25 August 2007 | Isla Taboga, Panama
We currently sit on a fairly rolly anchorage just outside the town of Taboga, which is a quaint little village located about 20 km south of Panama City. We decided to check out of Balboa and head over here for the weekend as we have a few more things to take care of in Panama City on Monday. I manned the helm and navigated the entire way over here which was fun. Chris directions were, "Uh, just don't hit anything". Aye, aye Capn'! I particularly enjoyed playing slalom or weaving my way in and out of the large tankers coming through the canal. Actually, the majority of them were anchored, so it really was no big deal. I was tempted to don my foul weather gear and bark orders from the helm, but thought it could wait for a more appropriate moment.
I am, however, becoming more familiar with the boat's instruments, which are quite complicated and involved, yet becoming somewhat logical after I've thought about their purpose and functionality for a good 25 days straight. I figure I'll be ready to fly the space shuttle to the moon and back once I can run this boat without asking a question or scratching my head. The boat is equipped with everything you need to sail safely around the world. After all, this boat has been around twice in her lifetime. Best of yet is the fact that she can do it quickly, efficiently, and, most importantly, in great style and color. Besides the ability to watch DVDs and listen to your favorite music at high decibels in the cockpit, the boat can, and will, drive itself with little to no effort. Everything is electronically wired to the boat's main computer system, which can control virtually every component on the boat. Once the autopilot is set (which is linked the various navigation instruments (GPS etc.), one can steer the boat by pushing buttons as if you were warming up your morning's coffee in the microwave. Adjusting the heading 10 degrees here or 10 degrees there is as easy as turning up the volume on the stereo. Who ever said sailing 3000 miles against strong winds and current is going to be tough?
We received the new membrane for the water-maker a few days ago and finally tackled the project yesterday afternoon. Spectra manufactured the unit, and sent the part direct. The membrane itself is larger than I originally thought, and probably the size of a long softball bat. The element is made primarily of ceramic and plastic and heavier than I anticipated. The membrane intakes raw seawater and filters it in an outward and single directional method, apparently trapping all the yummy goodies in the process.
It is nothing more than an expensive, very expensive rather, assortment of pipes, a high pressure pump, and filter. The entire contraption measures about 5 feet long by about 2 feet wide. It looks like a miniature pool filtration system, or dirty bomb, due to its shiny, jet black pipes, color-coded wires (never cut the red one!), and blinking LED lights. In fact, it would be spot-on for a bomb if one was to mount a small clock to the top of the unit, counting backward in bright red numbers.
Cisnecito's system fits snuggly under the aft berth which makes access for maintenance or repairs a bit tricky, or interesting, to say the least. Certain Yoga moves are required to fit into the work area, which gave me the opportunity to work on muscle groups I did not know existed until this morning. The unit is virtually silent, and draws little electricity, which is always a concern on a boat. In fact, at 24 volts, it draws a half an amp per hour, per gallon, which is next to nothing. At full capacity, it produces 12 gallons or clear, crisp, and clean water per hour. We have a 100 gallon water capacity aboard, which is adequate for 3 water-cautious individuals. Much to my dismay, we unfortunately don't have PG&E or the local utility company pumping unlimited power into the boat. We do have, on the other hand, large solar panels aft, a scary-big, engine-driven 130 amp alternator, and 700 lbs of gel batteries sitting under the floor boards. So, charging the Sonic-care or Ipod is rarely an issue. And cold beer is almost always readily available.
I didn't know a great deal about water-makers, but now have a fairly good idea of how they function, their abilities, and now, their potential pit-falls. Originally I thought a "water-maker" simply makes water out of thin air. I was pretty impressed with this principle and often wondered why we don't have them in our homes, or why people are concerned about melting polar ice-caps, acid rain, or the effect of La Nina on California's coastal weather patterns. Well, water-makers don't "make water", they simply remove the salt and bacteria from raw sea water, making it potable, and safe for human consumption. They really should be called, "Nifty and Expensive Desalinaters". That would eliminate the myth that they "make water".
Not only is everything on the water maker very expensive, but breakable too, which adds to the excitement and drama of a maintenance project or repair. Parts are virtually impossible to come by in Central America, and must be shipped from the factory, which is not only costly, but timely as well, especially when the fish are biting. So, evaluating and predicting the consequence of every screwdriver or wrench turn becomes an integral part of the game plan. At home, while working on my Jeep or something mechanical, I tend to take the "Well, I think I'll take that off first" approach, and do it without hesitation. I've thrown this practice overboard and quickly changed to the "Well, I better think about what will happen if I take that off first" approach. I've found this new and improved way of doing things does slow down the process, but ultimately saves me from breaking things and feeling like an idiot, something I am quite good at. I guess I've grown to respect consequences in my old age, something I had no grip on as a youth. Build a bomb in 8th grade science class? Sounds like fun to me, let's do it. Once again, this may be explained in a different post, although I fear my former employer may revoke their re-hire offer should I elaborate on that tale.
We removed the old membrane with some effort and found our first surprise when we removed the new one from the box. The membrane has two plastic fittings at each side that seal it to the outer housing unit. Of course with our luck, a small piece of plastic broke during transit. The desalination and bacteria removal process occurs when salt water is pumped through the membrane at 800 psi, which means EVERYTHING must seal and fit nice and snug, with no leaks. This ensures the unit is running at optimum pressure. Broken plastic fittings could present a potential disaster and major set back, once again, especially when the fish are biting. The membrane slides into the outer housing unit similar to the way Marty McFly loads plutonium into Doc Brown's Delorean-converted, fluxcapitor-powered, time machine. I carefully and slowing loaded in the membrane and passed it off to Chris for the final seal. The membrane stopped sliding through the housing with about 7 inches left. IT DIDN'T FIT!! I tend to stay quiet in these types of situations and often act as if I'm attempting to figure out a solution, even though I'm thinking, "Ah shit, another week in Panama City". Much to my pleasant surprise, Chris quickly perked up and informed me that the manual indicates the unit may need to be slightly bored out for a proper fit and seal. What ever happened to parts fitting correctly out of the box with no modifications, changes, or headaches needed? Wasn't this the "boating plug and play" version? We drilled and filed out the fitting for what seemed like eternity and eventually got it installed properly. Fortunately the small broken plastic piece did not affect the system's output or ability, so we are more than relieved. We fired up the system and were thrilled to produce water rated at 430 ppm, which is actually better than we expected.
We had fun that evening taking "the water challenge" which was a blind tasting of 430 ppm water compared to 900 ppm water. Much to our surprise we were able to pick out the good water each time and laughed about our comments last week, "Dude, you really can't tell the difference! 900 ppm is TOTALLY fine." The photo above is me getting into the challenge like a William Wong wine rating.