Diaries Magazine

Hauling Water is Not Fun

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem
Hauling water
You know what’s not fun? This. Hauling water across Chalong Bay. This is not fun. A lot of people do it every day, in less comfort, with less certain access to clean water. So on balance: we’re lucky, really lucky. 
Last July, the end caps on our watermaker blew up while we were off the coast of Borneo. For most of the intervening months while our magical water making machine was not functioning, we were in Malaysia. On the shoulder of the monsoon season, there was ample opportunity to catch rain and funnel it in. Tap water there is potable, and we also did a lot of ducking in and out of marinas to tank up. Some places even let us take a slip to fill up the tanks and leave again without charging a fee- now that's cruiser friendly!
After arriving in Phuket in early December, easy access to drinkable water evaporated at the same time as the monsoon switched to the dri season.We couldn't get potable water once we arrived in Phuket in early December, so we've had to haul it from shore. Twenty liter bottles weigh about 40 pounds each and are awkwardly shaped. Sometimes we could get them delivered to the beach. Sometimes Jamie and I would take a bottle each and carry it from a vendor. The tops don’t seal, so the only way to carry was hugging it right-side up. Try carrying forty pounds of slippery round plastic for even a short distance. Not fun. Thanks to the lids, there's a bonus wet t-shirt contest long before the dinghy is in sight. Well, it keeps things cool anyway! But it’s not fun, and I’m very, very happy to be trickling sweet water back into the tanks again.
Doldrumssapphire water at the doldrums on our Pacific crossing
Despite the high cost, we never really considered going without a watermaker. Five people consume a fair amount: in strict conservation mode, we can get away with as little as 8 gallons per day. More typically, we use about 15, so we can go about a week on our tankage. That's pretty good, but it's not enough for the kind of voyaging we do. You can't count on rain. Sometimes, islands don't have enough to meet their own needs, much less yours. But let's say we did go without a watermaker: that means that about once a week, we'd be hauling about 100 gallons. Let’s review: this is not fun. That’s about twenty of those leaky Thai water bottles.
Probably the scariest thing that happened on our longest Pacific passage, the 3,000nm Mexico-Marquesas run, was when our watermaker pumped briny water instead of fresh into the tanks. We hadn't isolated them, so they were both contaminated. Between the multiple lessons learned, we had a very real reminder that this is a truly precious resource.
Totem's current watermaker is a Spectra Ventura watermaker, which Jamie installed in late 2008. With a few minor exceptions, it’s performed really well (we’re waiting to see if some of those bits that didn't work so well will be covered under the five year warranty, since they blew up at about 4.5 years). When we've needed parts, however, it’s been a pain. Communication isn't great, the parts cost a princely sum, and we have suffered an unusually high number of mis-delivered or non-delivered shipments. It’s all kinds of frustrating when you’re half a world away. Almost as frustrating as Spectra charging over $100 for a little elbow part that shouldn't cost more than $10.
After many false starts to get all the parts we needed, and about a day of installing, testing, uninstalling, fixing, and repeating from install again- we’re finally making water again- the purr of the pump and splat of brine water hitting our galley sink are sweet sounds to hear again.
----If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’ve just splashed change into our cruising tanks. Thank you!

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