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An emergency watermaker

Jun 24, 2015
DongFeng crew were forced to use a manual watermaker when the main unit needed repairs.

DongFeng crew were forced to use a manual watermaker when the main unit needed repairs.

DongFeng race team

Volvo Ocean Race boats are all at the cutting edge of sailing technology, right up to what the crew eat and drink. Freeze-dried meals and desalinators are the order of the day — no heavy water tanks and regular food to weigh them down and slow them down. So what do they do if their desalinators break?

The DongFeng race team, at the time oscillating between 4th and 5th place, faced this problem on April 21, 24 hours into Leg 6 from Brazil to Newport, R.I. With 18 days to go and no assistance permitted, the crew of nine had to find a solution — and fast. Authorized by the race committee, they opened their survival pack and started using their Katadyn Manual Survivor 35. It’s no easy task to hand-pump all the water needed for nine freeze-dried meals three times a day, plus drinking water. In fact it took each crewmember one hour of pumping per day, for a total of nine hours daily. But, as DongFeng’s onboard reporter Sam Greenfield wrote, the Katadyn 35 was quite literally their “lifeline.” He said that, by pumping hard, he could produce one liter of drinkable water from the manual desalinator in 15 minutes, which is about in line with Katadyn’s claims of a 4.5-liter output per hour.

Hand-pumping every drop of water is a huge demand on an already busy racing crew  — the Katadyn 35 and its smaller sister the 06 were designed for life rafts  — so the team and their shore support worked quickly to repair the electric desalinator. The problem was a bad leak in its casing.  After much discussion between boat and shore team, crewmember Kevin Escoffier wrapped the split tube with carbon fiber to seal it. The epoxy glue took 20 hours to dry, during which the team added 9 hours at the handle of the Katadyn 35 to their usual duties. The repair held and DongFeng was thus able to avoid a 12-hour pit stop that would have been the alternative to an onboard repair and which likely would have put them out of the running. Instead they went on to win Leg 6, ahead of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing by three minutes and 25 seconds. This puts them in second place overall, behind Abu Dhabi by 6 points.

The DongFeng sailors are the same ones that broke their mast a few hundred miles from Cape Horn in March. That crisis was resolved by pulling into Ushuaia where a jury rig was fashioned. DongFeng dropped out of Leg 5 and motorsailed to Brazil to install a replacement mast and start Leg 6 with the fleet. The boat is sponsored by the Chinese automotive company DongFeng and is managed by French sailors. 

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