Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Storms

Depending on where you live, you might be familiar with the following situation. It’s summer and the air is heavy. It is so hot and humid that you can barely breathe. You move slowly, trying to run your errands without much motivation and you so wish you could take a nap or read a book, because that is about all a human body can handle in a climate like this. But, it is too hot to sleep, unless you don’t mind waking up in a puddle of sweat, and who has time for sleeping anyway? On stagnant days like this, a massive storm is bound to happen from the moment the temperature cools down a bit. On stagnant days like this, you might have actually come to expect some thunder and lightning, and a healthy dose of rain by nightfall. The plants will be happy; nature needs it, you think. Tomorrow will be a nice and crisp day again!

Stagnant days like this, is how the summer in the San Blas islands looks like, feels like and tastes like. Every day. The best way to cool off is by jumping off your boat in the magnificent blue water. Again and again. But, how about the storms? Ha! Even though it is very hot and humid every day, this doesn’t mean it rains every day/night. Nobody would cruise or spend whole summers here otherwise, right? The storms are unpredictable. They might arrive during the day, they might be visible only in the distance, they might approach and engulf you, they might come from the east, west, north or south, or they might not arrive at all for a few days.

Usually, when they do arrive, this is what happens: Mark and I would see some lightning in the distance, likely over the mountains on mainland Panama. This is nothing special. Then, the lightshow moves a bit closer and we watch in awe, high up above, in the clouds. As if continually lit by an amazing spotlight, the sky turns white-greyish, all around us, every few seconds. The spectacle becomes even more intense, when the thunder is audible. Soon enough, the first raindrops fall and we retreat inside, where we base ourselves near a porthole or other window. Then, the wind arrives, but we don’t worry about that. We have good and oversized ground tackle (anchor and chain). With our faces pressed against the glass, we have a good view of our surroundings every time lightning strikes. By now, we sometimes see the eye blinding lightning bolt hit the water. We count… How far away was that? Let’s hope no boats were anchored there!

Sometimes, we hold our positions for hours and pray to not get hit. Sometimes, we think we can’t do anything about these storms and go back to bed. The deafening thunder vibrates through Irie and makes her shake. Lightning brightens the night sky all around us. I use the powerful flashes to locate the glass of water or find my way downstairs. Who needs lights in this “illuminating” weather? Finally, unannounced, it is quiet and dark again. The squall has passed, sometimes for five minutes, more often for a few days, until the next one arrives. We, our boat and our electronics survived another San Blas summer storm and we even collected fresh rainwater to clean our sweaty bodies!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Collecting Water from the Sky

Fresh water is one of those basic needs in life. Especially on a sailboat, where it doesn’t just come out of the tap indefinitely, we realize its value. While people on shore rarely think about the commodity of fresh water, on a sailboat – where water capacity is limited – every time someone turns on the faucet, the use of water is kept to a minimum. Irie has one 52 gallon (200 liter) fresh water tank, which is small for a cruising boat. We have a few jugs to store another 24 gallons (90 liters) in our anchor locker and that’s it. This amount lasts us about one month, when we take the usual precautions. The fresh water is mainly used for drinking, cooking and rinsing the dishes. Mark and I shower in the ocean and do our dirty dishes in a bucket filled with sea water, after which they are moved to the sink for a final fresh water rinse. Our own bodies, we rinse with water out of our sun shower.

During the winter season, we locate marinas or public docks (in the Eastern Caribbean and mainland Panama) or a village (in the San Blas) to purchase water. We take our empty jerry cans to shore, fill them up, haul them on Irie’s deck, pour them into our fresh water tank and repeat the back breaking process a few more times. In the summer - or rainy - season the hard work comes to an end. These months, the rain provides us with all the water required. The roof of our Fountaine Pajot Tobago (35’) came with built in gutters all around. We plugged three of the five drain holes and attached a hose to the other two. They join at a T, where another hose leads to our tank. Thanks to a quick connect system, we can easily remove this short hose while we are underway or not using it.

To collect water for our sun shower and to do laundry, we strap a rain collector – a piece of cloth with a hole, a hose and lines to secure it to stanchions and winches – on our side deck. The hose leads to a jug in our cockpit and we have to remember to set the whole thing up before going to bed and to have replacement jugs ready. I hate “wasting” water by not collecting it when a squall passes through! Sometimes, we also place buckets in parts of the cockpit where water “streams” down. It all depends on how desperate we are for water. Collecting rain water is one of those “primitive” habits that make the basic boat life pleasurable and special. It gives a tremendous feeling of satisfaction to use Mother Nature for so many things!

The water on our roof streams into the gutters and then into our fresh water tank.

Notice the gutters on the roof and the "extra" rain collector for non-drinking activities.

The water from the cloth rain collector ends up in jerrycans in the cockpit.