I didn’t believe it. The crew told me several times that they thought there was a fresh water leak. I didn’t believe it. I know this boat very well and most of the time when somebody says something is broken, it’s not. Its’ usually because there is something in the way, or a line is bound, or the particular piece of equipment needs just a little TLC. Some things just need to be talked to and given a very gentle nudge. I talk to my boat a lot. Almost every piece of equipment has a name, usually a female name; Jenny, Rita, Betty, Kate. Silly I know, but it’s true. When the main sail wouldn’t come out the answer was, “Don’t try so hard; she’s in distress.” Letting up some tension caused the mainsail to run out free and easy. “Don’t use a winch handle when you can easily pull by hand,” I often say to the crew. Most everything on the boat can be done by hand with a little help from the winch at the very end to snug things up, if at all. So when the crew told me they thought there was a fresh water leak, I listened to them, checked what they said and found no validation in or for support of their complaint. ‘”The water pump was running too much which means there’s a leak,” they said. Each of them. Whenever a crew member has a question or states a concern, I always investigate with them. We all learn and they are put at ease by fixing it or learning how things work. The overactive water pump was not apparent whenever I investigated with them. “The water system was fine, maybe some overuse and we should conserve more,“ I thought.
I am very careful with the fresh water systems and have taken extreme care to make certain that our water system is more than adequate for us. I cleaned the tanks, had the water maker serviced – 3 times—created step-by-step documentation on how to operate it. Had that documentation verified and updated by someone not familiar with the system and updated any missed steps if they couldn’t get water going. I installed a water purification filter and spout for drinking water (I asked Tim to do this for reasons I’ll explain below), converted the heads to sea water flush instead of fresh water to preserve fresh water for drinking and cooking. I tested and repaired the sea water galley foot pump so we could have sea water to wash dishes and fresh water to rinse. I verified that there is a Y valve to the foot pump so sea or fresh water could be chosen in case the fresh water pump failed. The only thing I didn’t replace was the water heater. It was acting up several months ago and I couldn’t figure out why. I drained it, serviced it, and made sure it was ok. It worked fine after that. Other than that was the expansion tank. An air pressurized vessel that provides pressure so that the pump doesn’t have to run as much. It was low on pressure so we pumped it up and all was good. So the water system was fine in my mind. The system was sound, redundancy in place with 2 independent tanks, 2 levels of water purification, water conservation steps implemented, water making capacity tested - I even keep a log detailing how much water is consumed per person per day whenever sailing off shore so I know what water capacity to plan on, and we tested the water maker under way at sea several times. So when the crew was concerned about a water leak and the fresh water pump didn’t act odd when they tried to show me, I put it in the back of my mind to monitor and be aware of instead of taking more aggressive action.
We made a lot of water. We made close to 90 US gallons of water a day, some days more. We needed to make water every day. The solar system barely kept up with the electrical demand and we ran the engine to charge the batteries because the water maker was taking so much electricity. We were consuming more water than was normal.
This morning started early for me. I went to sleep last night just about midnight and I woke up at about 0230 to check on things in the cockpit. I said hello to the crew on watch, had a couple laughs, and helped adjust the sails a bit. I went back to bed about 0300. My watch started at 0600 so I woke up at 0545 and was in the cockpit a little before 0600. The sun hadn’t come up yet. It was a clear night with some clouds over the horizon. Nathan was on helm and the wind was shifting a bit so we decided to Gybe, definitely a two or more person job with an asymmetrical spinnaker on a tack pole to windward and a preventer on the main. The pole was delivered a day or two before departure and was rough rigged while at the dock and the finishing rigging was done at sea by Seb and Larry. It was a new system and we were all learning it. Nathan, new the rigging, and I executed the Gybe well with increasing speed on the new tack. The wind was low however, and the seas calm with 3 ft. swells at about 18 seconds and very small wind waves driven by the 6 to 9 knot winds. We were making headway at about 3.7 to 4.1 knots SOG. Creeping along. The mainsail was out and she was restless in the light wind and being backed by the wind coming off the spinnaker. I like sailing headsail only so we put the main away. Instantly the spinnaker calmed down, stayed full of wind, moved directly in front of Blue Moon and pulled us about a knot faster. The rig was much more quiet, almost silent. The only sound was the ocean against the hull as we cut through at 5 knots. Nathan had finished his watch and went to his bunk for some well-deserved sleep having spent another night awake on watch and at the helm. Marye Ellen had started her watch and since the spinnaker was flying very calm and without any human help she went below to the navigation station for weather workup and navigation work. I was alone on the fore deck loving the sound of the waves dance against the hull as the spinnaker pulled us along through the ocean. I tested every line, every knot, adjusted the spinnaker several different ways with the 5 lines that control her. She was dialed in and needed no help to fly. I returned to the cockpit and took some pictures of the beautiful sunrise, the ocean and unfortunately some trash floating by. It was quiet and peaceful. At that moment I heard the bilge pump discharge, sending about a half of a gallon of water over the side. That’s a lot of water having had very little rain and no waves crashing over the deck in days. I went to the bilge and saw some water occasionally flowing in the sump/bilge via a feeder tube leading from somewhere aft. The water looked clear. I tasted it. Fresh. I filled a coffee cup about a third full and drank it. Fresh. I put more water in the cup so I could take it to Marye Ellen just in case I was too much of a bilge rat and couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and brackish water. I asked Marye Ellen to smell it. “Fresh,” she said. She must have thought I was working with the water maker and testing the water for salinity. I said, “Take a drink.” She asked where it was from and I said ‘the bilge’ she scowled. I said, “It seems fresh doesn’t it?” She agreed. I drank it. “There is good fresh water in the bilge, we have a leak,” I said.
We all worked to open every compartment, removed the mattress from every bunk, opened every access panel, crawled back into the stern where the steering quadrant rotates the rudder post. Everywhere there was a fresh water line we looked for leaks, touched it, traced it for water drops. We inspected and cleaned every part of the bilge to identify new water from residue left from the prior week. Nathan searched every bilge supply tube to make sure he knew where any drop of water might be coming from. We used the 0.5mm lighted inspection camera scope to inspect areas we couldn’t access. Larry ran the scope along the fresh water line in its entirety along both sides of Blue Moon. No leak. Water was still being fed to the bilge. Nathan and I removed the master bunk under which the water tanks are mounted, Two 335 liter tanks that work independently. We opened the access and inspection ports and inserted the scope in tank #1: dry. Tank #1 should be dry, it’s the working tank. We knew we were empty and I had started making water. When we run out of, or are ow on water , I turn off tank #1 and begin making water in it. I then turn on tank #2 for a couple hours so we have water while the water maker catches up and we have water in tank #1, then I switch off tank #2 and switch on tank #1. This way tank #2 is always at least 75% full as it is replenished by the overflow when tank #1 is full. This way we never use more than 60% of our fresh water and a nearly full tank #2 could last us several days if needed. Tank #1 was empty and water was entering from the water maker just as planned. We inserted the inspection scope into the inspection port of tank #2. Dry. Empty. My first thought was of Tim, I had let him down. Tim crossed the Pacific to Tahiti some years back and his water tanks became damaged leaving him with no fresh water for two weeks. He collected as much rain water as he could and kept himself and his crew as healthy as possible without fresh water. A challenging experience is a massive understatement. I didn’t want Tim, nor the rest of the crew, to have to worry about water. I was mortified to see that tank #2, our safety margin, was dry.
We do keep emergency water onboard. We have about 14 gallons of fresh water in about 12 separate containers that are protected and stowed in the bilge. This water is for emergency only and is not to be touched otherwise. We needed to get our original water plan on track. We needed to do this by finding and stopping the leak, then making more water to keep up with demand.
The condensation from the fridge and freezer as a source of the fresh water in the bilge were ruled out. Those drainage lines fed into the bilge from a different direction we found out, after working through a few T junctions and identifying the condensation source. Tim makes quick work of repairs by not only executing quickly to the corrective action, but identifying root cause of the problem quickly as well. We spent hours looking at every possible location. Then Tim said ‘it must be coming from over there’ and pointed to the port side just toward the back of the dining table. Then it hit me, I knew what the problem was. “The water heater is over there, behind that panel. Take the screws out and also the screws at the back of the dry locker.” Tim and Nathan had the panels off in moments and there it was, the offending leak. The high pressure overflow valve on the water heater was flowing even though there was no hot water in the tank. Something was wrong with the pressure valve and it was allowing water to flow out. We secured the water and Tim had re-routed the fresh water lines into a loop cutting out the water heater. The leak was stopped. Needless to say we were all very relieved to have found the source of the leak and stopped. Now the work to make water begins. We’ll need a lot of electricity and the solar panels are still catching up from being at less than 50% capacity for a few days as the result of wind damage caused by 40 knot winds on day one. We will need everything they have in order to make enough water. Until this trip, each solar panel array’s biggest power day was 1Kwh each. They have produced 2Kwh each on full solar days on this trip. We’ll need it all to keep the electronics going, make water, and keep the batteries topped up for enough electricity to get us through the night and into each solar day. To augment electrical power generation we will use the alternator on the diesel engine. We will not use the engine for propulsion. Even though winds are low and other boats are using diesel powered engines for propulsion we will not. However, I did expect that we may need to charge the batteries with the engine alternator at some point so this is what we set out to do with the plan of making water through most of the night. We started the engine and began charging the batteries. The engine usually gets the batteries to over 13 volts within an hour, then continues to fully charge the batteries further as long as it’s on. After an hour the batteries showed no increase voltage, no charge. We increased RPMs a bit and ran some other minor checks. Nothing helped. It was getting late, near midnight and me and the rest of the crew had been working hard all day. I had been up and working since 0545 with only a few hours of sleep prior. We needed rest. Shutting off the water maker and reducing power consumption in a few other areas would allow us to make it through the night. We’ll solve the power generation problem tomorrow. Now it’s time for a beer and some rest.
Winds 4-8 knots
Seas calm, swells 3ft at 20 seconds. No wind waves, wind ripples with no white caps.
Sea Water temperature 77°F
Russ is the Captain of Blue Moon. He loves the ocean, sailing, diving, and talking about what he does :-)