Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Water - 2 February, 2016
On Sunday night, the city of Vero Beach had a power outage. Apparently, a transformer shut down or blew up or was sucked
into an interdimensional worm hole. Whatever happened, among the parts of Vero Beach that were without power for a few
hours was the water treatment plant. Because the plant was without power, the city could not confirm that the water was "safe
to drink." Samples were taken Monday, but the results were not available until Tuesday. It may be Wednesday before the
water will be deemed safe again.
Until then, all residents are being told to "boil the water" before drinking or cooking with it. That's it - boil the water, preferably
at a rolling boil for one minute. Then, you can cook with it, make soup with it, drink with it, even make ice with it. The dirt
dweller response? Buy bottled water. Lots of it. Cases and cases of it.
For those of us that are living on the hook or on a mooring ball, this is a minor inconvenience. On Rockhopper, we have two
125 gallon water tanks, one of which is full, the other just dropped under one quarter full today. Most of us out here have
water on board, and quite a few have full water tanks because of all the rain last weekend. Most cruising boats have some
way to capture and store rain water. We don't take free things for granted and water from the sky is (mostly) free.
However, the most interesting thing I discovered was the number of businesses that have had to shut down or restrict their
operations because of the lack of fresh water. The donut shop, the bagel shop and the taco place are all shuttered "for the
duration." The local fast food places are open, but not selling beverages (except, of course, for bottled water). We went to a
restaurant last night and they were using bag ice for their drinks and not serving water by the glass. I assume that they were
boiling what they were using to cook, but maybe not...
Being a cruiser means you tend to be more independent of "the grid." We make our own power, using diesel or gas, yes, but
also using wind and water generators and solar panels. Most of us can travel using the wind and water currents. We may
need a boost to get started, but once we are going we tend to do OK. Fewer of us make our own water from seawater but, as
I said, there are a lot of people catching the rain. Some of us even process our own waste, although the Federal and state
governments tend to frown on it. Since there is no way for them - or us - to be sure the system is working correctly, they are,
quite naturally, sceptical.
When we started living aboard, one of the questions we got asked a lot was "what are you going to do in a bad storm?" After
having been through our share of bad storms, the answer is "we're going to come and rescue those of you who choose to live
ashore." I have done my share of cleaning up people's yards and houses after large wind storms have destroyed trees and
damaged property. A couple of times, back when we had a portable generator, we lent it to friends whose power was out and
they were going to lose hundreds of dollars worth of food in freezers that no longer ran. We haven't - yet - had to help dinghy
people around whose houses have been flooded, but we know people who have.
The world is a technologically complex place, and it relies on a lot of systems working together seamlessly. So does a boat.
The difference is that, when something goes down on a boat, there is one person responsible of fixing it. The captain may
decide to bring in outside help, but it is her responsibility to make things happen - and her responsibility to understand the
Outside of a boat, we lose that ability. We have to rely on others to understand how the pieces that make our lives possible
work together. The citizens of Vero Beach have only a vague idea of what is going on with their water supply. There are
some quickie updates on the television news, a front page story in the local newspaper, and, if you call the local government,
you will get some sort of reply. But very few people here know what the actual problem is with the water, or who is
investigating it, or what the standards are for letting people drink it again. Do we have the same problems as Flint, or is this a
non-event, a "better safe than sorry" exercise in excessive caution?
There is no way civilization - at least not 21st-century United States civilization - can work if we all go back to fetching our own
water. People do not have the time, the expertise or the ability to find, evaluate, purify and store water for their homes and
businesses anymore - if they ever did. One of the things that makes civilization possible is the ability to use water effectively,
for agriculture and personal use. The earliest successful civilizations were the ones that figured out how to move and store
But, we have to understand that civilization, like beauty, is only skin deep. The things that make civilization possible are fragile
and expensive. Cruisers get that better than most dirt dwellers - but we are still only a few levels away from the grid. We need
to be aware of how things work outside the boat. Sooner or later, we'll need more water....