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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Salt’s European Transformation – April 2012

I have been promising details on Salt’s European Transformation for a while so I thought I should post the transformation before I post any of our trips.  I was hoping  SP would write this part (he will be the one to answer any questions that arise so you might want to take note of his email: but, alas, he is still wearing his CFO hat and is promising me budget to actual numbers soon.  Instead of holding my breath, I am taking a deep one and diving in to Salt’s transformation details.

I’d like to take the worst part first:  Black & Grey Tank Disposal
As I have previously reported, most of the caravans and motorhomes in the UK operate on a cartridge basis; most particularly with the black waste, referred to in the UK as Chemical Waste.   (“Waste Water” is their name for grey tank water.)  As a consequence, most RV parks and campgrounds are set up for hauling cartridges over to a sink-like area (called a Chemical Waste Disposal Point), often picking the cartridge up, then tipping the waste and waste-water out of the cartridge.  (An act horribly at odds with the cashmere and tweed wearing English campers proved even worse for Alan; I’m sorry to report that one day, while emptying Curry's black cartridge, he spilled some waste on his shoe.  Rosco followed him around all day.  I am still not sure which bothered him more.)  By now the North Americans reading this are wondering , much like we did when we arrived, how on earth would that cartridge dumping system work with our interior tanks and exit pipe layouts?

Well, first you have to look for the “Motor Vehicle Waste Disposal” point, which only about half of the parks provide.  If they have one, there will be a sewer connection that you can drive next to, and lay your hose down into, for grey and black tank disposal--sometimes.  Sometimes there is a sign indicating waste water (grey) only.  This solution is all fine and good except for the fact that parks providing these points are few and, quite literally, far between.  Enter The Macerator (cue the music from Jaws), Thetford’s Sani-con.  This device will pulverize your black waste (and grey, although there is not much to pulverize in that one) and pump it 200’, even uphill, thus allowing you to reach all the Chemical Waste Disposal Points just as if you were carrying in your cartridge.  I am so thrilled about this I cannot tell you--not.  But Alan sure is and who could blame him?  Our Sani-con is on order from Gold RV who can get you anything for your American RV, relaying it to wherever you are in Europe.

Not stimulated by that black tank discussion?  Let’s move on to:  Electric
As I am sure you know, the U.K. and Europe run on different currents than Salt is expecting.  If you have been reading along you also know we love our solar power, but we have learned that you cannot rely on it 100% of the time, especially in countries where sunshine is not their biggest attraction.  Enter The Yellow Box:

A simple device that transforms the power from the campground mains into something acceptable to Salt.  (I did warn you that for more details you will need to contact Alan:, don’t ask me about wattage or voltage, to me they just mean “smile harder.”)  With a little plug adaptation from, you guessed it, Gold RV, our Yellow Box (purchase from an electrical contractor for around $100) was ready for use in about an hour.

Saving the best, well at least the most expensive, for last:  LP Gas
By far the most complex and costly issue was replacing our LP tanks.  We chose not to ship our two tanks over as getting them certified as empty (a requirement of the shipping company) was going to cost $50-80 per tank and a quick internet search showed tanks of equal size could be purchased for less.   (Cue the Cash Register.)

In the U.K., most of the caravaners use a Blue Rhino type of system called Calor and do the LP bottle exchange.  Many campgrounds and grocers have exchange bottles available so if you don’t mind the extra cost it is a viable alternative, especially if you are staying in one country. 

However, the European countries all have their own exchange system.  Not wanting to start up a new exchange in every country, we opted for refillable LP tanks; a new and increasingly popular solution.  But refilling is not quite as easy as in the U.S.:  Here, although you can fill up your own bottles often from a gas pump right next to the unleaded or diesel options (that’s easy!) you must be able to refill your tanks via a hose attached to the outside of your caravan (that’s not easy!)  You cannot refill directly into your bottles.   (Ca-ching!)

Gaslow is the clear leader in the refillable LP bottle field and we opted for their solution.  The purchase of two 11 KG bottles, pipes, regulator, refill kit and adapters (so we can refill in multiple countries) set us back roughly $1,000 – pulling out the credit card for this, we toasted to how clever we were in not bringing over our old tanks.

The installation of the Gaslow system took about half a day done by our new best friends, Gold RV.   Many Gaslow and RV dealers would not even attempt the installation on a US trailer.   So when Gold said they would install and test it, we immediately upped them to Friends for Life status.  (They, on the other hand, have probably upped us to Crazy American status.)

Thus with electricity, gas and black tank empty’ing options we were ready to hit the road on April 5th, only a day and a half after picking them up at the dock!  Unfortunately, it wasn’t all done until 4:00 p.m. and we had no idea where we were heading.  Enter Gold RV once again!  Gary offered to let us boondock in his parking lot where they conveniently had an electric hook-up, a hose bib and even a sewer dump.  You know our rule:  If it is 4:00 and we have a suitable camping spot, carpe pitchem!  Thus, our first night back in Salt we spent in a parking lot in Alton, England, cooking up some pork stew (with dumplings bien sur!) and toasting a delicious bottle of Margaux to being home once again.