This is the most expensive glass of water ever. Here’s why. Prior to leaving St. Petersburg, I changed all the filters and membranes in our water maker (French). We have two water makers. One is original and installed at the Amel factory and runs off the house batteries. The second was added by the previous owner and runs off the engine (American made). When we spent some time with the previous owner during our purchase process, he referred to the water makers as French and U.S. That stuck.

Water makers take salt water from the ocean and squeeze it through a series of filters (membranes) using a high pressure pump. The process is really simple. But, membranes are finicky little buggers. They have to stay wet. Let me rephrase that. They like to have water flowing over them. If the water stays still for too long, say over 30 days, nasty stuff grows. They like ocean water free of sand and silt. This means they produce the best drinking water when far away from land. They do not remove bacteria. So when running our water maker, we need to be away from marinas, polluted waters or spillage areas such as a city where oil and grim is washed into the water. They also do not like chlorine, petroleum, or just about any other element of the periodic table.

The first thing I should have told you about water makers is they are awesome when cruising at sea. When you think about the factors limiting time on the ocean, water is top of the list. Food is there if they are biting (fish), and wind is free if it is blowing. Being able to make fresh water out of salt water is a luxury second to none. But for as wonderful as these devices are at sea, they are completely a royal pain while near land.  If a water maker is to be idle for during an extended absence of salt water cruising, it can be pickled. Picking is a process of adding chemicals to the system in a vain attempt to prevent bacterial growth while theoretically preserving the membranes. Our U. S, water maker is currently pickled. I can only deal with the idiosyncrasies of one water maker at a time and keep my sanity. I started with French.

In order to ensure the best quality of water, I basically cleaned the entire system and replaced every seal, o-ring, filter and membrane. This cost a whopping $1,500.00. I did this during our last week at St Petersburg so the unit wouldn’t sit idle and creating wonderful stomach upsetting organisms. The instructions with the new membranes said to run the water maker in sample mode for the first hour. Sample mode means none of the fresh water made goes into our water tank but instead is pumped over the side and discarded.  I figured, we would do this on the way to the Dry Tortugas. There is a good reason they are called dry. But hey, having full tanks of water all the time means we can stay as long as we want, do laundry, take long showers, provide water to other cruisers and float rubber ducks in our hot tub (no, we do not have a hot tub). But no, this did not happen.

Fresh water from salt water - yum!

Fresh water from salt water – yum!

After running for an hour, I sampled the water using a testing meter. Mmmmm! Almost pure. Only 215 parts per million of salinity. This is about 3 times better then water from your tap. Above is a picture of the first and only glass of water. I had a feeling something bad was going to happen so I did not start topping off the tanks just yet. Why? Because projects on a boat never go smoothly. This is one of life’s certainties, like death and taxes. And, this project was gong way too smoothly. I was cautiously optimistic. Then Murphy entered, as expected. All we can make now is clean salt water. We were very fortunate that we did not start to add the water to our on board tanks. We could have completely contaminated our drinking water. This prompted me to put two 5 gallon jerry cans on our shopping list. We will fill these with fresh water and stow safely away. This way, we will always have some emergency water if our tanks become contaminated.

This was our only glass of water from the $1,500 rebuild. It looks like I now need to rebuild the system again! Think about this story next time you complain about the price of a bottle of water.

Categories: Equipment, Maintenance

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