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 II)

The what's and where's of a manual Marine toilet
which I found very helpful - from Nigel Calder's book
Boat Owners Mechanical & Electrical Manual
In the last post, after attempting (& failing) to fix leaks, tired parts and an apparent block in our Raritan head (toilet) with vinegar and a new pump assembly, we re-wound to the beginning, & dismantled the whole toilet. What we found was the source of the remaining leak; a warped ring where the bowl attaches to the base. According to Raritan, this is the result of a hard freeze. It must have been leaking for awhile, since the bolts on the base left corroded water tracks & rust stains on the floor leading into the shower basin.
After removing the new pump assembly & the toilet bowl,
we discovered another source of leaks: a warped base,
likely from a deep freeze during Florian's history on the East Coast
We also found mineral deposits inside the toilet bowl flush holes around the rim, so the whole bowl was brought home to soak in a vinegar bath for three days while we waited for a new raritan toilet base to arrive.

The new Raritan toilet base installed, with shiny new bolts.
After reading about minerals and calcification growing in
 marine sanitation hoses where sea water pools, I traced our hoses, looking
for low points and up-angles where that might occur.
A sailing friend who does a major overhaul on his boat toilet every year told us we might be able to dislodge some of the calcification from the interior lining of the discharge hose by lightly tapping the length of the hose where it was accessible with a hammer. We did that - gently - and pulled another cup or so of grit and mineral chips out of the hose. After re-assembling the hoses and head, on the new base, and pumping a test flush, we still had backwash, bubbles and a handle that popped back up from internal pressure in the lines.

Sanitation hose on s/v Florian, from the head to the holding tank
We checked the holding tank to be sure it wasn't mysteriously full (we hadn't used it except to test-flush). It was almost empty. We checked the vent line and the the vented loop, and they were both clear. So, the block had to be somewhere between the head and the holding tank, in the length of discharge hose that ran under the sole (floor). Argh.

Armed with gloves, mask and an altered plumbing snake
We read all sorts of cautionary tales about how you shouldn't snake the hoses on your boat, for fear of puncturing the line and having a stinky mess under the sole that would be far worse than a blocked head. But it was either that, or take up the sole, and do some major re-piping and disassembly projects that we aren't equipped to pull off. So, we went to a hardware store, bought a snake, altered the end so there was nothing sharp on it, and put on some masks to brace ourselves for the dirty task.

Snaking the line from the head to the holding tank
Once Don got the snake into the hose, I sat by the bilge with my finger tips on the hose so I could hear & feel that he was getting the snake all the way through.

The other end of the sanitation hose; it runs under
the sole (floor) and through a couple of holes bored
through cross beams, from the head to the holding tank
Don used the snake to clear the hose all the way to the holding tank, where it abruptly stopped & got stuck. I reached inside the tank, trying to get to the hose/tank terminal, but the angle was impossible, even with a coat hanger or a screw driver. Ultimately, he was able to pull the snake out, and while hoping and praying no one set foot on our slip or strolled down-breeze, we squeezed a catch bucket into the bilge, and disconnected the hose from the holding tank. And there lay the problem: almost 8 inches of solid calcification blockage. We used a screw driver to break it up and scoop it out into the bucket, and as soon as it was cleared, all the clear test-flush water came gushing forward until Don tilted the hose end upward to stop it. After re-connecting and re-strapping all the hoses, I recharged the head with sea water, and did a test flush. THIS TIME, it went through without resistance, or bubbles or backwash. And taking a hint from an article by Peggie Hall titled marine sanitation fact vs folklore, we left the cover off the holding tank, and counted how many flushes it takes to exit the hose into the tank, so we can use that count on each flush to ensure there is no waste sitting in the hoses all week between the head and the tank.

The latest and greatest Raritan pump handle
When we ordered the pump assembly, we decided to re-use the same handle that was already on the existing system. Unfortunately, it was too large a circumference to fit into the new pump. The good folks at Raritan told me about their new handle, with a telescoping arm. The cupboard door in our head swings open - right into the old, longer arm, so this new one tucks perfectly out of the way. If you have a Cape Dory with a Raritan handle limiting how wide you can open your under-sink cabinet door, check out a replacement arm at Raritan. They aren't in the catalog yet, but you can call or email them to inquire.

Spiffy new (working) toilet on s/v Florian
Don and I can both say with confidence that we know how our sanitation system works on Florian, and that's one of the benefits of these sorts of projects. When you buy a boat - new or not - one of the best ways to get to know her bones and pipes and parts is to roll up your sleeves and fix her yourself. I'm certain we'll eventually bump into repairs way beyond our skill set, and those will require a professional, but wherever possible, we are enthused and ready to do the work ourselves. What have you fixed on your boat that left you feeling knowledgeable about a system or a part?
Watching the sunset and the moon rise from the cockpit
after a very productive day

P.S. On a somewhat related, but slightly askew side note, did you know Bill Gates hosted a competition to reinvent the toilet as we know it?


LittleCunningPlan.com said...

Just found your blog (can't remember how, actually). What a lovely boat! We're in the 'third quarter' as well and sail in the Puget Sound area. When we retire, we're sailing away. Wish we didn't have to wait until then. Great blog!

Dane said...

Nice job! With the stinky messes, elusive solutions and repeated trips to the hardware store and internet for parts, your toilet trouble story is a great example of boat ownership in it's finest moments!

SeaMoore / edward_r_moore@msn.com said...

Great job on the blog! Very clear and informative. My wife and I are in La Paz, MX right now enjoying our 3rd quarter. I am looking into the repair/replacement wish list before I put my boat back into the water.