Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Windsurfing Through Life

About twenty years ago, friends of ours invited us to the Cape with them for the day. Tom brought his windsurfer to the beach. I was transfixed by the way he effortlessly zipped back and forth in the wind and water, and asked if I could try it. He showed me the basics of standing on the board and using the rope to haul the mast, sail, and boom up out of the water, then holding the sail in "the neutral position" (where the wind is at your back and the sail is parallel to the wind without catching it) while trying to maintain your balance. But whenever I moved the sail, it would catch the wind in a way I didn't expect, and I'd lose my balance and fall off the board. Tom would yell sailing things at me like "don't pull it into the wind so much," but never having sailed, I didn't know what that meant.

The next year, we returned the favor and invited Tom and his family down to Nantucket where we rented a place every year. When we met them at the ferry, I saw, to my delight, that Tom had brought the windsurfer. I spent most of an afternoon wrestling with it, and got pretty good at standing up on it, but I never mastered the problem of not knowing what to do when the sail caught the wind and everything started moving.

The following spring, I bought a used windsurfer and resolved that I would crack the nut of getting it moving without losing my balance and falling off it. Before we took it to Nantucket that summer, I did quite a bit of reading. Of course, learning to windsurf by reading is probably like learning to do gymnastics by reading; there's only so much you can learn without doing.

However, I stumbled upon a kernel of knowledge in an on-line tutorial that made sense to me. It said "The neutral position is crucial. You need to learn to return to this position. Learn to live in this position. Lean to read War and Peace in this position. Then, and only then, can you can gradually pull the sail in and orient the mast and boom in different ways to catch and control the wind." It went on to describe how to hold one hand on the boom close to the mast and move your other hand further down the boom. The further down you move your outside hand, and the further in you pull the boom, the more wind the sail will catch. If it catches too much wind, you can always reposition your hands. If you're really perplexed, you can always return to the neutral position and start over.

"Learn to read War and Peace in this position" was the piece of advice I needed. It worked. I cracked the nut. I also figured out the part that you can only learn by doing--the balance part, the small rapid changes in boom/mast/sail/hand position and your weight distribution that eventually become second nature. That summer, I not only got the board moving, I became a credible novice windsurfer. I stress the word novice; I was never launching off waves and catapulting myself twenty feet into the air or doing flips or anything like that. But I did get to the point where I bought the clip-in harness and could hang my weight off the boom, pull the sail in tighter, catch even more wind, and zip along in Nantucket harbor at a pretty good rate. I even once got going fast enough that I accidentally dug the nose of the board into the water and pitch-poled the whole thing end over end, something I regarded as a personal success, sort of like having a car with enough power that you can spin it coming out of an apex and exit the track backwards.

Windsurfing on Nantucket, 2003
I windsurfed every vacation for several years, but then hurt my back (bulged L5 and pinched S1 nerve root) in an unrelated incident. I tried windsurfing the next year, but taking the board, mast, and boom off and on the roof of my Suburban, assembling the system, and especially hauling the wet sail up out of the water, were painful. I described the spate of windsurfing activities to my back doctor and he said "yeah, don't do that."

So, nearly ten years ago, I gave it up and sold the windsurfer. Ah well. As I said somewhere, we measure maturity by how much we can leave behind and still smile.

Fast-forward to last year. My middle son Kyle's in-laws have an off-the-grid cabin on a lake in a very rural part of Maine. Several thousand acres of land surrounding the lake are owned in common by a small number of homeowners. Mountains are close enough to the lake that there are no roads out to the houses; a caretaker has to ferry you out in a boat. No powerboats are allowed on the lake except for the one used by the caretaker. The deed restrictions state that houses can't be visible from the lake. And since the area is privately owned, with very little turnover, rules are actually followed. So when you're on the lake in a canoe or kayak, it's unbelievably pristine.

So you can probably understand why, when last year we first went up to the lake with Kyle, my daughter-in-law, and her parents, the fact that they had not only canoes and kayaks but an assembled windsurfer piqued my interest pretty hard. The sail was already rigged on the mast and boom. I just needed to carry it and the board about 40 feet from the house down to the water and snap them together and leave them on the dock when I was done. It seemed likely that my back could take that.

So I tried it. I gingerly stepped onto the board in light winds and hauled the sail up out of the water. That activity blissfully didn't generate any pain, so I checked to see if I had any windsurfing muscle memory left. I found that I could, to my delight, remain upright, pull the sail into the wind, get the board moving, and exercise some degree of control. I spent a very happy hour windsurfing on the lake.

Now, windsurfers have no rudder (we're talking the equipment, not the people, though the degree to which I have a rudder is a matter of debate as well), so the amount you're able to steer is somewhat limited. You can effect some amount of steering by tilting the bottom-hinged mast, but it's not as controllable as a sailboat with a rudder. And, even if it were, the fundamental problem continued to be that I never learned how to sail; I simply didn't speak wind. So even though I was able to maneuver the windsurfer and come about (falling off the board as often as not), I was largely at the mercy of the wind. I found myself downwind of the cabin by several hundred yards, and try as I might, was unable to get back upwind. Sailing out into the lake and tacking back didn't work, as, due to the presence of the surrounding mountains, in various spots the wind just died.

Fortunately two of my sons were in a canoe fishing. I shouted "Father down! Father needs assistance!" They paddled over, threw me a rope, and towed me back. It was a ignominious finish to the carefree self-image I had of windsurfing on Nantucket when I was younger and stronger.

Well. We just returned from Lakefest 2017, a reprise of last year's trip. It was delightful in all aspects. All three of my boys were there this year, as were Kyle's wife, in-laws, and other members of their family, all of whom I genuinely like. And the windsurfer was there too, sitting under the porch. The weather was lovely for mid-September, about 70 degrees, oodles of direct sun, and a nice afternoon breeze. To say that the windsurfer and lake beckoned me for Round II is an understatement.

I found that my muscle memory was still pretty good in terms of the mechanics of standing up and catching wind without falling off, but was preoccupied by the idea that I needed to be able to control the rig and sail out and back to the dock. I asked Maire Anne to make sure there was someone on the dock who could act as the family version of windsurfer AAA if it looked like I was repeating last year's performance, but, to my delight, by the end of the first day, I seemed to have that largely under control. The wind was blowing in the opposite direction from how it stranded me last year, and kept sending me into a cove at the end of the lake, but I never had any trouble getting back.

The second day, filled with some measure of confidence, I tried to sail out into the central body of the lake. Unfortunately, on four attempts, the wind kept pushing me into the cove. It wasn't where I wanted to go, but on the positive side, each time I headed back, I was able to come about and wind up directly in front of the dock. I became less concerned with whether there was a tow truck I mean canoe at the ready.

On the fifth attempt, I pulled the windsurfer harder upwind, and smiled as I successfully steered it wide of the cove and found myself heading into the larger part of the lake. I wondered "Should I come about here and make sure again that I can head back?" but the wind quickly made that decision for me. With the wind no longer blocked by the proximity to the mountains ringing the shore, suddenly I was in more wind. A lot more wind. I picked up speed and began heading further out into the lake.

The wind began to pull the boom and sail out of my hands. I compensated, regained my footing, pulled the sail into the wind, started to lean back on it, then the wind died and I fell backwards off the board. Fortunately it was still warm and sunny, so there was little consequence to getting wet. I climbed back on, acclimated to this new set of dynamics, and had at it. Pretty quickly I found myself leaning back on the boom, catching a respectable amount of wind, and shooting across the lake like the borderline-competent novice windsurfer I was a decade ago.

However, the wind out in the middle of the lake, unaffected by the surrounding mountains, wasn't blowing in the same direction as the wind closer to shore. My new lines across the lake bore no resemblance to those nearer-to-shore passes that reliably took me back to the dock. My anxiety about needing to be able to control the windsurfer well enough to get back without an embarrassing "tow" returned.

But here's the thing. A voice inside myself said "You've just been working for an hour to get into this part of the lake. You did it. You're here. NOW ENJOY IT, you overly analytical risk-averse son of a bitch. What's the worst thing that can happen? You beach it on the shore somewhere and walk? It's not that big of a lake."

So I did. Enjoy it, that is. For about twenty minutes, I zipped back and forth in the middle of the pristine lake, without a house in sight or a power boat to mar the ear, leaning back hard on the boom, catching as much wind and speed as I could. September 12th, 2017. The last days of summer. The trees ringing the lake beginning to turn. The sun shining, the air and water warm. It was fucking glorious.

When I began to get tired, I sailed as far upwind as I could, then tried to wrestle the windsurfer toward shore. I wound up several hundred yards upwind of the dock. You can run directly downwind on a windsurfer, but you have to be able to hold the mast up in all that wind, and I couldn't. Fortunately, I found that I could put the mast in the good old neutral position, with the wind at my back and the sail luffing, read War and Peace, and gently tilt the boom to move the sail left or right, having it act effectively as a rudder in the wind rather than in the water. It wasn't pretty, but it was astonishingly precise. I dropped the sail in the water ten feet in front of the dock.

I've often said that I'm where I am in life because I've floated downstream with the river, and that the river has carried me to some interesting places. I never thought I'd spend 33 years doing applied geophysics for the detection of unexploded ordnance, that my automotive hobby would flourish into a profession, that after 30 years I'd still be writing my Hack Mechanic column and have four books published. The windsurfer--the apparatus and the person--could be a better metaphor than the river.

But that's the wrong use of the metaphor. It completely misses the point. It's not that I've been warped by the wind and driven by the sleet (apologies to Little Feat). It's that I've been determined, stubborn, at times obsessed, with obtaining and exercising control over certain situations that I can control. It's that I've recognized when I need to be less conservative and go outside my comfort zone. It's that I've maintained my balance. And it's that, at times, I've actually listened to that voice that says for the love of all that's good an holy, ENJOY THIS, RIGHT NOW.

(If I really wanted to go for the gold and bludgeon the metaphor home, I'd add that I freely admit that, in my life, I overuse the mechanism of "returning to the neutral position," but if I were to say that, I'd need to wrap it up with a bow by saying "Besides, I like reading War and Peace," and, in truth, I've never read it. Why, oh why, didn't the online windsurfing tutorial I read 15 years ago say "Learn to read Ulysess in this position? Damn you, online windsurfing tutorial! Damn you to hell!)

It probably doesn't make sense for me to look for another windsurfer. It's September. I don't currently have a vehicle I can easily mount it on. Even if I did, although my back is better than it was, all of the issues of loading are still in play. It's probably best to simply take the memory and file it under "smile."

But if I'm back up at the lake next year, and the windsurfer is still there under the porch, and there are white caps on the water, my pulse will quicken more than a little. We measure maturity by how much we can look forward to, and still smile.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Notes from a Novice RVer, Part IV: Bauhaus Hits the Road (the first short trips in the 1996 Winnebago Rialta)

In the last installment, I’d just purchased the 1996 Winnebago Rialta with 107k miles on it for three grand and driven it home, and was still pinching myself at my good fortune while waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of the rig dying or my finding that it immediately needed some crushingly expensive repair. So far, neither of these events has come to pass. So the other shoe has neither dropped, nor is it on the other foot. Which is only worth these two mangled metaphors because later in his piece I mention shoes in the context of how small the Rialta really is.
Let me talk for a moment about price. In the shallow waters of the world of highly compromised vintage BMWs in which I usually swim, I joke that I do my best work around four grand. I was never going to get a Rialta for four grand. It simply wasn't a reasonable expectation. The 2001 and later Rialtas fetch a premium due to their 201hp 24-valve VR6 motor. Low-mileage examples in excellent condition have asking prices of $26,000 and more. The 1998 to 2000 rigs with the 12-valve 140hp VR6 motor are next on the list, with asking prices near $20k for excellent examples, perhaps down to $14k if they have a punch list of needed repairs but still run well and look good. The early (’96 and ’97) 100hp 5-cylinder rigs like mine are the least valuable, owing to their anemic motor and slightly shorter body (21’ instead of 22’). I see asking prices around $14k for those in excellent condition, maybe $10k for a needy rig. Right after I bought mine, I saw one in worse shape—it reportedly had sat for several years and was running rough—sell on eBay for $8500.
So I was stunned when I picked up this Rialta for three grand.
Now, while there is no question that this was a particularly good deal, the vehicle does have a lengthy punch list. I relish the process of becoming interested in a new automotive make and model and learning about it so that, when a smoking good deal turns up, I can act very quickly. That’s what happened here. The seller (Maureen) was scrupulously honest in presenting the punch list of issues and needed repairs, and priced it very aggressively to get rid of it quickly. I do all my own repair work, so, as long as it ran, wasn’t rusty, and didn’t seem to immediately need major work to the drivetrain, the punch list didn’t scare me. I told her I’d buy it on the spot if it satisfied those requirements, and it did, and I did; cash was paid and it was in my driveway by the end of the day. It’s easy to say that she underpriced it, and she probably did, but she very efficiently achieved her goal of a quick sale to the right buyer. And I bought a vehicle that was a great deal, but needed a great deal of attention.
So I began working through the punch list. And I'm still working through it. Fortunately, the rig basically started and ran, and most of the RV systems—the 120VAC shore power and generator, 12V battery bank, plumbing, stove, coach heat, water heater, and rooftop air conditioner—came up running.

Immediate Repairs
·        Maureen reported that the roof was leaking slightly and that the upper corners of the windshield gasket had pulled away. I climbed up on the roof and found a split in the caulk next to the skylight and caulked it with silicone. I cleaned and re-seated the corners of the windshield gasket and caulked them as well. For the moment, it appears to be tight.
·        The air conditioning in the cab (the vehicle air you need while driving, not the coach air you need while parked) wasn’t working. I do a lot of a/c work. I hooked up my gauges, and found that the system clearly was low on refrigerant. That generally means it’s leaking somewhere. I hooked up my nitrogen tank and pressurized it to help find the leak, but the pressure reading held steady, and there wasn’t any gushing sound of air. In the morning, the pressure still hadn’t budged. I shrugged, evacuated the system, charged it with the correct amount of R134a, and to my delight, it blew cold and has stayed that way. If it’s got a leak, it must be a small one.
·        Maureen said that, about two years ago, the vehicle died due to a discharged battery, and that the battery and alternator were replaced. I did a health check on the charging system. At rest, the battery should read 12.6 volts, and while driving, the alternator should charge it up to about 14.2 volts, but I found that, when there’s a big electrical load at low RPM (like idling with the air conditioning on), the alternator doesn’t keep up with the electrical load, and the voltage drops as low as 11.8 volts, which will certainly discharge the battery if you run it this way for a while. The voltage recovers once you start driving and the engine RPM is raised. I cleaned every connection to and from the alternator and it made no difference. I’ve bought an inexpensive voltage regulator to have as a spare, and I drive with one of my $6 cigarette lighter voltmeters plugged in to make sure I’m keeping the combination of energized accessories and engine RPM balanced such that they keep the battery charged.
·        The coolant temperature gauge runs hotter than I’d prefer (like, at times, 7/8 of the way up the gauge), but the receipts show a recent water pump and thermostat, the thermostat is opening, the fans appear to be turning on, I can’t find anything wrong, and the Rialta tech forum has posts saying “yeah, they do that.” I’ve got half a mind to spend the $125 on a new radiator and drop it in just so I can cross that off the list. Any vehicle that doesn’t have a good old fashioned mechanical cooling fan and relies on electric fans instead makes me nervous, so I wanted to install a switch and a relay to be able to bypass the sensors and turn on the electric fans manually. I stumbled on a post in the Rialta tech forum describing how to do this by tapping into the existing fan control relay by splicing one wire and running it to a switch. I followed the instructions. Great minds think alike.
·        Maureen reported that the onboard 110V generator would start but not stay running, though she had a suspicion that the problem might be due to a low fuel level (the generator uses the vehicle’s gas tank). I filled the tank and have had no such problem; the generator appears to work fine, and powers the RV’s 110V systems, including, mercifully, the rooftop air conditioning unit.
·        Maureen also said that there was a leak in the fresh water plumbing. I found that one of the drain cocks had been left open. I closed it, filled the system, and the internal plumbing all seems to work. Never having owned an RV, the idea of having a vehicle with running water for a sink, shower, and toilet is still an unbelievable novelty.
·        The side door lock assembly is dying. The handle is extremely loose, and neither the lock nor the deadbolt work with the keys I’d been given, and the central locking doesn’t engage the side door lock. Thus, locking the vehicle requires engaging the side door locks from the inside, then exiting through the front doors, which is a bit of a pain. I pulled the lock out and found that sections are riveted together and not easily disassembled, and that much of the looseness is from a partially cracked piece that eventually will fail. Neither the whole assembly nor individual parts are available from Winnebago. An updated replacement is supposedly available from Trimark, the manufacturer, but it is expensive and the wait appears to be several months. I’m living with it.
·        The coach’s fresh water pump suddenly quit working. It turned out to simply be dirty switch contacts in the outside faucet.
·        I installed the missing leg of the awning that Maureen had bought.
·        The dump valve from the black water (sewage) tank was leaking, so the first time I unscrewed the big quick-release cap to attach the dump hose, there was already sewage present there even before I pulled the lever to open the dump valve. Ick. Even for me who isn’t afraid to tear into things, I didn’t relish tearing into a sewage system. I learned that this leak is a common problem, and fortunately there’s a simple solution—put another valve on the outside, between the release and the cap.
·        Maureen reported that the refrigerator ran on 120VAC and 12VDC, but wouldn’t run on propane. The fridge has been the most troublesome component on the rig and will get its own installment.
·        There is a faint exhaust leak that I'm not going to do anything about until it, um, becomes less faint.
Initial Impressions
When you buy any inexpensive partially hobbled vehicle, there’s a period of establishing trust in it, getting to the point where you feel reassured that when you get in the vehicle and turn the key, there’s a high probability it’ll start, and that it won’t drop dead on you while driving. Initially, the opposite happened: After the vehicle sat in my driveway for a week, it barely started, with symptoms of a partially discharged battery. I, who wrote an electrical book with an entire chapter on how to diagnose this kind of a “parasitic drain,” haven’t had the patience to troubleshoot what’s pulling the battery down while the car sits, and instead took to managing the problem by simply disconnecting the battery while it’s parked. So far, so good, but, combined with the issue of low charging voltage while idling, I keep that cigarette lighter voltmeter plugged in whenever I drive, and I watch it like a freaking hawk.
My first trips in the Rialta were to run short errands. When it didn’t die or overheat running it around Newton, I drove it into Somerville (densely-populated suburban Boston) to buy a mattress. Just like during the test drive when I bought it, I was extremely impressed with the degree to which the rig ran and drove like a big minivan, albeit a more rattly one due to the camper body and the stuff in the cabinets. I easily parallel-parked it on a Somerville side street to load the mattress into it. Try that in a 40-foot Class A.
The trip into Somerville meant taking the rig down the big hill on Route 2 into Cambridge, and then back up the hill on the way home. With the 100 horsepower five-cylinder engine propelling the 7,000 pound vehicle, the Rialta had to be popped into 3rd and my foot mashed to the floor to maintain 45mph up this short but steep incline. On the one hand, with my history of owning underpowered VW busses and Vanagon campers, I felt right at home, but sheesh, I thought; this is going to get old on anything other than level ground. Still, it was one hill, and a steep one, without a running start, and I tried not to extrapolate its entire performance envelope from this single data point.

The Mattress
Ah, the mattress. There are three basic Rialta floor plans. Ours has the one with two twin beds in the back and floor space between them. Maureen included a knock-down pedestal table that allows people to sit on the beds and eat back there as if it’s a dinette (though they’re still beds; there’s no padded back like bench seats).  A hinged board and a small joining pad allow the twin beds to be connected. 
Our rig, with the twin beds separated. The hinged board that flips out and connects the beds is below the right-hand mattress. You can see the connecting mattress on the right, and the knock-down sort-of-a-dinette table that Maureen gave us on the floor.
There’s a different floor plan with an actual dinette in the back, where the table slides away and the dinette bench seats fold flat into a bed.
The dinette floor plan from the brochure.
But there's a third plan with a full-time double bed and a small walkway and counter on its right side. Maire Anne and I aren’t twin bed people. We looked longingly at brochures showing the full-time double bed, but beggars can’t be choosers.
The double-bed floor plan from the brochure. 
It was immediately obvious that our rig's original 3” foam mattresses, whether separate or connected, would be miserably uncomfortable to sleep on. That trip into Somerville in the Rialta was to buy an inexpensive used memory foam mattress to put in the back. This turned out to be a failed experiment, as the mattress I bought was 12” thick, which turned it to be too tall; it practically caused our feet to touch the undersides of the cabinets in the rear.
It did, though, cause Maire Anne and me to think about the mattress configuration more carefully. The full length and width of the connected bed space (with the board flipped over) is about 73” long by 80” wide, which is very close to the size of a king-size mattress turned sideways. We initially thought we’d take out the existing foam mattress sections and replace them with a single 6” memory foam mattress and leave it set up across the entire back. Then we considered cutting up a memory foam mattress into sections so that we could fold the board up and take advantage of the floor space between the twin beds and only connect them at bedtime. One problem with this is that memory foam deteriorates if it’s left exposed. You can’t stretch a sheet across the disconnected foam sections, so that would require putting each piece in a slipcover.
In the end, we wound up buying a new high-quality ViscoSoft 3” thick king-size memory foam mattress topper with its own cover, and laying it on top of the original 3” mattress sections. It is very comfortable. In theory, it still allows the topper to be pulled over to one side, the connecting board folded up, and the mattresses returned to twins with the floor space exposed between them, but in practice, the topper is bulky enough that this isn’t easy to do, so thus far, we've left it in the configuration below, which has had some unintended consequences.
The twin beds connected with the board, and the king-sized memory foam mattress pad on top. Very cozy, very comfortable, but it takes up space and precludes options in ways we hadn't envisioned. 
With the mattress in place, it was time to hit the road. Sort of.

The First Trip: A Simple Overnight
Our first trip in the rig was to the western Massachusetts hill town of Beckett for an evening playing music with some old friends. This was a great easy inaugural jaunt, as all we were doing was driving the rig 130 miles (most of it a straight shot out the Mass Pike) and parking it in a friend’s driveway and sleeping in it; we didn’t need to use any of the RV systems. Two guitars and a small amp nestled perfectly under the board between the connected twin beds. With some pretty good-sized hills on the Mass Pike heading through the Berkshires, we were pleasantly surprised that the rig had no problem maintaining the cruise control’s 65mph. Even on the ups and downs on the local roads through the Berkshires, I felt more limited by the fact that the RV wasn’t one of my BMWs than by its low power. Perhaps this 100hp Rialta wouldn’t be so bad after all.
The big surprise was that, even on this short trip with limited use of the interior space, it became immediately obvious how small the Rialta really is inside. It’s nothing like most RVs where you walk in the side door and are greeted by a couch and two big living room-sized chairs. There’s only 62”—just over five feet—of floor space from the bed bulkheads to the step up for the coach battery compartment in the floor, and some of that 62" is taken up by the 3rd seat. There’s another 18” from there to the backs of the front seats. This proved to be a good place to put our backpacks and a small cooler, because simply putting them on the floor took up a good portion of the tiny available floor space. Cabinet space is similarly limited.
Still, the first trip was quite successful. Nothing went wrong with the rig. Both Maire Anne and I were quite comfortable sleeping in it, and loved having a bathroom right next to the mattress for when we woke up and had to pee, rather than having to go inside and find a bathroom in an unfamiliar house in the middle of the night.
Oh, and the rig averaged about 17mpg on the mostly-highway trip. Not bad.
The Second Trip:  Three Days on the Cape
Immediately on buying the Rialta, a natural division of labor emerged: I worked on the rig, and Maire Anne dove into researching campgrounds at nearby Massachusetts state parks and began making reservations for a number of short stays through the summer and fall. She learned about the distinction between RV sites with hookups (shore power and fresh water, about $30/night) and those without (about $20/night), where we’d need to “boondock” and rely on vehicle power and water. At these particular state campgrounds on the Cape, you’re prohibited from running the generator during the quiet hours between 10pm and 7am. Maire Anne booked us first for three nights in late July at Nickerson State Park in Brewster MA, on the “bicep” of the Cape, with other trips in late summer and fall at Horseneck Beach and Scusett. 
I had several weeks to prepare for the trip to Nickerson. I thought that this was ample time for me to be able to fix the rig’s three-way refridgerator, but despite a lot of work, I was unable to get the fridge to cool on propane. Without that, and without shore power, the fridge couldn’t be relied on to stay cold without draining the coach’s batteries (I’ll write a separate installment on the refrigerator-related trials and tribs). For the Nickerson trip, we kept it simple and used a cooler with ice. This was easy, as there was a store near the campground.
Nickerson turn out to be a great jumping-off point for a variety of day-trips on the Cape. Neither Maire Anne nor I had used our bikes in many years, but I bought an inexpensive bike rack that mounted in the Rialta’s hitch receiver, freshened up the bikes, and away we went.
Leaving for Nickerson
The campground at Nickerson was exactly that—a campground, not an RV park. There was a maximum RV length limit of 35 feet (obviously not a problem for us), and no hook-ups, but there was an RV dumping station. Our camping area was overwhelmingly populated by folks tenting or using pop-up trailers, with a few larger camping trailers. We were one of a handful of RVs. As I said, generator-off hours were between 10pm and 7am. When I did try and fire up the generator during allowable hours, our immediate tenting neighbors took notice. They didn’t complain, but it made Maire Anne and I feel self-conscious, so even though it was allowed, I shut it off. But without shore power or the generator, we had no 120VAC to run the hot water heater for the shower, so we settled into a rhythm where we used the campground facilities in the mornings for showers and, uh, other things.
We’d then head out in the rig to explore the cape, usually taking the bikes with us. We’d come back to the campground in the late afternoon or early evening, unfold the rig’s awning, hang out at the picnic table, cook and eat outside on a Coleman RoadTrip propane grill we’d brought (it was just more camp-y than cooking inside), make a fire in the pit, drink wine, play guitar, crash in the rig, and make coffee in the morning. It was delightful. And, like the overnight in the Berkshires, having the bathroom right there in the rig, and a sink with running water to brush your teeth, was fabulous.
Throwing an inexpensive Craigslist bike rack on the back of the rig, and the bikes on it, worked flawlessly.
Our standard evening libations.
Our standard morning libations.

But the true utility of the RV was shown in a completely unexpected way the day we went up to Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor’s Center in Eastham. The weather was iffy, but we decided to chance it and do a three-mile hike to Coast Guard Beach and back. Unfortunately, when we reached the beach, the skies opened up, and the hike back was in drenching rain. By the time we returned to the parking lot of the visitor’s center, we were soaked clean through. But there, waiting for us, was the Rialta. We got in, drew the blinds, stripped down (without having to lie down on the seats and do that funny horizontal shimmy you have to do to change clothes in a passenger car), toweled off, used the bathroom (in the rig), and put on dry clothes. Then we made coffee (in the rig). Then we made sandwiches, including toasting our buns (the bread buns) on the stove. In the rig. And sat there, happy as clams (warm, dry, caffeinated, well-fed clams with empty bladders), marveling at the experience.
It was an epiphany. Wow, I thought. Of all the vehicles I drop three to four grand on, this one is actually useful. Forget camping. Forget the idea of a big western road trip. Forget the big questions of whether or not we’re “RV people.” Look at what we just did with this vehicle. All of sudden, I realized how useful a vehicle this size with a bathroom, a bed, and a stove could be. Just wait, I thought, until we have a fridge that actually works.  
Highly recommend the hike to Coast Guard Beach, even though we got soaked.

Maire Anne toasting our buns after the great soaking.
There were two other revelatory moments. Our last full day there, we drove up to Provincetown. I hadn’t been up there in over 40 years. I didn’t know my way around. We were following our phone to get downtown. All of a sudden, we were right downtown, driving down a narrow street that wasn’t blocked off to vehicles but clearly should have been, as we were completely surrounded by wall-to-wall people. And we weren’t in a car; we were in an RV. A small RV, but an RV nevertheless. I hung the first right turn out of there, which turned out to take us down a far smaller street. And it was fine, because the Rialta isn’t really that big, and is incredibly maneuverable.
Then, that evening, as we were heading back toward the campground, we made a snap decision to stop at a very well-reviewed restaurant (The Brewster Fish House). I pulled the rig into the parking lot in front and Maire Anne jumped out to ask about the wait. I spied what looked like a parking spot all the way at the end. I drove around, pulled forward, and backed in with little more drama than you’d experience parking a Suburban. Just like when I picked the mattress up in Somerville, try that in a 40-foot Class A. (Note that, bravado aside, this isn’t a minor issue. I just read a post in one of the RVs forums on Facebook I’m now part of from someone who said they were in the Seattle area in their big Class A, and couldn’t find anywhere remotely close to the city to park it so they could go in and see the city.)
How do you park an RV in the tight parking lot of a nice restaurant? Like a boss. (Actually, like any van or SUV. It was trivial, really.)
For the trip to and back from the Cape, we averaged between 14 and 15 mpg, which I suppose isn't bad considering it included all the day-tripping up and down the Cape, and a good deal of stop-and-go traffic on the drive home.

The Downside
The major downside we experienced with the Rialta was that, even more than the trip to the Berkshires, this trip made me palpably aware of how tiny the Rialta is inside—that the small length and excellent maneuverability are purchased with the currency of interior space. When you’re driving, you’re into the vehicle part of RV, and you want it to be as small as possible, but once you’re parked, you’re into the recreation part, and you want the space. The Rialta's driveability is fabulous, but the trade-off against interior space is palpable. This is a bit ironic, as the Rialta’s original brochure touts “more recreation, less vehicle.”
As I pre-echoed in the introduction, take something as simple as shoes. Both Maire Anne and I had brought three pairs of shoes to Nickerson (decent shoes, sneakers, and sandals). That’s six pairs. We found that when you randomly drop six pairs of shoes on the floor of the Rialta, you can’t open the door to the bathroom. And that’s just shoes. You need to be absolutely relentless about not leaving things on the floor. We crammed everything we could in the cabinets, but the cabinet space is pretty limited as well.
Even our precious incredibly comfortable king-size bed created a bit of a problem. Initially we both thought “well why wouldn’t we want to keep the twin mattresses connected all the time with the fold-out board and leave the king-size memory foam mattress topper on them?” The answer is that doing so takes up half the interior space of the Rialta, and because it’s a bed, you can really only use it as a bed. If you want to keep sand and dirt out of the sheets, you can’t throw other stuff on top. And, although we could still use the area between the beds as storage space by sliding stuff under (that’s where we kept the Coleman grill, the beach chairs, the collapsible dinette table we never used, the guitar, the boogie board, the leveling blocks, and the toolbox), it never was available as floor space, which made the interior of the rig feel smaller. And we never could fit as much in there as we would’ve been able to do had it been uncovered. Plus, the vents for the cabin heater are under that board, so when we use the rig in the fall, we probably can't both have the king-size mattress deployed and have the area underneath it crammed with stuff like we did. Plus, without the floor between the beds exposed, in order to put things in the cabinets in the back, we needed to crawl onto the bed, which required taking off our shoes to keep sand out of the bed. This is hardly hardship, but it shows the trade-offs.
After a few days, the idea that we couldn’t put things on the bed because we’d get sand and dirt in the sheets went by the wayside, and we soon began stacking all sorts of things along the periphery of the mattress because, well, there was no other place to put them.
The fact that this Rialta doesn’t have a real dinette area wasn’t too problematic. The front seats turn around 180 degrees, and the 3rd seat swivels 90 degrees, allowing it and the passenger seat to face a small fold-out table. That’s what passes for a dinette in this floor plan. It worked perfectly fine for eating breakfast. 
What passes for a dinette in our floor plan -- the passenger and 3rd seat swung around and facing a very small fold-out table.
During most of the dinners where we were at the rig, we would up eating outside on the picnic table, and that was fine. As I said, we took a Coleman RoadTrip grill, which was nice to cook at out at the picnic table. The grill, though, even when folded up, ate up much of the storage space under the bed. I kept looking for a cost-effective way to mount both a cargo carrier and the bike rack in the hitch receiver so we could put the grill there, but the solutions either were expensive or dangerously extended the cantilevered load far off the back of the vehicle.
The Coleman RoadTrip grill can be seen behind the picnic table.
Another area in which the Rialta’s size is problematic is its lack of the kind of exterior storage compartments other larger RVs have. There are hatches on the Rialta's tail, but one holds the spare tire, the other the shore power line and access to the plug-in for the generator. Neither come close to being large enough for a tool box or a milk crate. This is significant because, at some point, you need to dump the sewage tank in the RV, and to do that, you need an RV dump hose, which is a collapsible accordion-like 3” diameter hose. Needless to say, in the process of doing this, the dump hose becomes, shall we say, fragrant, so you need to rinse it out with clean water, so now you need to pack a garden hose, but you don’t want it to be the same garden hose you use for your fresh water hookup, because, well, even the idea of it is gross, so now you need to pack two garden hoses. And, while washing the dump hose with let's just call it "garden hose number two," you want to be wearing disposable rubber gloves. So any reasonable person would take the RV dump hose, garden hose number two, and a box of rubber gloves, put them in a milk crate, and store them in an exterior storage compartment. But on the Rialta, there is no place to do this. Instead, there is barely enough space to stuff the dump hose in next to the shore power line, and jam both garden hoses in with the spare tire. It is far from optimal, and I find myself looking longingly at the exterior storage compartments on every other RV I see.
One other odd quirk of the Rialta is in its holding tanks. Like everything else on the rig, they’re very small. Unlike most other RVs, the shower doesn’t run off into the gray water tank—it goes to the black water (sewage) tank, and that holds only 12 gallons. If you’re going to have two people showering in the rig every day, you’d probably need to dump the RV every day. So far, Maire Anne and I have managed the issue by not using the Rialta's shower and using campground showers instead. It’s too bad, though. I’d love to test out the shower in my driveway. I’d have no qualms about dumping the shower runoff of soapy water in the driveway, but with it running into the sewage tank, obviously dumping that anywhere other than a dump site is out of the question, and there aren’t any RV dumpsites within 35 miles of my house.
So, for all of these reasons, although I really like the Rialta, and feel damn near blessed that it fell into my lap for the price it did, and Maire Anne and I will enjoy the hell out of it for these quick New England adventures (which, make no mistake about it, was the goal, and which is a great inexpensive way to do some fun things together), I do wonder if it is the right vehicle if we want to head out of state on a more classic RV adventure. The later Rialtas are a tad bigger (22 feet instead of 21), but I think something in the 24-foot range would probably be much more practical, even if that’s a more traditional American Class A or C without the cool Euro Rialta vibe. But I keep combing Craigslist, and have yet to find anything remotely close to making me want to go have a look.
And… Full Circle to Mothing
In my first installment, I described how it was an invitation to Maire Anne to go “mothing” (setting up lights and looking for moths at night) several months back that re-ignited my RV search—that if we had a vehicle we could drive out and sleep in, we might take the mothing folks up on their invitation to camp in their driveway. After we’d bought the Rialta, another mothing invitation came around, so we hopped in it and drove out to Ware MA. We did meet some great folk and see some cool moths, but the evening ended early and we simply wound up driving Bauhaus back home. Maire Anne did get to crash in the back, so the rig showed its utility. A bit anticlimactic, but 90% of life is showing up, right?
What’s Next?
Oh, a lot. There’s the new fridge, and the whole solar installation. So stay tuned.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Notes from a Novice RVer, Part III: The Purchase of Bauhaus (the 1996 Winnebago Rialta, a cross between a VW Westfalia and a blowfish)

In my last installment, I regaled you with my four simple requirements for a budget RV: It needed to cost me as little as possible, run, not be a fool’s errand, and Maire Anne had to be willing to sleep with me in it. If her first reaction to something I dragged home was “ick,” it would’ve meant I screwed up big time. I decided that I didn’t need to solve every problem while selecting my first RV; I could look at it as a starter RV in which to try short trips around New England while Maire Anne and I decided if we liked doing it. I went through a left-brained analysis of RVs in the sub-26-foot range that I found interesting, and explained that if I wanted something fuel-efficient but couldn’t afford a BMW turbodiesel-powered Vixen, the choices seemed to collapse to a Winnebago LeSharo (built on a Renault Trafic; has a reputation for trouble), a Winnebago Rialta (built on a Volkswagen Eurovan; has a somewhat smaller reputation for trouble), or one of the Class C cab-over Toyota mini-motorhomes (built on a small Tacoma; has an reputation for reliability but looks like a cinder block tying to mate with a turtle).
I was put off by the LeSharo's reliability issues, and didn't think I could ever find a Rialta I could afford, so I was drifting toward a Toyota Class C. I was about to bid on an auction for a very nice-looking 1990 Toyota Winnebago Warrior in Delaware on eBay that closed on a Saturday morning, when on a Friday night, I saw an ad that made me have one of those drop-everything moments we car people live for.
1996 Rialta Needs Repair $3500
1996 Rialta needs mechanical and cosmetic work. 2 years ago this month, I started up the road to get an inspection sticker. It died 1/4 mile in, had it towed to my local garage where they replaced the alternator and battery. On the way home, the oil pressure alarm went off. Replaced both high and low pressure sensors but still alarmed. Oil pressure was fine. Baffled mechanic kept it all summer without success, although the low bill made me wonder how much time he actually worked on it. There are also lots of Winnebago side repairs needed. There is a newly discovered water leak on attempting to fill fresh water tank. The awning needs a hardware pin for one arm. Windshield gasket has pulled away in the corners, but have had lots of rain with no visible leaks. No spare tire cover, fridge runs on electric and battery but not propane. Generator runs but shuts off, perhaps simply due to 1/4 tank of gas. Had locking gas cap that was seized, got a locksmith over to remove. New cap is ordered, supposed to be shipped by Monday. Has twin beds with a plywood hinge to convert to full, all extra cushions available. Rebuilt transmission at 80,000 miles (prior owner but have records) no trans cooler or dipstick. I purchased in 2010 for $12,000 and put $4,000 into it, then... water pump, tie rods, ball joints, fans, timing belt. 3 years ago replaced cracked skylight and vent fan cover. Will need tires.
I’d noticed in my Craigslist perusals that there are a lot of obvious scams for desirable RVs including Rialtas, but from the detailed description, multiple photos, and price that didn't mysteriously end in "234," this didn’t appear to be one of them. There was no phone number listed, but I emailed the seller as fast as my fingers could type. I hoped to hear back before the auction for the Toyota closed on Saturday morning.
Fortunately, I did, and spoke at length with Maureen, the owner. We hit it off immediately. She described in detail the oil pressure sensor problem referred to in the ad, and how the mechanic had put a mechanical oil pressure gauge on the engine and verified that the pressure itself was fine. I explained that I was looking for a small RV with a certain vibe for weekend trips with my wife, how the mechanical and cosmetic punch list didn’t bother me, and that, if her Rialta ran and it wasn’t rusty, I’d put cash in her hand right now.
Maureen said I was the first to call (yay), and the car was at her house in Mattapoisett on the southern Massachusetts coast, but that she was working all weekend so it would be easiest if she showed me the rig on Monday (boo). I said that, if that’s what needed to happen, I could make myself available on Monday, but gently pressed that I’d prefer to look at it as soon as humanly possible because at that price, she was about to get deluged with e-mail and sight-unseen offers. I explained that sight-unseen offers can be very tempting, but often turn into a time sink because people, understandably, want as many photographs as possible. I repeated that, if the vehicle was solid and ran, I could make something happen then and there. I also explained how, just two weeks prior, I was in exactly the same first-in-line-but-can’t-see-it-until-Monday situation with a well-priced BMW 2002tii, and how I’d lost it to someone who brow-beat the seller into letting him cut in line and then stuck cash in his face. Maureen, to her enormous credit, arranged for her husband to show me the rig. I dropped everything, and on a gorgeous early summer Saturday morning, my son Ethan and I took an hour and drove down to Mattapoisett.
The 1996 Winnebago Rialta I never thought I could afford that fell from the sky (well, from Craigslist) into my lap. That's Ethan standing in front.
After looking at that other inexpensive Rialta in NH a few months back and finding it completely rotted underneath, the first thing I did when I saw this one was don my Tyvek suit and crawl underneath the rig. The undercarriage was absolutely fine, with just a bit of surface rust where the undercoating was flaking off. A walk-around revealed some battle scars—the door for the spare tire compartment was missing, the corners of the windshield gasket were pulled away as described in the ad, there were some cracks in the front bumper, and the rear bumper corner trim pieces were missing—but in general it had the appearance of a happy vehicle, well-used but not neglected.
Then I went inside it. I’d only been in one Rialta—the rusty one in New Hampshire—and although that short visit left me pleasantly surprised with the rig’s light and airy interior vibe, I hadn’t paid much attention to the details. This time I did.
Now, Maire Anne and I had two VW Westfalia campers back in the day, a ’69 Type 2 bus and a 1980 Vanagon. They both certainly had their charm, but they didn’t feel like they had actual living space. Westfalias are small vans with a little fold-out bed to crash on and a stove and sink and icebox that are perilously close to toys. I was looking for something one size bigger than a Westfalia, something that was still trim and easy to drive and park but also gave you not just somewhere cramped to crash for the night, but the feeling that there was interior living space, even if that space was small.
As I said in the last installment, the Rialta is a Volkswagen Eurovan cab with a Winnebago body on it. That technically makes it a Class C RV, even though it doesn’t have the cab-over overhang associated with most Class Cs. However, because it’s so clearly a “campervan,” it’s frequently referred to as a Class B. None of this really matters; it’s just interesting to have learned enough about the RV classes to be able to understand the distinction.

     It's not a secret that the Rialta is a Volkswagen Eurovan; the VW logo is plainly visible in the center of the grille and on the dashboard, and there's a Eurovan owner's manual in the glove box. However, in terms of sales and service, it's branded as a Winnebago Rialta, and the graphics on the outside of the rig announcing it as such dwarf the VW logos. So if you were unaware of its existence, so was I.
The Rialta’s Winnebago body is both longer and wider than the original Eurovan, sticking out about nine inches on each side, though the stick-out is beveled, so it looks sleeker than most other Class Cs where the transition from cab to coach is abrupt, perhaps looking a bit like a small version of the hotel and rental car buses you see at airports. The total effect is that it looks and feels like a Eurovan Westfalia camper puffed up like a blowfish. Although it’s tiny by RV standards, it is, in fact, much bigger inside than a Westfalia, and if you’re used to Westfalias, you walk inside the Rialta and go “ooooooooh.”
The Rialta's smooth bump-out makes it more streamlined than most Class Cs.
There’s a wet bath (an integrated shower stall and toilet) which is particularly ingenious because, when you need to use the shower, the walls slide forward into the cabin’s floor space, and when you don’t, they slide back, allowing you to reclaim the valuable space. There a little kitchen area with a microwave, propane stove, sink, and a small three-way refrigerator (more on that pesky three-way in another installment). But, again, judged by RV standards, Rialtas are tiny. These early five-cylinder 100hp models (‘96s and ‘97s) clock in at just 21 feet; the later VR6-equipped models (140hp ’98 through 2000; 201hp ’01 through ‘05) are 22 feet. Both are available with several different floor plans. This one has twin beds in the back with a fold-out that connects them, a 3rd seat in the kitchen area, and a tiny fold-out table. If you swivel the front passenger seat and the 3rd seat, they face the table, giving you what passes for a dining area. If you want a bigger table, you have to go with the floor plan that gives you two bench seats in the back that then fold out into a bed when you fold up the table. Such are the Swiss Army Knife games played with space in small RVs.
The twin beds. A board underneath the right-hand bed can be folded between them, and the small cushion on the right placed on it to join them. You also can see the large rear window, which gives oodles of visibility when driving, and provides a great spacious feeling while parked.
The kitchen, if three feet of space qualifies as a kitchen.

The passenger seat swung around and facing the 3rd seat, with the tiny fold-out table between them.
I said that one of the perceived advantages of the motorhome configuration over a trailer is that the passenger gets to use a motorhome’s interior space while it’s being driven, allowing him or her to get up, stretch his or her legs, use the rest room, get a cold drink out of the fridge, take a nap in the bed if desired, etc. However, although the Rialta is certainly bigger than a Westfalia, and its headroom is adequate for five-foot-eight-inch me, there’s no pretending that it has real walking-around space. In fact, the front seats are so close together that the act of getting up from the front and walking between the seats into the coach risks ankle entanglement.
Still, Maureen’s Rialta was exactly what I said I was looking for. It not only was “something one size up from a Westfalia,” it was literally the Volkswagen-based RV one size up from a Westfalia. And I was very pulled in by the fact that the interior didn’t have the slightest meth lab / porn studio vibe of nearly every other inexpensive RV I’d looked at online. It had a lighter airier European feel.
And then I noticed something very cool. The extra seat in the kitchen area (if you can call a three-foot section in something this small a “kitchen area”) was upholstered in a wild fabric. I looked around inside the coach, and noticed that this fabric was echoed in accent panels on some of the walls. When I pulled up the covers on the front seats, I saw this same fabric, worn to ribbons on the bottom cushions. When I got home that evening and searched for Rialta options, I learned that this interior motif was called “Bauhaus,” and that it extended to the mattress covers, which unfortunately were missing.
The Bauhaus fabric on the 3rd seat and on the trim panel on the wall.
I’d been talking about finding an RV with the right “vibe,” and said that I didn’t know what that was, but I’d know it when I saw it. It was as if the rig was saying “I got yer vibe right here, pal.”
Ethan and I climbed in. I turned the key, the rig fired right up, and I immediately heard the audible oil pressure warning Maureen had described. There was also a flashing temperature light on the dashboard. It was way too early in the warm-up for the light to be a legitimate temperature warning; the gauge was still reading cold. I checked the coolant level in the reservoir and it was fine.
With its Audi-derived five-cylinder 100 horsepower engine, the rig wasn’t going to let me do burnouts in parking lots, but it ran and drove and shifted fine. I’d be lying if I said it felt familiar, as I’d never driven a Eurovan, and as I wouldn’t expect its automatic front wheel drive platform to feel like the rear engine rear wheel drive four-speed air-cooled and waterboxed Vanagons I’d owned. But it did feel fairly tight and “European.”
Another really nice thing I noticed was the bank of windows down the right side of the rig that gave great visibility; I didn’t need to rely exclusively on the mirrors to check for cars while changing lanes. And when, at the end of the test drive, I needed to turn around by banging a left onto a vacant side street and swinging the rig around, I was astonished at how small the turning radius was. It was little different than driving a minivan.
When I returned to Maureen’s house, I needed to back the vehicle down the driveway. For my old geophysics job, I used to drive a big pickup truck with a utility body on the back that completely blocked the rear view mirror, so I’m quite used to backing up while relying only on the side mirrors. I began to do that with the Rialta, and then remembered all the glass in the rig. I looked behind me, and saw the enormous rear window. I knew that it was there and that was a massive contributor to the vehicle’s airy feel, but hadn’t thought of it in terms of making the rig more easily park-able.
And this is how we buy an unfamiliar vehicle. There’s the whole intellectual and research part of it, but at some point, we find that we like certain small things, and our gut says “yeah, I think I’d enjoy owning and driving this.”
It seemed to satisfy all my requirements. I could afford it. It ran. It didn’t seem like it was a fool’s errand (I didn’t think I’d be working on it every waking hour for months before the first road trip). And, with that cool Bauhaus interior, there was a good chance Maire Anne would actually sleep with me in it.
I called Maureen, asked her a few questions about the warning lights and buzzers, and told her that I totally wanted to buy her Rialta.
I then asked her the question that has become the center of my negotiating strategy, if you want to call it that. It is a very simple and disarming question: “What do you need to get for it?” Note the difference between this question and “What’s the least you’ll take for it?” The former interrogatory is far more human and respectful and far less confrontational than the latter. And it is astonishing what people will say when you ask them this simple respectful question. Note, though, that when you ask it, you are in a sense skipping a step in the negotiating process. That is, if a vehicle is advertised at a price, it is normally incumbent upon you, the buyer, to make a counter-offer. When you instead ask “what do you need to get for it,” you’re essentially asking the seller to lower their price unilaterally. Personally, I feel that, in order to keep the negotiation respectful, if the seller names a new lower price, and it’s reasonable, you pretty much need to accept that answer and not try to get them lower out of sport. In this case, her asking price was already extremely low.
“Well,” said Maureen, “I know that it needs work. How about three grand and I’ll throw in the new locking gas cap I ordered when it arrives, and the TV my husband bought me for it that I never wanted?”
When I went back that evening to meet Maureen, hand over the money and pass papers, and pick up the rig, she showed me the owner’s and repair manuals, folders of receipts, and important articles she’d printed out from several Rialta forums. She was, as they say, a power user.
We negotiated over just one thing. There was a poster in the back of the rig showing a seagull with its feet in the surf, accompanied by the Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) quote “The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.” I mock-complained as Maureen went to remove it: “Oh… you’re taking that? I really liked its vibe.” She hesitated for about half a second, then said “you’re right. It belongs with the vehicle.” I tried to explain that I was mostly joking, but the deed was done. It stayed.
Maureen and I said our goodbyes and vowed to stay in touch, which we have. On the hour-long drive home, the Rialta ran hotter than I would preferred, making this vintage BMW owner feel right at home, but exhibited no other major problems.
In the morning, the moment of truth: I showed the rig to Maire Anne. The past few years, my wife has gotten heavily into quilting; when I go into the garage to play with cars, she’ll go upstairs to play with fabric. So when she saw the Rialta’s Bauhaus fabric, she said “Oh, I LOVE it!”
Then, she looked me in the eyes and said as only a wife can: “I’ll totally sleep with you in this.”
Double score.
The rig was quickly christened Bauhaus. ("Christened" as in "named" :^)
So, for now, there will be no vixen in a Vixen. But there will definitely be a babe in the Bauhaus.

[Next: So, are we RV people are not?]