water water, everywhere
As Andrew (Halcyon’s third crew member for the Pacific crossing) was rinsing dishes in the bin of water that sits in the starboard half of the galley sink, he asked me, with only a hint of bemusement, “how many times can we reuse fresh water before it just becomes salt water?” I’m sure the answer to this question would differ greatly by household and by boat. On Halcyon, the answer is simply “a very long time”. If it didn’t come straight from the ocean, it’s not too salty yet.
Most boats that cruise these days are outfitted with a water maker, a fancy reverse osmosis machine that sucks in salt water, shoves it through a really fine membrane, and delivers tasty fresh drinking water at the push of a button. We don’t have one of those. They are expensive, and finicky, and mostly expensive. Instead, we rely on the capacity of our water tank, the many water jerry cans we have squirreled away around the boat, the rain, and – mostly – strict water conservation.
We carry 130 gallons of water in our tank, plus an additional 40 gallons in jerry cans, which we added for this passage. These 170 gallons must last the three of us a month or more. This probably sounds like a tiny amount of water to anyone that has a house with 7 sinks and 2 showers and a washing machine and a dishwasher, but it’s actually quite a lot when all you do is drink it, cook with it, and rinse away the salt with it.
The first method of conservation is to restrict access. Whenever we are away from the luxuries of a marina, we turn off the electric water pump and the only way to get fresh water is with an aggravatingly slow foot pump in the galley.
The second method is to salvage and use and then reuse every single drop. There is a bin that fits perfectly under the faucet in the shallow side of the galley sink. We wash dishes in salt water then give them a quick dip in the fresh water bin to get the salt off. I can easily get through a sink full of dishes with less than 2 cups of fresh water. Our hands get the same treatment; soap and salt water, then a splash of fresh. Rags are often dipped in the bin to wipe down tables or clean up spills. After a day or two, we use the water in the bin, no longer fit to be called “fresh,” to wash the salt off the solar panels, clean the cockpit, mop the floor, or rinse anything else that needs to be de-saltified.
Before we left land, we also filled up our two solar showers (a fancy name for a decidedly unfancy device: it’s a bag of water with a hose on the bottom). We haven’t showered yet (it’s only been 5 days after all…), but when we do, we will use buckets of salt water first, with a quick solar shower rinse at the end. A few key pieces of clothing will get the shower runoff and then a good long respite in the sun.
An extra bucket of water in the cockpit, filled just a few hours before departure at the nearby beach bar foot wash, has been a welcome addition. For as long as it lasts (when will it become saltier than the ocean?), it is indulgent to be able to rinse hands and feet, fishing lures and favorite t-shirts so easily.
The last method of water conservation is to collect more. Whenever it starts raining (the last rain we saw was in November), we’ll be able to add to our supply with a simple tarp and funnel rain catchment system. In a good hard downpour, we could fill up the tanks and simultaneously get a “free” shower! What luxury.
We have completely baffled some cruisers when they learned we don’t carry a water maker. “You can’t cross an ocean without a water maker!” That is likely true, for them. But people have been crossing oceans without water makers for hundreds (thousands) of years, and they still do it. For us, it’s all part of the adventure.