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Old 03-18-2004
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Doreen Gounard is on a distinguished road
Gifts from the Rain Gods


Tropical rains provide ample freshwater and from time to time offer a dazzling visual display.
It is a warm, dark October morning in Northern Tonga as an anvil shaped cloud, gray as slate, creeps over the pale light of the predawn. Imani is quietly anchored between Nuku and Kapa islands in the Vava'u group, which has been covered with clouds for several weeks while a vast stationary front parked itself over Fiji and Northern Tonga. The first cooling drops fall through the open hatch and lightly moisten my face. I awaken easily, and while closing the hatch, I know that it is almost time to get to work and at one of this cruising crew's most valued assets fresh water.  I picture myself dragging the plastic ice chest to its station under the through-hole in our large awning and realize how efficient our water catchment and conservation efforts have become over the past 10 months of cruising in the tropical South Pacific.

We are happy to report that we have been able to keep Imani's water tanks (capacity 88 gallons) at least half-full all of the time—and most of the time near capacity, all due to the generous rain gods. We haven't carried a water jug since we left the Marquesas in April. And I thank those water gods because water-collecting is a chore that everyone on board seems to enjoy doing, even in the middle of the night or just before morning light, which is when the majority of the rain showers have occured. Maya and I have had some of our best mother-daughter chats while collecting water at 3:00 in morning.

At the sound of the first large drops, I lie in bed and wait as the water begins to accumulate on our 10x12-foot Dacron awning. After a few minutes of listening to the drum-like tapping of the heavens' tears, I rise and prepare to catch. We have a small line attached to the through-hull of the awning. I pull this line and make it fast, near the cockpit sole, transforming the awning's shape to more of a funnel. Directly below the through-hole, I place our ice chest to catch those first drops of rain that serve to rinse off the awning of any and all debris that may have accumulated there. Though this run-off is not suitable for drinking, it will be useful as laundry water. Once the ice chest is full, I fill the various one-liter and one-gallon bottles that we use for storing water strictly for drinking. We have grown partial to rainwater as our primary beverage—"sky juice" is what we call it—and we especially like our "sky juice" when it is very young.


Collecting water is an activity that involves everyone on board.
After filling the small bottles, we top off the three six-gallon jerry jugs we use most often to fill the our 15-liter, solar-heated Sunshower, and then fill the Sunshower itself. Finally, we add plastic tubing to the thru-hull and direct the raining water to Imani's internal water tanks. This entire process can take as little as one hour when the skies open wide and pour, or it can take as many as two days when the rain comes in the form of light, dribbling showers. We also have unintentional water catchers that have added even more water for our living use. After a good night of rain, the dinghy collects gallons and gallons of water that work very well for washing and rinsing laundry. And the two front trampoline nets of the foredeck have become water collectors, too, now that we have Sunbrella canvass coverings over both to protect them from UV deterioration. Lately, it is not unusual to find two small pools waiting in the morning for the first early riser who is ready to have a morning bath.

"Nevertheless, water collecting
is but one half of the equation in
the battle to keep plenty of water on board."

Nevertheless, water collecting is but one half of the equation in the battle to keep plenty of water on board. Conscientious water conservation is also very important. Being wasteful with this precious commodity just doesn't work on a cruising boat without a watermaker. To conserve water we have foot pumps, which dispense the water carefully—just using what we need as we need it. When we are at sea and moored in clean anchorages, we use saltwater to wash our dishes. After rinsing the soap away with saltwater, we then rinse off the salt with freshwater, using an ordinary plastic spray bottle. This method cuts down on freshwater use considerably and yet successfully eliminates all the salt residue from the dishes. Here in the South Pacific, coin Laundromats are nearly non-existent and wash-and-fold laundry services are extremely expensive for a family of our size to consider. So hand-laundering is figured into the water consumption equation. With our laundering system we use only freshwater, because removing all the salt out of clothes after a saltwater wash can require much more freshwater than is often anticipated. And if one is unsuccessful getting all the salt out, the result can be deadly to those treasured shirts and shorts. The combination of salt plus sun is fatal to most fabrics.


And if the clothes are on the line while another squall hits, each shower is just one more rinse cycle.
The least taxing method I have come up with at this point works like this: After transferring some water from the ice chest into a bucket, I scrub each piece of clothing and then soak the clothes in that soapy water for at least one half hour, letting the soap loosen the dirt. I discard that water and add more clean water to the bucket and rinse each item thoroughly. We then hang the clothes on the lifelines and wait for the sun to come out again. If the rain continues, we count each shower as an extra rinse cycle. And when the sun finally returns, after just a few hours, we have some super-clean clothes that smell like the sun, the rain, and a little hint of rainbow.

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