Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I Hear You Knocking but You Can’t Come In

We had a wonderful Victoria Day weekend up the lake. When we arrived, the first thing we did was check out back. In addition to wood chips on the deck there was now pink insulation. Obviously our reflective device and boarding up the hole didn’t do the trick.

John’s mother, Helen, suggested painting large yellow and black owl eyes. This tactic worked when there was a woodpecker invasion at John’s #1 cabin. We got out two aluminum pans and my paints to quickly create two scary owls. Wayne went back up the ladder and to nail up more boards to recover the hole and install the two guard owls. For the rest of the day, all was quiet.

At 5:30 the next morning we heard someone knocking. We get unexpected guests at our cabin, but never at this ungodly hour. Obviously, this woodpecker isn’t afraid of owls, at least the aluminum pan variety. And now there are two, one sitting watch on the roof and one doing the drilling. Nest building is in full swing, and it seems that no other place will do. We spent the rest of the morning shooing our uninvited guests away. When there was no more activity in the afternoon, we thought we had won. But at 5:30 the next morning they were at it again, hammering away. At least long enough to wake us up to shoo them away. Back up the ladder Wayne went. This time we nailed another aluminum pan over the hole and two more to hang in front to discourage landing.

At 5:30 this morning we heard a large bird fly under the eves over our bedroom window, but no rat-a-tat-tat. Maybe we have finally won the battle. A few minutes later, Wayne said he heard the distinctive sound from across the bay. Hopefully it is at one of the dead trees in the bush and not a neighbor’s cabin. -- Margy

Friday, May 18, 2007


Now a little of the “not so good.” Each late spring when we return to our float cabin on Powell Lake we find a different challenge. Two years ago it was a nursery roost for Small Brown Bats between our ceiling and metal roof. Fortunately they couldn’t enter the cabin, but we could hear them exit each night and re-enter just before dawn. Sleeping late that summer wasn't easy. Last year we returned to find lots of Deer Mice living under our deck. One evening we could hear them scurrying in and out through a crack by the screen door. It took several trappings to get the last of the cabin occupants evicted.

New year, new challenge. We had just arrived and were putting our groceries away. There was a loud rat-a-tat-tat coming from the back of the cabin. Someone was knocking, but not on the front door. We went outside and around the corner of the float. Wayne got there first and saw a fairly large bird flying away towards the cliff. A visual inspection of the deck gave us our second hint. There were wood chips and slivers littering the boards. A look up towards the eves confirmed our worst fears. A woodpecker had chosen our cabin for her nest. Since there wasn’t a hole ready for occupancy, she was making one of her own.

We caught her just in time. An exposed beam was shredded, but entry under the roof had not been achieved. Wayne used some wood to block the hole and hung bright pink trail marking tape to flutter in the breeze. There was no sign of her for the rest of the day. The next morning at 5:45 a.m. we heard it again, rat-a-tat-tat. The eves are just over our upstairs bedroom window, so a loud “shoo” got her going back towards the cliff. An hour later, it was the same thing again. We didn't have a metal pie plate, so Wayne got a thin board and covered it with aluminum foil. We suspended it in front of the hole. Unfortunately, we had to return to town, so we won’t know if it was enough of a deterrent until we return today. Here’s hoping!!

Don't think I'm complaining. Challenges are what make living up the lake fun. We wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. We are heading back up the lake for the long Victoria Day weekend. Watch for more posts when I return to town next week. I’ll have more tales to tell for sure. -- Margy

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Home to Powell River Airport

Today we returned to Powell River (CYPW) in 997. It was good to be flying again. Our departure out of Bellingham International (our US home base) took us over the San Juan Islands and across to Victoria. Our first destination was Campbell River Airport (CYBL) to clear customs. Wayne called ahead to make the arrangements for entry with CANPASS.

Powell River with Powell Lake in the background.

After only a few questions, we were issued a clearance number over the phone. It is a really efficient system and I would recommend it if you fly to Canada with any frequency.

Powell River Airport
We flew into Campbell River and waited until our designated arrival time. No Customs officials came to meet our flight, so we were free to continue on to Powell River. We chose to fly using a Flight Itinerary having notified a responsible person (Helen, the mother of our good friend John) in Powell River of our flight plan and intended arrival time.

Westview Flying Club.
Crossing the Strait of Georgia took 30 minutes and we were back in our parking spot at the Westview Flying Club.

Along the way we could see a few cruisers and sailboats enjoying a warm, calm day on the chuck. They are the lucky ones. Over the long Victoria Day weekend there'll be more boaters heading to the prime anchorages. Then there will be a short hiatus before the summer onslaught starting just before Canada Day. We hope to get a few cruises of our own in before that happens. -- Margy

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Float Cabin Living - What Do You DO?

What do you DO with all your time? -- The "Final Answer" is . . .

There's never ENOUGH time! We love to be at our float cabin on Powell Lake, but are limited to six months a year due to our visitor status. Secondly, when we are in Powell River, there are lots of things that keep us busy like quadding, hiking, biking, flying and boating. But of all our "activities," we love being at our cabin best. What do we do when we're there? Here's just a few:

  1. Cabin maintenance. If you stay ahead of things, problems are diminished. This summer we will finish painting the exterior, shed and stairway.
  2. New projects. John does most of these, but we "assist." Next we would like to install a "real" bathtub in the "junk" room. We'll have to haul and boil water, but it should feel great on a cold winter night. John is used to our "harebrained" ideas.
  3. Wood gathering and splitting. We gather and split wood in spring and summer to get it ready for winter and keep it on the wood storage float until needed.
  4. Weather Watching. Unlike the city, we are more aware of changes in weather. Our HDTV sliding glass door gives us full view day and night. Plus, Wayne has all his "weather toys" to follow the trends.
  5. Writing. Living at the cabin generates lots of stories as well as a unique space for a writer's retreat for Wayne to work on his books. I also use the solitude to write grants and reports related to my consulting business.
  6. Reading. There's nothing better than a warm sunny day on the deck or a cold winter night by the fire to enjoy a good book.
  7. Boating. The cabin floats on Powell Lake, so there's lots of places to exlore by boat and kayak. For local jaunts we like to use our 14' tin boat.
  8. Hiking. Loggers have built many roads to their timber lots along the lake. On weekends or when logging isn't active these make excellent hiking trails. In winter, boots can be exchanged for snowshoes.
  9. Crafts. This is one activity that is a Margy thing. I like to paint with acrylics on things like jars, buckets and rocks.
  10. Gardening. Wayne helps me keep my garden float and upper land-based garden ready to produce delicious vegies for our summer and fall meals.
  11. Cooking. Wayne is the main cook at the cabin with the BBQ going all year round. Winter is cooking time for me when I experiment with baking on my wood-burning stove.
  12. Fishing. Whether it is from the cabin deck or trolling, fishing is fun. Every summer night fish tease us by jumping inside our log boom. But, oh, are they wily fish.
Of course, there's taking a sunbath on a warm summer day followed by a swim in the lake. Nothing feels better than that! So, as you can see, the question should have been -- How do you find enough time to do all that you do at the cabin?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Float Cabin Living - Cabin Floorplan

How Can You Live in Such a Small Space?

Our cabin is the fourth built by John. Each one has a different design, but we like ours the best. It's small enough (21'x20') to easily maintain but large enough not to feel cramped.

Part 3 - Cabin Floorplan

The first floor has most of the living space. There are two small bedrooms (7'x10'). One's for guests (mostly Mom) and the other's primarily storage. But, it has a twin bed for resting under the open window on a hot day. In the corner of the guest room we store a week's supply of firewood (Wood Storage Shelf Construction). That's handy, especially in winter. The remainder of the downstairs is in greatroom style. The kitchen and dining area are on one side and the living room with a woodburning stove is on the other. It's compact and very functional. The trick is to not clutter it up with stuff.

The second floor is a sleeping loft. When we purchased the cabin it was wall-to-wall beds (from its prior life as a rental cabin). We removed all but two twins that we pushed together to make a king. It is the loft that makes the cabin feel spacious. If you want to "get away" for awhile, this is the place to go. A window placed high on the opposite wall gives you a view of Powell Lake's First Narrows. Between naps you can watch work boats and cabin owners zipping by.

Really, if we had more space it would feel like work to keep it clean and maintained. If you are planning on building or purchasing a cabin, think about that. Bigger isn't always better. -- Margy

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Float Cabin Living - Cabin Raising

How Can You Live in Such a Small Space?

Part 2 - Cabin Raising

Wayne and I both grew up in the city. Our lives were focused on becoming specialists, an elementary teacher for me and aviation for Wayne. Schools didn't emphasize craft or trade classes, especially for the college bound. In fact, they were starting to phase them out completely. Our working parents spent much of their time away from home. There just weren't many opportunities for us to learn the skills of self-reliance in a generalist sort of way.

One of the things we loved immediately about Powell River was its different sense of purpose and people's self-reliance, people like John. He took all the craft and trade classes. He learned construction and mechanical skills working with his father and brothers. There isn't anything John can't do, or won't try. His education and life led him to be a generalist extraordinaire and accomplished entrepreneur.

After John completed the cedar log float ( see Float Construction), he started building the cabin. He designed it and completed the construction mostly on his own. For particulary heavy or difficult tasks, his brothers and father provided some assistance. Cabin construction was done next to John's cabin (called Number 1). On one of our rafters you can see size specifications written in permanent marker. That led us to ask John about blueprints. His answer was simple, there weren't any. He designed it in his head and built it as he went. Now that is talent! And his attention to detail is amazing. We couldn't have asked for a better cabin.

Tomorrow see how a small space can provide big living. -- Margy

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Float Cabin Living - Float Construction

How Can You Live in Such a Small Space?

This question was reiterated by a good friend just this week. He was wondering how a 9-day cruise with his wife would go in the confines of their new 40' Cruisers Motoryacht. He couldn't imagine how Wayne and I could share the limited space of our small cabin for such long periods of time without getting on each other's nerves. It's a little hard to explain, but I'll try.

Part 1 - Float Construction

First of all, John built the perfect cabin. His initial task was to construct a 40' x 40' cedar log float. Logs are hard to come by these days. Before regulation, you could harvest your own. Nowadays, logging companies own or have leases on all the timber around the lake. So, you must purchase an old float and redo the logs, or purchase new logs at lumbermill rates (Ouch, even if you can find them!). For our cabin, John started with logs from an existing float. He took the old float completely apart. Then he used 3/4" steel cables to lash them back together again. Read "Never Saddle a Dead Horse" (you'll just have to read the story) in Up the Lake for more details.

The float is the most critical component of cabin construction. It must be skookum (strong). It has to float high enough out of the water to support the weight of the cabin and everything else you bring on board (and that builds up over time!). If your float sinks too low or off balance, there goes your cabin. On the raft of tightly lashed logs, upright boards are nailed to support the decking. Once the deck in in place, cabin construction can begin.

After time, float logs become saturated. This causes them to sink farther into the water. Then they become even more saturated. It's a vicious cycle. To prevent this, additional flotation is needed. Way back when, more cedar logs were shoved underneath by big engined boats or tugs. We saw evidence of this practice on an old float at Rainbow Lodge. Today, plastic barrels, totes and styrofoam are used. Fifty-five gallon blue barrels are the most popular, but 300-gallon totes are becoming more common. Following heavy winter storms, you always find a few blue barrels floating on the lake. They have a tendency to pop out when cabins rock and roll in wind and waves. A common winter pastime is beachcombing for barrels. Who knows, the barrel you find may be your own!!

Stay tuned for the cabin raising! -- Margy

Friday, May 04, 2007

Float Cabin Living - Do You Get the Internet?

You can probably guess our decision about the Internet. Both Wayne and I spend an inordinate amount of time online in town. There's e-mail, webpages, my blog, not to mention forum posts to get the word out about our books. When we're at the cabin we don't want the pressure. But if you need service in a remote area, here's some information. Be sure to research carefully before making any decisions.

Cellular Internet Access

Cell phones can be used in two ways to access the Internet. The first is as a dial-up modem. You need cables to connect your laptop or PDA. You also need a dial-up Internet service provider (ISP) and will have to pay for cellular minutes while online. This can get expensive. The other method is to use the e-mail and web browsing services offered by a cellular provider. I am familiar with Telus and Nextel. Most companies have plans that include these services.

Satellite Internet Access

Satellite Internet can be accessed in two ways. If you have a satellite telephone, it can be used as a modem. I am familiar with Globalstar. You need a specialized cable and the data transfer speed is slow (9.6 Kbps). There are also ISPs that offer Internet using satellite dishes. Services come in two formats: satellite downlink with dial-up uplink (you need a landline) or two-way satellite. This is probably a better solution if you use the Internet freqeuently. Here are two providers to explore: Xplornet and Virgin Technologies.

Free Wireless Hotspots

When we cannot access the Internet in any other way, we look for free wireless hotspots. They are not always easy to find, but here is a web resource to give you a hand. In Powell River, we go to Rocky Mountain Pizza on Marine Avenue. It is within walking distance of the marina and ferry terminal. They also have good lattes, cinnamon buns and, of course, pizza.
Wireless Hotspots for Boaters
There are wireless service providers catering to boaters while moored at public and private docks. BroadbandXpress is one in the Pacific Northwest and Coastal BC. Here we are in Refuge Cove, a BroadbandXpress locations. In California, you can try iDockUSA. They have both short term and annual subscriptions.
Surf on! -- Margy

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Float Cabin Living - Do You Have Television?

I grew up in the golden age of television and it greatly influenced my life. In those days, the sets were big and heavy, but the pictures were small and grainy. Everything came in black and white. Programming was pretty much limited to old movies, sitcoms, game shows and, of course, the news. Cartoons were simple animations, but funny all the same (even funnier when I understood the innuendos). Every night stations signed off rather than switching to paid programming. To change the channel, you had to walk rather than click. Oh, those were the days.

When we got our float cabin, we could have installed satellite TV, but decided against it for several reasons. First, you need a good view of the southern sky. In the Hole in the Wall, the southern sky is partially blocked by tall trees. For best reception, the dish would need to be mounted on land. The float moves around even in a slight breeze. That would cause constant signal interruption. There are mobile versions for cars and boats, but now we are talking big bucks. We would need electricity to run the system, and for us that is very limited (Do You Have Power?). But most important of all, we didn't want the intrusion on our tranquility, even for a TV addict like me.

To keep in contact with the world we use radio. We can get public radio signals from Powell River (SUN.FM and JUMP) and beyond. As our big splurge, we subscribe to XM Satellite Radio. So, even though we can't SEE "Nancy Grace," we can HEAR her every word. If we really want to watch something, there are DVDs for our laptop. Or best of all, our "HDTV" screen to the real world, our sliding glass door. -- Margy

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Float Cabin Living - Do You Have a Telephone?

One thing we really like about our float cabin on Powell Lake is that it is off-the-grid. We have all the comforts of home (because it is), but with simplicity. When we are in town, we are amazed at how much excess there is. The saying is true, less is more.

Telephone communication makes our life in a remote area more comfortable. It provides a measure of safety that wasn’t available to pioneering families. But we try to keep our phone calls to a minimum so they don’t interrupt our lifestyle. Here are the two types of phones we have used.

Satellite Telephone Service

For many years we had a satellite telephone for emergencies while flying. The advantage of satellite service is that it works outside of landline and cellular areas. In North America there's Iridium and Globalstar (the one we used). Disadvantages included high cost (handset and service), outdoor operation for the antennae to reach the satellites, good sky exposure for optimal signal strength and signal degradation in rain and wind when the float moved during storms (when you want it the most!). After much frustration with dropped calls, we started exploring our cellular options.

Cellular Telephone Service
Just about everyone knows about cellular telephones. Our cabin is at the ragged edge of Powell River’s cell tower on Telus Mountain. Digital service reaches about 5 to 8 miles (8 to 13 km). Analog service extends the range, but has security disadvantages. Plus, there are plans to phase out analog in the future. To improve our cellular connection, we purchased an external antenna for my Motorola handset. It is the same type of antenna you would use on a car. The heavy magnet base attaches the antenna to our metal roof. The cable extends under the porch where we can now sit in comfort on the “phone booth” chair. Cellular advantages for us are: we get a more consistent connection, lower overall cost, and we don’t have to stand under an umbrella juggling a phone to keep it aligned with the satellites on a windy, rainy night.

I recommend that you explore all of your telephone communication options before making a decision. But for us, cellular was the better choice. -- Margy

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Float Cabin Living -- Do You Have Power?

Part 5 -- Generating Electricity

There are times when we just can’t make enough electricity with either solar or wind power. We really try to rely on renewable power sources, but on occasion we need to use a generator to give our batteries a good charge. If they drop too low, especially in the winter, it is very difficult to get them recharged high enough to begin using our electrical system again.

We purchased a small portable Coleman generator. There are two AC plugs and DC cables to connect to the storage batteries. It will run for about 7 hours on a tank of gas and allows us to recharge our computers at the same time our storage batteries get a needed boost. It is an inverter generator which is better to use with computers and electronic devices.

The generator also comes in handy when we need to use power tools. When the Gemini sprung a leak last summer, John had to cut a hatch in the deck to reach the hole. Without our Coleman, we wouldn’t have been able to do the job.

Today, there are quieter and more fuel-efficient models. We have been looking at the Honda EU2000i. But for now, our Coleman does the trick. Besides, we only need it in the winter when we are the only inhabitants in Hole in the Wall. Does a generator make noise when no one is around to hear it? -- Margy