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.


Finding the right marina

Aerial view of Ventura Isle Marina (photo courtesy of Almar Marinas)
Last summer, when Don and I were just starting to assemble our plan to buy a sailboat, we visited several California marinas - to meet with brokers and look at boats on the market, as well as slips.  
I remember multi-year wait-lists for slips back in the 80's in Santa Barbara, so I was surprised at the empty/available slips in every marina we visited - evidence of sad economic fluctuations. (I wonder where all of those boats went? Where are they now, if they aren't in marina slips?)
Through out the summer and into last Fall, we gathered brochures, looked at amenities, met with marina administrators and walked the docks - sometimes for hours, because we were enjoying the coastal atmosphere, comparing all the makes, models and sizes of boats, and soaking up the environment. 

Walking along Ventura Isle Marina near A & B Dock
After we purchased Florian, and had a confirmed LOA (Length Overall - needed to calculate the size & cost of the slip. Don grumbles that LOA always includes the bowsprit, so you have to pay more for a plank of wood extended beyond the bow.) We returned to the marinas we were considering, and took a closer look at what was available for a 36ft boat.  After repeated visits to our top choices, we knew we wanted to keep Florian at Ventura Isle Marina. We marked dock maps with our preferences, and waited for Spring, and Florian's arrival from Maine.
Kayak & Paddle Boat rentals, shops and restaurants
at Ventura Harbor Village (photo courtesy of Vicki Leigh)

Coast of Southern California with Channel Islands (photo courtesy of NASA)
Everyone has different criteria for a marina, but here is a list of things we like about ours:
♥ We live about an hour from the coast, and the drive to the marina meanders through citrus groves and farms. That's not a bad weekend commute when you live & drive on the freeways of Los Angeles.
♥ Ventura Isle is owned and managed by a marina company that has reciprocal privileges at all their marinas. So, lets say we want to sail to San Diego, or San Francisco. We simply call our marina office, and they make arrangements for a guest slip for us, no charge.
♥ The Channel Islands National Park is - at it's closest point - 14 miles from the Marina. This chain of five islands are laced with hiking trails, protected anchorages, sea caves, diving, kayaking, camping and an amazing assortment of wildlife. The islands also host the largest aggregation of bue whales in the world. The accumulated pristine coastline spans 175 miles. We plan to spend a lot of time exploring this beautiful treasure of islands.
♥ We spend most weekends on the boat, and if we don't feel like cooking, we can walk the curve of the harbor to Ventura Harbor Village for dinner at any number of great restaurants. There's also a variety of bands performing every weekend in the village, so we can sit in our cockpit to watch the sea lions, cormorants and the sunset with a live musical score.
♥ We have great neighbors. (This one is very important, because you're all hanging out in very close proximity.) The day we walked the dock to look at available slips marked on the map, a gentleman with a big smile, an effusive Italian accent, and a cute little dachshund named Roma popped out of his Catalina 33 companionway to say hello. He asked if we were considering the empty slip next to him. When we confirmed that we were, he gave us some insights about other folks on the dock, and shared the reasons he thought it was the best place in the marina. He was right. We love it there, and we count down the week days to each Friday so we can get back to our waterfront property on board Florian.

What was on your list for the Right Marina?

Aerial view of Ventura Isle Marina, surrounded by ocean & farmland.
 (photo courtesy of Almar Marinas)

Ventura Harbor Village Fishing Boats, Dive Charters & Water Taxis

s/v Florian in her slip at the marina


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?


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.