Friday, June 27, 2014

Collecting vs. Making water on Luckness

For people who follow my blog closely, you'll remember that my water maker stopped working while I was in the Marquesas, several months ago.  At the time, I converted the water maker to manual operation and was spending roughly an hour a day, manually pumping the water maker to create just over a gallon of water.  It started to get tedious pretty quickly.  But I'm not afraid of doing tedious things and I was making water ever day this way.

On the passage from Nuka Hiva to Fatu Hiva, an upwind bash, I tried to make water.  I quickly realized how difficult that would be.  You need to put quite a lot of force into the pump to operate it and doing so in a boat which is pitching and rolling in a seaway was difficult.  Its hard to push down with any force when the whole boat is flying upward as it does when climbing the face of a wave, before crashing down on the other side.  Downwind passages are more peaceful, although again making water manually would be very tedious.

Around this time, a friend of mine, Dave Mancini, who is cruising s/v Swan around Mexico at the moment, forwarded some information about how he and his wife Rhonda dealt with water as they cruised through the South Pacific on their earlier passage.  Swan is a Pacific Seacraft 34, so very similar to Luckness.  Swan doesn't have a water maker and relied on collecting rainwater on their entire journey.  They went through French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji and then up to the Marshall Islands and back to Washington state.  Dave seems to pass along all sorts of good info every time I see him or exchange email with him.

In the past whenever I thought about collecting water on a sailboat I would think about it in terms of some sort of canvas collection system I would sew together, incorporating a hose of some sort which would lead to a jerry jug.  Or perhaps some sort of canvas I could add to the mainsail to collect the water the sail captures.  These techniques seemed complicated.

Dave's technique is simply to plug the scuppers on both side decks on his boat.  Once you do this, the entire boat becomes your water collection surface and as the water drips off everything it finds its way to the side decks where it collects.  He then puts a rag over a funnel, places it into a jerry jug, and uses a tupperware bin to scoop water from the side deck into the funnel.  Finally he adds 1/2 teaspoon of bleach to the jug before adding it to his water tank.

I've tried this technique now, several times.  Its super easy and can capture a lot of water.  Since hearing about this from Dave I've started to hear other cruisers talk about it as well - when it rains I've heard others talk about going to plug their scuppers to collect water.  However I've also mentioned this technique now to several people who have boats where this would work, and they didn't know about it and liked the idea.

So.  If you have a sailboat, and your sailboat has high bulwarks, and the scuppers in your side decks are easily plugged, this technique can work for you.

Dave uses four rags to plug the scuppers, as their are two holes on each side.  First let the rain fall for a little while to clean any salt off the surfaces.  I go around when this is happening and use a rag to wash away any dirt I can.  Let it rain long enough so that the water pouring down the scuppers is clean.  Then plug the scuppers and let some water collect.  Put a rag over a funnel, put it into a jerry jug, and pour water into the funnel.  The rag is a good idea as I constantly find little bits of dirt and hairs in the rag after pouring clean water through it.

Plug the scuppers with rags, once the water is clean
Let the water collect...
Prepare the funnel, rag filter and jug
Scoop water, pour into jug, repeat
I didn't have any real rain while I was in the Marquesas.  When I first got to the Tuamotus it rained heavily the first day I was there.  I thought I would try plugging the scuppers just for fun, to see what would happen.  Both of the side decks were full of water within 1/2 an hour.  I wasn't prepared yet to filter it and use it for drinking water - but I was able to have a fresh water bath after my passage, soap on one side rinse on the other.  I then drained both side decks, plugged them again and started rinsing salt out of towels and clothes.  I was sold on this technique.

My water maker, when it was working, only made 1 1/2 gallons of water an hour.  It used between 6 and 8 amps to do this, so power was a concern on cloudy days (I prefer not to run my engine to charge my batteries.)  With so little water available I would never consider having showers or washing my clothes onboard.  This all changes when water becomes plentiful, as it does with this technique - at least in areas with rain.

Back to the Tuamotus and my first experiences.  A few days after my first experiment some more squalls started to roll through.  I started hoping that the passing squalls would hit me directly rather than wishing that they would miss as I did in the past.  I wanted to collect the squall water!  I had two close misses that day and was able to collect 5 gallons of water which I treated with bleach (1/2 a teaspoon) and poured into my tank.

Since then I have had several occasions when I have had heavy rain.  One day while I was in Papeete I collected 15 gallons for my water tank and it continued to rain.  I then started washing clothes.  I would collect 5 gallons, use it in my double sinks to first wash clothes and then start rinsing.  Rinsing takes a lot of water so I went out to pour 5 more gallons into the jug, using 10 gallons to wash my clothes.  On days when its raining hard, or lightly but constantly, you'll have more water than you'll be able to use.  I filled my water tank, washed clothes, washed myself and then unplugged the scuppers to let both side decks drain as they were completely full, with water overflowing over the top of the cap rails.

Collecting rainwater is awesome!  I haven't made water with my water maker in the last two months. Between collecting water and getting water from shore when its available, my tanks are always full.  Thanks to Dave for passing along his advice on how he did it on Swan.  Any other owners of PSC 34/37 or other boats with high bulwarks - take note, this may apply to you as well.


  1. Seems a positive and relatively easy things to do. Hope the air is not too polluted, but the bleach would help. Water, how little I count it a s a blessing! Mum xoxo

    1. Hi Mom! The air here is very clean, I don't think that's a worry for the areas I'm in. It might be a problem around large cities or industry... But for now, the water seems to be very pure. It might even be better than my desalinator (water maker) in that I have heard that desalinated water is low in minerals, and that over time the lack of minerals in your water can lead to problems if you don't take mineral supplements. I don't know how true that is... However, rain water shouldn't have that problem!

  2. Cool - We are a PSC 37 - we met you in La Paz, B.C.S. (Marina Cortez) and we are figuring out our water maker situation. We are on the fence about getting one mainly for space issues and cost. Where did you have yours installed on your boat and what kind is it? We've heard of Swan's technique and hope to try it out. We may be heading your way next season. Thanks! ~Maluhia

  3. Hi! I have a Katadyn 40E, also known as a Pur 40E I believe. Its around the smallest water maker I could find. Its installed in the large compartment under the forward berth, behind the forward water tank and to port of the septic tank - the large compartment. The water maker is on the port wall of that compartment. I installed a thru-hull in the hull just outside of the head doorway. There is a raw water filter close to the thru-hull, then the hose routes behind the shelves into the compartment. Both production water and the excess raw water are routed to the cabinet under the head sink. In that space I have the water filter for the water maker, the production water is lead to a valve which directs it either to a tee in the fresh water hose running through that cabinet (and from there to the tank) or to a spigot that drains into the sink. When I turn the water maker on I have the production water go to the sink. I give it 7 min, taste the production water and if its good, change the valve to direct it to the fresh water hose. The excess raw water is tee'd into the sink drain hose. I also had a valve installed in the fresh water hose that leads from the forward tank so I can have that hose be open or closed. I can fill my aft tank by closing that forward stopper valve, opening the manifold valves to have my aft tank supply water and then have the water maker supply water to the fresh water hose. At that point the only place the water can go is the aft tank. If you buy a water maker you might also want to consider a generator. I'm kicking myself for not buying a honda eu1000i when I had the chance. Mexico is sunny - solar is awesome there. The South Pacific has more cloudy days, and nice anchorages are often very sheltered so wind isn't always reliable. Back when I had a working water maker there were many days I wouldn't run it because my batteries were getting low. A generator would have been useful - and still will be. Good luck with your project! If you need more info, email me.

  4. Consumable water is quite difficult to acquire nowadays, especially if one spends most time in the boat like you guys. Anyway, it’s great to know that you’ve managed to come up with a strategy on how to collect water. Thanks for sharing this with us, Craig. All the best!

    Verna Griffin @ AXEON Water Technologies

  5. Reading this a bit late in the history, but my understanding is that Crealock actually put the water intakes where he did so you could simply put a filter rag in the opening and plug the scuppers. They natural geometry then allows the rainwater to flow directly into the tank. Maybe this is apocryphal but I always appreciate it as a good story.