Fresh water in the Bahamas often costs $.40 per gallon for “town” water and up to $3.00 per gallon for “drinking” water made using reverse osmosis.
Of all the resources we carry aboard to keep the crew alive and the boat afloat, fresh water is the one we think about most on a daily basis. Back in the US, where water was free of charge and easily obtained at any fuel dock, motivation to conserve was nil. Now in the Bahamas, water hits the cruising budget and must be lugged in jerry cans, five gallons at a time. We have good reason to conserve water aboard, and we take it very seriously.
Our Whitby 42 is equipped with three water tanks (one under the v-berth, two under the floor of the salon) that carry a total of 290 gallons (a lot more than most boats her size – this was a major selling point for us). We topped off all three tanks in Nassau before we set out for the Exhumas, and three weeks in, we’re still working on the first tank, which means we’ve used less than 90 gallons in three weeks for drinking, cooking, dishes, bathing/hygiene, laundry, and cleaning. That’s good right? Nothing to worry about? Sure, until a hose clamp suddenly bursts open, draining 100 gallons into the bilge before you can say “oh shit!” (it happened four times during our trip from New York to Florida).
Here are some strategies we’ve employed to conserve our water:
Strategy 1: rainwater. Each time it rains, I place buckets under the corners of the bimini to catch water runoff. With the large number of squalls and cold fronts we’ve been experiencing (thanks El Nino!), I’ve been able to collect enough water to do our laundry using rainwater – by hand, in a bucket.
Strategy 2: salt water pump. Washing dishes accounts for our biggest use of water. We use sea water for the soapy scrubbing and pre-rinsing steps to save fresh water from going down the drain. After two weeks of fetching buckets of salt water for dishes, Brian found the motivation (he hates plumbing projects) to install a tap and foot pump for the galley sink. Now we have unlimited salt water in the galley. Game changer!
Our sink with three faucets, L to R: filtered drinking water, unfiltered fresh water, and raw (sea) water.
Strategy 3: trickle and reuse. When we use fresh water for rinsing or hand washing, we try to run the smallest trickle possible from the faucet, so we never waste a drop. We’ve each adopted our own style for catching the rinse water from one glass and using it for other glasses. Whenever we can use the same water for more than one purpose, we do.
Strategy 4: “pre-seasoned” water. Dried chickpeas, beans, and lentils are staples in our diet aboard and they all require soaking before they can be cooked. Once upon a time, I would have drained the soaking liquid from these foods, replacing it with fresh water in the pot. Now the soaking liquid goes directly into the pressure cooker – not a drop wasted! We also cook with seawater when boiling things that we’d just season with salt anyway – useful for boiling pasta or steaming shellfish.
Strategy 5: solar shower. Back in Florida, we decided that once it was warm enough, we’d give up the use of our forward head (bathroom)for showering. That head has since become a storage closet (cat food, litter, beer, etc.), and we’ve been taking our showers outside on deck using a solar shower, which is essentially a bag filled with water (heated by the sun) with a tube and spigot for showering. It allows us to budget the amount we use for showering, so we don’t overdo it. We also have cut back on showers in general – not as gross as it sounds, since we are constantly swimming in the ocean.
Strategy 6: breaker management. We’ve made a habit of turning off the house water pump at the breaker when we’re not using it. An annoying extra step (like going to your circuit breaker and flipping the switch each time you need to turn on the lights in your home) that could save us 100 gallons, should a clamp break.
The latest in fashionable upper body workouts: jerry can schlepping! I wonder if New York City is ready for a water schlepping studio?
These changes may sound like a lot of hassle, but now that we’ve had a few weeks to adapt, they are habits that we hardly notice. But, when we compare our consumption now against our land-dwelling days, wow – the difference is staggering.