Friday, April 14, 2017


We carry about 600 liters of the stuff, which has been easily enough for our longest passages in the past.

On the 21-day trip from South Georgia we washed dishes in fresh and took minimal care with our consumption, but arrived in Cape Town with enough water left for days and days of dockside use, which allowed us to live off the delightful Grytviken water and saved us from the less delightful Cape Town version.

So we've never really worried about drinking water on passage.

This passage, it is apparent, is a little different.

We are now 12 days in, and Hawai'i is still more than 3,000 miles away. It has been above 30° C / 90° F throughout, and the sweat pours off us, day and night.

So naturally we have been drinking water pretty freely. This didn't worry us, but we did take more than normal precautions. I fossicked around in the plumbing parts locker and came up with the pieces to re-plumb the salt water tap at the galley sink, which I years ago disconnected, so that we (she) could wash the dishes in salt.

As I said, we weren't worried. But there is a long long stretch of empty ocean ahead of us, and we imposed pretty draconian limits on wash water that were a bit hard to take for our constantly sweating bodies.

And then, a couple days ago, something odd happened.

The port tank, which we have been using almost exclusively so far, was feeling funny at the foot pump when we drew water. This is often the first sign that the tank is getting low.

And the fridge pump, which uses drinking water as a coolant, was getting air when pumping from the same tank. (!)

Oddly, there was also some water in the container that the overflow hose for the port tank flows into. This normally happens only when the tank is overfilled when we're taking water.

So, something of an open ocean plumbing mystery. Add to that the combination of a fail-dangerous setup and human error early on in the trip that saw some water mistakenly pumped from our starboard tank into the then-full port tank, into the overflow hose, and thence into the bilge.

We thought that only about 10 liters were lost in that incident. But we weren't entirely sure that it wasn't much more. Because - admission - we don't have a way to see how full the tanks are. I hold that people who are going to sea only when they're ready never leave, while nearly everyone who is actually sailing the oceans of the world is doing so with a boat suffering some shortcoming that really should have been addressed before they set off.

On Galactic, that shortcoming might be our inability to gauge the tanks.

So, with the port tank looking like it might be running low well less than half way into the passage, mental alarm bells started going off.

I plotted the distances to ports in Mexico where we might top up. They were blessedly close - less than 300 miles - and the winds wouldn't make it tough to get there.

Elias started asking me what we would do if we ran out of water. We hadn't shared any of our concern with him, but all of our admonitions about being careful with water had made things clear enough. It's hard to hide things from your kids on a boat.

I answered that we always had the emergency 80 liters in jugs on deck, which we could ration severely and stretch a long long way.

He asked what I meant by ration, and then he asked what we would do if those ran out.

I had thought this through, of course, and told him how we would try to distill sea water on the galley stove. But I also stressed that it was vanishingly unlikely we would get to that point.

That night, after the boys were in bed and Alisa was on the HF, checking in with the Pacific Seafarer's Net, I bit the bullet and opened the inspection hatches for both tanks.

The port tank was surprisingly full. Clogged filters explained the funny foot pump feel and the fridge pump sucking air. And Alisa pointed out that the vicious roll we had suffered through on a windless night might have been enough to slosh water out of the overflow hose.

The starboard tank was almost completely full.

So...we're set. At this rate I wonder if we couldn't go 45 days or even 50, which is quite a long way for four people to stretch 600 liters.

We celebrated with bucket showers and a freshwater rinse for all hands. The boys were ecstatic at the treat.

It was quite a relief to look in those tanks and see how well we're doing, and I have resolved to get sight glasses plumbed into the tanks so we can see how full they are.

But through all this, neither Alisa nor I have ever felt tempted by the idea of an onboard watermaker. As long as our backs are up to hauling jerry jugs now and again, a watermaker is beyond our personal line in the sand of unreasonable onboard cost and complexity, an expression of the attitude that every problem in the life afloat has a technological solution which we are happy to sneer at for now.

As I was writing this, a squall passed overhead. We set the smaller of our two raincatchers and filled the kettle. And, more importantly, the whole crew mustered on deck naked and felt the shivery joy of cold freshwater running over our salt-itching bodies.

And that might be a little moment of passagemaking delight that stays with us for a long time.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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