‘We could no longer produce fresh water'
Yachting Monthly|March 2021
Bill and Kate Gover set off to see the world on a well-planned voyage to New Zealand, only to find themselves confined for three months aboard their 35ft boat, overlooking an island paradise
Bill and Kate Gover

The Pacific Ocean is full of life. We should know, we’ve spent the last three months looking at it from the decks of Seneto, our 33-year-old, Hallberg Rassy 352.

Anchored off Isla da Contadora in the Gulf of Panama, we have looked longingly at this island and yet never once stepped ashore. The reason? COVID-19.

Panama and its islands were incomplete lockdown and had been since 21 March. The beaches, bars, restaurants, chandlers, marinas, nonessential shops and services all closed. The port authority and immigration are now all closed, and countries beyond here, our stepping stones across the Pacific, have shut down their borders. Our dream to sail to New Zealand has been well and truly stopped in its tracks.

We left our home in Steyning, West Sussex, at the beginning of September 2019 to embark on our three-year adventure to sail to New Zealand and potentially beyond. We’d been planning this trip for nigh on two years and in our minds, we're as prepared as anyone could be – we had the spreadsheets to prove it! Little did we know the impact lockdown would have on both ourselves and the boat.

BLUEWATER PREPARATIONS

As with any couple about to embark on such an extensive sailing trip, we’d focused our attention on some key priorities that would enable us to be as self-sufficient as possible whilst maximising the limited space that we had available to meet our needs for ocean passages. The Pacific was always at the forefront of our minds, aware that we could be at sea or in isolated anchorages for long spells (we certainly hadn’t envisaged being at anchor in the same place for three months though!).

And so the work began. Seneto was transformed from a south-coast cruising yacht to an ocean-passage-making boat.

Generating and managing power was fundamental, so choosing the right equipment had been essential. A wind generator and solar panels were fitted to provide renewable power. ‘Bluey’, our Hydrovane wind self-steering, joined us as the third crew member to take charge of all the helming – ideal as he didn’t require feeding.

All lights were replaced with LEDs and whilst we do have a small fridge (probably the key power user), a freezer wasn’t an option.

One non-negotiable item was the watermaker which fits snugly beneath the starboard saloon bunk. It eliminates the need to buy, store or throw away hundreds of plastic water bottles. Producing 30 liters per hour with minimal power, it keeps our tanks topped up. The original water tanks had been replaced with stainless steel ones due to a disturbing amount of ‘pond life’ growing in them, so we had plenty of water.

FISHY-SMELLING WATER

Trying to make water whilst sitting for four months in the rich waters surrounding the Las Perlas Islands caused a few headaches and a costly mistake. The filters were a vivid green after one use with a distinctive ‘fishy’ odor, tainting the water. With only a few spare filters on board, attempting to clean them with fresh water was proving futile, until we decided to add a drop of mild sterilizing solution.

Unbeknownst to us, the impact proved to be disastrous as the minute amount of chlorine in the sterilizer ruined the main membrane meaning we could no longer produce freshwater, just slightly less salty seawater!

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