This morning Harry, the tech from Peterson Marine, Inc., Came aboard to start up our Spectra Newport 400 Mk II watermaker. The watermaker was “pickled” when we bought the boat and we just left it that way since we were not going to be aboard very often for the first year and we didn’t want to suck marina water into it. Pickled means that the system was emptied, cleaned out and filled with a chemical to protect the membrane. I believe the membrane would be like the kidneys of the system where the Clark pump would be the heart. For anything more technical then that, please see the website in the Spectra link above. Basically, we know nothing about watermakers. If we had, we would have done things differently.
So Harry-the-tech first need to unpickle? depickle? the watermaker. It sucked all of the chemicals out of the chamber with the membrane and flushed it out of the system with fresh water. As soon as the process started, we sprung a leak at a bolt on top of the Clark pump. As the process continued, we sprung another leak or two on the pump. Harry informed us that this is a common side effect of pickling the system for storage. Even though the chemicals keep the membrane moist and bacteria free (a good thing), no other fluid is circulated in the system, which allows the seals throughout to dry and crack (a bad thing). Before giving us a verdict on the health of the system, which would cost us $11,000 to replace, Harry wanted to operate the system in sample watermaking mode to see how the rest of the system performed.
Watching Harry, but really not having any clue what is truly going on, some water was run into a cooler for disposal. Then suddenly he asks for a glass so we can have a little taste, shall we? He moved the glass under the drainage hose and filled it about half way. Then he inserted a salinity tester, which reports 83 parts per million (PPM). Naturally, I asked, what should it read? Harry said they typically reduce the salinity to about 103 PPM. So that’s good! Harry takes a sip and pronounced it “Good.” Then he hands us the glass. This was water from the marina. Now I know for a fact that none of the boats around us go anywhere to dump their black water tanks, so I know what is in the water around us. Not encouraging for us wanting to try that freshly filtered water. “Go ahead Dave, you try it.”
Dave bravely sampled the water and said it tasted great. In fact, it has less salt, nitrates, chlorine, etc. than bottled water. It is so clean that if left sitting around for a week or so, algae will flourish in it as there is nothing to inhibit algae growth. This is why chlorine is added to city drinking water. So, the verdict was good news/bad news. The system runs and performs great! However, fixing those leaks is no small task and must be done by the manufacturer. It will require several hours of work to remove the entire system in order send to send the pump to the manufacturer. It will take about two weeks to get it rebuilt and returned. We were planning on leaving next week, so we couldn’t do it now. There is a dealer in the Bahamas that can remove and return it for us, so we are going to have to stay put in the Bahamas for at least two weeks. Pure torture, right? At least it is more like $500 to fix than replacing the pump for $3,000 or the whole system!
Learn from our mistake! If you have a watermaker and plan on leaving your boat for a long period of time, do not pickle it. Pickling is a great short term solution, but for longer than a few months there is another option. There is a setting called a “flush” or back flush that will cycle fresh water from your water tanks and discharge it overboard. This does require leaving water in your water tanks, but add a little chlorine (google the ratio) into your tanks and you shouldn’t get any algae growth. We left it pickled because we didn’t want to bring the nasty marina water into the system, but a flush would have prevented the problem we are now experiencing. Hope this advice helps someone else out there!