Friday, April 2, 2021

Quest for Carbon Neutral - Why You Should Consider Buying an Electric Car

Three years ago we decided as a family to focus on reducing our carbon emissions. You may say, "Well you are a little late to the party" so let me explain. While it has been many years since we recognized the problem and started making some attempts to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, we were not doing it in any sort of structured way. We decided it was time to stop and consider our actions. We could either bury our heads in the sand and continue to be a part of the problem or we could try to be a part of the solution. We went with the second option. 

Why do we care? Well, maybe not for the same reasons as some others. I'm not the guy that says "Climate change is going to destroy the world! Island nations are going to be flooded, hurricanes are going to destroy everything, bugs will eat up the forests, all the coral will die, Africa will burn up, and the Arctic will melt." I tend to think that humans are very good at adaptation. We will use technology and ingenuity to cope with whatever effects climate change brings. We are very good at solving problems when disaster is imminent and our survival depends on it. Also, the earth has gone through phases of being both much hotter and much colder than it is now. Who's to say what the "right" temperature is? Nature will always find a way.

I care about greenhouse gas emissions for two reasons. First, burning oil is fucking gross. Think of the smell of parking garages. Think of standing at a traffic light in a nice downtown area, choking from the exhaust coming from the traffic congestion. Think of the obnoxious roar of a Harley ripping by as you are taking a peaceful walk through your neighbourhood. Think of the rainbow hue that develops around petrol stations when it rains. Think of the reek of the greasy, oily rags hanging in most people's garden sheds. I even think of the disgusting stink of the burning diesel when we used the motor on our sailboat.

Secondly, the way we burn oil is wasteful. Oil is an incredibly valuable and non-renewal commodity but we don't treat it like that. Because it is so cheap, and we are so efficient at extracting it, we burn it unnecessarily. If we're hoping the Earth will still be supporting humans in 10,000 years, then why are we trying so hard to use up all of its resources now? It doesn't make sense. It insults my prairie-sensibility and sense of stewardship.

To turn ideas into action, we decided that the best way would be to incorporate the calculation and monitoring of our family's carbon emissions into our annual planning exercise. If you can't measure it, you can't control it.

Since 2005 I have been preparing an "Annual Report" for our family which is a review of how we did during the year across a range of areas such as Finances, Travel, Fitness, Employment/Business, and Personal goals. We typically review the goals we set the previous year and measure how well we performed, then set new goals for the upcoming year. I typically spend several days over Christmas generating spreadsheets, looking through purchase receipts, reviewing investments, tallying, analyzing, and eventually compile a year end package of reports and a PowerPoint presentation.

And now you are thinking, "WHAT A NERD!" and you would be right, but I do get a lot of enjoyment from the exercise (it's the Finance guy in me). It has become even more fun since adding in the calculation of our family's overall carbon emissions. With all the traveling our family has done, we've left a cloudy trail of greenhouse gasses all over the world with hardly a thought. So in 2018 I first calculated our family's total emissions for the year (it was awful, way worse than I was expecting) and then together we compiled a list of specific things we could do to reduce it. One of these was to look into an electric vehicle to replace one of our two gasoline powered ones.

It has been one year since we bought our first EV (electric vehicle) - a 2017 Nissan Leaf. It was a PowerPoint presentation Magnus did that convinced us it was time to make the leap. As part of a school project he did an analysis of the electric vehicles currently on the market and sat us down one evening to convince us why investing in an EV would be an excellent idea, and why that vehicle should definitely be a Tesla or a Chevy Bolt, but definitely not a Nissan Leaf. The main reason, he said, was the range. The newer models of the Leaf claimed a range of about 180 kilometers, compared with the Tesla or Bolt which were hundreds higher. What he did not weigh heavily enough though in his analysis was the cost of buying the vehicle.

We bought a three year old Leaf for $19,000, which was far lower than we were expecting to pay for a relatively new EV. The car was in pristine shape and had only 21,000 kilometers. I had budgeted for the installation of a Level 2 fast charging station at home, but after a while we realized that the onboard standard charger, which simply plugs into a regular outlet, was able to charge the car back up to 100% overnight since our daily usage was normally well under half the available range. That was another couple of thousand dollars we did not need to spend.

The experience of owning an EV has been nothing short of amazing. Most people think you buy an EV to simply replace your gas vehicle and keep on using and driving the car the same way, but I've learned this is not what happens. For a two vehicle family like us, the gas one has become a pariah, a social outcast, a heel, an untouchable. We have changed the way we use our cars such that the EV is driven as much as possible and we only use the gas one when we need the range - which is rare, or if we need to be in two different places at the same time, which is also rare (especially now that I am working from home most of the time).

The way you drive is different too. You are hyper aware of the energy you are using in the car, because the range gauge adjusts instantly depending on how you are driving and what you are using in the car. Do you really need the heat or AC on maximum? Do you really need to be driving at 120 kph on the highway? In a gas car you hammer the accelerator to get up to speed, then when you approach a traffic light you hammer the brakes, which turns into all of that potential energy from the movement of the vehicle (created by burning fuel) into heat and worn brake pads. This energy is completely wasted. In an EV, you don't use the brakes like this. Instead, letting off the accelerator engages a recharge mechanism that turns the vehicle's momentum back into battery power. In fact, when you are going down a hill, or slowing down from the highway onto an exit ramp, you can often see the range meter moving higher as the battery gets repowered. After getting used to this, you start to really hate the brakes on you gas car as the waste is so much more evident.

One other thing - idling. When you come to a stop in an EV, everything goes silent. It is using no energy. When you stop a gas vehicle, that motor keeps on running needlessly. Being stuck at a long traffic light idling in my old gas vehicles used to bug me a bit, but after driving an EV for a year, it now drives me insane. The same thing happens at the fast food restaurant drive-through - all those idling vehicles spewing their shit into the atmosphere while they wait in line. It's gross.

Now some might say, "Now hold on there Krissy-boy, I've read that the overall environmental impact of driving an EV is just as bad as a gas car because of the materials used to build the batteries." This may have been true in the past, but I think many of the issues around this are being solved, and the process will continue to improve over time. Also, the electric engines on EVs are built to last for a very, very long time - we're talking a million kilometres, so as long as the body lasts these cars can go forever, and they go without the need for oil changes, transmission fluid changes, belt replacements, and all those little gremlins that plague internal combustion engines.

Lastly, costs. Our average yearly gasoline expense before buying the EV was $2514. In the past 12 months we spent only $483. By my best estimate, the yearly cost of electricity for the EV is about $360 giving us a net saving of around $1671 on fuel. I can probably add on another $200 - $300 on savings from fluid changes and other maintenance costs I'm avoiding. These cost savings are nice, but the main factor for us really is the reduced environmental impact of having an EV. Of course, having no car at all would be far better, but we're just not at the stage of life where that is possible.

One thing that I've learned over time is that you can't control what other people do. Everybody has to make their own decisions and come to their own conclusions. You can only control yourself and your own impact on the world, and that's where you have to start. But what I can do is write these blogs, talk to people, and share my experiences. Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

COVID One Year In

"What the hell are you doing?" I asked, one Friday night not too long ago.

"Shaving my socks, obviously," replied Ana as she looked over briefly, then continued running the strangely shaped electric buzzing instrument over the fabric.

I didn't know socks needed shaving, like faces or lady legs. So I was perplexed. "Dare I ask why you are shaving your socks?"

"Do you have a better suggestion?"

I didn't. It was February. It was cold. And we were still in a damn pandemic lockdown.

"Our Friday nights used to be way better," I lamented as I discarded my jeans in favour of cozy pajama bottoms. It was 6:30pm. And dark already. I don't remember what happened after that, but if the preceding winter months were any guide, it involved a couch, a blanket, and a television.

This blog is a great indication of how dull life has been this winter. I haven't written anything here for seven months, which must be some sort of record for me. Normally I might have written about a weekend trip to Buffalo (sorry, border closed, neighbours infected), a January week in Cuba (sorry, two weeks of quarantine required, no can do), or perhaps even a modest trip to Quebec to visit my bro (no leaving the red zone, stay at home, avoid contact). I was thinking of writing a series of daily blogs about an imaginary trip we had taken somewhere exotic but then decided against it when I realized I was far too lazy, plus it would just be too punishing imagining it.

But now we're headed towards the end of March and life is looking much better indeed. Longer days, no more snow on the ground, warmer temperatures, vaccines arriving by the millions, Covid death rates way down, and a leader for our neighbours to the south that is focused on solving problems rather than creating unnecessary chaos in their country and around the world.

Despite my hollow, first world bellyaching, I do think it has been a valuable year. It has highlighted the fragility of life, the sensitivity of supply chains, the power of viruses, and the inability of most countries to respond fast enough to dangerous situations. It has also enabled many organizations and governments to explore better and more efficient ways of doing things. Sadly, many people have died. We can only hope that the lessons we've learned here will make our systems stronger and more resilient and allows us to prevent death in future pandemics or other disasters.

At this point last year, there was little optimism that developing a vaccine within a year was remotely possible. But it happened, and not just one vaccine, but many, thanks to the funding provided by governments, organizations, and companies, and the incredible work done by scientists and countries collaborating all around the world. It is an amazing achievement and gives me great hope that maybe, just maybe, we will have the collective fortitude to solve other big worldwide problems (any guess at which one comes to mind?)

Strangely, there seems to be many people who seem committed to not take a vaccine, despite overpowering evidence they are safe and effective. I've also realized there is little point in trying to sway the opinions of such people as they tend to approach the subject as more of a religion or belief than a decision to be made. I think this is the result of a long time cultural shift to viewing our fellow citizens as independent individuals as opposed to a collection of people working together as a team to improve our country and the collective lives of those that live here. When the individual trumps the collective it make it hard to get things done. And when a large number of individuals decide they will not take a small personal risk (accepting a vaccine despite the very small possibility it will cause them harm) in support of the greater good and supporting the people that are not physically able to take a vaccine, then this diminishes us as a county and as a people.

But here's the funny part. If you bring this down from the social media level (STOP GOVERNMENT CONTROL, THERE'S TRACKING CHIPS IN THE VACCINES, THE ILLUMINATI CONSPIRACY IS REAL) to the human level, I do think anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are reasonable people indeed. For example if grandpa dies, and grandma has no choice but to come live with me, and because of a serious allergy grandma cannot take a vaccine, I do expect that the vast majority of anti-vaxxers would take a vaccine if not doing so meant potentially killing grandma. These people are not monsters, I think they just don't feel the same sort of empathy towards strangers as they do towards close family.

Everybody wants this to be over. Is there a better way of doing it? Maybe. But I do think governments are trying their best. Remember, none of these leaders have ever been in this situation before, so they are learning as they go and making mistakes along the way, just like any of us would if we were in the same situation. Government does not have all the answers, and we shouldn't expect them to.

Mask up, vaxx up, and let's hope for a good summer!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Analysis of a Trip and Becoming Landlubbers

Our final sailing trip is done, the miles are logged, and the boat is sold. The four of us spent 27 days on the boat, logging over 1200 kilometres (660 nautical miles), which translates into approximately 131 hours on the water, or about 5 hours sailing per day. I looked back at our previous sailing trip to the North Channel five years ago and we did about the same number of miles but in half the time, so the pace of this trip was far better. We managed to cover most of what we wanted to see, missing a few spots such as Beardrop Harbour, Winfield Basin, Penetanguishene, Meaford, and Collingwood, but we visited so many other amazing places we didn’t expect to which more than made up for it. The fact is, this area is huge and packed with so much to explore that you could never, ever be done with it, and the ever changing water levels means that new anchorages open up, new beaches appear, the shorelines change and adapt, and it really is a new experience every time. The next time we sail here I could see us taking an entire season and adding in Lake Michigan and maybe even a small part of Lake Superior before returning to the North Channel and Georgian Bay to fill in some of the holes.

It was such a pleasure boating with our buddies Tony and Angela. They are just amazing people and the best travel companions one could hope for. This is now the fourth trip we’ve done with them and I hope there will be many more. The time we spent with the German-Hinds at their beautiful Manitoulin cottage was priceless, and such a nice break from the sailing routine. We have so much in common with them and always enjoy every minute we spend together. I’d love to do a big trip with them sometime too - preferably for 3 months backpacking around Asia. Then, of course, was the incredible day we spent with the Bradshaw family in Parry Sound, where we made some new friends and spent time with old friends on their home turf enjoying the pleasures of great food and excellent company. To top it off, we got to see our friends Ken and Sheila on the final day we were with the Henriques, so although we were out exploring so many new places, it was made so much better by spending time with all these fantastic people along the way. What a trip!

So here I now sit, back at home, in our gigantic mansion of a house compared to the cramped living quarters we’ve occupied for the past month in the belly of Bella Blue, coming to terms with being boatless. Owning a boat is a huge commitment in both money and time. With Bella Blue, every weekend of the year from April to October was spoken for, from spring launch to the full weekends spend on her all summer with our dock family, our extended sailing trips, then the sad month of October where she was dry docked, winterized, covered in a tarp (or several), and put to sleep for the season. But then our schedule would change dramatically. After months of ignoring our Paris and Brantford friends, we’d reconnect and be back into Friday night happy hour at local breweries, Saturday night dinner parties, Sunday day trips around the area attending festivals and exploring shops, and all the festive Christmas activities in December, followed by three months of miserable cold winter, usually broken up with a week in Cuba, then it was back into boat season.

But this year will be different. While the COVID-19 appears to be relatively under control in Ontario, this could turn on a dime, so we are still being cautious, which means no abundance of dinner parties and keeping our social circle very limited. And there will almost definitely be no international travel this year, meaning no mid-winter trip somewhere warm to break up the monotony of the cold months. Our new boatless situation means that we are going to have even more time available for weekend activities so the challenge is going to be figuring out what to do with this time. That is going to be tricky. Perhaps I will take up knitting? Or the crochet? Or maybe I’ll finally get serious about learning Portuguese and focus on that? In any case, it’s not often one is given the gift of time, so we will make the most of it. As far as the next boat, we are already looking, but the logistics of finding, inspecting, and relocating a boat with the COVID restrictions in place will make it very difficult. But who knows what the future may hold?

So here’s to the final adventure on Bella Blue! It was a lovely ride my darling, we wish you well and thank you for all the joy you brought to our lives. Bon voyage!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Little Current to Paris

Ana and I were up at 6am, and by 7 everybody was showered and fed and hauling stuff out of the boat to the dock. I was really proud of the kids as they really pitched in and we were working together like a well-oiled machine. Mark arrived by 8am with histruck and we piled that sucker high, then used a tarp to hold it all together. As usual, everything just fit. We took one last photo in front of Bella Blue then Stella kissed the hull to say goodbye to our beautiful sailboat, then we walked away, without looking back.

We drove 45 minutes to South Baymouth, which is on the south-eastern corner of Manitoulin island then boarded the Chi-Cheemaun ferry which took us to Tobermory in about 90 minutes. From there it was a very nice drive home as we talked with Mark the whole way and learned a whole lot about his career as a police officer, and he gave us some great tips on how to beat the polygraph, frame others for crimes, cover your tracks, lie convincingly in court, select the best ammo, outrun the cops, and avoid jail time. All useful life skills.

We were so happy to have found Mark and Kelly as we really wanted to sell our boat to great people who will take care of her and enjoy her just as much as we have, and we know they will.

By 5:30pm we were home, and by 6 we had Mark’s truck unloaded with our stuff then reloaded with the sailboat stands, tarps, and other bits and pieces he would need for the boat, and he was back on the road for the long drive back to Sudbury. The rest of the evening was spent unpacking and reacquainting ourselves with life on land, then we collapsed exhausted from the day.

Training Day!

We woke up to a glorious, sunny day in the North Channel and after lake baths and Stella’s last big jump off the cockpit arch, we sailed back into the Spider Bay Marina. Mark arrived shortly after that and we began Training Day. I had put together a list of all the things I wanted to show him, which began with boat documentation and training manuals, so while we were doing that Ana and the kids headed into town for a walk and to explore.

Mark and I went through all of the manuals, discussed training and licensing requirements, then later went through all of the boat systems, with Stella helping out by creating a video of these that I’d be able to send to Mark for his reference. We then all went out on the water and showed Mark how to undock the boat, use the chart plotter and other instruments, anchor, went through some basic collision avoidance rules, then had lunch near Picnic Island. An afternoon sail ensued, and we had nice steady winds to show Mark how to use each of the lines, trim the sails, and maneuver on the water under sail. It wasn’t until 5 or so that we returned to the marina and gave him the helm to practice docking - probably the most difficult part of boating, and he did exceptionally well. Lastly, we motored over to gas dock for a final pump out and to explain the fueling process. As we approached the gas dock Ana simultaneously overestimated the length of her legs and underestimated the distance from the boat rails to the dock surface and crashed to the dock after leaping off the sailboat. But she did something like a judo breakfall, then a masterly stuntman roll and popped right back up with nothing but a scratch on her ankle. The strange thing was that there was nobody there to witness it, and Ana usually saves her docking fails for when there’s a huge crowd of spectators. After she brushed herself off she said to Mark, “So that’s not exactly the best way to come into the gas dock!”

We finished up training day around 6:30pm and we were all thoroughly spent, plus my throat hurt like hell as I was definitely not used to talking all day long. Stella had done some research on the local food scene and guided us to Elliott’s Restaurant where we had fish tacos, pizza, and nachos, then finished it off with desserts - ice cream and an amazing bread pudding, all delicious.

Despite being exhausted, once back at the boat we continued the packing that Ana had already started and worked together to gather and bag all of the stuff on the boat that we were taking with us. And there was a lot - about the equivalent of 20 black garbage bags, and by the time we were done there was so much stuff piled up that Magnus had to sleep on the floor and Stella could just squeeze into her berth and sleep on the edge of her bed. That was it - our final night on Bella Blue.

Rous Island

Sailboats are strange creatures. They have a personality all of their own. They have guarded secrets, mysteries, rituals, protocols, and it takes you a very long time to familiarize yourself, never mind actually ever really understanding, why things work the way they work on a sailboat. Take, for instance, our boat’s barbecue grill. It is a simple device - really just some stainless steel welded together with a burner and grill, and it runs off one of those little green propane tanks. You should be able to turn on the gas, light it up, throw on your food, and cook it until it’s done. But that’s not how this sailboat grill works. First, you turn on the gas. Then you stick a BBQ lighter into the ignition hole near the burner and flick it on. Nothing happens. You can smell gas. So you light it again, and you can see the flame, but still nothing happens. It’s only when you get your arm or head or any other body part sprouting hair close enough to the grill that it ignites and scorches off whatever hair is left from the last time you lit the grill. You then have to press on the temperature control knob to give it double the gas and really get it burning, but half the time it will simply flame out, then you have to light it again, and that usually doesn’t work until you use your other still-haired arm to light it. Sometimes it will then run for a while on its own, but as soon as you put your food in, it simply will not stay reliably lit unless the lid is left open a crack using, what I call, the sacrificial wiener. I tried explaining this whole thing to Tony last week and his first comment was, “Doesn’t that hurt?” Now it doesn’t specifically have to be a wiener (and definitely not your wiener) - it can be an edge piece of whatever you are cooking, but unless there’s a chunk of food sticking out, it simply does not work properly. But it’s all part of the never-ending fun and adventure of living on a boat.

After listening to the 9am Cruiser’s Net channel 71 boaters briefing from Roy Eaton (see for a great story of Roy’s 15 years of broadcasts) I went for a walk downtown while the rest of my gang was getting ready for the day, and by 11 or so we were pushing off the dock for a short 4.5 mile run to Rous Island, a nice anchorage just west of Little Current. It was a very windy day, but sunny, and the anchorage was calm and empty. We got anchored then spent what I think was the most relaxing day of the trip - we swam, jumped off the boat, played frisbee from boat to dinghy, caught a few perch, went for dinghy rides, listened to classic rock, and Ana and I even had naps in the cockpit while the kids left us alone. It was glorious, and such a great way to spend the last real day of the trip. Nearly every day of this adventure has been full, with a mission or goal in mind, but the goal today was just to relax and have fun and that’s exactly what we did.

We stayed overnight at the anchorage and went to bed early, as we needed to be back in the marina by 9 the following morning to meet the new owner Mark and do a full day of Bella Blue training. The end was near.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Heywood Island to Little Current

Today’s blissfully short ride of 8 miles to Little Current was going to feel like a walk to the bathroom compared to the miles we logged yesterday. The morning was calm and beautiful and the anchorage looked much less dangerous during daylight hours. Last night there must have been a huge mayfly hatch as the boat was covered in bugs this morning, which is unusual for this area as we’ve been finding the bugs are really only bad for an hour or so at dusk, then during the day you just get the odd deerfly or horsefly nibbling on your ankles or toes. I spent half an hour with the bucket and brush cleaning off the buggage, trying to get the boat back into pristine condition. The kids and I then had our morning lake bath in the warm and still surprisingly clear 25 degree water.

As we were getting ready to depart, I was pulling up the anchor and the kids were in the cockpit looking around. All of a sudden Magnus says, “Dad, I think I see a bear swimming through the channel!!” I looked over and sure enough a black bear was bear-paddling his way across the anchorage entrance with his black head just sticking out of the water. I quickly hauled in the anchor then motored the boat over closer to get a good look at him. The kids wanted me to run right up on the bear so they could jump on its back and take a ride into shore but I didn’t think that was a good idea (for us or the bear) so we kept our distance, but had a great view of him swimming across, pulling himself out of the water, running onto shore, and then standing up on his back legs and looking directly back at us. The kids were thrilled! They had never seen a bear in the wild before so this was quite a spectacle. We had spoken with a boater back in the Benjamins who had told us there had been reports of a bear in the Heywood’s swimming up to boats and actually clawing his way up onto them and eating food left outside, so perhaps this was the perpetrator.

We sailed into Little Current and got docked at Spider Bay Marina, one of the worst marina names I can imagine as boaters are spiders are arch-enemies as those little buggers web up your boat nightly, drop staining poos onto your fiberglass and cushions, and explode on your sails making awful black and green stains. Plus sometimes they crawl into your mouth when you are sleeping - this is what causes bad breath. The marina itself is small, but quite nice with a nice office building, bathrooms and showers. Our new buyer had reserved a slip for the rest of the season so it was already paid for, and the dock hand confirmed we were all set and didn’t need to get registered.

The ladies walked into town to pick up a few things while Magnus stayed in the boat and enjoyed the AC. It was blazing hot outside today with full sunshine and a fair bit of activity happening in downtown Little Current. Ana and I considered stopping for a drink somewhere, but instead we returned to the boat, made drinks, and walked over to the nearby park for a potential swim, but the beach was full of scraggly weeds and goose poo and the water was shallow and mucky so instead we parked ourselves on a picnic table and talked mainly about our next boat.

It was a slow and relaxing evening - I cooked up bok choy on the bbq (delicious) along with salads and some packaged bacon wrapped chicken medallions that we had procured from the $10 bin at Food Basics four weeks ago and had been through at least half a dozen freeze/thaw cycles so were bloody awful and I feared I’d poisoned the entire crew. While Ana and were making dinner, the kids entertained themselves by playing frisbee inside the boat - yes, it is possible, and they didn’t even knock anything over.

There was mention of watching a movie, but as usual it didn’t happen. I had assembled at least 40 movies on USB sticks ranging in quality from horrible to bad to completely stupid (Nacho Libre, Blazing Saddles, Hot Tub Time Machine - you get the picture), but give me a break - after this year’s COVID lockdowns we have already seen every good movie ever made, so what to do?