If you're lucky enough to live to 100, the years between 50 & 75 are your third quarter. That segment in life could be the waning of your physically agile years, so it's a good idea to stay active. It's also a good time to challenge your brain to keep things limber up there - by mastering something new. We decided to go sailing, and this is a chronicle of our journey.


Fixing a Marine Toilet (part I)

This post is about toilets. If you're looking to read something about good wind and rocking the sails in calm seas on a clear day, maybe skip this post, and come back and see us again later. :)  If you're trying to fix the head (sea-speak for toilet/bathroom) on your boat, read on.
The Raritan PHII Toilet on s/v Florian. The upper arrow shows how
the pump assembly handle popped back up on each flush cycle.
The bottom arrow shows the area where a visible leak stained
 the floor and collected in the shower basin.
The first few weekends on board s/v Florian gave us a chance to really get acquainted with her. We washed every surface, explored all of her cupboards, and crawled around in her cockpit lockers & engine compartment. On closer inspection, one thing I was a little intimidated by was the toilet. (Eegads, look at all those hoses.) It's been over 20 years since I felt comfortably familiar with a marine head, and my fears of the unknown weren't helped when the first test flush spouted little arcs of water, back wash into the bowl, air bubbles, and then a mysterious pressure popped the handle back up in my hand.
Looking down at the rear of the pump assembly - arrows show
were leaks erupted with each pump of the flush.
After scouring the net for cause & effect, symptoms, and solutions, I decided the issue must be a number of things related to the joker valve, and the pump assembly piston rod and the air valve.  It's a manual toilet, so it can't be that hard to figure out, right? (Quit laughing.)
Studying the exploded parts diagram in the Raritan pamphlet
I called Raritan (we have a Raritan PHII) to confirm my conclusions for a fix, and review the parts I planned to order. After totaling my list, it became clear that instead of parts for a re-build, we could buy a whole pump assembly for close to the same price, and start fresh, without worrying which teeny part would fail next.
The Raritan Pump Assembly arrives!

My husband Don is completely "disinterested" when it comes to toilets, sewage and holding tanks. The notion of taking hoses and leaky fittings apart on a sixteen year old toilet made him shudder, so he announced "I'll write a check! Just tell me how much, and we'll put a whole new head in!" I assured him that I would handle the replacement pump because toilets don't bother me so much. As I researched particulars on marine toilet systems, and waited for the Raritan shipment to arrive, he started referring to me as the HEAD Engineer on Florian, and reassured me again that he'd simply write a check and we could be done with the whole sordid affair.

I wasn't strong enough to disconnect the joker
valve elbow from the discharge hose, so I had to ask for some muscle.
The pump assembly arrived, and I couldn't wait to swap it out, and fix the toilet.  We drove out after work on a friday night, closed the sea cocks, laid out the tools, and got to work. My step Dad TC warned me that the hoses would likely be very tight, and I should be prepared to use a blow dryer to heat them for easier removal (thanks, TC, you were so right). Even with the heat, and lots of pulling, I couldn't disconnect the discharge hose from the joker valve elbow, and I had to ask poor Don to help me. :( What a good sport.
After heating the discharge hose (with a blow dryer) where it meets
the joker valve elbow, Don muscled them apart for me.

Removing the old Raritan Pump Assembly
I read on various boating boards about calcified mineral deposits from sitting sea water - adhering to the interior of the hoses - and causing problems with eventual blockage and/or sand-paper-like surfaces which were perfect catching points for toilet paper and waste. What I found when I got the joker valve elbow off was a complete blockage in the discharge hose made up of calcified minerals. It looked like the minerals had collected on the interior hose wall to about 1/8 inch thickness, and collapsed in a pile, only to collect and collapse again and again, until the hose was filled completely at it's lowest point. 

A chip of calcified sea water from the discharge hose.
I pulled about 2 cups of this out of the hose at it's lowest point.
After clearing the interior of the hose, and cleaning everything with simple green and bleach water, we reattached the pump assembly to the base of the toilet, attached the elbow and joker valve and re-strapped everything good and tight. (As much as I wanted to do all of this myself, Don actually did most of it. Once he got squeezed into the small space of our bathroom to help me disconnect the discharge hose, he just stayed there, and asked for tools & parts in the order they needed to go in.) 

Once it was all assembled and clean, I opened the sea cock and charged the hose with sea water for the inaugural flush. And once again, the handle popped back up in my hand, sea water back-washed into the bowl, and burped bubbles, and little streams of water trickled out from under the base. Arrrrrgh! It was late Friday night, at the end of a full week, and I was so disappointed that we weren't celebrating with a cool drink, and toasting a successful toilet fix!

The next morning, we concluded that there had to be a block somewhere else. We studied photos of Florian's bones and underparts, and traced the hoses through the bilge to understand where all the possibly blocks could be. We also noticed - now that everything was clean and dry - that  sea water was leaking from the base of the bowl, where it connects to the floor, and the bolts holding it in place appeared to be corroded. So, the areas of trouble could be:

1) a block further down in the discharge hose, under the sole (floor) or at the holding tank intersection
2) a block in the vent line in the holding tank, or the vented loop of the discharge hose
3) a full holding tank
4) some as yet unknown problem we weren't thinking of

We decided to take the toilet apart, and start over.

Toilet parts and the teak floor board from the head in the back of my car.
There's just nothing discreet about walking around a marina with a toilet bowl.

The toilet bowl and the seawater pump-to-bowl instake hose,
soaking in vinegar-water at home

After three days soaking in vinegar-water,
the toilet bowl is spotless, and all mineral-clogged holes are now open.

Stay tuned for Part II; How we fixed our Marine Toilet.

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