Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Blog Update!

I've recently been busy uploading some photos.

You can find a load of photos I took when converting Jim in the 'Converting Jim' tab...

And you can find an even larger load of photo's of our recent trip in the 'North and Central America' tab.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Dometic HB2500 Air Conditioner

When I converted Jim I installed a floor mounted air conditioner in the form of a Dometic HB2500. The air conditioner runs from a 240 volt AC mains supply, and so we did not get a huge number of opportunities to run it on our trip around North and Central America last year, despite temperatures getting up to 44 degrees centigrade. I originally thought that I could run the air conditioner from a 120v mains supply, by powering the air conditioner from the batteries through our 24v to 240v inverter, and putting the charge back into the batteries from our universal input battery charger. The reason that we ended up not running the air conditioner in this way often, was that the combined heat output from running the inverter and battery charger, pretty much negated any cooling effect from the small 8,500 BTU air conditioner. Both the battery charger and inverter are located inside the living accommodation; in hindsight this was a mistake and it would have been more sensible to locate them in a locker thermally isolated form the inside of the truck body.

The only occasions that we ran the air conditioner, were either when we were desperate enough to use the generator, or when we had a 50a power supply available. A lot of small commercial electrical installs in North America have single split-phase 240v supply, with 120v from either live to the neutral, but 240v between the lives. The big 50a sockets are the only commonly found supplies that offer both lives, and these allowed us to plug the truck into a 240v 60hz supply through a cable which swapped one of the live legs to the neutral leg of the 32a ceeform input socket on Jim. The air conditioner ran fine from these supplies and on a handful of occasions we had a chance to escape the heat in this way.

This sporadic and scant use of the air conditioner changed when we returned to the UK. The HB2500 has the capacity to generate a hot air supply by reversing the refrigerant cycle, and so we used the electrical supply we ran from the house to save some diesel and give the Eberspacher air heater a rest. The noise from the blower is too obtrusive to run all night, but we have found the unit useful for keeping us warm during the day. It is not a particularly effective heater, partly because the air outlets are all mounted at ceiling level, but it is powerful enough to keep the truck comfortably warm when the temperatures outside are around freezing. Being mounted at floor level, and now being run for around 14 hours a day, the air inlet regularly sucks in enough dog hair and dust to block the filter, and so every 2 weeks or so I have to take the filter out and clean it.

Dometic HB2500 floor mounted air conditioner, fitted in Jim the overland motorhome truck

Unfortunately over the recent cold snap the unit has started cutting out periodically. The display shows a flashing orange light, and the unit will stop blowing for a few minutes before restarting again. To see if I could diagnose the problem, I decided to take the unit apart. Access to the air conditioner is fairly simple, I just had to remove the bottom drawer and undo the 10 screws holding the cover panels on, and on taking the polystyrene cover off I could immediately see the problem. The condensating coil was frozen solid. This happens occasionally on air conditioners working hard in extremely humid conditions, but it has never been an issue on our HB2500 before.

The insides of a Dometic HB2500 air conditioner

The frozen condensating coil of a Dometic HB2500 air conditioner

Unfortunately I can see now why air conditioners do not make effective heaters. Any ice generated during in operation in hot conditions is likely to thaw and melt off fairly quickly, but when operating as a heater in below freezing conditions, the incoming air blown over the evaporating and condensating coils is too cold to allow the ice to melt. Being mounted inside the truck, I can turn the unit off and allow it to slowly thaw out, but a roof mounted air conditioner sitting in the cold air would never have the chance to thaw until the outside temperature rises. A heater that stops working in below freezing conditions is a bit of a liability, and so I would not recommend that anyone relies on the HB2500 for heating their vehicle.

One good thing to come out of taking the unit apart, was the chance to remove two spider nests before they hatched millions of arachnids into our home. I sincerely hope that the spiders were harmless domestic critters, but there is every likelihood that they hitched a lift from Mexico or America and may have been less friendly than the spiders that I'm used to.

A spiders nest that was found when dismantling our air conditioner

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Short Trip Down to Dorset

Since arriving back in the UK, both Naomi and me are back at work and so the travelling has all but finished for now. Thankfully over the Christmas break we had the chance to briefly get back on the road again, and we headed down to beautiful Dorset to spend some time with my family.

We spent three days parked at the top of the East Cliff along the Bournemouth seafront, ignoring the no trucks rule and avoiding getting a parking ticket. We enjoyed several sunrise and sunset walks on the beach, and spent a glorious day walking around Hengistbury Head.

Bournemouth Sea Front at Sunrise

Hengistbury Head on a beautifully sunny day in December

Boris the Golden Retriever at Hengistbury Head on a beautifully sunny day in December

Christchurch from Hengistbury Head, Dorset

The Isle of Wight viewed from Hengistbury Head, Dorset

Boscombe Pier at sunset

Dogs playing at sunset on Bournemouth beach

Bournemouth Beach at sunset

On the day that we left to return to London, we avoided a short section of the A31, and instead drove up a beautiful but unnamed road that runs past Lin Wood in the new forest. We took the time to go for a walk through the beautiful scrub and wooded landscape, spotting some magnificent stags on the way.

Jim the Mercedes 1823 Overland motorhome truck parked in the New Forest

Horses in the scrub of Lin Wood in the New Forest

A magnificent stag in the New Forest

The New Forest in Hampshire

How Much 316 Days of Travel Cost us, and Why we Should all Travel Through Nebraska More.

With me, Naomi, Boris and Jim safely back in the country, life has returned to some kind of normality and routine for us, albeit not exactly the same kind we left behind twelve months ago. Despite having only finished working on the truck about a week before we put it on the boat bound for America, and having only done a half day of shakedown testing, most elements of the conversion worked out well. In fact life in Jim has been comfortable enough for us that we decided to continue living in him whilst back in London. It gives us the chance to continue to rent our house out, and save a little of the money that we overspent on the trip.

Despite this decision, there are plenty of things on Jim which broke on the trip, did not work out as we intended, or could be improved through modification. None of the issues require urgent attention, but attending to some of them gradually after we have moved back into the house, will help to keep me busy and poor over the next few years. I’ll update this blog whenever I do any work on the truck, but certainly the posts will be less frequent than they have been over the last couple of years.

When we were preparing for the trip around America and Mexico, I found a huge wealth of information on the internet to help in planning. For visa and border issues, there is almost nothing that can't be found with a search through the Horizons Unlimited HUBB forum. For information on converting a vehicle into a motorhome, almost everything worth knowing is hidden in the Self Build Motor Caravan Club (SBMCC) forum. For anything more specific to extended autonomous travel, I looked at the Yachting and Boating World forums, and for anything related to travel off tarmac I used the Expedition Portal forum. I am sure if you look hard enough on the internet, it is possible to find anything you want, but in the time I had dedicated to planning, I found very little regarding the costs associated with extended overland travel. 

On many of the blogs I read, I came across useful information, but rarely was it conglomerated onto a single page or post. Below is a summary of the main costs related to our trip; clearly the cost of relocating a vehicle, two people and a dog across the Atlantic comprised a huge proportion of our expenditure. The costs of living on the road was far lower than I expected, and in hindsight we would have got better value out of the relocation costs if we'd spent longer on the road. Unfortunately with the route we took, this was impossible due to the 12 month limit on keeping a temporarily imported vehicle in the US.

I apologize for the lack of exciting photos in this blog post.

Trip Summary
The duration was 316 days, from December 15th 2013 to October 28th 2014

The total distance driven was a little short of 17,000 miles, of which approximately 10,700 miles was in America, 6,000 miles was in Mexico, and 300 miles was in Canada.

The route driven was pretty much as shown below.

Cost Summary
The total spend during our trip was approximately £31,200, broken down approximately as shown below.
  • Flights - £5,870
  • Shipping - £6,540
  • Truck insurance - £2,110
  • Truck repairs - £2,740
  • Diesel - £4,860
  • Living costs - £9,080
Below are  further details on some of the larger costs.