Eight days after leaving St Helena, drama stroke on Oroboro: The Water maker started leaking from the Clark Pump! A big leak!
In my list of aftermarket systems to install on Oroboro, the water maker was #1 priority. It come before everything else. Having the ability to produce your own water is paramount on a boat intended for circumnavigation. So you can imagine how I felt when the water maker failed after only 50 hours or operation. I was so proud of our Spectra Newport 400 MKII, it’s supposed to be the top. The Clark Pump is such an interesting piece of engineering, I thought it would never fail. I was wrong.
I wasn’t concerned about safety, since we had almost 800 liters of fresh water in our tanks and 2 weeks to arrive to Brazil. Also, in our ditch bag we had a manual water maker that could be used in extreme cases.
The first decision taken was to ration the water:
Dishes were to be washed in sea water first, then rinsed with the minimum amount of fresh water.
Same with showers: sea water and soap first, then rinse with fresh water.
Water tanks level to be checked twice daily to track consumption (no more than 15 liters per person per day)
Needless to say, the washing machine was not to be used.
The second decision was to troubleshoot and attempt a repair. I had a kit of spare o-rings on board, and I was hoping that the leak was caused by a cracked o-ring in the end cap. But!
Was this the right thing to do? We found out that the pump, despite the leak, was still able to produce a limited amount of fresh water. Wouldn’t managing the leak be a safer option then attempting a repair?
So we put together a primitive system: a bucket where to collect the leaking water, and a bilge pump to pump it out back into the sea.
Using this system, we were able to run the water maker at half pressure for a couple of days, until the system started to reject the water because the salinity was too high.
At this point there was no other option than attempting a repair. We had 700 liters of fresh water in the tanks. There was nothing to loose in attempting a repair. Luckily, on board I had the shop manual of the system. So I grabbed my tools and started taking the pump out of the locker:
Once able to take the Clark Pump out of the locker and on the cockpit table, I started to take it apart. I was hoping the problem was a cracked o-ring, but unfortunately once I disassembled the end cap, I realized the o-ring was intact, and that the problem was a really small crack (hard to see with naked eye) between the threads of the fiberglass cylinder. Impossible to repair!
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To be on the safe side, the next decision we took was to change course and sail towards a small island called Trindade. It’s a small Brazilian Navy outpost, and my hope was that we could top off the tanks. It was only a 50 nm detour, less than a half day in terms of time. With an extra 100 liters of water, we would have a larger safety margin, in case the wind died and we were forced to slow down.
We arrived to Trindade after dark, we called the Navy base on the VHF explaining the situation, and they told us to wait until day break so that they could have enough time to organize the transfer of the water. In fact, this outpost is very primitive, there is no harbor on the island and the only way to get water was for them to put it in jerry cans on a small boat and bring it to us. The weather was not collaborating either, with a very large swell and strong wind.
We spent the night heaving-to just off the island waiting for the day break. But at sunrise, we realized that such an operation was going to be very difficult: the swell and the wind were just too much. Having a small boat come close enough to us to be able to transfer the jerry cans was going to be complicated, and we risked that someone was going to get injured or the boat damaged. So we called it off. We thanked the Brazilian Navy and we set sails for Brazil!
There are two positive notes in all this:
We had the privilege to see Trindade. Beautiful island, off the customary South Atlantic route to Brazil.
We caught two big Yellow Tail tuna just off the island. We had great sashimi and sushi.
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For the rest of the voyage, we had to do what the ancient mariners did: save on water! Part of it was actually fun, like having showers on the trampoline where we have our sea water tap, and rinse on the stern, where we have our fresh water shower.
Brazil, here we come! If everything goes well, we should see Rio in twelve days! And if we run out of water, our bilges are full of excellent South African wine.
What’s there not to like?