2015 Watermaker Blues

When I think back to all those accounts I read of the voyages in sailboats that were undertaken NOT so very long ago, I find myself embarrassed….well, almost….. to admit to a problem with a…… watermaker.

“You carry 1000 litres of water and you have a problem????”

Well, I guess I have to admit to being a softie. Four years of ample sweet, fresh water, hot showers when it’s cold, a sluice on the aft deck after a swim, put on a load of washing (oops! yes! we DO have one of those machines too) spoils you, doesn’t it?

Enki has an ENWA watermaker, a Scandinavian product that is not proprietary, which produces 120 litres of the stuff an hour. By non-proprietary, I mean that you can source almost all the bits and pieces which make up the system independently of the ENWA company. The manual is 10cm thick and contains the manufacturer’s spec sheets for every single component of the system. Neat?

Murphy’s law dictates that a failure in any boat system is to take place immediately prior to the arrival of guests from the other side of the world.

In our case it was in French Polynesia. Two groups of family and friends were to arrive imminently. C’est la vie?

Whilst the 1000 litres WAS adequate and we could fill up easily in French Polynesia, Enki was on her way further west towards New Zealand and the luxury and convenience of our watermaker was not be be discounted.

The first symptom that something was amiss was that the high pressure pump would not maintain the 45 to 65 psi required of it. The pump cycled between high and low pressure and output was almost nil. Frantic manual reading followed and much frequenting of WiFi to explore the internet tales of those who suffered similarly. A phone call to ENWA in Sweden filled out our quest for a diagnosis.

The high pressure pump is a CAT 247 and sourcing a replacement seemed to offer the solution……at a cost of course. Nearly $3000 from the CAT dealer in NZ air freighted to Bora Bora. Ouch!!! Somewhat cheaper from the USA but the site would not accept our Australian credit card.

We’d had the seals and valves overhauled in Turkey two years prior to this but the memory of those dozens of O rings and the subsequent problems that the clever Turks encountered trying to install them properly put us off that option.

So in the spirit of resigned self indulgence we went ahead and ordered said part from NZ and were lucky enough to have it brought out to Tahiti by a yachtie joining up with our friends Martha and Bryce on Silver Fern. No DHL or customs complications this way. Good luck so far.

Next step was to get the old pump out in a logical and controlled fashion…….and to then dismantle from the old pump the adapter plates etc which would be fitted to the shaft of the new one. Resisting the impulse to use a hammer to separate the old pump from the CAT electric motor while the whole unit was under the floorboards of the aft cabin, Diana and I removed the whole lot and ferried it in the dinghy to a workshop in Bora Bora where some REALLY helpful guys took over. They didn’t resist the impulse to use a hammer, although I must admit that they knew what they were doing. And they did it with loads more finesse, with the right tools, on a proper workbench at the right height…….a far cry from the image of your writer flailing around blindly to the accompaniment of appropriate expletives.

Old CAT 247 pump attached to CAT electric motor

Would we like them to fit the new pump and adapters to the electric motor? What a question! Yes please!

The brand new $3000 baby

These two parts had to be separated without damaging anything

An hour later all was finished, wallet was produced to pay the bill……

“Non! Not required, happy to help”. 

The apprentice and the helper (me)

The generous master and the apprentice

All in French of course, a language which Diana understands and speaks fluently. She was as surprised by this display of Gallic generosity as I was. Sometimes in our cruising experience we have come across this kind of generosity, but the more usual experience is the opposite.

Back to Enki at anchor, careful not to drop the whole lot into the briny. Installed it all, fired up the generator, and guess what? It still didn’t work!! Same as before, same lack of pressure and cycling. You can imagine the frustration?

Over a glass or six of red plonk we decided that the weather looked reasonable enough to backtrack from Bora Bora via Raiatea to Tahiti where there were a number of recommendations for workshops that dealt with watermakers. At least we should be able to get it fixed there we thought.

So off we go back to the pass into the lagoon at Raiatea by which time the weather had turned to 30 knots from ahead. The marina there was full so we found a decent mooring buoy to sit out the blow before the overnight leg back to Tahiti. The French yacht Tara picked up the buoy astern of us late that night and, as we chatted on the VHF in the morning, Michelle and Gerard wondered what we were doing backtracking. After explaining the problem they suggested ( without being very optimistic ) a Canadian former cruiser who had “washed up” in Polynesia a decade ago, was an electrician and a jack-of-all-trades and was worth a call at least. They had spent a number of seasons in and around these islands and knew a lot of the local tradesmen.

Said Canadian comes to the boat within an hour, listens to the tale of woe with appropriate remarks of sympathy, looks at the installation, turns it on for a minute, frowns, switches it off.

“Have you checked the capacitor in the electric motor?”

“The what?”

“The capacitor…..there are usually two in these AC pumps. You find them inside the motor, every washing machine has them etc etc…..”

“I thought the problem was the high pressure pump, and everyone I spoke to seemed to think so. Nobody mentioned the electric motor”

“They rarely do. It seemed to be running a bit hotter than it should and those CAT pumps hardly ever fail. But capacitors do……just ask a washing machine repairer…”

We locate the capacitors (two), he takes them away to test in his workshop and comes back in the afternoon with anew one which he has located in an appliance repair shop in town, apologising that it cost $50 (outrageous was his comment) and that he has taken so long. He had to get onto the internet to make sure of the specs of the CAT pump capacitor……the printing had faded. And the internet is really slow in French Polynesia. And then find one in town.

Pop it in, takes all of five minutes, fire it up and BINGO……….130 litres of lovely sweet fresh water an hour going into our tanks.

Wallet was produced to pay the bill…….payment was made. We were grateful. Very grateful.

And he had brought a spare for us ….”just in case.”

These are the capacitors in the 240VAC electric motor....one is a start capacitor the other a run capacitor

No comments:

Post a Comment