The idea behind the camper is that I can travel to obscure parts of the U.S. to take pictures of birds and camp in some comfort.

So, as soon as I get the camper, I set off for the Sacramento River wetlands, where there are many birding opportunities.

I set up camp by a remote boat launching slipway on the river. I pop up the roof and luxuriate in my queen bed in the cozy warmth provided by, what the builders call, the furnace. This terminology seems a bit extreme, I think heater would do.

At dawn, I am on the swamp.


Dawn over the wetlands.


Killdeer. Click on all bird photos to get the real thing.

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Great White Egret


White Crowned Sparrow.


Red Tailed Hawk.


Northern Shoveler.


Mummy, Daddy and adolescent Snow Geese.  There are tens of thousands.



So many birds! This is what I like doing, I am absorbed. The day rushes by and I finally head back to San Francisco.

The city is completely hidden by smoke. I drive over the Bay Bridge but cannot see the huge skyscrapers of downtown SF.  Apparently San Francisco has the worst air quality of any city in the world. Yay!

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Camper Smoke

As  you know, there has been a devastating fire North East of San Francisco. Many have perished in the worst recorded forest fire in California history.

I head straight towards it to have my 4 Wheel Camper fitted. https://fourwh.com  Strange trip. There is thick smoke everywhere and the usual landmarks, ocean, mountains, bridges, have all disappeared.

Anyway I get to Woodlands.


Truck before camper. Strangely visibility better in Woodlands than in SF.

The people at 4 Wheel Campers do a great job.

It only takes an hour to get the camper fully installed.


Jessica explains how it all works.


Camper in camping plumage.


Camper in traveling plumage. Sun going down in the smoke.

Yay, I have my Camper after a couple of years of planning.

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Smoke It

San Francisco is covered in smoke from the deadly forest fires across the Bay. People wander around wearing  facemasks. Schools are closed. I had to go to the DMV to renew truck documents and find a milling, vaguely dangerous crowd.  All driving tests were cancelled. Many, very unhappy people, who had waited weeks for their appointment. I was scared someone would pull a gun!

Anyway, I have to get connected. First phone, then computer. I have a Japanese phone that I have to get naturalized. I go to the nearest Apple Store.

” Can you make this phone American?”

” No problem Neil.” says my new best friend, Travis.



I now need to get a US SIM card. With my usual luck, I walk  straight into an ATT kiosk that has been set up in the middle of the mall. Aaron is competent, clear and smiling. 10 minutes later, I have a US number and a designer plan for the 4 months I will be here.


Thanks Aaron

I have no laptop since leaving gainful employ. James digs out his MacBook Pro, which he no longer uses. It is not feeling very well, it will not start up and the battery is dead. Who you gonna call? Love Haight Computers of course. It is on Haight St, very close to the apartment.


Go there

They fix older Macs. New battery, re-install operating system = $160. Same day service.


My new computer!

Amazingly, a colleague from OIST days stumbles out of the smoke. Harry is on some kind of fact finding tour of Californian universities.


This is not Japan.




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Farewell to Ginowan

So, I am now in the USA and will remain here until March 2019. I have finally got a computer so can start posting again.

Farewell Ginowan Marina. I have spent a memorable 10 months there working on the boat. She was more or less a wreck in January but is now an almost new boat. This was only possible because of the constant support and encouragement from the people at the boatyard. Thank you Kiyuna san, Sato san, Akiko san, Tabata san, China san, Nick san, Rika san, Kano san, Miyagi san, and a host of others.


Rika san helps me lower the mast for the last time.

I go for a last wander around the pontoons. The water is crystal turquoise and full of fish.


Lion Fish


Thousands of sprat like things swim around the stanchions.

Thank you Ginowan Marina – I’ll be back.




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Woe, Destruction, Ruin, and Decay

The Okinawan climate is very hard on boats. The worst culprit is intense sun that dries out and bleaches all the woodwork. At the start of the project I gave all the wood 6 coats of wood treatment stuff and 4 coats of yacht varnish. I thought that would set me up for  a couple of years. Not so.


The top 2 slats normally face inwards and are unharmed The bottom slat is nearly white again after 6 months


The combings were jet black and shiny a couple of months ago.

The other problem is very high humility. This causes rust on any iron/steel fittings and mildew on any surface.


My happy hippo winch is rusting after a couple of months.

I forgot to mention that the mighty Yanmar is now bolted in place and fully wired up! Just needs diesel and a battery.


It has been a long job. Notice mildew on the engine compartment walls.


No rust on air intake a couple of weeks ago.


I repaint the happy hippo winch with heavy duty anti rust paint.

I take great care on this job.  I tape everything off to avoid any sloppy smears or dribbles. I have nearly finished when, to my dismay, I find there is paint everywhere!



The loose ends of my OIST Graduation bracelet have been dangling into the paint and dribbling it all over. No more hippy stuff for me.

I will be leaving the boat for 4 months. I can see that on my return, I will have to do a major wood repaint and mildew clean.


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Oxi Clean

My jeans are always grubby. Just putting them through the cold wash, only option on Japan, does not remove the grime.

On  a recent visit to the university, an esteemed colleague immediately comments on how grubby my jeans are. I am abashed. I ask Naoko for help and she recommends Oxi Clean, an American product reputedly excellent for dislodging dirt.

After messing about on the boat, I go to adjacent megasupermarket San A  to buy Oxi Clean. A charming assistant helps me but after much diligent searching she finally admits that that San A does not stock Oxi Clean. She suggests that I try Tokyu Hands, another massive store in the same mall. I thank her profusely and go to buy some potatoes. At the check out, one of thirteen, the assistant rushes up to me and indicates that Tokyu Hands does stock Oxi Clean. She has rung a friend who works there, I think. So kind.

I shuffle off to Tokyu Hands, which is huge, and as soon as I start looking another assistant comes up to me and asks with a big smile,”Oxi Clean desuka?”  She has been waiting for me and immediately takes me to the Oxi Clean location.

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One sixteenth of Tokyu Hands. Find the Oxi Clean.

I will never get used to the level of service in Japan. Thank you.


Can’t wait to wash my jeans.


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Perfect is the Enemy of Good

The boat came with all her running rigging, right quality, right lengths, right eye splices  but the rope was black with mildew and generally tawdry.  Only the best for the Norfolk Gypsy!  So I decide to replace the old rope for new. Big mistake!


Some of the former rigging rope, post washing machine.

I foolishly do  not consult the gurus that surround me about what sort of new rope I should buy, but rush off and purchase 200 meters of rope that looks pretty. Big mistake!


New but bad rope fully installed.

Frequent followers of this blog will know that Sato san, he who should be obeyed, was very disparaging, in a Japanese way, about the new rope. It had to be replaced. He kindly gives me a bunch of high quality rope.


Yay! Sato san

I re-rig the boat and it turns out that the throat halyard and peak halyard are too short.  Sato san says he will lengthen them by splicing on new rope. Then came one ultra mega and one normal typhoon. Total confusion. Then came a period of bad weather with heavy rain. Then Sato san went to Yokohama to tune boats up there.

The upshot is that six weeks have passed with little progress. The defining parameter in all this is I go to California for 4 months starting early November. It has become clear that even if I get the boat in the water, I would have to take her out again after a few days to lay her up for my absence.

I wish I had used the original rigging. The perfect is the enemy of the good.


Comfort food


This one has several soft boiled eggs.


I pay my mooring fees.


My friends start their gardening year by planting potatoes

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