Monday, January 21, 2008

Doing More With Less - Water

The boat teaches many lessons in conservation. This is the first in a series of posts about how we boaters do more with considerably less. The tips are valid for land based life as well, though, so hopefully folks can use some of these ideas.

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Water, water everywhere but none of it fit to drink. Did you know that the American household consumes roughly 70 gallons of potable water a day? Did you know that our water tank only holds 80 gallons? This is a mathematical conundrum we must solve before we can credibly live aboard for any length of time.

We debated adding a second water tank. On the plus side, it would be nice to have more water. On the down side, water is heavy and catamarans do not do so well with extra weight. Water weighs a lot more than you think. In fact, our full water tank weighs considerably more than a Yanmar engine and slightly less than the family's laundry pile at the end of a particularly busy week. When you stand ashore on a windy day watching the surf flip your dinghy around like plastic toys in a bathtub, the thought of shlepping hundreds of pounds of water from shore to ship is a daunting one.

So while another tank is probably inevitable, we also committed to investing in a water maker. Typically, Dr C doesn't want to just outright buy a water maker. That's way, way too simple. Instead, he's been accumulating the parts for a water maker in the space beneath our bunk like outsized, electronic lint. Sometime over the next year, he and the girls will undertake “Build a Water Maker” as a class project. This is, more or less, an outstanding idea. If you can build it, the water maker costs roughly half as much as store-bought. And when it breaks – as it will inevitably – there will be at least four persons on the boat who know how to fix it.

The problem with water makers is that you are essentially converting fossil fuel (diesel) into water at a 1 to 3 ratio. Some are more efficient, some less. This is probably not the best way to get water on to the boat. It's also not particularly environmentally friendly, and it costs a fortune. Never mind. This alternative is moot for at least a year until Dr C and the students of Don Quixote Academy actually build the thing.

In the meantime, we work diligently on reducing our water consumption. The following are my water conservation tips:

Enjoy Dirt – Why do we feel compelled to be so clean? I'm not sure I ever truly bought into the OCD-like insistence on sanitizing and disinfecting everything so prevalent in our country, but now I find it utterly baffling. “God made dirt and dirt don't hurt,” is a phrase to live by on a boat. If you can't get clean by swimming in the ocean or stealing time quarter by quarter in a marine shower, then stay dirty. Swipe a damp blue cloth over the really smelly parts every day or so, and get used to smelling bad. Incense and fragrant candles help.

Use Salt Water First – Just about everything you need to clean, you can clean first with ocean water and reserve fresh water for a last bit of rinse. The notable exception is your teeth.

Use Less Soap – This is actually a post for this series all by itself. There are literally dozens of ways to use less soap. The important issue in water conservation, however, is that the less soap you use, the less water you need to get rid of it.

Catch Rain – We haven't started doing this yet, so I'll hold off relating how successful the technique will prove to be. Our research tells us that it should work pretty well as long as you are someplace that rains. So the strategy will probably work well next spring in the Desolation Wilderness but fail miserably down in Mexico. Also, you need to let it rain long enough to wash the salt off your rain catcher before you start capturing it for rinse and drink water. Otherwise, you might as well be pulling a bucket up from the side.

Okay, we need less of this...
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Drink Beer – We could generalize to wine or rum as well, but calorie for calorie, I think beer is includes more H2O. We've also learned that beer is cheaper than water in many Mexican coastal towns.

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Water is not free. In truth, it never actually was. It always came from somewhere, and taking it out of the water cycle to use on our clothes, cars, and faces on a grand scale didn't do anyone any favors. Our record thus far is ten days on eighty gallons plus one trip to a shore bound laundry mat. Take the Don Quixote challenge and see if you can do the same in your house.


Anonymous said...

So true!!! There's a lot of little ways that we can all start conserving - this website actually has a lot to offer in terms of water conservation:

It has a water footprint calculator (like a carbon calculator but for h2o) - very informative and now I even let it mellow!

Anonymous said...

Toast, LOVE your website. We are about 3 years from Pulling the Plug down in Portland Or. and have been following you all for about a year.

Comment on Water foorprint calculator. It showed that we use well over 2,500 Gals / day for the two of us. I do like these reilazition sites, but this one is well over the top.

Toast: Got me thinking though, need to put more though into installing salt water outlets on the boat, ala the Sink / Shower even!

Toast said...

Salt water in the sinks is key to your survival. Really truly. We have one in the galley and are working on a way to add one to the head without cutting another thru hull.

Anonymous said...

How about solar desalination? Or do those not scale down to small boat size?