Monday, July 27, 2015

Finding Water In The Bahamas

Browns Marina, Bimini
When we bought Dos Libras it had a water maker "available but not installed"...  What that means is that the PO must have bought one second hand and only partially installed it before selling the boat.  What that meant to me was that with a little bit of work..we would have one.  That didn't work out quite the way I had planned.

But thats OK... So many other Cruisers assured me that we would have no problem finding water in the Bahamas.  So, we decided that we would go for season and then decide if we wanted to spend the $$$$ money to buy and install a water maker.

Now that we've had our first season in the Bahamas, although I am by no means an expert and these are just my nonsensical ramblings, I can tell you that yes, you CAN find water in the Bahamas.  But it is an adventure, and depending upon your individual water consumption needs and your expectations about water quality, you might want to rethink going without that water maker.

Everyone is different.  The vast majority of hard core Cruisers will scoff at my opinion, but in the end, you have to know yourself.  We carry about 125 gallons of water in our tanks and have another 5 five gallon jugs on the deck.  There are those who could live for weeks, even months on that much water.  But I don't know how...

Way back when we were studying the Cruising life, one of the things that I anticipated bothering me most was the lack of cleanliness.  I hate being dirty.  I hate for my living quarters to be dirty.  I don't want to be sandy or salty... I want to be clean!  I would almost call myself a "clean freak", borderline at least.  I wash my hands probably 25 times just making dinner.  I need to bathe and can't go long without a complete "cleaning day" for the boat.  I just knew that having to forego my normal cleanliness routines due to lack of water for cleaning would slowly make me crazy.  But I was willing to try with the promise of crystal waters to "shower" off the transom and an ample stock of disinfectant wipes packed away.

Spoiler alert, we never actually RAN OUT of water and it wasn't until our very last week in the Berrys that we even got close...But in my mind, I was constantly thinking about how much we had and where we would be able to take on more... It was ALWAYS on my mind and it was probably second only to weather in our route planning process.

So let's get to it.  Where did we find water?  Well first of all, we left the US with nearly full tanks obtained from Crandon Park Marina, where we topped off our diesel tanks.  They were very nice about allowing us to top off our water tanks for free!!!  We tested their water with our cheap little tester and found it to be about 175 ppm of total dissolved solids.  (this is good)

For reference, according the US Standards, TDS levels above 500 "can give water a disagreeable taste" and levels above 1000 ppm can cause corrosion in your tank and pipes.  Our water maker advises that water is considered potable with less than 750 ppm TDS... and our city water back home in Corpus Christi regularly measured 450... needless to say I didn't drink it.

So anyway... upon arrival at Bimini, we chose Browns Marina based largely upon the information provided by Active Captain that there was "free RO water".  As often happens with us, what was free before our arrival, is no longer so, and NOW they charge a mandatory daily rate for water at the dock, whether you use it or not.  Well, OK, it was like $4 per day.  We could use all the water we wanted for the three days we are here and leave with full tanks, right?  What is $12 compared to the thousands we would pay for a water maker???

But wait.  There's more.  Evidently getting anyone in the Bahamas to say categorically that the RO water is potable and that you can gladly fill your tanks with it and drink it all day long... does. not. happen.  What they would say was that yes, it's "City water".  And no... they don't drink it themselves... but YOU can if you want.  WHAT???

We tested the city water at Browns and it came up in the 450+ range.  It smelled.  We left there without filling our tanks.  At that point, we didn't really want the substandard water in our tanks.  Some people on the docks had in-line water filters that they attached the water hose to in order to filter the water before it went into their tanks, but we didn't have one of those...

** You can buy drinking water at the Big Game Club on Bimini.
Collecting rain water from our deck drains
So for the days between Bimini and our next available water source, I was a mess.  We had weather issues and spent several days in an anchorage off of New Providence.  But wait!  We had rain!  We could fill our tanks with rainwater!  Last fill was February 1st... it's now February 18th.

I scoured the internet for information about drinking rain water.  Many Cruisers say you CAN... but what I found said NO.  Well, we could catch the water and keep it in our jerry jugs to use for washing.

We tested the rainwater and found a huge difference between the first jug and the last...  The first one tested in the 600+ ppm range, while the last one was in the high 200s.  WOW!  Why the big difference?  My only guess is that there are particles in the air from the belching smokestacks at the nearby power plant.  As the rain literally washed the air, the particles became fewer.  The really creepy thing was that the jugs sat on the deck for some days, unused.  We were horrified to find them full of thick green algae.  Won't be using that water, even for cleaning!!!

When the weather finally gave us a break to escape West Bay, we made our first water related decision... We would head for a marina where we could get water.  Once again, according to Active Captain, the Palm Cay Marina had good RO water for sale.

We arrived at Palm Cay tired, dirty, beat up by wind and waves, and running from another norther'... with nearly empty water tanks.  We needed to re-group and relax... and CLEAN!

Using our mandatory water to wash the rugs
But once again, we found the staff to be vague about the potability of the water, stating that it is City water and that they do not drink it themselves.  They used to have drinkable RO water at the facility but no more.  Oh, and the city water at the docks was again a mandatory fee, whether you used it or not... We took full advantage of our time there to clean the boat from top to bottom.

We left there with drinking water we bought at the grocery store for $1 per gallon.  If we had an in-line filter we might have used it to fill our tanks.  It would be three more days until we could get "good RO water".

Active Captain told us that we could get RO water at Highbourne Cay. Even their own website advertises RO water!  At last!  We could fill our tanks with glorious delicious water!  We pulled up and questioned the attendant about the water extensively.  He was confident that their water was only the best RO water they made themselves... not "city" water.   We  paid $.50 per gallon and filled all 125 gallons with it.  Then we tested it.  It tested 457 ppm.  WHAT???  We just paid for barely drinkable water!  Maybe we should have tested it BEFORE we filled our tanks with it.  Learned that lesson the hard way.

By this time, our standards were relaxing.  We rationalized that this water was about the same as we got back in Texas, and we DO have a Seagull filter at our galley sink.  So, we began drinking the water filtered through the Seagull.  We went about two weeks to our next water opportunity at Black Point.

Black Point is a small out island settlement.  The people are poor, the facilities are scant.  But they have water.  And they share it with Cruisers.  For free.  For. FREE!  This was such a refreshing and welcome attitude.  The forecast high winds, the calm anchorage and the free water, kept us here at Black Point for nine days.  Nine glorious days during which we didn't have to worry a bit about finding water.

To get the water, we loaded our jugs into the dinghy and motored over to the shore just down from the government dock.  It was best to go at high tide, since the stairs don't reach all the way to the water.  We toted our five jugs up the stairs and across the street to the public spigot.

There, we filled our jugs with the glorious free and sparkling water, tested out at 175 ppm... and then came the arduous task of getting the weighty jugs back across the road, down the stairs, across the sand and into the dinghy... then back up into the boat where we syphoned them into our hungry tanks.

This is a good time to mention our shaker syphon hoses.  They are awesome, we have one for water and another for fuel.  They make transferring the water from jug to tank a breeze.  No pouring, no funnel.  You can even transfer fuel or water in bouncy seas if needed.  They are perfect for our purpose.

As I mentioned, the people here are poor.  It is suggested that Cruisers take only what water they need to get them to the next water source and not be wasteful.  So while we did relax our water restrictions a bit and did some cleaning, and maybe had more showers than usual... we had become used to rationing pretty strictly and tried not to waste this awesome resource.  Still... it's difficult not to become a hoarder at this point...

We did give back to the community for the free anchorage and water, by participating in a clean-up day and by eating out more here than anywhere else in the Bahamas.  We did our part to put some money into their coffers.

Leaving Black Point we were four days from our next water opportunity, so we didn't really tank up, but left with about half full capacity.  We pulled into another marina, Emerald Bay.  Once again, this place advertised RO water.  We docked in the "cheap seats" where there was NOT water at the dock.  So while we had access to water at the fuel dock, the marina staff acted kind of funny about us hauling our jugs in dock carts to the fuel dock to get water.  They charged about $.27 per gallon.  We filled our five jugs and they charged us for only 20 gallons.  We tried to argue that clearly we got 25 gallons... but they wouldn't listen.  The water tested at about 270 ppm, which wasn't bad.  But we didn't get any more... with the promise of free water to be had at our next stop... Georgetown, Exuma.

The unassuming looking source of life
Ahh Georgetown.  We were there a little over a month.  We were expecting guests.  Weather and lack of water had caused us to postpone their visit until we could get here to GT where there was protection from the elements and access to plentiful free water for washing.  We found the source, offered free to us by the local Exuma Market.

We relaxed our water usage standards and had regular showers, even washed our hair!  The dinghy trip to the water source was 1.2 miles across a wide open expanse of water.  Many days it was a wet and bumpy ride.  We adopted a practice of getting at least SOME water almost every time we went to town.  In the end, we moved the boat over to an anchorage closer to town to prep for our departure to the out islands of the Exumas.

** Of Important Note:  One week our cat refused to drink the water.  She acted like it was bad and we had the devil of a time with her.  She cried all night and looked sadly at us when we refreshed her water bowl.  I was NOT going to buy bottled water for a cat when we were drinking the tank water...  Some people said that GT was know for adding  bleach to the city RO water.  Sometimes they get it a little strong.  I could smell the bleach in the water.  It eventually cleared out and the cat went back to drinking the water.

We visited Long Island, skipped Cat Island and made it out of the Exumas and as far as Eleuthera before we found water again.  We arrived in Rock Sound about a week later with dwindling water supplies.

Rock Sound is another poor out island settlement, though not as poor as Black Point.  Rock Sound also had a free public water spigot.  When we asked about the whereabouts of the spigot and got directions, we asked also about payment and received puzzled looks.  Why would they charge money for water??? Why indeed...

We repeated the same routine as Black Point, only this time I stayed on the dinghy to keep it off of the glassy beach, while Bruce took our (new to us) cart across the street to fill the jugs.  Before we were done, a gentleman broke away from his pals at a nearby beach bar and came over to help us haul our water back across the street.  We gave him some money for his troubles, impressed at his industriousness when the rest of his friends just sat all afternoon at the bar drinking and laughing.  It wasn't much, but maybe he could get a couple of beers for his work.

We spent five days in Rock Sound awaiting a weather window to continue on.  We learned a valuable lesson here.  Because there were several other boats in the anchorage with whom we found lots of fun things to do... we failed to take on water when we could, opting to run and play in the sun.  When it came time to leave, we had a brief window and no time to carry water, so we left without refilling our tanks.  Rock Sound was the last place we found free water in the Bahamas.

We sought refuge from days of intermittent squalls and wind in the safe waters of Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera.  We had heard that there was also free water to be had from public spigots but when we asked around, we got blank stares.  So, we took our bottles up to the water plant to have them filled with the sweetest, purest RO water we've yet to encounter...  We paid $5.30 for each five gallon jug and you had to bring your own.  They don't sell them, no matter how much you beg as another cruiser friend learned...

This involved parking at a low dock behind the government dock and across the street from the plant, waiting for the fill and lugging them back across the road to the dinghy.  But the water was delicious and tested at 22 ppm.  That's almost completely pure.  We didn't dump that into our tanks.  We kept it on the deck in the jugs and used it strictly for drinking.  We kept our tank water and drinking water separately for the remainder of our time in the Bahamas.  We were uncertain about our ability to get good quality water and didn't want to waste our delicious drinking water.

We did eventually find those public spigots we had been told of... but when we ran a little water into a glass and tested it... it was literally brown.  No need to get our tester dirty on THIS water.  We'll skip it.

We made one more trip to the water plant before leaving Hatchet Bay but still left there with our tanks full.  We had rain.  And lots of it.  We didn't collect the first deluge, but when it continued to rain and rain and rain... we figured we would give it another try.  We were thrilled to find the rain water tested out at 150 and 120 ppm.  This we would put into our tanks.  We collected it in buckets and when that proved too slow, we made a dam from a wet rag on the deck and let the skies fill our tanks directly.  It took mere minutes to fill our primary 50 gallon tank and even less to fill our other, smaller tanks.

My shoes are floating in the dinghy pool
Several times while it was still coming down, Bruce had to go out and pump out the dinghy to keep it afloat.  We wished we had more tanks to fill and after it was all over, we thought it might have been fun to throw our dirty laundry into the dinghy and stomp around on it instead of paying for laundromats or using our buckets.  Next time!!!

From Hatchet Bay we headed for the Abacos.  No water in Little Harbor because we didn't get a mooring ball... no water at Man-O-War Cay even though we DID get a mooring ball.  No amenities whatsoever come with MOW mooring balls... We could have paid for it at the fuel dock, but when we were ready to leave, a boat was docked there with no intention of leaving... So we skipped it.  From there we went to Treasure Cay where we were able to pick up one five gallon jug fill for free out of a water hose at the marina before the hose disappeared.

At Treasure Cay, the Active Captain information showed RO water available for sale at the fuel dock on the way into the mooring/anchorage basin.  We stopped by the fuel dock and they were selling five gallon jugs but you couldn't get a refill.

We found out that the bar at Treasure Cay Marina will fill jugs for less than $5 per jug.  Their water tested out at 175 ppm.

We were in the Abacos for about five weeks.  In that time, we stayed at Mangos Marina and the Marsh Harbour Marina... both of which have mandatory daily charges for water at the dock.  This is the "city water" that nobody likes to drink.  By this time, we were routinely filling our tanks with the water and using the RO drinking water when we can find it.  We didn't really want to run much water through our Seagull filter if we could help it.  In the end, we tossed that filter and installed a new one when we got back to the US because the water coming out of it wasn't good.

Anyway, back to Abaco water.  We paid about $.30 per gallon for water at Hopetown Marina.  It tested at about 110 ppm and they said they have their own RO plant.

During our time in the Abacos, we had a visitor onboard for nine days.  She was very good about conserving water but drank a LOT of water.  We pretty much showered in the on shore facilities everywhere we could and so our water supply was adequate.  Plus, we had marinas at the beginning and end of her visit.  I was (unpleasantly) surprised that the Abacos didn't have many non-marina options for obtaining water.

We left the Abacos headed for the Berrys and the end of our time in the Bahamas.  Never wasting a chance to take on water, our last stop at the south end of Abaco, Sandy Point... we picked up two very pure RO bottles from their small grocery store for $6 and change each.  You will need a trade in bottle.  I'm not sure they would sell you the water without a trade in.

We never took on water while in the Berrys.  There was a marina at Great Harbour where water could be obtained, but we weren't staying in the marina.  There was no water at the fuel dock there.  The rest of the Cays in the Berrys are sparsely or completely uninhabited and we found no water available in the places we stayed.

As our week there progressed and we got closer to our exit, we pretty much just snapped.  We were tired, we were dirty, we were sweaty and running very low on water.  We decided to skip our last stop and run for Frasiers Hog Cay, but we learned via VHF that they had no water available.  No answer from Chub Cay and we weren't willing to go to the trouble of entering the marina basin without a sure thing... We had enough to get us back to the US if we rationed.  We went for it.

Our last stop at Cat Cay, we picked up a bit of fuel and about 50 gallons of water.  We really didn't need to but we had some Bahamian money to spend and by this time I was kind of in a frenzy about it.  (remember that earlier mention of slowly going crazy?)  When we reached the US and anchored in the afternoon, the wind was still and we really appreciated that water when we stood under the shower before bed.  The next day we went back to Crandon Park and filled up with diesel and all we could hold of their lovely free water.

Things should be much easier now, we're back in our own country.  We knew that we could get water for free at Tarpon Basin so we weren't really too worried about it... until we got to Tarpon Basin and found out that the source had been cut off about a month prior.  It seemed like that was just the last straw.  We were tired of being ruled by our quest for water.  Perhaps it really wasn't as bad as it seemed at that moment... but to us, it seemed immense.

We have a friend whose husband is in the water maker business and after a nice dinner with them, we ordered one.  He answered all of our questions and really took the time to analyze our needs and make recommendations.  We even felt that his recommendation was conservative, he didn't try to up-sell us at all.  We ordered the (next bigger model) Cape Horn Xtreme.

After we placed our order, we had a period of buyer's remorse.  That thing is expensive.  Yes, you can buy a LOT of water for what we're paying for the water maker.  But I'm going to rationalize that we don't just count the water we have to buy... we count the laundromats we pay exorbitant amounts in which to wash our clothes (we've paid up to $42 at a time), and we have to consider the times we've stayed in marinas just so that we could have water...

There is water in the Bahamas but the supplies are unreliable and subject to change.  The quality is questionable.  Having access to good clean plentiful water will enrich our personal cruising experience and allow us the freedom of choice - instead of need - governing our movements.  We will be able to spend less on marinas and experience some of the more remote anchorages.  If we weren't planning a more extended cruise, we would be fine without one.

I wish I had known then, what we know now about the water in the Bahamas.  So much of what we were told did not turn out to be true.  I think we would have installed the water maker before we left.  Each Cruiser will have their own personal experiences and opinions.  But ultimately, this boat is our home.  Homes have water supplies.


  1. Really great post. We got a watermaker right off the bat, mostly because we were crossing an ocean. We were wondering what it's like to go without one though. There are always people asking on forums if a watermaker is really necessary.

    1. Yes I queried every source of information I could find prior to heading out cruising. Most said that it was no problem. Everyone is different and yes, we made it through the Bahamas and the Gulf and East Coasts of the US as well... but it was a never ending challenge. If this is our home I want to be able to enjoy it, and I think I will be much more relaxed once that water maker is installed... yes, that's still hanging over our heads. Thanks so much for your comment! I get a kick out of reader feedback.

  2. We were fine without a watermaker through the BVIs, USVIs, Culebra, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. We carry 7-10 days of water (66 gals plus a few 5 gal jugs). The only challenges were in the Bahamas but only being there 6 weeks meant we were moving around enough to find water when we needed it: Georgetown, Black Point, Rock Sound, Marsh Harbour, ... Most people we've talked to who spent more time in the Bahamas would strongly recommend a watermaker. We've thought about it a lot, especially since we're hoping to spend a month in Cuba next year. I think we'll skip it for now but if I had room for a washing machine I'd probably go for it.

  3. Girl sound like one of those hard core cruisers that I mentioned. Perhaps we COULD go a week to ten days on 66 gallons of water, but I would be a nutcase because of it. I am just not that person. I applaud those who are but I just need more water. I rationalize that we will spend less time in marinas and will be able to move when we want to instead of when we have to. Plus, I can wash laundry at will without having to worry about using our precious water. It is good to hear that the other islands make it easier to source water. Thanks for reading our blog and for sharing your thoughts.

  4. LittleWhale...Bruce and Judy, currently in BahamasFebruary 4, 2018 at 2:55 PM

    Good article. Watermaker are a must. Bought a used pur powersurvivor 40e from an old cruiser giving up the boat due to their age (76). He had just rebuilt it and I had parts from my old pur powersurvivor 35 from 1993. Used my old electric pump still working great and compatible with the 40e. Putting it all together and with extra membrane and all the cleaning and pickling chemicals and seal kit, $300 . The chemicals are just expired but good for a couple more yrs. Bottom line, budget cruisers ,shop around. $300 is a lot better than $4000. It's rated at 1.5gal per hr, but really makes 1gal per hr, works great though. Plenty good for keeping up on drinking water.

    1. I applaud your ingenuity! We aren't that handy. Our boat came with a water maker "available but not installed". We were too new and too scared of the thing to make it work and the estimate quoted by a professional for poking around with it was sky high! I wish we could Macgyver things like you can!