Water, Crap, and Power

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.

African Queen

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.

G & JB at mile marker 0

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.

JB in swing

G & K with mermaidUnfortunately, 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.

G & JB on deck

G in water




G on deck

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.

PV ready to be liftedK with PV in slings

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. Watermaker gaugeWatermaker filtersWatermaker pumpThe 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.Watermaker intake


rain catcher

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.

Solar 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.

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. Electro Scan controls

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.

dorade bef & aftbow thrusters bef & aft gel coat bef & aft

After this we’ll never have to do any more maintenance! (Ha! again)


K copping a feel

toilet seat alley

JM on Culvers tender

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!


  1. OMG! That was a ton of work. You are amazing. Great choice on the watermaker. We need to add that as well. Glad you slso had fun guests onboard, that had to help. We will see you over there.
    Hayden and Radeen on Island Spirit 35

    1. We have a few more minor projects then we’re off! We understand you’re nearby but on the “other side”. We’ll be meeting up with y’all one of these days!

  2. Love your post….even the tech ones…I’m learning so much! think about y’all often & wish for perfect winds on your sail back to the islands! love you both!

  3. Great work but I’m concerned by the Electro Scan being on it’s side. I don’t believe you will get proper treatment like that and likely will put untreated waste overboard.
    I’m hoping the photo is of an ‘in progress point with placement for measurements/adjustments etc…

    1. Michael, thanks for following our blog. The picture does look weird, but it’s a “top shot” through the opening in the top of the lazarette. The Electro Scan is mounted vertically.

      1. Great to hear, I guess I should have enlarged the picture where that is more obvious. I have a similar system and find it works flawlessly.
        Do you have any technical details of your new solar panel installation like model #’s and controller info etc:

        1. We love the Electro Scan too. We installed two Kyocera KD140SX panels. We have a Tri-Star TS45 controller used in diversion control mode since we also have a wind generator. The three older panels are two KC-85T and one KC-130TM.

  4. You need to either run larger wire or use a separate breaker. Look at the amp draw for each electronic device. If they draw more the the breaker is rated separate them. Possible fire if you don’t.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Each device has a separate wire and breaker, it’s our main DC breaker that trips. It only does this or rare occasions. I think the main DC breaker (50 amp) is lower that what the panel calls for (100 apm). Will research this and possible change it.

  5. Wow, that’s a (pardon the pun) shit-ton of work described! I love reading posts like this since it gives me ideas for when we begin our own cruising.

    This is first I’ve heard about the electro-scan and I’m extremely interested.

    I do have one question regarding your rain collection system. Why would it be obsolete with the addition of the watermaker? Seems like you could still use it to supplement what the watermaker does and decrease the necessity to use it?

    Keep up the great work…I’m loving it! Thanks!


    1. Michael, LOL! It was a shit ton of work, but so rewarding. You’re absolutely right…we will still use the rain catcher when possible to save wear and tear on the system. I cannot say enough good things about the Electro Scan; it requires no maintenance and works flawlessly. It’s nice to not worry about emptying out the head tank all the time. So far, the only place we have not been able to use it is in the FL Keys Marine Conservation Area because it is a no discharge zone; even treated waste is prohibited.

  6. This was fascinating! I am familiar with some of that type of equipment, having spent a lot of time on houseboats, but I have never seen an Electro Scan (and can’t believe it’s that small). That is cool! Miss y’all!


    1. Miss you too, my friend. We were also surprised with how compact the Electro Scan is…I call it the electric shit blender. It’s like magic.

  7. Hello– absolutely great post– both content + photos… As a new reader– u had a few questions for you below=

    1) What is the brand of water catchment system that you all purchased? Make/Model?

    2) I know this may seem like a rather odd question– but what made you choose Red for the inside of the dorades? No criticism here– just wondered what maritime tradition I might learn from you all…?


    Thomas & Kelly

    1. Hi Thomas and Kelly.
      Thanks for following our blog and the compliment on our last post. The rain catchment system is a Kimberly original. She did all the measuring, sewing, and snapping for the shade and rain gutter. As for choosing red for the dorades, we did it for three reasons: we saw them on other boats and liked how they look, it ties in with the red on the waterline stripe on our hull, and it hides rust a lot better than white! No maritime tradition that we know of…unless we just started one.
      Happy sailing!

  8. John Michael and Kimberly
    Wow!! What an adventure you two are having. I am so happy for you. I really enjoy reading your post and will continue to do so. Please Please Please make it down to the USVI. I am down there once a month for two weeks each month. Right now I am based out of ST. Thomas but it appears that we will be moving at least one aircraft to St. Croix so half of my time will be spent there. Would love for you guys to come visit. Please keep up the awesome blog. Look forward to seeing you guys. Safe voyages.

    Cousin Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff. So glad you’re enjoying the blog; we try to keep it interesting and balanced between boat specific stuff and more general interest topics. We definitely plan to make to the VI and probably stay in that area for a while. It would be great to visit and catch up. We think sometime in the summer we will be heading that way. How’s the new job treating you?

    1. Thank you so much! We love seeing on FB how much fun you are having as new grandparents! Hope you and Gen B are having a great 2016.

  9. Are you suggesting that the rest of us live in a world where pooping, steering, and refrigeration are not intertwined? I must be doing something wrong.

  10. We met you at the yacht club dock in Slidell, LA and have been avidly following you ever since. Really enjoy the blog and appreciated the great information. We take off for our adventure on our IP380 Merlin at the end of March. We have a question…how much “cash money” should we plan on having on board when we depart Florida for the Bahamas? Just had the epic yard sale to sell all our stuff so we are trying to decide how much cash to keep and how much to put in the bank. Appreciate your help!

    1. Great to hear from you. We remember meeting you on that rainy day last summer. Glad to hear you’re heading out soon; congratulations! We kept about $2k from our garage sales in cash and we went through it in about six months. All marinas and most shops in large towns take cards. ATMs are readily available in the larger cities. Our primary credit card is a Visa. We recently found out that it’s handy to have a back-up MasterCard because for some strange reason, Visa does not always go through when making purchases. Do you have a blog we can follow? We’ll keep an eye out for you.

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