Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sailing!

By jen
After all our struggles, the van is finally sailing! It set sail on the 27th of December. We can track its progress aboard the vessel, CAP CORRIENTES. Watch it in real time below (courtesy of vesselfinder.com)!



The sailing takes about 22 days, so Jonathan and I are working to be ready when it arrives. We have already been contacted by our receiving agent, which, so far, has been a lot easier to work with than our shipping agent. But, I will reserve judgment until I have van in my hands, free of customs.

Here are some interesting facts about the ship:
Ship type: Container Ship
Flag: Liberia
Built: 2013
Size: 228 x 37 m (748 x 121 ft)
Gross Tonnage: 42690 t
Deadweight: 51759 t



Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Remembrance

By jen



This year, a couple of days before Christmas, my paternal grandfather, Rayburn Britt, passed on to be with the Lord. While so few of my days were spent with him, he did make a big impact on my life. He was such a kind man. Even though I was not a direct descendent (of blood), he made me feel like I was his favorite. Of course, I am pretty sure he made everyone feel like that. Just ask my siblings or my cousins, any of his children or grandchildren or great grandchildren. It was a joy to hang out with him.

Another one of his many legacies that has stood out to me was how much he loved my grandmother and cared for her. One of the events that really stuck in my mind over the years was that he would bend down on the ground and help my grandmother put on her shoes, even when he wasn’t feeling in the best of health himself. All I can say is that if Jonathan will continue to love me even half as much as my grandfather loved my grandmother, I will probably be in great shape.


Here is to a great man!


Monday, December 19, 2016

A Rough Week

While our van is not in our possession, we have been splitting our time with family. So the first stop after collecting our things in Tulsa was my sister’s place in Hays, KS. On the way there, we were called by our shipping agent and told that our van would not be shipping for yet another month. I was severely disappointed. We had been told originally that shipments were made every 2 weeks to Australia, so I couldn’t understand why it would take that long before our vehicle shipped.

Then, that night, I had a bout of food poisoning, first case of my life. It wasn’t fun. It lasted a good 19 hours, and then I spent the next 1.5 days recovering. My poor husband chose to get up in the middle of the night and help me out. Even had to shampoo the carpet in the middle of the night, since I didn’t make it to the bathroom for the first incident. And, my poor sister, after coming back from a 12-hour nursing shift, helped nurse me as well.

 


Then, right after I recover, Jonathan’s phone, an LG Nexus 5X, got stuck in a boot loop. This is apparently a pretty common issue with LG. Apparently the QC on their solder points is a bit poor; and after updating to Android 7.0, many of the Nexus 5X phones had this issue. Mine has so far escaped unscathed, but it is also susceptible. There were some reports on the internet of being able to flash a different version of Android to fix the problem. Jonathan tried multiple times, both higher and lower versions, but had no success. They would get up to 95% complete, and then fail. Quite disheartening. So, we contacted Google (from whom we bought the phones) and requested support. They shipped him a refurbished phone right away, but he was still without a phone for about 5 days. Fortunately, our Project Fi service works well with Hangouts. While he was without a phone, he was still able to receive calls and text through the internet. Pretty handy feature.


But, it doesn’t end there. To top it off while Jonathan was still trying to fix his phone, Jonathan’s laptop suddenly stopped making sound. He couldn’t get any sounds out of the speakers. I was starting to feel like the world was out to get us. He discovered it was caused by the Windows “stability” update (anyone else see the irony there?), and I think he found some drivers to fix it. Either way, it is working now and things have finally calmed down.



On the plus side, I did get to spend time with my cute niece and nephew.


  

Project Fi Invite

Many of you have asked how we are handling our phone service down under. Short answer, we are keeping our US service and will be able to call and text using it for great prices.

This year (back in February) we switched to Google's Project Fi service. It has been awesome for us. When we started, they only had individual plans. But, now they have family plans. So, now it is:

  • $20/month for the first user
  • $15/month for each additional user
  • $10/GB, pro-rated (use only 0.5 GB, get $5 back)

We normally use less than a GB each, so our monthly bill between the 2 of us is usually less than $60/month (with taxes and fees), often around $54. When I did the research back in February, this plan was the cheapest option (compared against T-Mobile and Sprint) for up to 3GB per person (6GB total) for us.

The best part of this deal for us is that they offer the same rates internationally for texting and data. Calls are charged, but you can make free calls over wifi to the states. So, we can continue to use our phones and phone numbers in Australia and New Zealand. 

In the states, I have found the network to be very good. Much better than Sprint's, maybe not quite up to Verizon's coverage. However, the ability to connect to wifi (and it provides free access to many paid wifi networks) and make texts and calls often makes up for any deficiencies. And, if there are issues, Project Fi's support is quick and ready to assist. 

The only real catch to this service is that you have to use one of Google's phones (Nexus 5X/6/6P, Pixel, or Pixel XL). What is awesome about these phones, however, is that they have dual antennas (CDMA and GSM) and they are unlocked. So, they can connect to any of the US carriers. Should we decide we don't like Google's service in Australia, we can simply switch to another carrier, keeping the same phone (try doing that with any other phone).

If you do want to check out the service, there is a new promotion out there for referring friends. If you sign up using the link below (and keep your service for 30 days), you and I both get $20 credit on our bill. 


https://g.co/fi/r/PHC120


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shipping Schedule Update

Happy holidays folks, and stay warm out there (or cool if you're down under).

Our shipping agent has booked a container for us.  They expect to pack the container next week with the ship departing on the 24th.

The schedule has the ship making port on Jan 14th 2017.  So we will be flying to Australia in about 35 days or so.

Waiting is hard, and I miss the van.  I guess this gives us time to decide on a name!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Shipping Agent Search

If you know me, you know that I never make a decision without finding out all the options and figuring out the best option. So, of course, choosing a shipping agent was no different. However, this endeavor was not quite what I was expecting. I was expecting to be able to do a quick google search, submit requests for quotes, and get answers quickly. Most of that ended up not happening simply.

First of all, trying to find a place to request quotes for shipping to Australia was difficult. A lot of the recommended agents (K Line) or methods (uship) would not ship to Australia. To get companies that actually shipped to Australia, I had to query “ship a car to Australia” instead of the generic “ship a car (overseas)”.

Then, almost none of the websites offered instant quotes. Instead, you had to submit a form to them, and they would get back to you with a quote, eventually. In fact, they would often take as long as 10 days to provide me any sort of response (not even a we-receive-your-request email). This was just plain weird for me; since normally businesses are eager to receive my commerce. And, out of the 13 companies that I contacted, only 5 of them responded. Additionally, the company that we ended up going with (CFR Rinkens) wasn’t even on my list. They contacted me. I am not concerned; I have found that often these companies forward your request to a sister company to do the work that they don’t cover specifically.

Company
Date Requested
Date Received
Taurus Logistics
9/30/2016
10/2/2016
McCullough Limited
9/30/2016

Aussie Car Imports
10/17/2016

West Coast Shipping (WCS)
10/17/2016
10/17/2016
Schumacher Cargo Logistics, Inc.
10/17/2016

USAtoAUS.com
10/17/2016

Shipping 2 Australia
10/17/2016

Ever Global International
10/17/2016
10/23/2016
Auto Car Shippers
10/17/2016

Able Auto Transport
10/17/2016

Kiwi Shipping
Exceeds Dimensions

Ship Overseas
Don't ship to AUS/NZ

Colless Young Pty Ltd
11/2/2016
11/10/2016
Alliance Intercontinental Pty Ltd.
11/2/2016
Same as Colless

Then, navigating the quotes that they send you is a whole different world, which is why we received a wide range of prices, from $2460 to $8000. Some offered full service. Some offered just the container rental with no assistance getting the container on or off. We are getting a bit of a in-between. CFR is handling the shipping from the US to Australia portion, including US customs and container loading. We have to handle obtaining a carnet, an EIN, and getting the vehicle to the warehouse. CFR also won’t handle the Australian half of the unloading. Supposedly they have sister companies down there that we can work with in a similar set up. The agent will handle unloading the container, but we handle Australian customs and paperwork.

Since we won’t be on much of a time constraint and don’t mind doing the work associated with border crossings (having already completed ~21 of them, most of which were in Spanish), we figured we would save some money and do the work ourselves. If you don’t like dealing with paperwork, then a full-service option is better. We could have saved more money, possibly, by figuring out how to handle the shipping and the loading/unloading of the container ourselves, but it just wasn’t worth it.

It has been a unique experience so far. Maybe I will be an old pro by the next time we have to do it (Australia to New Zealand, yay!). Perhaps not. But, at least I will have some experience gained.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bon Voyage?!

Well, we are now van-less.  The Yet To Be Named Van (YTBNV) has been delivered to the shipping service.  It will be packed into a container, loaded onto a ship, and delivered to Melbourne Australia.  We are now homeless for 5 weeks or so.  I have my fingers crossed hoping the van and contents arrive unscathed.  Thankfully the odds are on our side, as the vast majority of sea freight arrives in the same condition it departed.

Here is one last shot of YTBNV as we wash it one last time prior to shipping.  My uncle graciously allowed us to use his driveway in the hills above the port.



The view isn't too shabby either. If you look real close you can even see the port cranes in the distance.


Once we have a firm departure date and vessel name we can estimate the arrival time.  Sometime in early January seems likely at this point.

We will be lodging Visa applications shortly, other than that we find ourselves in a holding pattern until the van arrives.  I guess we will have plenty of time to educate ourselves about Australia and New Zealand.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What’s in a Name?

Well, we are in the last sprint to get the van shipped off. We have chosen a shipping company and have started the carnet application, so hopefully just a matter of a couple of weeks before the van is at port.

But, before we can ship off, I was hoping to pick a name for the van. We are struggling a bit with this one. Jonathan says that the van hasn’t done anything worthy of a name yet, doesn’t have enough character. However, last time we chose a name, it wasn’t really based on anything about the van. We had just found a fun theme inspired by a character on Burn Notice. The character Sam Axe always used the alias “Chuck Finley.” Always refused to use anything else. If he needed an upgrade, it went to Charles Finley. “Chuck Finley is forever” was his mantra. We loved that and thus dubbed the vanagon, with my flair for the dramatic, “Charles Theodore Finley the Third,” fondly known as Chuck.

Now it is time to pick a new name for the new van, but Jonathan hasn’t liked anything I put out so far. I have been looking for a gender-neutral name so it can still be Jonathan’s mistress (female) while still being a “he” to me (all my vehicles are male). Failing that, I have also been looking for a travel-related name. My ideas so far (in no particular order):
  1. Darcy – gender neutral, I think. I think of Mr. Darcy, but I also know of many females with a first name of Darcy.
  2. Samwise Gamgee – Frodo’s faithful and loyal friend, willing to carry him to the ends of the earth. How can you go wrong with naming a van that? LOTR fans, anyone?
  3. Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (aka Will) – Shout out to A Knight’s Tale, an old favorite of mine. It is not travel-related, but it is Europe-related (this van hails from Germany as well) and a very fancy name just for fun. We can call him Will, like his friends in the movie do.
  4. Walter Mitty – from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I loved this movie! Just makes you want to go out and travel the world, doesn’t it?
There can also be a bunch of plays on words and names (see this website for examples for pets). I am not very clever in that arena; I know I have a many friends who are, though. So, do any of you have any suggestions? Post here so that others can feed off your ideas, or contact us directly. We would love the input!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October Updates

Greetings from this side of the internet.  Its been a few weeks since our last update, so its time to post our progress.

We have requested a large number of shipping quotes.  After a lot of back and forth we have decided to try container shipping.  Due to the 2.585 meter height restriction for high cube shipping containers, we will be needing to fit the van with steel shipping wheels.  These are custom made from steel plate, and will lower the van about 6 inches so that it will clean the door aperture on a container.  A generous friend has offered us the use of a CNC plasma cutter so that we can cut a set of these wheels.  Another option would be to use bare rims, but sprinter rims are fairly hard to come by, and are not cheap (plus they take up a lot of room).

Shipping routes from the USA to AUS are generally cheapest out of the Los Angeles port of Long Beach which is a hub for these routes.  Most of Australia's south east coast is common rated, so freight costs are the same for Sydney Melbourne etc.  There is some variance in port fees, but they seem to be fairly minor.  I have contact with a few fellow sprinter owners in Melbourne, so we will likely ship to that port.

We have a little bit of work left to do as we shoehorn all of our equipment into the van.  I still need to make a few storage dividers and some tie downs, but overall it is progressing nicely. We still need to request visas and acquire our CPD Carnet for the van.  We are holding off on these until we have a ship date for the van.  The temporary import of the van is tied to our visa expiration date, and the Carnet is only good for a year (it can be extended).  So these items all need to have similar/close start dates.

I spent a few quality hours under the van with a pressure washer over the weekend in an attempt to remove 10 years of road grime.  Mercedes felt the need to coat most of the vans underside (as well as inside the body cavities) with a wax like anti-corrosion product.  The good is that the van is rust free underneath.  The bad is that this wax has road grime and soot embedded in it.  I did the best I could, but factory fresh cleanliness is not a reasonable possibility.  Hopefully the Australian inspectors are lenient.

We have over 10 thousand miles on the vans chassis, and about half of that on the complete conversion.  At this point the van is pretty well shaken down, and  most of the minor issues have been resolved.  I still have a coolant seep or two in the water heating loop (new clamps?), and a oil seep or two as well.  I think I have most of them remedied, but there is a lot of plumbing.  Surprisingly we have had minimal issues with the conversions systems other than a few design/layout deficiencies which cannot be remedied at this stage.

Our future plans are still fluid at this point, but we are hopping to have the van in transit by the end of November.  We are requesting a fast ship, which should hopefully keep the transit time under 20 days.  If all goes well we will be on the road in Australia before 2017.

This is likely to be the last round of van modifications before we post up a complete "tour" of our new home in the coming weeks.

Here are the bug screens.





A hold down for the folding table.



Some protection for the AC unit.



I have created a system to allow for wifi access and a shared network for our electronic devices. A wifi router produces a local network, WAN is provided by a Ubiquity Nanostation. The nanostation has a powerful antenna, and allow us to connect to distant wifi networks. Using a suction cup mount allows us to position the nanostation on a window (or outdoors, as its weather proof).









I made a more permanent storage solution for the winch and recovery gear in the rear. Custom length bungee straps and eye bolts allow for strapping everything down.



A rack on the other side holds the various hand tools we need on a regular basis.



After much head scratching I couldn't find a good place for the maxtrax inside the van. I decided to fabricate a mounting rack on th passenger side rear door. It bolts through the hinges, and uses one hole in the door skin.














Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Retired Life

We are still plugging away at our task list.  Taking our time at it as retired folks tend to do. Less and less of it is van related, which bodes well. The little things that remain are what turn an adventure van into a long term abode. For example, having a place for everything. Some of the biggest frustrations can be avoided by having convenient and specific stowage locations for daily use items. Sunglasses, cell phones, shoes etc. Making repetitive tasks simpler by adding latches, loops, velcro, or customized stowage locations improves on task flow. Spending a few days ironing these details out makes daily living in such a small space easy.

Our packing method is to first sort by essential/nonessential, frequency of use, and then group by type. Daily use items are located within arms reach inside the cabin, rarely used items end up sorted inside containers under the bed. Safety and emergency items are kept in clearly marked locations regardless of use frequency. This approach minimizes unpacking, maximizes cargo space, and keeps frustration down. Each container gets marked, and a log of its contents is kept digitally. For critical or emergency items, the list is printed or hand written on the container.

A few random items on the van, they may seem small, but its the details that make the difference.

I used some left over Celtec to make a stowage unit behind the drivers seat. A removable trash container, fire extinguisher, and table leg are stowed here in addition to the forward table top.



Using Celtec again I made 2 fairing panels for the roof. These fill the space between the forward and aft solar panels. Hopefully they will help to reduce turbulence from side winds. This should reduce buffeting of the roof vent, and lower the noise levels.



The celtec was bonded with CA glue (super glue). After working with the Celtec and CA glue combination, I have found it extremely easy, and good to work with. If I had to make cabinets again, I would strongly consider using the Celetc and CA glue combo for many of them.

I have also been finishing some final routine maintenance items. Here is the brake fluid, I suspect it is original to the van. It is definitely past its life expectancy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Back from the Abyss!

For those of you who missed my writing, I have finally returned. Where have I been? What have I been doing? Well, in summary, I have been swamped.


I have been learning new skills, including how to remodel a house. I did everything (drywall, tiling, wiring) but plumbing, I think; and I think I could even do that now with a bit of basic instructions.


I have been working 40 hours per week to earn money.

And, after all that, I have been putting in at least another 20 hours per week on remodeling the van.

After working over 60 hours per week for nearly 3 years, we are just about at our wits’ end. I feel like we aren’t functioning correctly anymore.


However, as of this week, we are considering ourselves officially retired again! Our last day at work was 9/2. Our last day at our rental house was this beginning of last week, after which we rushed off to deliver our cat to family and my plants to a friend. Now we can officially do what we want when we want! It feels really good to be able to do that again.


I can tell when my life gets less complicated again. My weekly alarms (watering plants, setting out trash, etc.) start getting turned off. My to-do list gets minimal again with many days having nothing on it. I can start doing things that I have wanted to do but neglected to do so for other more important tasks. Life is good.

So what is next? Well, as much as I wanted to get immediately to Australia after leaving work and house, I have realized that it is more important to just enjoy ourselves. We will still get the 2 years not working, it may just not all be in Australia and other exotic places. We still have to:

  1. Pack the van – This is more complicated than you might think. We have a lot of stuff to cram into a relatively small space and still have to make it easy to get to for the frequency of use. I expect that to take at least 2 weeks, but more likely it will take longer. Besides organizing, we still need to buy/make containers to stuff things so it easier to store. We might even do another test run to see if we like how we have packed it.
  2. Ship the van – Right now we are looking for shippers, trying to understand the process and fees, etc. A lot of work and not sure how long it will take to find the right shipper, nor exactly how long it will take to ship. Depending on whether we do Roll-On-Roll-Off (RORO) or container shipping, we are seeing transit times anywhere from 14 days to 6 weeks.
  3. Fly to Australia – Once the van arrives at port in Australia, we will finally fly down to meet it and get it through customs.


As you can see, we will be doing good to get there before Christmas. In the meantime, we are staying with family, saturating ourselves with them enough to last 2 years in case they don’t come visit us in our travels.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Requiem Motivation Lost

It has occurred to me that I should bring the blog up to date with our plans. We have moved out of our home and have a vacation house to ourselves for the time being. There is still lots of work to do, not the least of which involves the logistics of moving our 8500lb van across the pacific. Unfortunately I am suffering from a severe lack of motivation currently. Probably a side affect of working too hard. Hopefully it clears up fairly quickly.

The move out was fairly uneventful in and of itself. However we managed to get robbed/burgled on two separate occasions. This succeeded in adding some undesired and unexpected dramatic flair. First off some ingrate nicked my tool bag out of the back of the van. There goes $500 worth of tools. Then, only a few days later, when we had about 90% of our stuff moved out some brain damaged fools broke into our house. Finding little of value they actually took the sinks, ripped out half the cabinetry, and stole appliances fixtures etc. Running out of room in their van, they continued to rip out cabinets, and just left them sitting in the halls. They got less than $1,000 of stuff (resale value), but they did many thousands in damage. 8 months of remodeling trashed in less than two hours!

Anyways, one can understand my lack of motivation after completing a move out, driving about 2500 miles, and having been burgled twice, all in one month! So I am going to enjoy being retired for the time being.


Our plans are roughly as follows. We need to organize the van, and pack our gear into it. Jen and I need to finish a few minor van projects, nothing serious thankfully. While we are working on these items, we will be working out the details of shipping the the van. We have reevaluated our options, and are considering a 40ft high cube container. With a set of shipping wheels the van will fit into the 8ft 6in door opening. If anyone out there wants to split a container let us know, as we will have about 19ft of the container unused. Once the shipping is worked out and scheduled we will get our visas and carnet de passages. Of course the shipping is the biggest unknown. The logistics of loading, transporting, unloading, and clearing customs is very new to us. Not wanting to pay an enormous sum for someone to “take care of it” means we need to educate ourselves.


The most unpleasant thing to look forward to is cleaning the van. Australia has a notoriously strict zoological cleanliness policy on imported vehicles. A single insect wing, or a bit of dirt can result in a $400 mandatory steam cleaning. This means we will likely need to spend a few days crawling around the underside of the van to remove a decade of road grime, soot, and insect splatter.

Finally I can say, we are free and clear.  The clock is ticking a bit on our vacation clock, but at this point its slow enough that I don't mind.  

   

Friday, September 16, 2016

Who Needs Stuff?

The entirety of our remaining possessions fit into a 6x12ft space. With room to spare!



I really need some time in my hammock. Already I miss my awesome desktop/workstation as well. But to be free of my  neighborhood and done with my job? Priceless. We have finished moving our stuff out.  By Sunday we will be free and clear.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Almost Moved Out Update

We are loading the van with gear as I type this. The house is 85% boxed up. We will be transporting our storage items to storage soon. One last push left, and all I want too do is take a nap. Sometimes I regret being responsible.


While all this has been going on we managed to squeeze in a few last modifications to the van.
First up was getting the hitch mounted winch provisions worked out. I am going to use Anderson connectors for the winch power. As a plus it will make jump starting a breeze.



The front bumper doesn’t have a receiver, so I bolted one on. Note that I have modified this bumpers attachment provisions to make it quite stout. Obviously if you get crazy it is possible to bend stuff or worse.





Here are Jen’s slip over seat covers. They have ½” of medium density foam laminated to microfiber faux suede. They are held on with Velcro straps and cord, so they can be removed for cleaning if needed. Pretty damn good from where I am sitting.





Here is the forward table installed. I used sequoia table system with a 29” table leg.

http://amzn.to/2cFPwSz

http://amzn.to/2ch6gkS

http://amzn.to/2cJl65N





This is the front cab curtain. Its primary purpose is to keep heat and AC in the front when driving. It also can be used when privacy is needed and the windshield curtains are too much work.




I bent some steel rod into a track for the slider mosquito net.






The cabinet sliding doors are finished and installed. Some screen door tension clips keep them stable.



I also installed some USB 3.1 compatible charging ports in the center dash console. These beauties can provide 2.4A each.

http://amzn.to/2c8OUb3



Anderson power connectors have been mounted front and rear to power the winch. 2 gauge wire is used.

Here is the rear unit with its liquid tight boot.







Here we have the trail ready winch.





I mounted the forward connector under the hood near the battery.