Ocean rowing expeditions without built-in desalinators – are they possible?

Ocean rowing expedition without desalinator

I’m still contemplating the question if a built-in water maker is required for independent, non-competitive ocean crossings.

I know, they are a requirement in the races (see here and here, for examples) and I won’t argue with this.

But recently, I read up on Francis Brenton’s „The voyage of the Sierra Sagrada; across the Atlantic in a canoe„. Here he crosses the Caribbean from Colombia to the States, up the Mississippi to Chicago, down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic and across it to West Africa. All in a makeshift catamaran made from two lashed together dugout canoes (one he delivered to a museum in Chicago, so he had to replace it with a plywood outrigger thing).

Now what’s this got to do with ocean rowing?

Well, Frank needed very little fluid intake (at least that’s what he claimed), and that was due to moisture and moist skin mainly.

So the theory goes like: if the skin is moist and therefore sweating, that is, loss of body fluids, is prevented by covering the body with moist clothing rather than going naked and sweat, fluid intake can ne reduced to a minimum.

Furthermore, there should be little or no loss by breathing in conditions with high humidity.

Together with 180 litres of fresh water ballast, which is consumed and replaced with saltwater step by step, carrying a manually operated water desalinator or two for emergencies, the probability of meeting ships and making landfall on long ocean-going journeys, this would be an interesting route to explore.

But why would one do this, you might ask.

Well, there are quite a few reasons for it:

  1. Water desalinators systems are expensive, prone to failure, and can make the crew sick
  2. There were times, when people undertook great, long, ocean-going journeys without water desalinators
  3. Likelihood of meeting ships and making landfall in between to resupply
  4. Simplicity/Minimalistic approach: reducing kit to the bare essentials (less kit, less failure, less expenses, lighter boat, etc.)
  5. Roughing it/Adventure

But there are also some that speak against it, like:

  1. How about saltwater sores by wearing clothes and moving in them?
  2. How about rowing workout, after all Frank sailed and didn’t row?

Well, as for #1, this needs to be experimented with. It’s the salt crystals that cause it, AFAIK, so regular bathing in the sea, rinsing might help? After that’s something Frank also had to deal with, but he didn’t mention any details.

As for #2, rowing is done in sets of 1-2 hours with breaks in between. And unless one has set out to set a new Speed record as Charlie Pitcher did, excessive sweating might not be applicable, if the intensity of the workout is kept low.

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