Final warning, this post is seriously gross. Not for the faint of heart -- which is why it isn't in my blog stream. Read and learn -- and perhaps chuckle a bit -- from and at our mistakes.
Let me set the stage. The events of which you are about to read are true. No names were changed to protect the innocent. We were in Sint Maarten preparing for the start of our first Atlantic crossing. S/V Kookaburra had surprised us by sailing from the BVI’s for a second good-bye before they headed west. Just like in St. Thomas, Jaime and I quickly arranged to go for a walk most mornings. Sometimes she would pick me up and sometimes I would pick her up.
So, it was morning on a boat in the Caribbean and I had to do my “business”. (That’s what we would say to our dogs when we walked them, “Do your business, Jake.”) I had pumped water into the bowl, done my “business”, closed the lid and was pumping water and business out of the bowl. It didn’t seem to be going well. (As “business” went it was a larger business.) I pumped. And I pumped. When a tall adult pumps a marine toilet, said adult must lean over a bit as the handle one is using is about knee height. When one leans over, one’s head and upper body are over the toilet. So I was pumping, and evidently nothing was moving in the right direction. And it had to go somewhere. And lo and behold the weakest link was in the hose just behind the toilet seat. Kind of where I was leaning.
The hose broke.
While you are either cringing with disgust or laughing with glee that this wasn’t your boat, let me remind you that my mantra has been “I don’t do gooky.” I don’t clean out sink drains. I cringe when I have to do the shower drain. I don’t even like step into muddy lakes where your feet sink to your ankles. On the first boat we owned together, EW had to repair the head while we were on vacation. I took the dog to a deserted island until he was done. I. Do. NOT. Do Gooky.
Until I had no choice.
I was covered in … well gook. Gook of my own making, but still. First I screamed, and found opening my mouth was not a good idea. EW came running, opened the head door and stood there, appalled. Not able to keep silent, my words veered between “Sh^/!” and “I’m sorry!” (I say “I’m sorry whenever I break something that EW is going to have to fix.)
“What do you want me to do?” asked EW.
I looked out the port to see Jaime heading our way in the dinghy. “Tell Jaime we have an emergency and get me a bucket of water, a roll of paper towels, and a garbage bag.” (Evidently I think clearly covered in gook. Who knew?) Afraid of a mental breakdown, he ran for the towels and bag and then dashed up on deck to head off Jaime and to get the bucket. He spoke with her on the way to the bucket. I’m not sure what he said, but Jaime intuited that there was an emergency in the head. I was down below, really needed that bucket, and he lost focus. (Sort of, “Gotta get a buck – OH! Jaime!” moment.
He chatted. Not about my situation. He just frickin’ chatted, with the bucket in hand. Leaving me holding … nothing but covered in pretty much everything. Jaime is a smart woman. After a few long minutes, she smiled and said, “Um, Stew, doesn’t Barb need that bucket?” (Somewhere in there I bellowed.) Chagrined, EW agreed with Jaime and hustled down below with the bucket, asking once again, “What do you want me to do?” I may have refrained from saying what I was thinking, but I doubt it.
I did say, “There isn’t room for the two of us, so just stand by.” Did I tell you I was crying? I’m pretty sure I was crying a bit, but trying not to because I didn’t want to add any more body fluids to what was already on my person. All of my person. (Fortunately I was clothed. In old walking clothes. When it was over I threw them out.) So, I wiped and cleaned. First me for a bit, then all of the head, and finally all of me. Even though I wasn’t going for pristine, it took a long time. I didn’t get my walk.
Of course, those who understand marine toilets, know that the hose had clogged, and probably needed to be replaced some time ago. (To those of you who don’t boat and are actually readying this: You are a very sick person who likes to read about others misfortunes. I hope you are satisfied.) Once I and the head were cleaned and disinfected, EW had to remove and replace all the hose. Somewhere in there he stated that I and the size of my business had nothing to do with this problem. “You are not to blame here.” Good. But still I had been punished.
Well, it turns out that I was to blame. Some of our closer cruising friends know that my aversion to gooky led ours to be one of the very few boats who flushes toilet paper. Well, we were one of those boats. The edict came down from on high, (well, actually while he was working under the floor boards hauling out old hose) we will no longer flush paper down the heads.” The good news is that saves a lot of room in the holding tank. The bad news is that I now have to deal with dirty TP which is a new version of gooky.
After months of trial and error (including crossing an ocean and living aboard in the Azores – where they don’t put paper down the toilets on land either), I came up with a protocol that I can live with and that EW had to accept for the use and disposal of toilet paper.
- If we are no longer worried about flushing it, it doesn’t have to be thin, scratchy septic tank paper. (That’s about the only good news.)
- Each head trash can has a bag, and looped over one corner is a smaller bag, about the size – or exactly the size – of the thin bags one uses when one purchases fruit and veggies.
- Each used bunch of TP is wrapped or swaddled in clean TP and these bundles are placed in the little bag.
- At least once a day air is (gently) squeezed out of the little bag, it’s tied with a knot, set in the bottom of the trash container, and another little bag is placed on the corner.
- Every three days these little bags are put in our garbage and taken ashore for the trash bin.
EW is not happy about the swaddling, but I don’t care. We have no bugs and no smells. We go through a lot of TP. Tough.
Someday, when we actually have to replace a toilet, we will finally install a composting head. I desperately want one but can’t justify it right now. I have known for some time that all of our friends who have one, do not put TP in there, either. It’s a space thing. So I knew that down the road when I got the head of my dreams I would have to deal with the TP issue. I’m ready.
After two days of hard and dirty labor, during which I did way more than I ever thought I was capable of doing, we had a repaired head. Two hours later it was pristine. Nothing says “clean me” like a head that’s exploded. From ceiling to the floorboards (that’s under the sole – which is floor to you landlubbers) that head was cleaned, scrubbed, shined, and disinfected.
EW has already purchased hose for the other head because he figures that if one is ready, the other one might be. Neither of us are looking forward to the project, but we will undertake it before it becomes a disaster and now we both know that I am actually able to help him. Dang it!
I just bought my first....boat.....ever.....
The previous owners left me with a smelly, leaking head. I decided immediately to install a composting toilet.
Posted by: Randy | 10/25/2016 at 05:17 AM
I don't have a how to as we still haven't done it. But we will before we leave St. Augustine. There are two major brands, and one minor, cheaper one from Florida. Not sure I'd use that one for a full time live-aboard, but if you aren't, see if you can find them and compare all of them. Good luck.
Posted by: Barbara J. Hart | 10/26/2016 at 04:03 PM