Our own bouncy castle

Ever since we bought Hendrik one of the most persistent problems has been the water supply. While we’ve had to replace the pump several times, it was mostly a symptom of the old water tanks. To recap briefly, we had four rectangular tanks made from glassfibre reinforced plastic. These were interconnected to form a claimed 4000L of water tank.

The problems with these tanks were manifold. They were old, and due to their shape their corners became weak. When overfilled they could crack at the corners and need repair. They were easy to overfill because we couldn’t see, or tell by any other means, how much water was in them. Our only clue that we were about to run out of water was that the water pump’s pressure switch wouldn’t trip, so we had to listen like hawks every time the pump went on. We could never even be sure how much water was making it into the tanks when we filled them because the water pressure on the moorings is pretty variable. We couldn’t fill them at low tide because the tilt would mean all the water rushing into a single tank, overfilling it and cracking the corners.

Basically in the last five years we’ve spent a crapload of time pumping water out of the hull, and it was a situation that could not continue. Finally, in December last year we reached an inflexion point. I began to get regularly woken at night by “glub glub glub” noises coming from the tank nearest our bedroom. This, combined with water seeping up through the plywood floor of the galley, was a sign that we had yet another leak, but this time the best I could tell was that it was on the bottom of one of the tanks somewhere.

After a bit of googling I came across a company called Tidel who do fabrication of inflatables. Our requirements were outside their capacity to make, but they put me in turn onto a company called JW Automarine for whom we were on the lower end of the scale (seriously – they do a flexible tank ten times the size we need).

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you THE FLEXI-TAINER! 2500 litres of glorious, impervious, aqueous storage. Valves so it can be isolated in an emergency. Snap-lock connectors so it can be disconnected and repositioned easily. Loading straps so you can hang it from a goddamn helicopter and fly it into a remote bit of Africa. It can even sit on rough and uneven ground. If you’re in the disaster relief business, this is your go-to potable water container. They sounded a bit surprised when I asked if I could buy one even though I wasn’t affiliated to any government agency or charity.

new water tank

We cleared out one of the remaining non-torn-out cabins, levelled the floor and cut a hole in the wall to fix the outflow valve in position, then cut the supply to and from the old water tanks and connected up the flexi-tainer instead. I had to build a corral across the room’s doorframe to stop the tank escaping into the corridor at low tide, but half an hour with (guess what) my kreg jig and a sander had that all sorted. The room is actually a bit smaller than the full dimensions of the tank, so I reckon we’re getting about 1500 litres of its full 2500 litre capacity.

But more important, this has been a game changer. Suddenly we can see how much water we have. Suddenly we don’t have to panic and run out to turn off the water because if we overfill for more than a second the tanks will crack (all that happens is the deck filler overflows instead). Suddenly we can fill the tank at low tide. We can top up the tank. Every so often we do something on the boat that instantly boosts our quality of life by some huge amount. And this is one of those times. Originally the plan was to use this as a temporary tank until we could get rigid tanks into the hold under the saloon to properly replace the old ones. Now we’re seriously considering buying a second flexible tank and just using the two connected together as a permanent replacement.

new water tank

It hasn’t been entirely without problems, of course. Early on there was some fiddling with the valve on the top of the tank that’s supposed to let trapped air out. At low tide it was much better at letting water out. A dose of expanding foam cured that one. And more recently I’ve discovered that the weight of water in the tank was actually pushing the bottom of the door frame out into the corridor. I’ve jacked the frame back into place and fixed down a block of block of wood to hold it. We’ll see how that goes.

I drained the old tanks while we were in dry dock (with the boat tipped back at a ten degree angle there was never going to be a better time). They’re still lurking down in the hold and need to be chopped up and taken away at some point, but for now I’m just happy they’re out of use and out of the way.

Things are still not perfect with the water system, but we have definitely moved on a long way in a short time with this work. And I haven’t been woken at night since.

- posted by Melissa Fehr on 19 July 2012, 17:52 in