For the record, why do I always get the technical entries, while John-Michael gets to wax poetic about our adventures? He writes about diving into a blue hole on an exotic island and I get to discuss our new poop processing machine. I know it’s rhetorical, but I just had to ask.
Returning to the U.S. with our boat so soon after our departure in September was not our original plan, but things have a way of working out for the best sometimes. My sister and brother-in-law, Gina & JB, wanted to spend Christmas with us on board, but couldn’t make it to the Bahamas, so it was decided that we would sail back to meet them in the Keys.
Our first three months in the Bahamas ended up being a prolonged shakedown cruise, and what a great opportunity it was to learn what worked and didn’t work on Pura Vida! We were glad to be back in the land of plenty to make some major adjustments.
Christmas arrived quickly, and we were thrilled to have Gina & JB with us to celebrate.
The water conditions were far less than ideal, so snorkeling was not an option, but we still managed to show them a great time sailing, kayaking, swinging from the whisker pole, dingying about the keys, and diving into the surrounding water.
Unfortunately, not everyone takes to sleeping on a boat, and our poor guests spent six sleepless nights trying to ignore the sounds of the wind howling through the rigging, and the feel of the boat rocking in the waves. We missed them sorely after they left, but I know they were happy to get back to terra firma.
Now it was time for business! We knew early into our Bahamas voyage that we’d be enjoying the advantage of our return to the U.S. by hauling our boat out and having the bottom painted at the Key Largo Harbor Marina.
Special paint must be applied every 2-3 years to prevent sea critters from taking up residence on our hull below the waterline. We also realized that myriad other improvements had to be made. Pura Vida holds 250 gallons of fresh water. In the Bahamas, if you’re not lucky enough to find it for free, you have to pay up to $0.50 a gallon for water of questionable quality. There is practically no natural supply of fresh water available. Most of what you find at the marinas is reverse osmosis water – desalinated seawater. About halfway through our first three months we got a bad batch. The slightly salty water tasted awful and made us physically ill. We decided to never trust another island water hose, and, while back in the states, bought and installed our own watermaker. The process to produce clean water is the same, but we can now be sure that our water is properly filtered. Having a steady, unending supply of fresh water also means real showers, not needing to go ashore to wash clothes because we have a washing machine onboard, a clean rinse for our SCUBA gear after diving, and a total cleanse for our boat after salty passages. No more rusty metal and crusty sails! John-Michael says he might even take an indoor shower every now and then.
These modern conveniences – watermaker; washing machine; SCUBA compressor; refrigerator/freezer – all run on good, old-fashioned electricity. Managing our battery bank is one of our major tasks on board. We have a few ways to generate power: running the engine or generator, which burn diesel; wind; and solar. Running the engine or generator stinks, literally, and we hate going into marinas just to fill our fuel tank. The wind generator works well, but only in steady winds above 20 knots. However, there’s almost always sun in the tropics! (Ha!)
We learned that we have not been using our most reliable power source to its max potential. Our three 9-year-old solar panels were not generating enough juice to meet our daily needs – mostly refrigeration and lights. There was no way they would keep up with all of our other contraptions, so we almost doubled our solar capacity by adding two, new Kyocera panels.
On our first sunny morning we found that our amperage had significantly increased, despite the low angle of the sun, and partial shading from the nearby palm trees.
Another big power draw is (WARNING! This might gross you out!) our shit-eating machine. I know some of you had to wonder about this, so here it is. After “Where will we get water?” and “How much solar power do we need?” the most frequent question boaters ask themselves is “What do we do with our waste?” Well, that’s our order of questioning, anyway. The poop disposing options are the same almost everywhere.
1) Flush it into your holding tank, which needs to be pumped out when full, which is often.
2) Dump it overboard, which is legal if you’re far enough (usually 3 miles) from land. Lots of boaters dump at anchorages close to land, WHICH IS GROSS AND ILLEGAL!
3) Replace your toilet with a composting head, which decomposes your crap right under your butt. Also gross. Plus, to dispose of it you have to carry your bag of crap to a dumpster. This, too, is gross and not always legal.
But there is a fourth, less known choice…an Electro Scan.
This magical and legal marine sanitation device treats sewage with nothing more than electrified salt water, breaking down the parts-per-million of nastiness far better than most municipalities do, including New Orleans. What goes overboard is clean-looking and smelling, and doesn’t putrefy the environment.
This machine doesn’t use much power on a daily basis, but it has drawn enough electricity on occasion to trip our main breaker. Extra solar power won’t help that. As long as we’re running the fridge, the autopilot, and the Electro Scan at the same time, the breaker’s likely to trip. I just wanted to share this fascinating bit of technology with you. We now live in a world where pooping, steering the boat, and keeping food cold are strangely intertwined.
We’ve made other changes while at the marina, including replacing 550 feet of anchor chain, adding a freshwater hose at the bow, cleaning a colony of barnacles from our propeller and making it smooth as a baby’s butt,
replacing the bulbs in our most-used light fixtures with LEDs, and lots of other small, but equally gratifying, projects.
After this we’ll never have to do any more maintenance! (Ha! again)
The work has been rewarding, and catching up with friends and family MOST fulfilling, but we’re eager to continue our journey with our new and improved sailboat. The southern Bahamas await!