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Mildewy Truth of Disk Drives and Dry Boxes

My goal is to keep Wild Card, our extremely modest ($3,000!) 38 foot cruising vessel as simple as realistically possible. I’m not doing a very good job at it. Example: we have nine hard drives aboard. That’s right, nine!

We’re circumnavigating (again) and are currently in New Zealand. Our boat is our home, recreation, sport, hobby and profession… in addition to being our preferred method of global transportation. Needless to say, our very lives depend on Wild Card. And, I hate to admit it, but this sort-of requires nine hard drives.

I have a smallest, most compact Vaio laptop (TX series) ever made— which has my entire personal, financial and professional life stored on it. My wife has her own Toshiba laptop, and I don’t care what she does with it— because it is completely her own. (If you are a computer nerd like me and want to be to happily married— buy your wife a state-of the art computer whenever she requests one. It is money well spent!) We have a third ‘nav computer’ which is dedicated strictly for navigation and is never unhooked from our GPS. Each of these computers has its own 60 gig portable back up drive.

In addition I have a separate disk drive for all the stuff I don’t want my cyber-snoop-of-a-wife to see— hate-letters to the mother-in-law, detailed plans to trade her (the wife, not the mother-in-law) for two 20 year old Brazilian twins… my latest ‘Last Will & Testicles’ which leaves everything I own to that red-wigged Russian hooker I met in Hellville, Madagascar…. stuff like that.

And last but not least, I have a giant 500 gig hard drive to back-up the back ups and to store our mammoth collection of digital photographs.

Yes, it is fair to say that keeping my hard drives humming is important.

I mentioned photography. Like most cruisers, we have a small digital compact we take snapshots with. These tiny cameras are great for taking crappy pictures which fit in small files. We also have two large digital SLR cameras. These cameras are great for taking crappy pictures which fit in extremely large files. Just to make sure I don’t miss any crappy pictures, I have $5,000 dollars worth of close-up, zoom and telephoto lens… to catch my blurry, mis-framed, badly-composed images in all their unartful glory.

Sometimes, taking a bad still photograph of ugly me doing something stupid isn’t enough— so I, being an American, have a video-camera as well.

Did I mention my PDA? MP3 Player? My digital audio recorders? My MIDI devices?

Oh, yeah! For Christmas 2006 I brought my wife the entire New Yorker magazine… every word, cartoon and typo… stored, of course, on yet ANOTHER hard drive!

So, to put it mildly, I have a LOT of electro & optical stuff which doesn’t like moisture aboard my boat. Every modern boat does. And it isn’t just the high tech stuff, either. I normally carry six spares for each my engine filters (lub oil, primary Racor fuel cartridge and secondary fuel canister) while cruising Third World countries and these often show minute signs of rusting/corrosion before I get to actually use them.

Damn!

New Zealand is damp. So is Panama, New Orleans, Chagos, SE Asia… hell, many of the best spots on this planet have high humidity.

When I say damp I mean damp. This is my third summer season here in New Zealand. When I arrive in early spring and depart in late autumn my boat literally drips with inside condensation.

100% humidity.

I mean, you can practically SEE the mildew growing inside my expensive camera lens, on the porous-sponge surfaces of my hard drives, on the paper walls of my fuel filters. Yeeck!

What to do?

I now have three large ‘dry boxes’ on my vessel. These are just air-tight plastic containers with small hygrometers. I made my own by purchasing the hygrometers for $5 each over the internet— just drill a hole through the box and epoxy ‘em on.

To keep the dry boxes dry, I just use a small 220/110 volt portable dehumidifier intended to dry out a shoreside clothes closet, etc. Once ‘charged’ (dried, actually) for eight hours on shore power or shipboard inverter, these dehumidifiers last for many months inside their relatively tiny container.

My largest dry box has the biggest dehumidifier. It is ‘deep storage’ and seldom opened. My smallest one is the quickest to get at and the one most often accessed. (I need to occasionally grab my camera extremely FAST to capture an out-of-focus, almost-in-the-frame shot I’d have missed if my dry box wasn’t so conveniently located, engineered and arranged).

None of this is terribly important if you cruise for a month every year or charter for a week… but it IS important if you live aboard and cruise offshore as I’ve done for… oh, nearly five decades now.

The bottom line: my electro/optical gear which used to practically swim in 100% humidity now thinks it has moved to Arizona, with its 20% humidity. My hard drives hum. My cameras are perfectly capable of taking all the crappy photos I desire. And when I install a fuel filter on my diesel I’m sure I’m not INJECTING rust nor mildew into my injection pump.

I’m a happy, dry guy!

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