated when you buy it.  With a tiny house it is hard to say since they haven’t been around long enough for depreciation to make itself felt.  However, I would expect a mobile tiny house to depreciate a lot like an RV in the long run. If that happens, a tiny house could lose 70-80% of it new cost to depreciation.  That will certainly happen if the tiny house trend fades out over time.

Living Green

Living green, that is with minimal environmental impact, can be accomplished in either a mobile tiny house on on a boat.  In this section I will address a few of the details of green living for both housing options.

Construction – A mobile tiny house is built on a steel trailer.  The house itself is generally framed with wood and may have wooden, metal (steel or aluminum) or other exterior siding (cement board, fiberglass, vinyl, etc.).  Roofing will normally be metal (steel or aluminum) or asphalt shingles.  The interior can range from all wood to some pretty high tech synthetic materials depending on the style preferred by the owner.  It is possible to build a tiny house from mostly renewable materials (i.e., wood), but there will always be energy dense materials like steel, plastics and glass in the house.

Boat construction falls into two categories – wood and fiberglass.  Older boats (from before the 60s) will normally be wood.  Traditional wooden boats were still being built into the 70s.  Fiberglass became the dominant construction material starting in the early 60s.  Now, all but a few specialty boats are built from fiberglass.  Fiberglass is a composite material made from textiles woven from glass fibers and some sort of plastic resin.  The most common resin is polyester.  All resins used in fiberglass construction are petroleum products.  Even fiberglass boats use a lot of wood in their interiors. The more expensive the boat was originally the more wood is used in the hand built interior.  Cheaper boats tend to have molded fiberglass interiors.  Wooden boats, in contrast are all wood, although the wood species used often include woods that are somewhat environmentally sensitive (teak, various mahoganies, Port Orford cedar, etc.).  While a wooden boat is more environmentally conscious than a fiberglass boat, there is considerably less maintenance with a fiberglass boat.

Tiny houses tend to be better insulated than boats which will make the tiny house easier to heat/cool.   However, since tiny houses generally use normal household appliances, their energy use for everything other than heating may be a bit higher than on a boat.  However, that depends largely on lifestyle choices.

Overall I would say that a tiny house is a more environmentally friendly than a fiberglass boat and about the same as an older wooden boat.

Going off the Grid – It is possible to take a tiny house mostly off the grid, but there will still be waste (sewage) and used water disposal issues even with a composting toilet.  Off grid living is strongly dependent on the choices of appliances, heating and lighting installed in the tiny house.  To go off grid it will be necessary to pick appliances that use alternate fuels for heating and cooking.  The most environmentally friendly in terms of carbon footprint is to heat and cook with wood.  Other options include propane fired heating, cooking and hot water generation.  Propane is, of course, a petroleum product, but it does burn more cleanly than wood (no particulates) and you can turn it on and off quickly.  As far as things like lighting, electronics, refrigeration and pressure water are concerned it will be necessary to install solar panels AND storage batteries of some sort.  With careful choice of electrical appliances it is possible to generate all the electricity need from solar most of the time.  However, in the winter and during longer cloudy periods it may be necessary to supplement solar power with electricity from the grid or from a generator.

In contrast to mobile tiny houses, boats are built to operate off the grid.  Virtually all boats have the bulk of their electrical systems set up to operate from 12 volts DC.  There may be a parallel 120 VAC system, but it is always secondary.  While it is possible to set up a solar array on a sailboat, it is easier to set up an unobstructed array on a powerboat, where it is also generally possible to install more capacity.  Cooking on boats is almost always done using propane, compressed natural gas or alcohol.  Some larger boats have electric stoves that rely on either grid connection (shore power) or on board generators.  Refrigeration is almost always powered by 12 volt DC.  Boats always have storage batteries on board that are normally sufficient to run all systems for at least 24-48 hours.  In addition, since boats are self-propelled, they have engines (diesel or gas) that have alternators which charge the batteries when the engine is running. Larger boats also often have diesel powered generators installed.  As far as water and sewage are concerned, most boats are set up to pump toilet waste into on board holding tanks.  Those tanks can be pumped out at shore sewage facilities or on salt water where it is possible to go 3 or more miles from land, pumped overboard.  There are also on board sewage treatment systems that kill bacteria, but do nothing about nutrients, but you can’t use them everywhere.  A few boats have composting toilets, but they have to dispose of wastes in the same way as all other boats and composted solid waste can be tricky to get rid of.  On a boat water is normally housed in tanks that are refilled at shore facilities or can be refilled by desalinization of salt water using an on-board water maker.  Basically if you are careful about your electrical use, it is possible to run most boats exclusively from solar power, with occasional top ups from the alternator on the main propulsion engine(s).  Heating on boats is normally propane, diesel of wood fired, although some larger boats have reverse cycle heating/cooling systems that require either shore power or running a generator to operate them.

In summary, both a mobile tiny house and a boat can be set up for off grid living.  It is easier to accomplish on a boat since the boat is intrinsically off-grid from the start.

Do it yourself

For some a significant attraction of a mobile tiny house is that you can build it yourself.  The same is true for a boat, but the skill level required is somewhat higher.  In this section I will look at some aspects of the do it yourself (DIY) approach that I think are important.

Why build your own mobile tiny house or boat?  There are a couple of big reasons for that.  Probably the biggest driver behind the DIY movement is to save money.  If you build your home yourself you have no labor costs.  That generates a huge saving since labor can make up 80% or more of the cost of a professionally built structure.  The other reason is personal satisfaction.  You can take pride in your accomplishment and your self-sufficiency.  Both of these factors are powerful motivators for a DIY project.

So what is involved in building your own home, be it a mobile tiny house or a boat.  I will look at a mobile tiny house first.  The starting point for any mobile tiny house is the design.  Other than length, width and height limitations for towing the house on the highways, there are few limitations on the design.  That means that you can design your own tiny house.  The design does have to account for wind loads when towing the house (60 mph winds on the highway) and the builder will need to know any requirements for meeting mobile home certifications, but it can be done.  The next thing is the trailer on which the house will be built. Most DIY tiny house builders will choose to buy a trailer rather than build one.  I think the reason for that is simple.  Few people have the welding skills required to build a trailer from scratch.  In contrast, there are few highly specialized skills required for the actual construction of the tiny house once the trailer is in hand.  What skills the potential builder doesn’t have can be bolstered by attending workshops at home Depot/Lowes or watching YouTube videos.  After a little study pretty much anyone can frame up a tiny house from lumber bought at the local lumber yard.  After all, a tiny house is just a box with right angle corners built on the trailer.  Now I am not saying that everyone can do a really good job or do the job quickly, but if you can measure and cut a 2×4 and then nail those boards together you can frame up your tiny home.  Similarly, sheathing the exterior walls isn’t all that hard.  Building the roof will be a bit tougher, particularly if the roof is pitched.  The same goes for installing windows and doors.  So overall it is relatively easy to build the outer shell of a tiny house.  The interior will require greater skill since it involves plumbing, electrical wiring, joinery skills, painting and other skills like laying tile and hanging drywall.  Making the tiny house look “good” is by far the hardest and most time consuming part.  One thing the novice builder likely won’t anticipate is the importance of planning the entire project before starting.  It is very important to get things like wiring and plumbing right so that the pipes won’t leak and the wiring won’t set the structure on fire.  There are also other considerations like ventilation, heating systems and insulation. What it comes down to is that while building a DIY tiny house is possible, it is probably a bigger job than most neophyte builders expect.  On the plus side, a tiny house can be built outside, particularly since framing, closing the structure up and making it weather tight generally goes quite quickly (2-3 weeks even for a part time builder).  When weather threatens a tarp can be thrown over the partly finished structure.  Furthermore, the tools required to build a tiny house are relatively few and are also inexpensive.  A builder can buy all the needed tools for $500 or less, although a $1,000 tool budget would allow a few welcome additions.

The biggest limitations come when regulatory compliance is required.  Building standards become important when installing wiring, plumbing and in structural planning.  The reasons are that building code compliance may be required to get a certificate of occupancy in some municipalities.  That means that the builder will have to know code requirements and may have to get the work inspected.  Furthermore, if the mobile tiny house is to be registered as a mobile home, it will need to meet industry standards or the local DMV will be unlikely to issue registration.  A mobile tiny home can’t be moved on its own wheels without registration.  Also many mobile home parks won’t accept a tiny house that isn’t registered as a mobile home.  Finally there is insurance.  Insurance can be very hard to come by without inspections/certifications.  Insurance is mandatory to take a tiny home on the road.

Notwithstanding the above, it is possible, after some research of building, RV, fire protection, and other codes as well as construction standards, to build your own tiny home and save a lot of money over buying a professionally built home.  The interior and exterior finish may not be as polished as in a professionally built home, unless the builder is a skilled carpenter, but it can be done by most people.

What about building your own boat?  Lots of people have built their own boats, so it definitely can be done.  It will also save the builder a LOT of money over buying a new boat, although it may cost more than buying a used boat.  There are some considerable difference between building a tiny house and building a boat.  The first consideration is that the boat has to float and carry the weight of the cabin and interior.  Not only does the boat have to float, it has to float level from front to back and side to side.  It also have to be sufficiently stable not to capsize when it is moved or people on board move to one side.  These constraints require a design. Designing a boat is pretty involved and required a fair amount of training in the methods of naval architecture as well as a knowledge of the strengths and other characteristics of materials.  Because of that, although there is no requirement for a professional design, a potential DIY builder without the appropriate training/background should buy a professional design.  That represents a substantial cost if the builder doesn’t want an off the shelf design.  Even simply buying an existing design can cost well over $1,000.  What happens if you don’t have an adequate design.  Watch this Youtube video to see the effect of a few calculation errors in a professional design.

Oops!

OK, so you have bought a design.   The first thing you are going to have to do is find a place to build your boat.  That place really should be inside a heated building (more money).  In addition it will take a lot longer to build a boat than a mobile tiny home, so you will have to pay for the space for months or potentially more than a year.  Once you have place to work you will quickly find that the skill level required to build a boat is a lot more varied and at a higher level than that needed to build a tiny house.  Why?  Well in contrast to a tiny house which is basically a box on a trailer with straight lines and right angle corners, boats don’t have many straight lines and the corners are almost never at 90 degrees.  Pretty much everything is curved.  Now, I am not saying it isn’t possible for the amateur to develop the required skills, but it will take a while, which will make the process take even longer.  Amateur construction of a larger boat is generally a several year long process.

In addition the cost saving of building versus buying a boat isn’t going to be even close to that for building a tiny house.  Why not?  Because you have to buy the plans, the materials are more expensive and finally you have to buy an engine.  A marine diesel engine for a live aboard boat will cost at least $10,000 just for the engine.  You will also need fuel tanks, engine controls, propeller shaft and propeller, rudder and steering controls, exhaust and cooling system components, among other things.  Plus, if the boat is a sail boay you ave to buy the mast(s), rigging, sails and other needed components, none of which are cheap.  The complete propulsion system for the boat will likely cost at least $15,000 just for materials.  In fact materials alone for a functional live aboard boat around 28-30 feet long will cost a minimum of $30,000.  Since you can buy a used boat for less than that, there really is no financial incentive to build the boat yourself. So the only incentive for a DIY boat is because you want to do it.

What this comes down to is that a DIY tiny home is certainly possible for many people with modest carpentry skills and will generate a substantial cost savings.  The same isn’t true at all for a boat.  Building a boat will take longer than a tiny house and will almost certainly cost more than a comparable used boat.

Style

It seems to me that style is a big factor in the decision to live in a mobile tiny house.  Fortunately, except for the maximum dimensions (length, with and overall height), pretty much everything about a tiny house can be customized.  Exterior appearance, interior layout and finish and systems can be whatever is desired.  The only construction constraints are that the tiny house must meet mobile home specifications if it is going to registered as a mobile home and the structure must be strong enough to stand up to trailering at highway speeds.  Other than that the sky is the limit.  So in the area of style, the tiny house is an blank book in which the owner can write whatever is desired.

Boats on the other hand are constrained by the need to float, be stable and sea worthy.  Unless the owner is building a new boat from a custom design, the overall style of the boat will be pre-determined, particularly with a used boat.  Of course, the interior of a boat, particularly a power boat, can be customized especially if the owner has some carpentry skills.  That said, the interior layout of a boat is pretty much fixed and customization will normally be limited to decor (fabrics, finishes, colors, etc.).

So in the area of style, a tiny house gives the owner virtually unlimited freedom while a boat is much more limited.

Freedom

The idea of living tiny is often inspired in part by the freedom a moveable home implies.  It is also tied into freedom from “the Man”, which refers to freedom from mortgages and other costs paid to corporate interests.  Both a mobile tiny home and a live aboard boat offer these types of freedom, but in different ways and to different extents.

A mobile tiny house gives the freedom of the open road, particularly if the owner also has a tow vehicle.  The house can be towed anywhere there are suitable roads and there are thousands of places to park for a night, a week, a month or a year.  However, as the duration of the stay increases, the number and desirability of available stopping places decreases.  Free places to stay generally depend on the off grid capacity of the tiny home.  If the home requires electrical and sewer hookups then it won’t be staying in primitive camping areas.  Also, long term parking which is required to hold down a job may be difficult because of city rules prohibiting living in a mobile tiny home.  Consequently, as I mentioned above staying somewhere long term will generally mean buying and improving land (i.e., spending money and accruing obligations like property tax) or moving into a mobile home park that allows long term leases.  In that case the sense of freedom may be more a state of mind than physical/fiscal reality.

What about a boat?  Living on a boat also gives the freedom to move around.  However, a decision to move to places like Kansas, Utah, Arizona or a similar “dry” places won’t be possible unless the boat is small enough to haul on a trailer.  However, if the boat is on salt water, it can go lots of places quite easily. On the east coast of North America any live aboard boat can be moved seasonally from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  Going further south requires the boat to be sufficiently seaworthy to cross longer stretches of potentially rough water.  That sort of crossing is generally limited to sailboats and larger passage maker (i.e., expensive) style power boats.  Furthermore, long distance voyaging on a powerboat gets expensive because of fuel costs (figure 5-6 miles per gallon at the best and 1 mpg is more typical if the boat is over 35 feet). On the west coast of North America going between ports south of Puget Sound in Washington state requires making open ocean passages.  That requires either a more capable boat or waiting potentially for a long time for good weather.  From Puget Sound north to Alaska it is possible to take pretty much any live aboard boat anywhere on the coast, although weather is always a consideration.  Longer passages are possible with most sailboats larger than about 30 feet.  Many live aboards travel seasonally to Baja California in Mexico and some cross the Pacific or Atlantic oceans to cruise the world.  Cruising like that does require financial self sufficiency, but it is an option that a mobile tiny home doesn’t have, just like a boat can’t visit the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.  A boat can almost always anchor out for free.  I say almost always because there are areas when anchoring is restricted and often while the boat can be anchored there is no easy  way to get ashore.  So while it is possible to spend a lot of time living essentially free (except for the costs of fuel and food), staying in one place for a while almost always means renting space at a marina.  Marina life can be done for no other costs other than marina rent if the boat is electrically self sufficient, but most boats will connect to shore power and other utilities (internet, cable TV, etc.) for extra cost.  A marina is the boating equivalent of the mobile home park.

So, as far as freedom both a boat and a mobile tiny house provide a less expensive alternative to renting an apartment/house or buying a house/condo.  However, neither provides total freedom from corporate culture, although international travel on a sailboat comes close, if the financial resources are available.  In both cases the lifestyle introduces one to a different community than the apartment/house dweller experiences.  Unless a tiny house is sited in a pocket neighborhood designed for tiny homes, that community is likely to be the RV community.  Similarly, unless a boater stays on the move the community will be the marina community.  Both settings have real senses of community although there are differences.

Location, Location, Location

I want to briefly address one other aspect of mobile living before I summarize.  That is location.  By that I am referring to where the moveable home will be located during long term stays, perhaps for work.  As I mentioned above, if the tiny home owner is fortunate enough to be in a comparatively enlightened city, it may be possible to move into a pocket neighborhood with other tiny house dwellers an neighbors.  However, in many even comparatively liberal cities the tiny house dweller will be constrained to live in a mobile home park or trailer park.  Such “parks” tend to have the homes tightly packed and are generally on the outskirts of municipal areas, often in less desirable areas.  This can be a potential downside to tiny home life.  Boats will be in marinas.  By their nature marinas are on the waterfront often in very beautiful areas.  However, not all marinas are in pretty or interesting places.  Some are in industrial areas.  Nevertheless, since water front is generally a desirable part of most cities, marinas tend to be located close to downtown and often in upscale areas.  In those areas living aboard is incredibly cheap compared to living ashore.  Living at the edge of a city core also generally means good access to transit and city services, which may not be the case for an RV park.  Overall, the choice depends on what each individual prefers.  If you like the city center and the water, marina life will be a better choice.  If you don’t like being at the center of city hustle and bustle then living at the edge of the city in an RV park may be more for you.  Of course, there are RV parks in beautiful, serene locations and there are marinas that are pretty far from the city. So location becomes a personal choice.

Summary

Well I have written quite a lot about the two lifestyles.  I hope I have discussed both the similarities and differences of tiny house and boat living.

As far as cost goes, boat living can be cheaper than tiny house living, particularly if the boat is an older used boat.  At a given price point in the middle of the purchase price spectrum a tiny house will probably be newer and will likely have a bit more space.  Other costs are about the same for the two options.  So if you want a new home, a tiny house is the way to go.

Living green comes a bit more easily in a boat since boats are intrinsically of-grid.  It is possible to make a mobile tiny house off grid capable, but for long term living a boat is easier to set up.  That said, a boat, by virtue of the materials used to build it is less green than a tiny house, unless you buy a wooden boat.  I think that boat living comes out a bit ahead in this area, but it is close.

As far as do it yourself is concerned there is no contest.  A tiny house is MUCH easier than a boat to build.  Unless you posses significant carpentry and other skills, building a boat simply isn’t an option.  Furthermore, building a boat will be much more expensive and time consuming  than building a tiny house.  Building a boat only makes sense if a large part of your dream is building a boat.

Style is also an area where the tiny house comes out ahead because you can do pretty much what you want with a tiny house.  Even if you build your own boat, it still has to be seaworthy, which places significant constraints on style.  The only way style wins for a boat is if your dream is to live on a particular type of boat, like an old tug boat, or if the beauty of a boat is your thing.

Both tiny homes and boats provide freedom.  You are free to move around with both choices, but the places you can go are different.  With  tiny home you can visit land locked places, but you are constrained by roads.  You can’t go out into the real wilderness where there are no roads.  With a boat, there has to be water, but once on the water you can go anywhere your boat is capable of going.  There are no roads on the water.  In a tiny home you can go over the horizon, as long as there is a road going that way.  With a boat, you can go over the horizon – literally.  I give this one to the boat, although it comes down to where you want to be able to go.

Location is another toss up.  It depends on the lifestyle that is preferable.  Both location options have pluses and minuses.  A boat is a it easier to move unless you have your own tow vehicle for your tiny house.  If you have the right boat your location options are only limited by your sense of adventure.  You can’t go to Tahiti or Spitzbergen in a mobile tiny house, but you can’t visit Banff or the Great Smokie Mountains on a boat.  So again it comes down to personal preference.

I hope this blog has provided an interesting perspective on these two “living small” options.  My purpose was not to sell one option, despite the fact that my personal preference would be a boat.  I hope I have been reasonably objective.

I look forward to comments and will answer all that I can.

Are the End Times Upon Us?

No this isn’t a religious post.  I was thinking more of a political apocalypse than a biblical one.  I got yo thinking about this topic a few weeks ago from a different perspective.  I started writing a blog bout fiscal inequality in this country and the meaning of money.  However, when I started writing that blog, which I never finished, I was thinking that the election would have a different outcome that might herald a lessening of the financial stratification of this country.  Well, it didn’t turn out that way.  Now I expect inequality to broaden as the rich get richer and the ranks of the poor swell.  Thus, Trump’s election may indeed be a harbinger of apocalypse.

What leads me to this conclusion?  After all Trump is going to make America Grrrrreat! again.  When ever I hear that I think of Tony the Tiger lauding frosted flakes.  Perhaps that is because Trump and Tony have a similar color.

tonythetigerI believe Trump almost as much as I believed Tony.  Anyway I see a lot of signs that Trump will not make America Grrreat! again.  A few examples are Trump’s tax plan, which now appears to actually raise taxes on the middle class while Grrreat!ly lowering taxes on the wealthy.  I don’t know what the end result of Trump’s proposed changes to trade pacts will be, but I do expet that if he manages to impose significant tariffs on chinese goods that the result will be a Grrreat! increase in living costs for the poor since the bulk of the consumer goods they buy are made in China. If Trump successfully deports millions of illegal immigrants there will be one of two effects.  Either there will be a Grrreat! increase in food costs as the cheap labor pool dries up and agribusiness is forced to pay regular wages, or in response to complaints from agribusiness Trump and the republican Congress will Grrreat!ly reduce the federal minimum wage making it possible for business to pay legal workers the same as they paid illegals.  Won’t $2 and hour make America Grrreat! again!  Finally when Trump and the republicans “get rid of Obamacare”, what they “replace” it with will certainly be completely out of reach financially for millions of people, assuming they don’t have pre-existing conditions and are even offered to opportunity to buy outrageously expensive insurance.  Won’t having millions more people without the ability to get needed medical care be Grrreat!

Mentioning the republican congress points to some of my greater fears.  Trump’s election by itself looks pretty bad, but the worse prospect is that the republicans in congress, like Paul Ryan, are now empowered.  I am willing to bet that they will do everything they can to put their agenda onto Trump’s desk for his signature.  I worry that things like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, social security and pretty much all social safety net programs will see changes that will make those programs unrecognizable. Paul Ryan is on record with proposals to change Medicare to a voucher program that will force Medicare recipients to buy private health insurance.  I have no doubt that the “vouchers” won’t be big enough to let people buy coverage equivalent to what Medicare now provides (better than almost all “gold/platinum” policies). A change like that will force many retirees to buy substandard insurance that won’t cover enough, forcing those people into even greater poverty than they now experience, or in the worst case, pushing them to early deaths when they can’t afford needed care.  The republican agenda for Medicaid is just as bad.  Changing Medicaid into a block grant program will put the onus of funding on the states.  I am pretty sure that republican controlled states will use that as an excuse to shrink the program even more than they already have.  In democratic states, the money crunch will force similar, but perhaps not such drastic changes.  The result will be that MANY more of the “poor” won’t be able to afford any medical care.  That will cause even more crowding in emergency rooms which will drive up costs for everyone else since the “poor” won’t be able to pay the hospital charges for emergency care.  That is, of course, unless the republicans compassionately change the law to make emergency care voluntary by hospitals.  Won’t that be Grrreat!.  I also think that the federal minimum wage is at risk of being abolished possibly in a way that makes it illegal for states to establish their own minimum wages.  That would cause a Grrreat! lowering of wages across the board.

All of the Grrreat! changes I outlined above dovetail nicely with one of Trump’s major campaign promises – to make the US military Grrreat! again.  Why do I say that?  Well because driving millions of people into poverty with no health care will make a military career even more attractive.  Cannon fodder will be available cheap for spreading American democracy to the world at gunpoint.  Grrreat!

The changes I expect from Trump and the republican congress don’t yet include foreign affairs or the environment.  I don’t expect Trump to fail to make those things Grrreat! too.  Just look at the cabinet of deplorables he is assembling.  I wonder how I will like my coal fired car assuming coal isn’t rationed because we need it for the continuous “war effort”?

Lets NOT make America Grrreat! Again.

Note – None of the above is meant to in any way disparage Tony the Tiger.

I encourage comments.

Owning a Wooden Boat – Building a new Cabin House

When I bought Tortuga the first thing I did to the boat after removing the old flathead six gas engine was to recanvas the very leaky main cabin top.  Back then the cabin house ended about two and a half feet forward of the aft end of the cockpit.  The aft end of the cockpit was covered by a canvas top with vinyl windows.  Both the canvas and the vinyl leaked  badly.

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This picture from the Fall of 2012 shows the original cabin house

In addition to the leaks in the canvas top and vinyl windows, there were lots of leaks in the cabin house proper.  I also didn’t like the sloped cabin front.  So in the Fall of 2013 I decided to remove the existing house and build a new one to my own design, which I thought was a bit more representative of the period.  To that end I found a place to work on the boat after haulout and got to work in mid-October.

On October 9, 2013 Tortuga was hauled for the season and taken directly into the shop.

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Tortuga in the shop ready to start work

I had actually started work a few days before by laminating curved beams for the cabin top from Douglas fir strips.  Since I don’t enjoy painting over my head, I painted the laminated beams before installing them.  I applied a coat of paint at the end of each day after I completed other work and the other people working in the shop had gone home for the day.

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Laminated cabin top beams being painted with 5 coats of Interlux Brightsides white

The first step in the new cabin house build was to remove the existing house.  I started by removing the canvas and vinyl enclosure over the aft end of the cockpit.

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Tortuga with the canvas/vinyl enclosure removed

Then I got started on the delicate process of removing the old cabin house.  The first step was to remove the old windows, which were nailed to the structure of the house. The nails were tough to remove and I have to admit that I broke one window. Once most of the windows were out I started removing the rest of the structure..Naturally I used my high precision reciprocating saw for the task.  I took the house top in segments largely because I needed the pieces to be small and light enough for me to carry from the boat to my truck for the trip to the dump.

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The first piece of the cabin top removed

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The rest of the windows out and the second piece of the cabin top off

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The cabin house completely removed

During the removal of the house I discovered that the house was actually attached to the rest of the boat by a total of eight nails through the uprights into the side deck carlings.  They were hefty nails, but after 77 years they were pretty badly rusted away.  Basically the house was held in place primarily by its weight.

In the Spring of 2013 I had addressed the leaking Alaskan Yellow Cedar side and aft decks decks by ripping the aft deck and its framing out and rebuilding the deck with marine plywood.  I cover both the new aft deck and the side decks with a layer of 1708 fiberglass biaxial stitch mat set in epoxy.  Despite using such heavy fabric there was significant print through of the planking on the side decks.  I decided to fix that by putting down a layer of 5/32″ marine plywood and reglassing the new deck covering with 10 oz fiberglass fabric set in epoxy.  I epoxied the plywood to the existing decking with West System epoxy thickened with their 403 microfibers.  Rather than “clamp” the plywood in place with weights while the epoxy set, I decided to screw the plywood down with pan head screws on about 3″ centers.  After the epoxy set I removed the screws and filled the holes with thickened epoxy.  I also filled the seams between pieces of plywood with thickened epoxy.  After that epoxy set, a final sanding gave me a smooth surface for fiberglass.

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The side and aft decks covered with marine plywood.  The aft deck still needs a final sanding in this picture.

Once the decks were done except for the glassing I started to build the supports for the new cabin top.  I used 5/4×4 clear Douglas Fir for the supports except at the corners.  I made the corners from 3/4″ mahogany.  Since I had been a bit surprised by how minimally the old house was attached to the rest of the boat I screwed the new verticals to the deck carlings as well as cleats I screwed to the cabin sole.

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Cabin house verticals in place (except for forward corners).  The fore/aft cabin top support beams (5/4×4 Douglas Fir) and a few cabin top beams are clamped in place.

Once all the vertical supports for the house top were in place I screwed the fore and aft beams to the tops of the vertical supports.  I then set the cabin top beams on top of those beams and put the exterior mahogany facing around the cabin top.  When that was done I added a 5/4×4 Douglas Fir cleat to the inside edge of the deck so that its top stood an inch and a half above the deck.  Finally I glassed the decks running the fiberglass up onto the new cleat at the inside edges of the deck.  That was done to prevent water from leaking between the deck and the cabin house bottom.

tortuga_house_rebuild-041The new house with the side and aft decks glassed and the completed cabin house framework in place.  The planks on top of the house are the overhead V-groove planking for the inside of the cabin top which I painted on top of the house structure before attaching them.

Once the basic framework for the cabin house was done I started building the cabin top.  The cabin top was done in two layers.  The lower layer, which is also the inside overhead (ceiling for non-boaty types) was made from 5/8″ x 4″ Douglas Fir v-groove tongue and groove planking.  I painted what would become the bottom side of that planking with 5 coats of Interlux Brightsides gloss white paint before installing the wood.  Once the paint was dry I screwed the t&g planking to the cabin top beams and the cabin top perimeter beams with stainless steel screws.

tortuga_house_rebuild-050Cabin top t&g v-groove planking in place

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Inside view of the new cabin top.  I t was much easier to paint all this wood BEFORE installing it.

Despite being held to the deck beams and house frame by well over 200 screws, the cabin top was quite springy.  I stiffened it by epoxying a layer of 5/32″ marine plywood to the cabin top. I used thin plywood to keep weight down.  I considered adding two layers of plywood, but decided a second layer wasn’t needed after the first layer was glued down. During that process I filled all the top v-grooves with thickened epoxy.  I also used the same screw clamping procedure I used on the decks.  The addition of that thin layer of plywood stiffened the cabin top up substantially.  No doubt epoxy bonding the t&g planks together helped too.

When the wood work on the cabin top was done I faced all the fir supports with 3/4″ mahogany and built the mahogany cabin sides.  At that point I glassed the cabin top with 10 oz fiberglass cloth set in epoxy and started varnishing the cabin house.  After 8 coats of varnish all that remained was to build the windows.

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New cabin house with external mahogany in place and cabin top fiberglassed.  I got to this stage on November 30, 2013 just 52 days after the boat was moved into the shop.

In addition to extending the cabin house to the aft end of the cockpit, I also made the front face of the house vertical with the house top overhanging the front face by 6″.

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Vertical front cabin house face.

The final stages of the house construction were to face all the fir inside the house with mahogany and to build and install the windows.  The interior facing was actually quite time consuming because I also had to build the backing for all the windows and cut wiring grooves into the backs of some of the facing pieces for cabin top lights, the running lights and the solar panel wiring.  The windows, however, took more time.

I built 17 windows in all.  I used 1/4″ safety glass for the windows.  The window frames are all mahogany.  The glass is glazed to the frames with polysulfide sealant and held in place with strips of mahogany.  Originally I built ten fixed windows and seven opening windows as shown in the picture below.

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The new cabin house with all the windows in place.

As shown in the picture I originally made the aft most side windows in the house as large single windows.  However, since these windows open and act as boarding doors, I decided to split them into two windows that open forward and aft because I thought the single large windows were too heavy and would be easily broken.

The picture above was taken on December 16, 2013 a total of 68 days after I started the project.  The boat was moved the next day into Winter storage.  I completed the painting and installation of deck hardware in the Spring of 2014.  Overall I spent about 500 hours on the project.  I did 100% of the work myself although I have to thank my friend Hank Hinckley for making part of his shop available to me during the Fall of 2013.

The picture below shows Tortuga in the water in 2014 with her completed new cabin house.  All in all it was a worthwhile project that improved the livability of the boat and, at least in my opinion, its appearance.

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Tortuga with her new cabin house in the water during the Summer of 2014

How a Cancer Diagnosis Changes Your Life

I am now a few days past the six month anniversary of my Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) diagnosis.  There have been quite a few changes in my life during those six months.  Those changes have included emotional, financial and lifestyle changes.  This blog is my attempt to characterize those changes.

The first month after my diagnosis saw some of the biggest changes.  Needless to say, being told that you have an incurable cancer in not a stress relieving event.  It certainly hit me hard.  I went from someone who, while intellectually aware of my mortality, never really thought about the possibility of dying. Basically I went from being emotionally immortal to a rather disturbing awareness that I could die….soon.  I didn’t drop into despair, but I did start thinking quite a lot about my life.

Perhaps the first changes I made in my life were financial.  Given my new found mortality I took the steps necessary to start drawing my social security pensions (having lived in Canada for many years I receive both US Social Security and Canada Pension) based on the premise that since I might die soon, I should get something for all the years I paid in.  Prior to my diagnosis I had planned to start Social security when I turned 66 and to wait until I hit 70 to start Canada Pension.

My diagnosis also triggered another financial change in my life.  Prior to my diagnosis I seldom went to the doctor.  Between my 18th birthday and my 64th birthday I saw doctors less than 20 times.  Of those visits only one was for a routine physical (in 1985).  The balance of my interactions with the medical community were because of illness or injury.  In every case a single visit to the doctor was sufficient to resolve the problem.  Since my CLL diagnosis I have been to the doctor sixteen times and have had many more tests than in my entire prior life.  Since most of my earlier doctor’s visits happened during the 20+ years I lived in Canada, my total medical costs from age 18 to 64 came to only a few hundred dollars.  My medical costs during the first month after my diagnosis were at least twenty times my previous lifetime costs.  The increased medical costs impacted me financially because those costs were unplanned (no one plans on getting cancer).  Despite having insurance, I was suddenly burdened with copays, deductibles ($5,500 for my insurance) and out of pocket limits ($6,850 for my insurance).  I ran through both my insurance deductible and out of pocket limit during the first two weeks following my diagnosis.  Even if you have the money available, getting an unplanned bill for $6,850 is a financial shock.  Because of a few paperwork errors by my providers and my insurance it took until July to finally resolve all the medical billing.  I can assure those reading this that knowing that you will receive substantial medical bills is not a relaxing situation.  I also now have to adjust my budget to make room for future medical expenses that could easily top $1,000 a month.  That is particularly irksome since I had other plans for that money.

A cancer diagnosis also puts a sharp focus on your health.  Before my diagnosis I didn’t think about my health unless I was sick or had an injury.  I had let myself gain quite a lot of weight, but I wasn’t concerned about it.  The possibility that I might have cancer, a heart condition or some other ailment never crossed my mind.  I had the normal aches and pains that a 60+ person experiences, but put them down to “age” and filed them in the “nothing I can do about that” mental file.  That all changed with my CLL diagnosis.  My doctors were much more concerned with my health than I had been.  At their urging I have been tested for many things including my heart health and colon, lung, prostate, skin and a variety of other cancers.  Fortunately for me, with the exception of a basal cell carcinoma on my cheek (since resolved) I tested out disgustingly healthy.  I can tell you that having cancer while being otherwise healthy is quite annoying.  However, I am now VERY aware of the minutia of my overall health.  Perhaps the worst side effect of having CLL is that I now have a tendency to interpret EVERY ache and pain as a potential CLL symptom.  I have also spent an inordinate amount of time studying CLL, its symptoms, treatments and general molecular biology.  I have also done way too much research on things like immune thrombocytopenia, immune neutropenia and autoimmune hemolytic anemia, all of which can be caused by CLL.  As a consequence I have become much more familiar with the medical scientific literature than I ever thought I would.

Another change is that even though I am officially in “watch and wait” status, which means I have periodic blood tests and quarterly visits with my Hematologist/Oncologist, I find myself living from blood test to blood test.  That becomes stressful since I am having blood work done monthly.  If something in a test changes for the worse (increase in absolute lymphocyte count or decrease in any of platelet count, neutrophil count or amount of hemoglobin), the next test becomes critical since continuation in the worsening parameter could trigger treatment.  So I am always waiting for the results of the “next” test.

I have also made several lifestyle changes because of my CLL.  I am working at losing weight.  To that end I have made radical changes in my diet, largely in volume of food I eat.  I have cut out snacks and most alcohol.  Furthermore, because a couple of my early blood tests suggested that I had slightly decreased kidney function, I have largely eliminated animal protein from my diet.  I have not gone totally vegetarian in that I will eat things like lobster and scallops and an occasional cold cut for a special event.

Finally, my cancer diagnosis has changed my hopes for the future.  Prior to my diagnosis I had expectations of outliving my wife, who is eight years my senior and lost both parents when they were in their late 70s.  I “had” detailed plans of what I would do if/when she died and I was a healthy early septuagenarian.  Now I have to consider that she may well out live me.  So instead of living out my life on a boat cruising Puget Sound and the B.C. coast, I will most likely die before that opportunity arises.  In addition, I now expect to need to be near medical facilities, which greatly constrains where I can live and how much I can travel.  All I can say is that I am not happy with my new found mortality.  I miss being immortal.