Having spent some 13 years on our two boats dealing with watermakers and watermaker problems I thought it would be easy peasy to organise a new watermaker for our island project. Should have listened to that voice in the back of my head that was chuckling away.

Read more: Aqua-batics

Sadly our island does not have fresh water so up until now getting fresh water was quite an expedition. Although just around the corner, our local Mutiara (Pearl Farm) has a never-ending freshwater spring that allows us to rock up to their dock in our boat and fill our water containers from the continuously running hose.

The easy part. Pull up to the dock at the Mutiara and fill from the continuously running hose.

Easy part done. Now return to the island and schlep, hump, or however you want to express it, some 500 litres of water in 20 litre containers across the beach up to the water tank and empty into same. To be fair, Hans and his dad do most of the collecting and schlepping while yours truly does the hefting into the tank.

The not so easy part. Thank god for the family muscles as they schlepped the containers up to the tank.

Not only does it build stamina and character but gives you a wonderful incentive to not leave the tap running too long. So, bring on the watermaker.

It started out sounding rather easy. With a recommendation from our local expat we contacted a company in Bali that specialised in watermakers mainly for commercial use (that should have been our first warning sign) but also dealt with odd people, like us. When we contacted the Bali company we discussed at length our situation: remote island, middle of nowhere, solar providing battery charging, and yes we were running 220v single phase power and no Bunnings nearby, so everything  we need to get the watermaker up and running needs to come with the unit.

When it finally arrived it was very solidly crated and as such we decided since it had to go on a fishing boat to transport to the island we would leave it packed. Our first mistake. When it did arrive at the island due to the size and weight it took all of the muscle the family could muster but we managed to get it ashore without christening it which I thought was pretty amazing.

Landing the version 1 (the beast) without christening it thank goodness

It was a bit like Xmas unwrapping the new present – mind you, we needed a hammer and chisel not the standard scissors to achieve our objective. Upon first glance it looked the money and even came with a “how to assemble your watermaker for dummies” photo. I guess we should have paid the extra for the manual but never mind it’s reasonably straightforward, or so I thought. 

The dummies guide to assembling your very own watermaker

Upon closer inspection we discovered that the great minds in Bali decided we needed a three-phase electric motor regardless of us not having three-phase power and me explaining our power setup at the initial discussions. Oh bugger – another WhatsApp session trying to sort out the issue. The attitude from Bali was it’s signed, sealed and delivered so it’s your problem and just buy a three-phase generator and you’ll be fine. After much to-ing and fro-ing and some online research we discovered we could use a 2.2Kw single phase electric motor and it would drive our unit. Of course nothing is so easy; yes, the motor will drive the unit but it’s bigger than the unit supplied and won’t fit in the frame. So out with the grinder and make a few changes. You gotta love island life!

After closer inspection of all the parts we discovered they had given us a 3-phase electric motor (the bright blue unit in the frame).
Bugger 3-phase wiring and Tom Cruise thought he had problems. Now do I cut the red wire or the brown wire?

With the new motor and some other adjustments it was time to decide where we’d get the water for the watermaker from. My initial thought was that we’d have to pull from the beach, and as such the Bali company threw in an additional pump and a sand filter. In talking with Hans I mentioned my thoughts and before my very eyes he very quickly dug a channel for piping to run to the beach. Efficient  young lad. As I previously mentioned Bunnings is not just around the corner so after digging the channel it was off to Sorong to organise the pipe and fittings that would be needed. Upon return with a boatload of 2” and 1 1/2” pvc pipe (yes they use imperial for some things and metric for others, great for us old guys that still revert occasionally).

Return trip with a load of pipes for an idea that won’t work. Oh well, can’t have enough spares.

So – channel dug, pipe laid (not yet glued thank god) and Hans just happens to mention that it won’t work. Okay, why won’t it work? Hans points out that the weather we get on our shoreline is very exposed and the hard pipe will just break in heavy swells which, although not regular, come often enough to cause problems. It’s about this time I remember that I really should ask more questions first, because the local culture is to say “yes” to any request, however crazy it seems. So upon revisiting the problem and asking more questions I am advised that most villages dig wells. Now the obvious thing would be to simply buy soft pipe to run into the water and problem solved but, we’re in Indonesia and soft pipe the size we need is not readily available. So Hans can you fill in the channel? No boss, I only dig them.  Right, so I guess I’ll fill in the channel and why don’t you start on the well.

Who’s the old guy on the end kidding? This is time for family muscle. The first section of the well walls are formed up on land and then moved into position.
Sometimes you need to revert to old but proven techniques. In this case the square wheel manouvre.
Now the big question. Having gotten the form to the well how to get it into position.
There is no shortage of ingenuity when it comes to solving problems island-style.
A sharp parang (machete) to drop it into position.
Running the pipe for the feed pump to feed the watermaker.
Finished product. Well cover in place and piping to feed pump with stump corner support. Gotta love island life.

The great frustration with Version 1 was the time, the cajoling, the swearing (not much just a bit) (Editors note; actually quite a lot), and the bloody hard work of getting it to the point of being able to be turned on.

Version 1 is ready to rock & roll with the new single-phase electric motor. Thor appears in the early hours of the morning and brings us the storm from hell and the earthquake combo and with one hot flash turns it all to molten metal.

Instead, we were thwarted by the mighty hand of Thor who brought us the great storm/ earthquake combo and the ensuing fire which, in one hot flash, dissolved our beloved watermaker into a molten mess. Bugger, down but not out!

The after-effect of Thor’s intervention. We were able to reclaim the frame which is now a shiny yellow.

Enter Version 2, a slightly more flexible model as it comes in components and can be mounted in varying positions and locations. However, in honour of our fallen first unit we are able to reclaim the old watermaker frame (at least not all was lost but, in all, a bloody expensive frame) which made it easier to build. A big thank you goes out to Matt and Sid on the catamaran “Insouciant” for the great job of transporting the new components to us. Without their generosity it would have been very difficult to achieve.

Version 2 with 3 membranes for higher water production. The Karcher K4 on the right serves as the high pressure pump feeding the membranes.

As it turned out assembling the unit was not too difficult albeit the odd trip to Sorong to source some of the additional components required. When purchasing the unit from the rated output for the configuration was 240 LPH so we were somewhat excited at the prospect of getting it fired up and running.

After the first run and discovering it had more leaks than a kitchen colander it was back to the old “when all else fails RTFM.”

As always with these types of projects there is a small amount of anxiety when the switch is thrown for the first time and this was no different. I wish I had videoed the initial run as after the switch was thrown there was a little dampening of the spirits, as the unit had more leaks than a kitchen colander. Bugger! We have an expression we learned when we spent time in NZ, “do it twice and get it right”. Damn, where did I put the pink thread seal tape?

After a number of leak-tracking exercises, I can now happily report that the new watermaker is living up to its specifications and producing 250 LPH  – more than enough for us to wave goodbye for the time being to the Mutiara and enjoy our hard-won aqua independence.

This little hose delivers 250 L per hour. No more schlepping water containers across the beach. Wahoo!

One hour of watermaking every other day means we can now afford to extend that thirty-second shower. Di is doing a happy dance and you know what they say – happy wife, happy life. Pass me another glass of cold water, please.

8 Replies to “Aqua-batics”

  1. Hi Bruce and Di,
    We just fitted one into Nineteen- bloody marvellous things😀
    Glad yours is sorted.
    Cheers Tom and Sheerie

    1. Thanks Tom and Sherrie – yes, what a godsend it is. We’ve had a couple of hiccups but it’s now running like a charm. Glad to know you’re all sorted on Nineteen.

  2. Hells teeth guy’s, lightning never strikes twice, RIGHT!!!!!!! Seriously maybe you should string up an arrestor cable and copper ground rod. Or perhaps the Gods are unhappy and you need to appease them, just a small sacrifice 😉
    Excuse the black humour but you wouldn’t expect anything else:-)
    Wishing you all the best

    1. Hey Seathan, only one storm thank god and yes we have earth rods and a foil tin man just for safe measure but I think it may come down to the virgin sacrifice ceremony to provide more long term security. Having said that all is going well and the new water maker is really kicking ass. You gotta love island life!

      2 cans.

  3. Hi Bruce/Di
    Congratulations-What a saga it turned out to be. We take water for granted here, and Bunnings too.
    Did you eventually get the water from the spring underground?
    I thought earlier you had to desalinate the sea water.
    Lifes hard living in paradise.
    I suppose you need to fill in all the hours in your day or you would be bored.
    There’s only so much diving you can do. lol
    I love reading all the adventures on your island.

    1. Hi Gail, yes a real saga that lasted 12 months and 2 water makers. Still it’s now up and running and yes we draw water from the well the family dug for us. The water is salt water and it is then desalinated through the watermaker. Life in “paradise” has it’s moments and is not all beer & skittles.

  4. What an odyssey! Good on you for getting it done; that’s some mighty fine thinking outside the box. Enjoy the longer showers.

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