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The harbor in Maputo was full of pollution. Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen

Not enough water in the tanks

14 days ago
Written by Susanne Njølstad Skandsen
Life on board > Not enough water in the tanks

Not enough water in the tanks

14 days agoLife on board
Written by Susanne Njølstad Skandsen
The harbor in Maputo was full of pollution. Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen

When Statsraad Lehmkuhl left Maputo on January 3rd, the ship only had fresh water for two days of normal consumption. Timberman Joachim Juel Vædele explains what happened.

The fresh water tank on board the Statsraad Lehmkuhl holds 120 tons of water, or 120,000 liters. It's a lot of water, but it doesn't last very long.

- We use fresh water for cooking, drinking, and washing. So we consume between 100 and 120 liters of fresh water per person per day, says Timberman Joachim Juel Vædele to content producer Susanne Njølstad Skandsen, a few days before the Statsraad arrived in Cape Town.

- Oh, that's a lot!

- Yes, but it's only a third of what a person in Scandinavia uses on average, so it's not that much, Joachim replies.

Joachim Juel Vædele. Photo: Dina Storvik
Joachim Juel Vædele. Photo: Dina Storvik

Used the sails

If the tank is completely full, the ship has enough water for 12-15 days of normal consumption. Crossing an ocean takes much longer than that, so obtaining water en route has always been important on board sailing ships.

- In the old days, they used the sails to collect fresh water, Joachim explains.

- When it rained in the sails, they put buckets and pans under to collect the water. The timberman being responsible for the freshwater on board is an old tradition from the sailing ship era, because it was the timberman who could make barrels, pumps, and other things they needed. Nowadays, it is the machinists who are responsible for the eqipment, but it is still the timberman who is responsible for reading the gauges and checking that water is produced.

Timberman Joachim Juel Vædele by the fresh water plant. Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen
Timberman Joachim Juel Vædele by the fresh water plant. Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen

Reverse osmosis

Before Statsraad Lehmkuhl set out on the One Ocean Expedition, the ship had a system installed that converts seawater to fresh water. So it is no longer necessary to fill water when the ship is in port.

The system uses a method called reverse osmosis. Seawater and fresh water are separated by a membrane that water molecules can pass through, but not salt. As the pressure in the seawater is increased, more and more water molecules pass through the filter, are collected, and pumped into the fresh water tank.

Reverse osmosis. Illustration: Wikimedia / Ronald Toppe
Reverse osmosis. Illustration: Wikimedia / Ronald Toppe

But when the Statsraad Lehmkuhl sailed from Maputo, there was only water on board for two days of normal consumption.

Too dirty

- What happened in Maputo? Skandsen asks.

- When we arrived in Maputo, we had to shut off water production because the city is located at a delta where five rivers flow out, full of pollution. We were there for almost three weeks, so it's clear that the water supply became quite low.

First mate Laurits Kallan removes a net full of plastic bottles, dead fish and other rubbish from the hull before departure from Maputo. Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen
First mate Laurits Kallan removes a net full of plastic bottles, dead fish and other rubbish from the hull before departure from Maputo. Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen

- So the seawater was too dirty?

- Yes, the water was too dirty to use for making fresh water. And at the same time, we have had a principle throughout the voyage around the world that we do not want to bunker water from land. We do not know what kind of quality it has. Especially in Africa, water quality can be different from what we are used to in Scandinavia, says Joachim.

- So we made a forecast and kept an eye on the consumption. Even though we saved water and only used between three and four tons per day, which is quite little, we saw that the closer we got to departure, the closer we came to the bottom of the tank, explains Joachim.

Anxious

The last day before departure, the crew from the Nansen Center and the European Space Agency came on board, and then water consumption exploded. Although the Statsraaden could start producing water as soon as the ship was out to sea, Joachim was anxious.

- It is risky to sail away without enough fresh water on board. If our fresh water system breaks down, we are really in trouble, he says.

- Has it broken down before?

- It has, yes. Normally, the engineers can repair it fairly quickly, but if something happened that made it properly destroyed it would be serious. We must have enough water for a couple of days' consumption, so that the engineers have some time to try to solve the problem. If it doesn't work, we have to find a port where we can bunker water. Therefore, we have set a minimum level of 30 tons in the tanks, says Joachim.

- How many days does that last approximately?

- With normal consumption, it is only enough for two days. But as soon as we start saving, which means that no one can shower, wash clothes, not use fresh water for cleaning, and the galley has to save on water, consumption drops to about seven tons. So then we a good for a few more days, says Joachim.

Scary

In Maputo, the level dropped all the way down to 29 tons, below the minimum limit.

- It was really scary, says Joachim.

Instead of sailing away with a bad feeling, it was better to break the principle for once and bunker water from land. The supplier in Maputo promised that they could deliver water on 24-hour notice, and that it would be certified and examined in a laboratory, and guaranteed to maintain high quality. But the water did not come.

- Because it was New Year's Eve in Maputo, and we could not get it with the certification we needed either," says Joachim.

So on the day the ship was supposed to sail, the local agent, the company that helps Statsraaden with practical things on land, was contacted. Could they find an alternative supplier? They could, but Joachim was not confident of the water quality.

- We had actually ordered 40 tons, but settled for 14 tons for an emergency situation. We keep that water in a separate tank, separate from the other fresh water on the ship, he says.

Pretty well

- Now we've been at sea for five days and water production is going pretty well. We have a reserve of about 90 tons and that's quite a lot. The maximum capacity is 120 tons, and it's possible that we may sail into Cape Town with full tanks. So then we can maybe empty out the water we're unsure about. For now, we have it as a reserve. We can also use it for washing or similar, says Joachim.

No more restrictions, shower and fill your water bottles! Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen
No more restrictions, shower and fill your water bottles! Photo: Susanne Njølstad Skandsen

- We just got the message that we could finally shower and wash clothes again. Isn't there a risk that water consumption will take off now that everyone has been waiting to use it again?

- Sure, there is a risk of that. And at home in Scandinavia, we don't think about letting water run while we brush our teeth, or watering the garden, that we wash just a few clothes in the washing machine at a time, and that we stand in the shower for a long time. But when people here have been conscious of their consumption for six or seven days, it doesn't explode when we stop rationing, because people still think about saving, assures Joachim.

Translated from Norwegian by Ronald Toppe

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The One Ocean Expedition is a circumnavigation by the Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl. We aim to to share knowledge about the crucial role of the ocean for a sustainable development in a global perspective.

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