Saturday, November 27, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere...

Rain in the cockpit of Del Viento, 1997,
enroute El Salvador to Nicaragua
Dirt dwellers in the U.S. take water availability for granted. Sure, I grew up in drought-prone Southern California, so I know that many folks west of the Mississippi understand that water is precious and conserve it at times--but even they take the availability of water for granted. They may have dropped a brick in their toilet tank, or stopped watering their lawn, but they always take it for granted that clean, potable water would flow from their tap.

Cruisers have an entirely different relationship with water. There are four common ways to get water into the tanks of a cruising boat so that it is available to her crew:

1. Via a garden hose at the dock to which the boat is tied up.

2. From rain water that is collected and channeled into water tanks aboard.

3. By shuttling empty water jugs from the boat to shore aboard the dinghy, and then shuttling them back and emptying them in the tanks aboard.

4. Using a water maker aboard that removes the salt from sea water, turning it into potable fresh water.

When I lived aboard the first Del Viento in a marina in the early nineties, I filled my tank using approach #1, a garden hose that was at the head of my slip. When Windy and I untied those dock lines and left to go cruising in 1996, we rarely visited marinas and instead shuttled all of our water from shore using two six-gallon jugs we kept aboard for just that purpose. With only two of us aboard, and with a water tank that held only 14 gallons, we made due. This time around, there will be four of us aboard and the water tank holds 100 gallons.

Approach #3 isn't going to be the best approach during this next cruise. With twice as many people, there will be at least twice as much shuttling of water. This would be a pain in the neck (and back!).

Approach #1 will not work for us because we will be cruising on a tight budget, unable to spend time in marinas where the water flows freely.

Approach #2 is attractive and viable, but not dependable in many parts of the world.

And that leaves approach #4. We didn't have a watermaker on the first Del Viento and our Fuji 40 did not come with one installed. Watermakers are very expensive and consume a lot of electricity. On our first cruise, we were in very short supply of both resources. On this cruise, we will not have a lot of money, but will have a bit more power (specifically from two Siemens 100W solar panels mounted atop the davits--contrasted with the single 75W panel we had aboard the first Del Viento).

I don't want to be restricted by a lack of water. I don't want to have to leave a desirable, but secluded anchorage prematurely because we are running low. I've heard too that there are remote populated places where water is scarce and unavailable to cruising boats. A watermaker would offer us total freedom from any water-supply restrictions. We could make the water we needed, when we needed it. We would likely use more fresh water, conserving less, if we had a watermaker aboard. But the cost is nearly prohibitive. The smallest Spectra watermaker runs about $7,000 (over $6 a day for the next three years, ouch) and the output is so low that though it may keep us self-reliant, we would remain vigilant about usage.

So we are resolved to living initially without a watermaker, just to challange any perceived "need" for one before we spend the money. That said, I recently learned about a new model of watermaker that tips the scales a bit further in the watermaker's favor.
SeaMaker 20 by Cruise RO Water & Power

Cruiser Rich Boren is sailing with his family aboard Third Day in Mexico. He comes from a water filtration background, understands reverse osmosis (the technology used to make fresh water from salt water), and was dismayed upon becoming a cruiser to learn how much companies were charging folks for these machines. So, he made his own watermaker to install aboard Third Day, and it worked great. After enough folks showed interest in his watermaker and expressed the same dismay about commercially available watermakers, Rich formed a company (Cruise RO Water & Power) to make his own version of the watermaker. The core technology is no different than that of the other companies, but like his home-grown unit, his watermakers are built from third-party manufactured components that anyone can buy off the shelf. Accordingly, he keeps his prices down. His 20-gallon-per-hour output model, the SeaMaker 20, is priced at just a hair under $4,000.
I don't know how we'll feel about our water situation by the time we hit San Diego, but my best guess is that we will be ready for a watermaker at that time, and the $4,000 price point will probably be not too hard a pill to swallow. We'll see.



  1. Ron Kapla ( 28, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    Robertson - haven't you ever watched Les Stroud....The Survivor Man???

    You and your family need to urinate into some soil (or a towel will probably work) with a cup in the middle. Cover it all with plastic and put it in the sun. Hocus've got yourself a distilling machine.......and fun times on the Del Viento 2.

  2. Things have really changed since 2010. This one pumps out 50-70 litres/h and "only" costs aound $1000.


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