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First camping trip in 2020

February 07, 2020 — BarryK

I have been away for about five days, on the South Coast of Western Australia, at the Benwenerup campground. The South Coast is a great place to be in the summer, as the weather is mild, quite changeable actually -- over the days that I was there, a couple of days it was quite hot, I think mid-30s, a couple of nights were quite cool, one morning there was a drizzle of rain, most days there was a cool breeze coming from the south.

Anyway, the campsite. It is run by DPAW:

This post is a mini-review of the campsite and the experience of staying there.

I went there just after the school holidays, as these coastal campsites can get crowded during holidays. There are 14 bays, some of which are large enough to take a group with 3 or 4 RVs. When I arrived, only 3 bays were occupied, 2 were caravans and one was a campervan -- the latter was a young foreign couple, who departed early the next morning. The other two were elderly couples -- yes, grey nomads!

I found a nice spot, with adequate shade but still with a nice aspect to get sun for my solar panel:


The cost is $7 per person (concession price, AU dollars), but there was also a $8 fee to get into the Stokes National Park (again, concession price). I booked in for five days, and paid the site host, Phil. Phil is another grey nomad, travelling solo. There are people who volunteer as site-hosts at DPAW campgrounds. In Phil's case, he decided that he wanted to do something useful in his retirement, so became a DPAW volunteer. he explained that the site-hosts only stay for one month at a site, then move on. In his case, he volunteers on the South Coast during the summer, then heads north in the winter.

Phil has a caravan, pretty well decked out, with TV dish, solar power, etc. Ditto for the other grey nomads that I met there. One thing of note: everyone was very friendly. One caravan left the next day, leaving just one -- and I met them at the waterfront, fishing.

Which gets to the big question: what do people do there? Very little, apart from fishing. I chatted with the couple who were fishing, and they commented that most visitors just stay one night. If they come with kids, they realise there is not much to entertain the kids, so they move on.

Yes, there are no walking trails, and the campground is on an inlet, cutoff from the ocean by a sandbar, and the water is murky-looking:


...what is causing that froth? It was there every day, all along the shore. One information poster did say that there is some pollution from farmland. Even though the location is inside Stokes National Park, tributaries flow from further afield.

I asked the couple, who seemed to know a lot about the place, about whether I could swim in it. They commented that no one does, kids don't either. Well, I did, once, but kept my head above water.

The ocean is not far away, but there is no road to it, apparently not even a 4wd track. There is a "day use area" about 1.7km toward the ocean from the campsite, that one can drive to, but then the walk to the ocean, along the edge of the inlet, is about an hour. The couple had done the walk on an earlier visit.

I did not want to walk one hour each way, just for a swim in the ocean.

First night there, I had a very pleasant surprise -- there is a phone signal (Telstra), quite a strong one, 3 bars on my phone. Yay, I was online that night!:


Another pleasant surprise, the next day I discovered the camp kitchens, two of them. Rainwater and gas barbecue and stove. And, the gas was free. By stove, I mean just a ring burner -- at one of the camp kitchens, the flame kept going out due to the strong breeze, but the other is more sheltered and stayed lit.

The photo shows sink at one end, gas barbecue in the middle, and ring-burner on the right:


This is the first outing for my Coleman 4P Instant-up Dark-room vestibule tent, that I posted about awhile back:

...yes, quite satisfactory. "Instant up" is misleading though, as that only applies to the inner skin. The "dark room" outer fly skin takes awhile longer to erect, and there are poles for the front vestibule, and pegs are required really, the time to put it up is not much less than any other 4-person tent.

I did like the experience of the "dark room". Having windows on both inner and outer skins gave a lot of flexibility to control the amount of light entering and ventilation. On the couple of hot days, the feeling was that it was doing a good job of keeping the interior a bit cooler than an ordinary tent.

Now for some bad news: my cheap MPPT solar regulator, purchased from China via eBay, turned out to be a disaster. I posted about it here:

...yes, unlike some others from China, that profess to be MPPT but are actually only PWM, this one is genuine MPPT. That is the good news. This camping trip was the first test in the field. At first, it looked good. I took the Atem Power "250 watt" solar panel on this trip, with the panels wired in series, so putting out a nominal 24 volts.

That Atem Power panel is another story, another cheap product from China:

...anyway, 157 watts is OK for this trip, and the panel is very light so easy to lift.

The MPPT regulator takes care to feed the correct voltage and current into the battery, and at first it was doing a very good job. Lead acid batteries have 3 stages required to charge them properly. The second stage, when the battery is about 80% full (if I recall rightly) is a boost charge at a higher voltage, then it drops down to a lower-voltage float charge.

Anyway,sometime in the afternoon, I measured the battery voltage, and it was 16.55 volts!!!!!

That is really bad, and I immediately disconnected the charger. On subsequent days, I only charged the battery for a few hours, while the charging voltage stayed at a reasonable level, so never fully charged it.

Update on that MPPT charger -- do not buy it!

EDIT 2020-04-16:
Rereading this blog post, I see there is something that needs further explanation. A "12v" solar panel actually puts out 16-18v at the peak power point, and 20-22v open-circuit. Thus, wiring two of these panels in series, the open-circuit voltage will be 40-44v. The MPPT regulator must be specified to withstand this voltage. The Chinese MPPT regulator that I used is rated at 50v maximum into the PV input.

So, if the specifications can be believed, it can handle two panels in series. This is an important point, because some of them can't. There is one MPPT regulator I know of that is specified for maximum input voltage of 25v, limiting it to a "12v" panel -- but you can wire panels in parallel, but of course that will increase the current and maybe require heavier-gauge wire.

Anyway, back onto the campsite experience, do I recommend it? Yes, for a very short stay, or longer if you like fishing.

After leaving Benwenerup, I visited Quagi Beach. This is close-by. Drive back to the highway, drive several kilometres toward Esperance, then turn south onto a corrugated road, then drive 10 kilometres -- be warned, it is very corrugated!

Ah, lovely ocean, lovely beach. The campsite has no amenities, only a toilet, no camp kitchen. Cost is $15 per site, no pensioner discount. This is great for a couple or family. Personally, I loved this place. I didn't stay overnight, just long enough for a swim and walk along the beach.

Note also, no phone signal. I think that this is because the Telstra phone signal is beamed along the highway, and Quagi Beach is further away from the highway than Benwenerup. So that avenue of evening entertainment is out -- but then, it is supposed to be a camping experience. I was going to say, people can chat around the campfire at night, but both sites have all-year fire bans.

Here are web pages with info:


A lot more people camping here!  Oh yeah, one more detail: Quagi Beach is surrounded by State Forest, but it is not in Stokes National Park, so you don't get slugged the National Park entry fee!

Tags: nomad

Construction of distilled water runoff

January 30, 2020 — BarryK

This is the latest instalment of what is intended to become DIY plans for a solar water distiller. This is the previous post:

Now for the distilled water runoff. Water will trickle down the glass and at the bottom will flow into a channel, which will be on a slope, at the end of which will be a tube, taking water out to a collection bottle.

With earlier prototypes, an ongoing problem I had was the reluctance of the water to flow down the channel and into the tube. Water has surface tension, causing it to bead and stay where it is, then maybe subject to re-evaporation. To encourage the water to flow down the channel, it needs sufficient slope, of sufficient channel width, and sufficient pipe internal diameter.

What I chose for the channel is 10x10mm aluminium channel, 1.5mm thick, so the internal width is 7mm. from previous experience, I do not think it should be any narrower than this. Actually, I selected this channel as I already had it in the garage. I had purchased it from Bunnings, intended for an earlier prototype:


I think that there is silicone channel available on eBay, so that would be an alternative.

What I did was cut it so that it can be inserted into the distiller with maximum slope, and with a bent lip at the bottom end to encourage runoff into the pipe:


...on the right-end you can see the bent lip, and on the left-end the side walls have been cut, such that the channel is only 2mm deep at the very end. I used a very coarse file to rough-up the three outside surfaces, to optimise adhesion of the sealant. Here it is inserted:


...glued to the side of the distiller with silicone sealant. And there is one important detail -- the outlet tube has to be put in place first.

For the outlet tube I used 12x15mm silicone tube. This has internal diameter 12mm and outside diameter 15mm, so a 1.5mm wall thickness. Note, I had earlier bought 12x14mm tube from eBay, with 1mm wall thickness, which is OK but tends to kink very easily. The tube with 1.5mm thickness was purchased from here, AU$13.08 for 2 metres:


...for anyone building this distiller, 1 metre should be enough.

Of course, the tube has to be glued into the hole in the floor with silicone sealant, such that no water can seep out on the sides.

Here are some close-ups at each end:



To finish off, a plate has to be glued in front of the channel, to separate the water that is in the basin. Something fairly rigid is required, that will not absorb moisture and will tolerate up to 90 degrees C. It might be possible to use sheet silicone, with reinforcing glued to it, such as this sheeting:

However, I already had something from an earlier experiment. I had experimented with coating aluminium insect screen with silicone sealant, as reported here:

...that was a big area, but all that you need is a small strip of aluminium insect screen, about 50x670mm. I cut a strip off my big piece, and folded one side to give more rigidity. I also created small 90 degree flanges on each end, to aid with glueing.

I installed it in two steps. Firstly, glued it to the aluminium channel, with silicone sealant, held in place by a piece of wood, and allowed to set overnight. Next day, applied black sealant along the bottom. Here it is:


...the top edge is folded so is fairly rigid. Notice the height is almost the same as the wood frame -- there will be foam strips stuck on top, so the glass will sit about 4-5mm above the wood frame -- so there will be a gap for the water to flow down. Here are close-ups:



There is an air-gap underneath the channel, which will serve as insulation. Air will of course expand as it heats, and as it is completely sealed in, it will cause the wall made from aluminium insect screen to flex. Even at the runoff-end of the channel, I put plenty of sealant, so there is no air-connection with the outlet tube -- I did not want moist air getting into that cavity, as it would become a breeding place for pathogens.
I anticipate the change in air pressure to be OK, but could drill a tiny breather hole through the wood frame into the cavity, if desired -- think that is over-engineering though.

Shopping list:

Silicone tube 12x15mm x1m
Aluminium channel 10x10mm x1m
Aluminium insect screen 760mm x1m

...or scrounge a small strip of insect screen from somewhere, such as a scrap yard.

Stayed tuned for the next episode! 

Tags: nomad

Distiller painting inside and out

January 24, 2020 — BarryK

What will eventually become DIY plans for building a solar water distiller has another instalment. Here is the previous post, to follow the chain of posts:

I used slightly-off-white exterior acrylic paint on the outside, two coats. Did not coat the top edge of the frame, where the glass will sit, as that will have to be coated with silicone sealant -- and want the sealant to be spread directly onto the wood, for maximum adhesion.

Note, the paint that I used was just an old tin in my garage. It is Taubmans Sunproof exterior self-priming acrylic, designed to go directly onto raw wood, no primer required.

Oh, one thing, I decided to reinforce the plywood floor of the basin. It is 6mm marine ply, and feels quite rigid, but I had some strips of pine that had been cut in earlier projects, so decided why not. Here they are, glued on with silicone sealant:


...with that long piece, I also put three 6G 20mm screws from the other side, just to be sure the ply won't lift off the wood strip. The photo also shows the white-painted outside.

To spread the silicone sealant, need to buy sealant of course, and also spreaders. The sealant is Admil Prosil 10 neutral-cure silicone, rated as "food safe", and I purchased two white tubes and two black tubes. I bought them online, from these guys:

The manufacturer's site:


The spreaders were purchased from Bunnings. These flexible steel blades were good for doing the inside sides of the distiller:


For spreading on the floor of the basin, I used this large plastic flexible spreader:


I used the steel spreaders to spread the white silicone on the walls. Did it in two goes, firstly just the walls, then the next day did the top-edges of the frame, and touched up on the walls. Here is a snapshot after the first coat:

img5 can see some thin spots, so it definitely needed going over a second time.

Note: please do wear disposable latex gloves when spreading silicone sealant, and a well-ventilated room. An old cloth to wipe the spreaders is also required.

Now for the floor, which will be black. I did this in three goes. Firstly, around the edges:


The next day, spread the rest of the floor. The basic technique is to zig-zag the sealant thickly over the floor, then drag the spreader, fairly firmly pressed. On the third day, did another coat to cover some thin spots. To achieve a fairly thick extrusion as I zigzagged onto the floor (ditto for the first-go, extruded thickly around the edges), the nozzle was cut well down from the tip:


Here is the shopping list:

Prosil 10 silicone sealant, white, 300g tube
2x AU$10.62
Prosil 10 silicone sealant, black, 300g tube
2x AU$10.62
Flexible steel spreading blades, 1 set
Large plastic spreader

The next step will be to construct the distilled water runoff, and holes in the floor for water inlet and outlets. 

Tags: nomad

IFS versus live-axle 4wd

January 19, 2020 — BarryK

Having owned a Suzuki 4wd a very long time ago, with live-axle front suspension and mediocre handling on the road, I have an interest as to why the on-road driving experience was less than optimal. I posted about these early experiences:

...I must add though, I really don't know much about the mechanics of vehicle suspension and steering. Just some fairly superficial reading here and there, so possibly some details in that post are not completely accurate.

Wanting to understand a bit more, I found this great comparison between live-axle front suspension, which the Suzuki has, and Independent Front Suspension (IFS) that just about every 4wd has these days:


In fact, what 4wd's are still made with live-axle, apart from the Suzuki Jimny? A search found this (2017):


With the recent demise of the GU Patrol and Land Rover Defender, the only four vehicles left on the [Australian] market with live axles front and rear are the 70 Series Land Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler, Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the tiny Suzuki Jimny

Another point raised by the above link is monocoque construction versus separate chassis. The Jimny has a separate chassis. 

Tags: nomad

Jimny 4wd near a Isuzu MUX

January 02, 2020 — BarryK

I have been posting photos of the little Suzuki Jimny 2019-model alongside larger 4wd vehicles. For earlier posts, see here:

Today I found this one, posted to Facebook by Adam Poole, his Jimny behind an Isuzu MUX 4wd:


...I suppose, when someone posts a photo to Facebook, then Facebook owns it? Whatever, hope no one minds it being reproduced here.

It should be noted that the perspective of the photo makes the Jimny look smaller, if they were alongside, the Jimny might not look so small. Anyway, I still find these photos amusing.

It is nice to see those trees, still green. We currently have fires sweeping though vast tracts of bushland here in Australia, with hundreds of homes destroyed and lives lost: 

Actually, so far it is not as bad as 2008-2009, when over 2,000 homes were lost: 

Tags: nomad

Distiller DIY floor construction

January 02, 2020 — BarryK

The previous post, construction of the wood frame:

Now for the plywood floor. I decide to increase the thickness of the floor insulation from 60mm to 66mm. This is a consequence of deciding not to indent the glass into the wood, rather to just sit it on top, with silicone foam strip between glass and wood frame. This gives a bit more height under the glass at the front, so the floor can be raised a bit.

I purchased marine plywood, 6mm thick, so marked out a height of 60mm from the bottom of the distiller, for affixing framework to hold the ply. I also put framework along the bottom, as it is intended to affix 6mm ply on the bottom of the distiller also.

As I had some 42x19mm pine, I cut it lengthwise into three strips about 13mm wide each. This was done with the rotary saw. The strips were then screwed to the distiller frame, using 6G 30mm screws, predrilled with 2mm drill bit and 3.5mm into the top 19mm, and countersunk by hand using a 7mm drill bit. This is what it looks like:


A straightforward operation, no need for detailed plans, anyone can do this just by seeing this photo. One detail though: the back wall is vertical, so no problem, however the front wall is 20 degrees off vertical. Therefore, the strip of wood that I used along the front, I cut with an angle of 20 degrees (my rotary saw has angle adjustment, making that operation easy). This photo shows the strips looking from the top, so that you can see the 20 degree cut on the front strip:


...the wide-angle lense on the phone distorts the image -- the back wall is actually vertical.

I cut the plywood with a handsaw, a tenon saw actually, 654x531mm, with a slight angle to front, and it fitted in snuggly. I then used 6G 20mm screws, predrilled with a 2mm drill bit and countersunk by hand with a 7mm drill bit.

6Gx20mm zinc-plated countersunk-head, 40pk

EDIT 2020-01-11:
The 6Gx20mm screws were purchased from Bunnings, Zenith zinc-plated countersunk-head. Looking at Bunnings website now, can't see any zinc-plated, but there are brass-plated: 
...there are 6G 15mm zinc-plated, which would have enough reach.

Assembled view:


That was when I made an "interesting" discovery: While brushing wood particles off the surface of the basin floor, tiny wood hairs lifted off the surface of the plywood, and stuck up. I looked on the other side, and the surface is more consolidated, wood hairs do not lift up.

This is a concern. Now that it is screwed in place, I really don't want to lift it up and flip over. Besides, I chose that orientation as the plywood sheet had a very slight bow -- only slight -- which I want to to have the convex side on top. now that it is in place, it is very flat.

I will probably give a fine sandpaper, but not if it is going to lift up more hairs. Anyway, will try and get rid of the hairs, and hope that when spreading the silicone sealant none of the hairs stand up.

EDIT 2020-01-11:
I used 120grit (fine) wood sandpaper on the plywood surface, and it took off the wood "hairs". Looks good, ready for the sealant to be applied.

A construction detail that is not in the above photos: the distilled water runoff pipe will be on the right side, coming out underneath in the extreme right corner. So I left a gap in the floor support strips, of about 15mm in the front right corner (as viewed standing in front of the distiller). I could have cut out the corner of the plywood also, however decided to drill it after the silicone has been spread.  There will also be inlet and drain holes. 

Tags: nomad

Distiller DIY assembling the frame

December 31, 2019 — BarryK

I posted yesterday, the start of constructing the simple basin-type solar water distiller, for which it is intended to publish DIY plans:

Today I cut the pieces for the wood frame, and screwed them together.

I mentioned yesterday that the frame could be cut with just a handsaw. However, I mostly used a rotary (circular) saw, as this made it easier to cut nice straight lines, and vertical cuts -- what I mean about "vertical cuts" is when cutting the wood want the cut to be 90 degrees to the plane of the wood -- I have trouble with this with a hand saw, usually end up with a slight slant to the right.

Of course, it would be nice to have a wood-working bench, but as I only have a table, have to improvise. For example, this is the setup to cut across the 235x19mm pine:


...three g-clamps were used, and the metal square is extremely helpful. I quickly learnt exactly where to put the wood guide for the rotary saw to cut along the desired line.

There were five pieces cut, and I put four of them together on the table prior to screwing:


...that is of course upside-down.

When constructing the previous prototype, I used some silicone sealant to hold the corners in-place and left it to set overnight, then screwed it the next day. I received an email from Rick about this:

With regards to holding the sides together for screwing. You could just use a block of wood, or even the thicker side of a set square, together with two clamps (G or sliding), align until satisfied and screw together. No waiting for silicone to dry. 

Yes, I did one corner with two g-clamps, after that used just one clamp, like this:


...that provided enough alignment, and used one hand to press the corners together and the other hand to hold drill. Worked OK.

Regarding the insertion of the screws, I have watched those house restoration shows on TV, where they just bung the screws in, no pre-drilling. Well, I pre-drilled. I do this from prior experience with MDF, that de-laminates very easily. Pine is much better, however as screwing into the end of the wood, I decided to play-safe and pre-drill.

I used 6G 40mm countersunk zinc-plated wood screws. I firstly drilled the full 40mm depth with a 2.5mm drill bit, followed by a 3.5mm drill bit drilled only 19mm deep (I put a pen mark on the drill bit to get this right). Finally, used a 7mm drill bit, held by hand, to gouge for the countersunk head.

One extra detail: as the back of the distiller is two pieces, I used three 6G 30mm zinc countersunk wood screws to lock the two pieces together. No photo yet, but this detail should show in a future photo.

Todays shopping list, from Bunnings:

6G 40mm, zinc countersunk wood screws, 25 pk
6G 30mm, zinc, countersunk wood screws, 25 pk
AU$3.98 small detail, the Zenith 40mm screws have recently been rebranded as 38mm. 

EDIT 2020-01-11:
A clarification: the screws I used are self-tapping wood screws, actually designed to be used without pre-drilling in soft wood. Example link: 


The five pieces are now screwed together. Tomorrow, the plan is to install a mounting frame for the plywood floor. 

Tags: nomad

Start of DIY plans for solar water distiller

December 29, 2019 — BarryK

Hopefully, anyway. Posting in stages to my blog, and if the end result is good, then will put the plans together in a single page.

The basis of this is the "simple basin-type prototype #2", with some further refinements, named as "prototype #3", as posted here:

I have refined the design in SolveSpace. Here is the diagram exported as a PNG:


The wood is dressed pine, 19mm thick. The two side pieces are to be cut from a single 235x19mm 1.2m piece of pine.

EDIT 2020-01-11:
Here is the SolveSpace file for the above picture. It is for SolveSpace v2.3 and will need to be uncompressed first: 

For construction to be as simple as possible, I want the wood surface on which the glass will lay, to be perfectly flat, hence the unusual proportions on the back side. Along the back side, there will be a 64x19mm piece of wood, at 90 degrees to the plane of the glass. Then there will be a 182x19mm (actually, Bunnings sell 184x19mm) piece oriented vertical -- cut with a 20 slope on the top so as to fit against the piece above it.

At the front, there will be a 94x19mm (will use 89x19mm from Bunnings) piece, oriented at 90 degrees from the plane of the glass.

I will use 572x672mm glass, 3mm thick. You can see that the length of the side piece is 592mm. That is to allow the glass to sit on top of the wood frame, with 10mm wood outside of the glass, all around. I was planning to use a router to cut an indent in the wood, so that the glass can sit flush with the wood surface, however, to keep construction as simple as possible, won't use a router.

Instead, the glass will just sit on top of the wood frame, held down with aluminium brackets. There will be silicone sponge between glass and wood.

Ideally, I would like these DIY plans to require absolute minimum of tools, perhaps even just a hand saw. So, the router is out.

My piece of glass is 572x672mm, taking off 9mm all round where it sits on the wood frame, that leaves active dimensions of 554x654mm, which is a surface area of 0.362 metre-squared. If you want to build a bigger distiller, aiming for more than 1.8 - 2.0 litres per day in summer, you can keep the wood dimensions that I have shown above, just make the front and back pieces longer (in my case, they will be 672 -9 -9, which is 654mm). For example, if you use 572x872mm glass, that will give you an active surface area of 0.473 metre-squared, upping the water output to around 2.4 - 2.6 litres. However, you might then want to consider using 4mm thick glass, for the strength.

The previous prototype used expanding foam for floor insulation, with black silicone sealant spread directly on top of the foam. It was very light, but the method needs improvement, as there were "waves" in the floor. This time, I propose to use a piece of 6mm plywood:

img2 "deep", I mean 527mm will be the measurement of the plywood from front to back, and it will be 654mm long (or wide, depending on your point of view). It will require some framing underneath. The floor of the basin will be 60mm above the bottom of the distiller.

EDIT 2020-01-11:
When I got to actually constructing the distiller, I decided to raise the basin floor by 6mm, so the "54mm" in the above photo has become 60mm. Also, the plywood now measures 530.7x654mm. The corrected SolveSpace v2.3 file (uncompress it first): 

I have not yet decided what insulation to use. I am now wary of expanded foam! Might use fibreglass insulation -- Bunnings do not sell individual batts, so maybe I can use the leftover batts somewhere else. Fibreglass insulation does have one advantage -- I can take it out if want to mess around with the plumbing underneath. Also, if the plywood gases due to the heat, the gas can escape.

There is proposed to be plywood on the bottom of the distiller.

I have toyed with various ideas for the floor and sides of the basin, such as black silicone sheet stuck onto the floor. However, have decided to stay with what has already been tested, and used in the previous prototype, spreading silicone sealant onto the wood.

Here is the shopping list for the pine:


And marine plywood:


A grand total of AU$87.25. 

EDIT 2020-02-13:
Bunnings doesn't seem to have that size of marine plywood any more. You need sufficient for the floor of the basin and underneath the distiller. You may have to buy a bigger piece, or two smaller pieces. Not online anyway -- you could check in-store.

If I was to rummage around in scrap yards, I am sure that suitable wood could be found, at a fraction of that price. For me, it is a matter of convenience, as the Bunnings store is only a 5 minute drive from my home. Also, I want pine for the light weight, but if that was not a concern then a hardwood would be OK, and more durable. Perhaps also, marine plywood is not needed, a cheaper plywood should be OK - or a sheet of aluminium or steel. 

Tags: nomad