WaterMaker Install Oct 2019
09 February 2020
After arriving back at the boat it took a few days to get organized, put the sails back on, re-pack everything etc. We then turned our attention to the watermaker install. We already had a smaller watermaker that made 7 gal/hour or 26 litres/hour that ran on 12volt DC power. On nice sunny days we could run it on solar energy but after cruising this long, we found that while it met our “personal needs”, it was insufficient to keep the salt off the boat. We like to keep Hedonism is good shape and we have found over the years that the best thing to keep the “stainless” rust free, zippers working and so on, was to give the boat a fresh water rinse after anchoring. Of course the “ideal” situation is to time your dropping of the anchor to be completed 5 minutes prior to a squall. Hard to time that although we have had that happen a couple of times! After doing our fresh water rinse though, our Little Wonder was working too hard to keep up; it would usually take 2 or 3 days to replenish the tanks running maybe 3 hours a day. And, we are very careful not to use too much when we do rinse.
So, back in the spring we decided to upgrade the system. You can buy “off the shelf” water-makers of course in various sizes and complexities. Some you just turn on and forget, they start, make water, test the water going into the tank, flush and shut down all by themselves. Some are not quite that automated but still complex and then there are the KISS units. (Keep it Simple Stupid) I like those; the Little Wonder was one of those. So, to keep the cost down we decided to change out only parts of our existing system and essentially make our own designed water-maker. That sound good but in fact, there are a ton of diagrams and “how to” sites out there. For us the hard part was integrating the old with the new. We could re-use most of the existing plumbing and even the High Pressure regulator and gauge.
Those complex water makers? We hear time and time again that people are having trouble with their watermaker and have absolutely no idea how to fix them with all the electronics and sensors. They usually just had someone else install it and all they know is how to turn it on….
In reality, making fresh water is relatively simple. You need to pump seawater at high pressure (800 PSI) through a membrane that separates the water from the salt. The resulting “salt brine” is pumped overboard and the fresh water goes to the tanks.
So, out “new” watermaker is actually very simple. Like any other system we have a Low Pressure Pump, a High Pressure Pump, membranes and plumbing, valves etc. We do NOT have any automation. To start it up we open the seacock, turn on the LP pump and check there is pressure, turn on the HP pump and then turn the manual regulator slowly up to 800 PSI. We observe the fresh water flow on the flow meter and then take a “sample” after about 3 minutes of running at the kitchen sink where the water flow to during “sample” operation. We test it in a glass with a handheld TDS meter (Total Dissolved Solids) to ensure it is good and then turn a valve to divert it into either the Post or Starboard tank. That simple, no buzzers and bells to break.
So, step one and one of the most important steps when you are in Papeete, Tahiti is to figure out EXACTLY what you need to order, from the new motor and pump(s), lines, circuit breakers, wiring, hoses and various plumbing fittings including high pressure ones and so on because you cannot get anything here!
So I had to follow the whole existing system from the sea cock to the low pressure pump, to the high pressure pump, membrane and so on to check the size of each fitting and hose (1/2”, ¼”, 3/8”) so we could be sure to order what we needed. You cannot easily find SAE sizes here in “France” although there are some around.
We ultimately decide to go with a system that would give us 30 gal/hour (115 Litres/hour). To do this we would need to remove the existing DC Motor, HP and LP pumps, membrane and some plumbing. We would also need to relocate the muffler for the Generator (read: “big job and new exhaust hose) and build a new Fresh Water Flush valve system not mention tear the boat apart and drill new holes through bulk heads for the new plumbing to pass through.
We would need to purchase and install;
1 HP 115 VAC Motor and High Pressure Pump (~40 pounds)
New 12 VDC Cyclone Low Pressure Pump (to feed the HP pump)
2 New membranes and
Build and install a ¾” Fresh Water Flush assembly
Fresh water Flow Meter
Low Pressure gauge (the Little Wonder did not have one)
We had ordered everything from a supplier that was “supposed” to be knowledgeable and send us everything we needed. He also had detailed installation drawings on his website that did NOT match anything he sold us. We sent a detailed list with the provision that if he had to change anything, please send us whatever we would need to connect the system. Well, the order arrived (see some of the photos in our webpage). First thing I realized that the HP hose was missing. Then upon assembly I found he had changed out a different LP gauge so the fittings were different, the HP pump inlet and outlet sizes were different and so on. Frustrating.
Did I mention the boat was a mess during construction? Check the photos, barely room to sleep!
I spent a few days taking the bus into town and searching around to try some fittings to make it work, at least temporarily. I was able to get our “old” HP hose cut and reassembled to the proper length, I did find a few SAE fittings that were bronze and supposedly “SAE” but made in China (didn’t fit).
Laurie finished most of the hard work, cut up wood for new mounts and epoxied them out in the heat, glassed in the two new mounts on the hull to mount the LP Motor and valves as well as made the mount for the exhaust.
Finally I gave up. Time was ticking by, it had been almost 3 weeks of installing and we wanted to get moving. Staying in the Marina was not cheap. I needed specific Mur-Lok size adapter fittings that were supposed to be in the original order, mounts for the HP motor and different ones for the pump, HP fittings and so on. Finally, I ordered what we needed to be dropped at a UPS Store I used in San Francisco and jumped on French Bee to fly there. Believe it or not, it is actually a cheap way to do it. No import or duty fees upon return; its luggage! Of course French Bee is ultra-cheap. I brought a few extra items back as well to make the trip worthwhile...
I not going to talk about my arrival in San Francisco. Okay, I will…
After heading to the airport in Papeete at 4 am I jumped on the flight and arrived in SFO right on time, about 6 pm local time. I had a “confirmed” reservation at an airport hotel. I picked up my rental car, stopped to pick up a takeout dinner for the room and headed to the hotel…where the girl advised me that people who were supposed to check out that day did not so too bad, no room for me! AND, since the power was shut down in 25% of San Francisco due to the wind and fire danger, there were NO rooms anywhere! I am not happy, my hot supper is getting cold. I explained I needed a room somewhere. I started calling around (as did she) and about an hour later (supper getting colder) she found a hotel with a room but I needed to pay right away to secure it. I did. So off I went to find this place. Even with Google maps I was able to “see it” a couple of times before I finally figured out how to get into the parking lot. The place was…great; it had an “extra roof” as in the Freeway passed over the hotel! At least you wouldn’t get wet walking in from the parking lot! So, as I was approaching the front door I hear this horrendous noise from behind and I turned to see the commuter train tracks right beside me with this train barreling towards me. I guess this is why they still had rooms???
So I finally got to my room and opened by now cold supper (and now warm beer)….
I feel better having told someone that…
First thing in the morning I was off to pick up my treasure at the UPS store and then head to the east of town to a West Marine store to pick up the balance of what I needed. Remember the “power turned off thing”? After I drove across the big bridge I realized that the power was off in the whole area. So here I am, no real clue where I was going, cell service was dropping off as their “back up batteries” were going dead apparently, and no traffic lights working. It was chaos!
I finally pulled up to the “closed” West Marine – no power. I stopped in the parking lot and was trying to figure out what next when I saw and individual leave the store with a package. I jumped out and asked him what was up. He let me know they would do cash sales only but in fact, were open. So off I went. I had to know exactly what I wanted, no browsing and I was escorted by a girl with a flashlight. Well, I got what I needed but to be in the biggest West Marine store and NOT browse, especially after Tahiti, was somewhat disappointing. Kind of like being a kid in a candy store with a blind fold on….
I arrived back in Tahiti with my treasures and got to work with the final assembly. We finished up the AC wiring (read: running wires where we did before and “then said” there was no way to ever fit in another…we did), installed the motor with the new rubber mounts complete with an oil drain system for the new pump. (lesson from last water maker)
Finally, we were ready for a test run and leak check BUT we are near the fuel dock. Fuel would ruin the membranes so we sufficed with doing a fresh water flush. The run went well. Okay, we had 2 leaks, one was my fault - fitting not tightened and the other, the “new HP Relief Valve” was leaking. We got both fixed and then set to modify and re-install the old “guard” that we had to protect the unit from us kicking it.
I am happy to say that the unit is up and running very well. We only need to make water now about every 5 days. We could go longer easily but we would need to do a fresh water flush at least every 7 days (we use 5 days) and we like to keep the tanks full. We wired the system up so it will run using generator power or if we are motoring, the engine alternator through our 2000 watt inverter. In theory, we could use it on solar if the batteries were fully charged in the afternoon but it would still be running at a power deficit. We don’t as we need to be nice to our batteries.
And then we were off to Fakarava and Nuku Hiva…..