Monday, December 21, 2009

Life on the Boat – Water Management

Water, water everywhere - nor any drop to drink. One of the best decisions we made while outfitting the boat was to add a watermaker. Our Spectra watermaker is programmed to run in 1 hour increments. If the battery bank is above 85% (thank you solar panels) or if we foresee an extended period of motoring, we run the little desalination plant and top off our water tank. This allows us to shower daily, do a little hand laundry, wash the cockpit down, keep up with the dishes, and flush the head with fresh water.

We discovered early on while sailing in San Francisco Bay that it wasn’t what you flush down that creates the off-smell in the boat, but what one flushed with – seawater. Seawater is full of organisms that once sucked into the hoses, quickly die and give off a sulfur-like smell. Flushing with fresh water eliminates this, and in our experience, the need for using chemicals in the head.

No one on this boat likes to do dishes. Cathy feels strongly about not using disposable plates or cups. So through the day, we seem to accumulate a sink full of dishes. If we’re underway and the seas are calm enough, we try to wash up after every meal, even if it’s just 2 bowls, 2 spoons, and 2 cups. But after dinner, if we play some cards or watch a movie, once you’re tired, the thought of doing dishes before going to bed is too much to bear. And we usually just leave them until the morning.

Living onboard a boat with our daily activities, in an environment with daytime temperatures usually well into the 80's, and between 40 and 90 percent humidity, it gets hot. We look forward to arriving at our destination, a quick dive to check the anchor, a cool shower, followed by drinks in the cockpit (if the sun is low enough). However, there are days when no matter how few clothes you have on, you simply cannot cool off. Doug has taken to just living in his “pajamas” (Hugo – you know what we mean), and Cathy wears quick-dry Capri pants and the largest t-shirt she can find. She also keeps a moist bandana around her neck for the evaporation value.

We drink lots of water – desalinated water. If we’ve anchored out, even on the hottest days, once the sun is down and the land starts to cool off, the breezes turn coolish, and with the help of our 12volt fans, we are able to sleep in the V-berth somewhat comfortably. In anchorages, we can jump overboard and take a cool swim – and then rinse off with fresh water using the spigot in our cockpit. But in a marina, for two reasons – both health related – that is not a possibility. First of all, no one seems to use the pumpout stations here. In fact, some marinas don’t even have operational pumpout stations. And secondly, many of the marinas are built in natural estuaries, and at these latitudes, that means crocodiles. The first sign we saw alerting us to this was in Puerto Vallarta. And we actually saw a crocodile swim by our transom in Ixtapa just after sunset.

Actually the hardest place for water management is in the marinas. At least we don’t use as much, since for example we shower on shore. But we cannot make water in the marina since the water is generally too dirty and would gum up the membranes quickly. Is the water at the dock potable? In Cabo the marina office told us “well I drink it, but you probably shouldn’t”. While in La Paz we were told “it’s drinkable – but I wouldn’t drink it.” So we don’t. We use it to flush the toilet, wash down the boat, rinse out salty clothes (salt attarcts water, so clothes will never dry if the salt water hasn't been rinsed away) – but use our watermaker water for dishes, showers, and drinking.

Our water tank holds 170 gallons. With the watermaker, we really don’t worry that much about how much we use. And we carry 10 gallons of emergency water in 2 liter jugs and are never very far from land. I can’t tell you how much per day we really need – but I guess I could go back and calculate it from our records of watermaker usage. Our Ventura model watermaker will make about 8 gallons per hour. When we run it, we generally like to run it for several hours. We feel like this is most efficient, because we don’t collect the first gallon or so that comes off (but we do catch it in containers to use for flushing), and there is a fresh water rinse that happens at the end of the operation cycle. But more importantly, we found it is best after every use to take the filters out, rinse them and soak them with fresh water, and let them dry. We were a bit surprised when we were heading from Cabo to La Paz, and the water being produced had a very sulfury smell. Don’t want to put that in our tanks! So what do we do… read the manual! There it is – in warmer water that promotes a lot of algae growth, leaving seawater in the filters, allows the algae to die and give off a sulfur odor. (We knew that .....) The manual suggests the rinse/soak/dry cycle after each use.

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