Adventure Cruising on the Coast of BC

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Commisioning Our ECHOTec Watermaker


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.


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Installing an ECHOTec Watermaker

panelLori and I have always maintained that a watermaker is completely unnecessary when cruising the BC coast – so what changed?  Well…we spent some time on a boat with one.  We still don’t think we “need” one, but the freedom of just using clean, fresh water whenever you want is very alluring.  Every swim can end in a fresh water rinse, dishes get a thorough rinse, and water shortages aren’t an issue like they were on our cruise to Haida Gwaii in 2015.  They come with a number of costs though: space, maintenance, energy, money – lots of money, and the effort of a significant install.  I tend to gloss over this cost over when I take projects on; this time was no different.

We started by doing tons of research.  I started by assuming that my search would lead inevitably to a Spectra simply because of their incredible efficiency.  But there are more things to think about than litres per amp hour.  After a lengthy detour to an AC system that we could design ourselves, we eventually decided on an 50 litre/hour ECHOTec DC system for a few reasons:

  • It will run off our existing DC system.  We didn’t want to rely on extra gear like a generator (ugh) or an inverter.  We normally have an excess of electricity, but will eventually upgrade our solar and alternator to ensure that we’re never short, regardless of the weather.
  • They are very simple – the system is essentially a DC motor, a plunger style high pressure pump as used on a pressure washer, and a membrane.  Nothing is automated.
  • They are a little less expensive than a Spectra – but not enough to be a major factor in the decision.
  • It should produce 100% more water in one hour of run time than we currently use per day when we’re being fairly liberal with our water use.  We figure a couple of hours of run time every second day will more than meet our needs, even if we turn into water pigs.
  • The vendor (Hydrovane) is local and well established.

We haven’t used our watermaker yet, so we don’t know for sure if we made the right call, but the logic and numbers still make sense to us.  We’re pretty confident that we have the right system.

The Purchase

We started by having Will and Sarah from Hydrovane visit the boat.  Not only are they the vendors, but they are also experienced bluewater sailors with experience living with the ECHOTec model we were considering.  We had a great morning talking about their adventures and our plans, along with a thorough look at our boat and the spaces we could use for the various parts of the system.  There are a number of large parts that needed a home:

  • The motor and high pressure pump.  The
    watermaker crate

    Pretty exciting – new boat toys are always fun to unpack.

    pump doesn’t reliably create the lift required to suck water – even with a boost pump to feed it water, it is best to locate it as low as possible.  The pair is also big and heavy.

  • Pre-filters.  These consist of a pair of domestic 10″ housings, plumbed in series.  This assembly is fairly large and needs to be easily accessible
  • The pressure vessel for the membrane.  It can go anywhere, but it’s long.

Will and Sarah brought a pressure vessel along as they believe that this is normally the most problematic component to fit due to it’s length.  We tried under our V-berth – it’s tight but it fit.  We measured out potential locations for the other major components and placed our order.  A month later it arrived in two large wooden crates.

The Install

We unpacked the crates and laid out all the parts on our living room floor to check them against the parts list.  Everything was as advertised, but the mountain of individual pieces was more than a little overwhelming.  Despite the simplicity of basic water making process, the addition of alternate circuits for testing, flushing, and pickling (preserving the membrane from biological growth for long periods of downtime), requires a significant selection of fittings and hose to figure out.  Thankfully, the relatively well written instructions helped to clear up some of the questions before we set to work on the boat.

I tackled the major components first: the high pressure pump and motor, pre-filters, pressure vessel, and control panel.  We originally planned to put the pump/motor assembly on the cabin sole in the V-berth, but this area was also a prime spot for the pre-filters due to its accessibility.  The filters won that tug of war.  We settled on sacrificing a difficult to access drawer and previously unused space under the v-berth for the pump/motor assembly.

This installation required that I replace the drawer with a strong shelf to support the substantial weight of the pump and motor and cut an opening for access to the space from above.  I glassed the shelf to the hull and painted the compartment before bolting the pump motor assembly in place.  I finished this step by using the old drawer front to cover the hole that the drawer used to occupy.  I cut a hole in the old drawer front to make room for the motor and provide ventilation, and hinged it to the cabinetry so that I could access the compartment from the side as well as from above.



I finished the pump installation by running a #2 wire from a breaker near the positive bus at the battery box all the way forward to a terminal block.  This run will power both the high pressure pump and the feed pump.

The pre-filters and pressure vessel were both easy to fit, requiring only a few holes for plumbing.

The control panel was another matter.  We paneloriginally decided to install it in a new cabinet on a small counter at the head of the v-berth.  I even went so far as to drill holes through the counter and fabricate a teak cabinet.  However, the number of wires and hoses connected to the back of the panel ultimately made this location unworkable.  We finally settled on sacrificing a small but useful storage space near to the cabin sole and adjacent to the pump / motor compartment.


I thought that the rest of the installation would be pretty simple – it’s mostly plumbing.  But there were also two more filter housings to install – one to filter chlorine out of a fresh water rinse circuit and one to house a water hardener – along with the boost pump and a water strainer.  Like the pre-filters, the rinse water filter housing and water hardener housings are both domestic 10″ housings and require accessibility and a bit of space.  The other issue we were starting to think about was how many spare filters we’d need to buy and store plumbingto fit in all of these housings; along with the domestic water filters under the sink, we were now 5 housing all requiring regular maintenance.  We thought about this for a while, and finally decided to re-plumb the pressure side of the entire cold water system in order cut that number by one.  This was a lot of work, but was worth it as it improved our existing system and cut the number of requires spares by 20%.

The rest of the water-maker plumbing was straight forward, but tedious.  Cutting the high pressure hose with a zip disk was easy, as was installing the fittings.  Much of the low pressure plumbing is routed from the control panel via 3/8″ hard plastic tubing and compression fittings – I used brass compression fittings and hose barbs to connect them to the boat’s systems.  The product water is sent to the tanks by tying the water-maker output line into the vent line – we’ll see how this works – and the raw water is teed into the wash down pump through-hull fitting, thereby reducing the number of needed through-hulls by one.  The water strainer and boost-pump are in the same compartment as the associated sea cock, and required a bit of wrestling to hook up.


The sea-cocks for the forward head sink, holding tank, wash-down pump and watermaker, along with the boost pump and strainer.  This compartment will have a shelf installed over the plumbing so that the through-hulls are protected and the space usable.

The test water line – you’d hate to inject bad water into your tanks – is teed into the foot pump spigot in the forward head with check valves in both lines to ensure the the foot pump and the watermaker can only send water out of the spigot, and not back into the system.

There’s more of course, but this covers the majority of the work required for the water maker to function.  For now, the feed water through-hull is still closed and, except for the membrane, the unit is dry.  I’m a little apprehensive about firing it up – there are tons of fittings and I’m sure some of them will leak.  I’m hoping for the best, and will post a report after we have some time living with the system.




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Working Through The Winter Blues

I’m a winter weenie.  Even in the lower mainland, which usually only has a wet stretch between fall and spring, I find it tough.  I think it’s the short days that are the worst, but the cold and wet don’t help.  There are fun distractions, but I spend too much time waiting for the spring.

Weeknights are the most difficult.  I have this really bad habit of sitting down, firing up the computer and surfing the internet or watching Netflix.  I kill precious hours doing essentially nothing, and then wonder where the evening went.  Not good.  Even worse, when the sun finally shows up again in April, I start working like crazy, trying to get all of the projects I want to get done finished before July.

I decided this year would be different – I would be productive during weekday winter evenings.  Hopefully this would also tick a few chores off the list earlier and restore some sanity to the spring.

So far, so good.  It’s still been cold and wet far too often for my liking, but I’ve been productive.  You’d think the list would getting shorter, but in normal way of boat jobs, it’s just changing as newly discovered jobs replace the original jobs.

I started with a re-build of the gooseneck.  After 30 years, the aluminum toggle was completely worn out, and the welds on the tangs were cracked.  After checking out the original supplier’s price I decided to get the tangs re-welded to the backing plate (thanks Pierre at Poco Marine – you’re amazing!) and machine a new toggle myself using an oversized chunk of  aluminum.   This was a small job that I got done before our cruise in November.   It eventually lead to a similar redo of the boomvang bracket too (thanks again Pierre).



The next job on the list was way more substantial.  When we bought the boat, I discovered rot along the bottom of the main bulkhead.  For anyone looking to buy a Sabre,  I think that this is a Sabre issue that is related to the design of the mast step – take a close look at the floor and bulkhead here before making an offer!

This bulkhead is also the wall of the shower stall in the forward head.  I cut the worst of the rot out right after we bought the boat, putting this shower out of commission for the whole time we’ve owed the boat.  Cutting the bottom of the bulkhead out revealed a seriously poor shower sump design that needed a re-work to be viable.  I fixed this by cutting all of the rot out and replacing the material with epoxy, woven rovings, and multiple layers of 1/8″ ply.  I also moved the sump pump plumbing and replaced the pump.

The shower was a big job, and I don’t really like fibreglassing, but it pales in comparison to the next item on our list: a watermaker.  I’ve written a post detailing the whole process, but suffice to say that it was a surprisingly complicated job that had a cascade effect on a bunch of other stuff: cabinetry, a complete re-plumb of the pressurized side of the cold water system – not a small job – and wiring..

I hate messy wiring – I understand the attraction to just running a new wire when installing new equipment, but unless it’s done neatly, labelled and tied up in a logical manner, it just makes dealing with problems later a headache.  There are always problems later.

While I started this task because of the need to run power to the water maker, it is really a completely new job that I tackled because it’s relatively easy, low on the stress scale, and makes me happy when I open the panel.  I pulled tons of old wire out – some of it burnt – straightened out what remained, installed a new ground bus to get wires off of the panel buses, and tried to label as much as I could.  I have identified the function of about half of the ground wires so far, and the panel is now much neater.

It’s still early in the year, but the days are noticeably longer, and the boat is definitely better than it was in September.  Even better, I’ve cut my “sitting on the couch time” way down.  Is it summer yet?