April 25, 2010

A simple solar still

OLD WOTISNAME with the concrete boat labors under the delusion that he’s going world cruising one of these days. I have grave doubts about it but I’m not one to spoil a man’s dreams, so when he asked if I knew where he could buy an emergency solar still, I told him how to make one for himself.

He’s never going to need a solar still. That old barge of his can easily carry enough drinking water for four people for two months, and it’s a rare passage that lasts that long.

However, OW always seems to need something to be fussing with and worrying about, so I told him to get a wide-mouthed saucepan or bucket, some old T-shirts or rags, a broad-based glass or cup, and a sheet of thin plastic — black is best, but transparent will work.

You put the glass in the middle of the bucket and snug the rags around it. Pour seawater into the bucket until it’s about a quarter full, but don’t let any spill into the glass. Tie the plastic sheet over the top of the bucket and make it into an inverted cone by placing a weight such as a heavy shackle in the middle. Then leave the bucket in the sunshine.

Fresh water condenses underneath the plastic, drips off the point of the cone and falls into the glass. If your boat is rolling badly, some of the drips might miss the glass, so the wider it is, the better.

The deluxe version of this still incorporates a plastic tube led from inside the glass, under the plastic sheet, and over the edge of the bucket, so you can sip the water from outside without dismantling the still.

There’s not going to be enough fresh water for a shower every day, but this simple still might just keep you alive in an emergency.

Today’s Thought
Pure water is the best of gifts that man to man can bring,
But who am I that I should have best of everything?
Let princes revel at the pump, let peers with pounds make free,
Whiskey or wine or even beer is good enough for me.

— Unknown, Spectator, 31 Jul 20

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #43
Cruisers’ success rate. Well-known cruising authors Lin and Larry Pardey say the rule is that only 35 to 40 percent of people who set sail for a cruise of 6 to 18 months actually complete their goal. Among those who declare that they’re “going off forever,” or say they intend to sail around the world, the success rate drops to between 10 and 20 percent. The Pardeys define “success” as “finding satisfaction or enjoyment from what you are doing; having a sense of harmony on board; feeling glad you had the experience; eager to continue or go off again.”

“Do you always drink your whiskey neat?”
“No, sometimes my shirt tail hangs out.”


The Interview With A Cruiser Project said...

Those stats are fascinating - where do the Pardey's talk about that. I would love to read it.

Thanks for sharing, Livia

John Vigor said...


Foreword, The Capable Cruiser, Lin and Larry Pardey, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1987.

John V.

Team Giddyup said...

Thanks John - And our library has a copy. I've seen their videos and read a few books but not that one.