Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Watermaker Time...Part II

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
So you know how we ended the last blog with "we have a watermaker!"? We may've spoken too soon...

A muffled whirring wakes me (Stacy) up at 4am. It sounds like the water pump, which normally only goes on for a few seconds when you're actually running water. The exception to this rule is when the water tank is nearly empty, at which point the water pump growls while it tries to get to the last drops of water...think "angry boat sounds". Grrrrrrrrrrr. So back to 4am...after feeling my way around the dark for a few minutes, I wake Rene up to tell him we have a problem in the bilge. He crawls out of bed, opens up the bilge to verify that it's the water pump, and starts investigating. After a few minutes, we look at each other and go, "there's no way we could be out of water, right? We just made 40 gallons last night." Rene opens the faucet at the sink, and wouldn't you know it - ssspptt...ssspptt...ssspptt. No more water. How in the hell have we managed to run through 40 gallons of water in 5 hours, given that we've been sleeping the whole time? It's got to be something related to the watermaker, but neither of us wants to start working on it half-asleep and in the dark.

After staring at the ceiling for a few hours, we finally get up to begin our troubleshooting routine:

Step 1: Look for leaks. We're talking 40 gallons here - it had to go somewhere. Rene finds some water in the lazarette where the watermaker is mounted, but certainly not enough to solve the mystery of the vanishing water.

Step 2: Make sure the product hoses aren't blocked. Rene disconnects the input hoses from the valve in the bilge and blows through them. Nope, no problems there.

Step 3: Check the water pump strainer. We have strainers on various systems to capture debris before it causes any major problems. Some strainers are harder to access than others, so they don't get checked as often. :-) If any major debris gets into the strainer, it can actually shut down a system. (Our genset began shutting off a couple of weeks ago, and Rene found a drinking straw and some green bean-like vegetation in the strainer and intake hose. Yuck!) As for the water pump strainer, it needs a good rinse, but it's not enough to prevent water from going into the tanks.

Step 4: Verify that water is reaching the water tanks. At this point, we turn on the watermaker. First we make sure that water is flowing through the hoses to the tank. Having disconnected the hoses earlier, we can capture and measure the water coming through. Yep, we have good flow; it's definitely getting to the tank. Next up, look at the tank itself. This requires us to remove the mattress from the v-berth and open the panel. That done, we can immediately hear water flowing through the tube and into the tank.

Step 5: Call the experts. Rene calls Dick Murray, our trusty Spectra vendor. First of all, I have to say that Dick has been incredible through this entire process. He's always smiling, and doesn't seem to get riled up by anything. Rene has called him a few times during the installation process and he's been very helpful and patient. Yesterday Dick came out to the boat to certify the system. Wouldn't you know, it started pouring as soon as the dinghy left the dock. All three of us were drenched by the time we reached the boat, but he just acted like it came with the territory. Anyway, Rene called Dick this morning to tell him about our water's disappearing act. Rene is pretty sure the problem is tied to the fresh water flush, which literally flushes the entire system with fresh water to clean out the salty water at the end of the process. It seems like the fresh water flush is continuing to pull in water from the fresh water tanks even after the 5-minute flush is done. Dick explains how the flush valve works, which is counter-intuitive to a typical screw. Remember the old adage "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey"? In other words, if you turn a screw to the right (clockwise), it tightens or closes itself. Turn it to the left (counter-clockwise), and it loosens or opens. This is the theory we went by yesterday when Rene adjusted the water flow into the filter. It turns out that's backwards for this unit, so we may've been "super-flushing" the system. Bottom line: up to 5 gallons per minute go through the system instead of 1 gal/min. Having made 40 gallons last night, it's possible that we lost 25 gallons to the fresh water flush process. Wonderful...

We soon kick up the generator again and run the watermaker for two hours. All goes according to plan, and Rene adjusts the flow to the fresh water flush to a more reasonable level. At the end of the cycle, we shut everything off and listen for the water pump. If all goes well, it shouldn't go on again. A couple of minutes go by and...crap! It isn't as persistent as it was at oh-dark-hundred, but it's still there. There may be something wrong with the valve itself, so for now we'll have to shut down the water flow to the valve between watermaker runs. Dick will be on the boat tomorrow morning to check it out. Hopefully we'll get this fixed soon so we can still make our Bahamas departure early next week!

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