We head out on our first real road trip with the Castaway early Saturday morning. The excitement is building as we get ready to cast off. Ok, I know. That was a pretty bad pun.
We built our packing list for the trip and we have been refining it as we go. It has helped us to get the coach prepared for departure.
We expect to cross the border early afternoon on the Saturday. We will be spending one night at the Port Huron KOA before making our way to our final destination which is the Petoskey Motorcoach Resort in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
Although we are still very much newbies, we have learned to call ahead at the campgrounds to make sure our rig will fit.
We will have no issues at Petoskey. Their sites are very large and designed specifically for big rigs.
KOA sites? Well, let’s just say the ones we have used so far have turned out to be really tight for our coach.
Initially, our booking at the Port Huron KOA on the way up to Petoskey was a large super site. But then we changed our dates and we were assigned to a much smaller back-in site. We asked to be placed on a waiting list for an upgraded site. We called them up last night and success. We are back on a large super site, site 38.
On the way back, we are assigned a pull through site at the Port Huron KOA which looks to be fine for our coach. But, we will check that site out on our way up to Petoskey to make sure.
This will be our first border crossing with our coach and with our dog. Hopefully it all goes well.
Two more sleeps.
Note to self: always check clearance.
We’ve had our coach for a few months now. And we have been living in it for the most part. We have taken the Castaway out for a few trial runs, one weekend trip and one overnight trip. Later this week, we take the Castaway out for a much longer run.
This is all part of the breaking in period.
We expect things to go wrong with the coach. We expect to keep a list of things that have gone wrong and to get them fixed.
What has been our experience so far with the Newmar Dutch Star? Excellent.
Here is what we have found so far that needs to be addressed under warranty.
- Paint flaw on the driver’s side fuel tank cover
- Missed silicone sealant under the passenger’s side mirror
- Slight gap in a small section of tile grout (roughly half an inch)
- Lift of a section of fabric trim on entrance door to master bedroom (about 10 inches of trim needs to be glued back into place)
- Tile cracked under one of the recliners on full wall slideout
And that is it so far.
We did have to repair a kitchen latch. We were a bit forceful in testing out a storage bin for one of the kitchen drawers and managed to break the upper latch mechanism. We ordered the part and I installed it last night. Easy fix.
We will be heading down to Nappanee in the spring to have the coach serviced and to make a change.
We decided that we missed something when we built the coach and Newmar is going to help us out for a small amount of money. What did we miss? Windows in our bedroom slideout. The bedroom slideout on the passenger’s side of the coach is currently windowless. Why? Well, it had something to do with the style of bed that we ordered. We ordered a bed that inclines and retracts. No one had told us that this feature would drop the two windows in the bedroom.
We’ve decided that the two windows are important to us and Newmar will fit them back into our coach. The bed won’t incline and retract which is fine. That part we won’t miss. We are missing the windows.
It will take roughly 12 hours of labour to install the windows so we will need to be at the factory for a couple of days. By then we will be close to the one year anniversary for the coach and we may as well get it serviced and deal with any warranty items at the same time.
I received the estimate from Newmar a few days back for installing the windows. I will sign off on the estimate and we will book a date to get the job done next year. I will also bring along any warranty items that need to be addressed although the list so far is pretty small. Hopefully the list stays that way.
There was a bit of an issue with the 2016 Newmar Dutch Star weight limits. Specifically on the front axle. You can download the pdf of the Product Information Bulletin here. The relevant section for us was the following:
A new front axle configuration with a 15,400 lb. rating will be made available for 2016 model year 40′ Dutch Star motor homes.
The Castaway came off the line with the 15,400 lb. rating. When we weighed the coach on June 18, 2016, she had 14,160 pounds on the steer axle. And we were pretty much fully loaded. Not sure that we could add another 1,200 or so pounds to the steer axle.
Imagine my surprise then when I came across this post on the iRV2 forum:
I have the 2017 Rand McNally motor carriers road atlas. It has 6 of the Canadian provinces with steering axle weight limits of 5500kg or 12,125 pounds.
What? That seems way too low.
And it is.
I did some digging to find the national standards for Canada which you can look at here.
There it is. A maximum of 7,250kg on the steer axle. But, there is a bit of a key point in the national standards:
It should be recognized that each jurisdiction retains the authority to allow more liberal weights and dimensions, or different types of vehicle configurations, within their jurisdiction.
I decided to check out Ontario here. Schedule 17.
So far so good.
And now the Ontario weights for the same designated bus or recreational vehicle.
Well, this takes a little bit of work doesn’t it? The Castaway would be fine in Ontario. Our GAWR rates the steer axle at 6,985 kg. Our combined tire widths in mm is 624 which would allow 6,864 kg and the single axle would be 9,000 kg. The lowest measure would be the combined tire widths on the steer axle at 6,864 kg or 15,132 pounds. A tad under our 15,400 pound rating for the steer axle.
And yet, it is not a more liberal standard as stated in the Canadian national standards. According to those standards, the steer axle limit is 7,250 kg which means we should be fine with the GAWR of 6,985 kg.
Confused? Me too.
But honestly, how weird are the rules and regulations here in Canada? We have national standards but they vary by province. I took the time to review the Ontario standards but I am not going to go into each provincial standard to see whether the coach is technically legal or not. The rules and regulations are very dense and getting at the weight limits is definitely not straightforward.
I would have expected that our coach met all Canadian regulations to be on the road. And it probably does.
I’ll let you know if we ever get pulled over for being too heavy on the steer axle. Somehow, I doubt that this will ever happen.
I finally made it, up on the roof, the very top of the Castaway, our 40-foot motorhome.
I wasn’t sure how to get up on the roof of my Newmar Dutch Star. I have two ladders, one 8-foot step ladder and a 7-foot multi-purpose ladder. After checking with the customer service team at Newmar, I used the 7-foot multi-purpose ladder to make the climb. They assured me that the side panels were more than strong enough to hold the weight. Fully extended at a safe angle, the ladder was almost two feet short of the top edge of the coach. Not ideal but I was able to hold on to the top edge of the coach and swing my legs over to the roof itself.
Success. A castaway has landed on the roof.
I needed to finish detailing the very top areas of the coach that were simply out of reach from the step ladder. Being on the roof made it so much easier to apply paint sealant to the top part of the front and rear caps as well as the top ridge of the sides of the coach.
I found a number of items on the roof: air conditioning units, vent covers for the Fan-Tastic Fans, drain-waste-vent outlets, a small solar panel, a cover for the solar prep wires, the satellite dish, the digital TV antenna, radio antennas and antennas for the Sirius XM radio.
I spent roughly 3 hours topside. Lorraine was kind enough to ferry up the supplies. Things like detailing spray, clay bars, paint sealant, microfibre cloths and fluids. Even though it was a cloudy day, there was enough heat and humidity to produce a lot of sweat. The constant moving along with the cleaning and waxing activities does constitute a pretty good workout.
Here is a short video about the experience up on the roof.
That was the title of a post over at the iRV2 Newmar Forum. And it reads, in part:
I finally got to sit down tonight and figure out what in the world was going on with the AV setup in 2015 DSDP. I’m fairly AV savvy and was mostly stymied by not having (a) time, (b) extra cables from my big pile back home, and (c) the ability to take apart that insane amount of velcro holding all the boxes in the cabinet above the driver.
This is a picture of our AV Cabinet in the Castaway:
Since that picture was taken, I have added two 120mm fans to pull heat out of the cabinet, one Harmony Hub universal remote base station, one IR blaster, and a Bell HD satellite receiver. I also need to add an Apple TV. But right now there is too much clutter and not enough space.
Installed in the coach was a cheap Sony STR-DH550 AV Receiver, a Sony BDP-1500 Blu-Ray player, a Winegard Trav’ler base station, two splitters and lots of cables.
Nothing about this setup makes much sense to me. What was bad? Well, a cheap subwoofer hidden inside the kitchen cabinet. The front grill literally a few millimetres from the cabinet sidewall. Incorrect settings for the surround sound receiver — all speakers were set to large and, with 3-inch drivers, they are certainly not large. No ability to see the receiver settings on the TV panels because of the way in which the cabling was interconnected. Lots of heat and no space for adding or changing components. Way, way too many remotes. The first thing I purchased for the AV cabinet was a Logitech Universal Remote.
I have to literally empty the cabinet and get myself a bit more room in there. The receiver barely fits in the space which will limit my choices in terms of a replacement unit. There is no shelving to create some distance between the components. And the default routing of the HDMI cables limits the functionality of the various components. One example is dropping the Audio Return Channel functionality with HDMI. The living room TV returns audio through a digital cable, not through HDMI. Unnecessary cable run. Another example is not being able to program the receiver using the receiver’s GUI on the TV screen. The only way to program the receiver is by using the receiver’s small LCD panel.
The only physical change that I have made to the setup thus far is to connect an external subwoofer. It is placed behind one of the recliners. I also changed the speaker setting to small and set up the crossover to allow the subwoofer to shoulder most of the work on the lower end of the frequency spectrum. It sounds so much better now.
I have a compact subwoofer on order as the one I am using is really too large for the space. I will be installing a Cambridge Audio Minx X201 powered subwoofer. It is very compact at roughly 8.5 inches wide x 8.5 inches high x 10 inches deep. I will need to make my first hole in my coach to route the subwoofer cable through the back of the kitchen cabinet to the new subwoofer. I suppose a coach really isn’t your own until you make that first opening. This small subwoofer should be fine for the size of the listening area.
Obviously, audio is not a strong suit of the Newmar Dutch Star. The components are functional as entry level components go but I will be replacing all of the audio components: receiver, blu-ray player, speakers. The listening space will sound significantly better with a better set of speakers.
This is a time consuming project though and one that I won’t start for a while. The external subwoofer along with a few setting changes make the system bearable in the short term.
We have joined a number of clubs and signed up with a number of services over the past few months including Freightliner Chassis Owners Club, KOA Values Kard, Pilot Flying J RV Plus Card, CoachNet amongst others.
And now the Good Sam Club.
We joined the Good Sam Club for a number of reasons which you can read about here.
Most important to us were the discounts at campgrounds, Camping World, and fuel at Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers.
They have also made a strong commitment to Canadian members which you can read about here. If we buy something at a border Camping World SuperCenter, we’ll receive an additional 10% savings. And our cards have a maple leaf behind Good Sam’s head.
Won’t takes us long to cover the cost of the dues through the savings.
I like lists. Especially packing lists.
I love creating packing lists.
Actually, I love what packing lists represent: freedom. Freedom from having to remember things. Freedom from the worry that something important was left behind.
Over the years, I have continually refined packing lists. Because we travel frequently, travelling light — and hopefully carefree — does take a bit of planning. Packing lists are a big part of that planning.
I’m still getting used to the idea of an RV packing list. It is a bit different when traveling around in a house on wheels. There is already a fair amount of stuff in the coach.
I have built a packing list that spans three pages. Here is page 1:
I broke the packing list down into the following categories:
- Pet Supplies
As the forthcoming trip will be our third expedition with the coach, I will be vetting the list to ensure that we have all that we need, and nothing more. As we get closer to the travel date, I will finalize packing list and use it to check that the items are on board and ready to go.
This takes a lot of the stress out of preparing for a big trip. And, if we have forgotten something, it gets added to the list. Or, if we really did not need to bring something along, it gets dropped.
Who knows. Maybe in a few years, the very idea of a packing list becomes obsolete as we travel around full-time. But for now, it helps me to be prepared.