I promise to lay off the gear geek posts for a while and get back to some sailing after part two of our water maker install – the commissioning…
We’ve been waiting for this weekend with a lot of anticipation and a little consternation. When I installed our watermaker, I was a little overwhelmed with how something so simple in theory could grow to become so complicated by the time all of the different plumbing circuits were included. Salt feed water, brine discharge, pickle, sample output, fresh water flush…valves and hoses everywhere, any and all of which could (would?) leak. Oh, but the payoff: endless fresh, clean water. Anticipation and consternation.
We picked this weekend for a couple of reasons: we planned to cross Georgia Strait, a relatively open body of water with relatively clear water on the western side, and the proximity of our summer vacation.
Our commissioning started as soon as we left the murky waters of south-eastern Georgia Strait. The Fraser River is a silty river, and the cloudy water extends far out into the strait. By the time we were in clear water, the wind had filled in and we were under sail.
My first step was a refresh of the system knowledge and an inspection. This would’ve been easier at the dock where the boat is level and stationary. Regardless, I immediately found a couple of issues that needed attention..loose hose clamps and incorrectly installed filter elements being the most egregious. I also set the various valves in what I thought were the correct positions for system start-up.
Once I’d given the system the once over and figured out what all of the hoses and valves were for, I turned on the pumps and tried to purge the air from the system. This step is pretty important as I’d been told that the high pressure pump – the single most expensive part of the system – did not like running dry. This process wasn’t completely without issue as the high pressure pump was very reluctant to prime. I ended up using the fresh water rinse circuit to push water into the high pressure pump and help force the air out of the system. This circuit uses the ship’s fresh water pump to move water, which is much more powerful than the watermaker’s boost pump.
You can tell when the high pressure pump is working when water starts flowing out of the brine discharge through-hull. Once Lori confirmed that we had a stream of water coming out of the side of the boat, I started to slowly bring the pressure up. And then I stopped as some doubt set in. Had I really set the valves correctly? A mistake here would be costly – mostly in time and effort.
The membrane is shipped “pickled”. This chemical preserves the membrane for long term storage by keeping it moist and free of biological growth. While the pickle isn’t poison, it will make you sick – not the best stuff to be pushing into your water supply. In order to flush the pickle from the membrane, you are supposed to set a diverter valve to “test” and run the system for a half hour to flush the pickle out of the membrane. The test circuit sends product water to a spigot that drains into the sink in our forward head. If I’d mistakenly set that diverter valve wrong, it would’ve sent the tainted product water to our water tanks. If I’d noticed this mistake, we’d have had to empty and flush our tanks. If I hadn’t have noticed this mistake, we’d have gotten sick and then have to empty and flush our tanks. Unfortunately, the instructions for the “test/tank” diverter valve are not clear – the instructions say “turn to the left”…the arrows on the control panel imply that the valve should be turned counterclockwise, which would put the lever to the right. Hmmm.
I decided to end the ambiguity by disconnecting the hose that feeds water into our tank and then turning the pressure back up. Sure enough, I’d set the valve wrong, and water started to trickle out of the disconnected hose. Crisis averted, but definitely a close call!
I switched the diverter valve, and watched with satisfaction as water started to flow out our test spigot and into the sink. I reconnected the tank fill hose and checked all of the plumbing…no leaks. A half hour later, we took a drink.
It’s not that often that I get excited about drinking water. This occasion was an event. Eau d’Georgia Strait. Wonderful. With that out of the way, I tried turning the diverter to “tank” and checked that water actually made it into our tank. There wasn’t really any doubt, but it was still very satisfying to hear a tinkle of fresh water run into our tank while underway. The sweet sound of success!
Our system is a DC system that makes 13 gallons per hour at 40 Amps. We ran it for 45 minutes, and were down 35 Amp hours when we shut the system down. We tied up in Nanaimo at 14:00, still down, but were back at full battery capacity by 17:00 hrs. All of this with almost no motoring. We are pretty pleased with how the system looks like it will fit into our current systems set-up and our cruising lifestyle. Having a surplus of fresh water without having to worry about motoring excessively to make power is the ideal – our short test shows that when the sun is shining, this is possible, even with our very modest 180W solar array. We are looking forward to using it more and coming up with more substantive data to fine tune these systems so as to be self-sustainable over longer stretches at sea.
- Installing the watermaker in the winter was a great idea – I could take it slow and enjoy the process as much as possible without any time pressure.
- Double check everything before running it the first time – even if you’ve already done a double check. I found a hose that wasn’t attached, a wiring problem, and 2 filters installed in the wrong order.
- Labels and checklists go a long ways to clarifying the operation of any gear that is left dormant for long periods of time. Label everything…wire, hoses, switches and valve functions.