After spending many months aboard “Unbound,” we had come up with a series of lists: Must-have; Nice-to-have; and Really-cool-to-have. Top on the Must-have list was water independence.
While cruising in the Virgin Islands (mostly US and British) we had no troubles finding decent water. For $0.10-0.15 USD per gallon, we couldn’t complain about a thing. Obtaining water from several different marinas was fairly simple, and a routine occurrence all over the islands. We would pull the big Cat up to the fuel dock and buy fuel and water at the same time, as well as pump our holding tank (another story). Of course, we didn’t need much fuel, but it made the fuel attendant happy to not just be selling water. With a family of five on board, however, we found that we needed to tank up fairly frequently. After implementing some conservation practices and educating everyone about careful showering and dish-washing our water consumption was reduced to a reasonable compromise.
Then we sailed for the Spanish Virgin Islands. Here, the marinas were too small to accommodate our wide beam, so we were forced to haul water in jerry jugs. We found a fish market/gas station in Culebra that would allow us to fill our jugs for free, so we hauled water jugs every time we went ashore. Hauling water is a lot of work, so we increased water restrictions to conserve.
We topped off our tanks and stowed full jerry jugs of water in preparation for our long voyage to George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas. While en route, we were successful at using very little water. Once in George Town, we found that we could get free reverse-osmosis water at the dinghy dock behind the Exuma Market. This is a fantastic service to cruisers, and there is often a line of people waiting to fill up. We spent a few weeks in George Town making friends and seeing the area. Meanwhile, my back started to hurt from hauling jugs everywhere I went.
We started our island hop up the Exuma chain to see some of the fantastic sights The Bahamas has to offer. To conserve water, our rule for everyone was “one fresh water shower per day.” Now, being somewhat obsessive about salt water in the upholstery, we required a fresh water rinse after swimming. This became a problem. Now that we were away from easy access to water, but where there is spectacular snorkeling, we had to restrict our fun! This was a total BUMMER! Also, it is absolutely necessary to dive on the anchor after setting it, to be sure it is safely secured to the bottom. Chalk up one more shower. We ended up loosening our restrictions somewhat on showering, but soon put our water supply in jeopardy.
Once we arrived in the US, a reverse osmosis (RO) watermaker, also known as a desalinator, became a top priority for continued cruising. We found that while there is no purely economic justification for a watermaker based on the low cost per gallon we paid for water, the restriction on our freedom was unbearable. We had to have a watermaker or the Captain was getting off!
We chose to install an engine-driven modular unit for its output and space flexibility. Being equipped with two small diesel engines, a cruising catamaran is an ideal candidate for engine-driven accessories. We did not have a generator on board, and it made no sense to install a 12 volt watermaker and then run the engines anyway to charge the batteries.
Once the desalinator was installed, we celebrated by drinking the most expensive water we would ever see!
First Glass of Water: $6219.27
No more Jerry Jugs: PRICELESS!
We felt that if we associated the cost of the RO watermaker to the first glass of water, we wouldn’t concern ourselves with the cost per gallon. From now on, the water we used would only cost us a little diesel fuel.