Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Potty Training

Probably one of the most disappointing systems we have on the boat are the heads. The toilets and everything connected to them just aren't the way we would like them. We would like them to not stink. We would also like them to function as designed. I am going to attempt to upgrade the aft head so that we can sleep in a relatively stink free atmosphere. Is it possible or am I just kidding myself into spending more money? 

I'm sure I will get a few comments from folks that have perfectly functioning and sweet smelling heads. You have somehow engineered the world's first zero smelling waste handling system. I am so happy for you. You will undoubtedly expound on your engineering genius, or just recommend a book by the Head Mistress to handle my olfactory problems. I appreciate the info, but boats come in different sizes and shapes making it difficult to implement these ideas and copy the perfectly functioning and sweet smelling systems of the intellectuals. 

"You need cross ventilation for your holding tank. Drill 3/4 inch holes on either side of your hull and plumb your vent lines there." I suppose this will help, but it will never happen. I can't run a vent line from starboard to port without snaking it 35 feet all over the place. 

"The best method is to have your holding tank directly under the toilet". 
If I did that our shoulders would be against the headliner and I would need a step stool to climb on. That's just an embarrassing moment waiting to happen. We have little free board. We're a lean, close to the water sailing machine. There is not much headroom, or head room. 

"Keep your holding tank small." Uh, you ever been cruising in waters where it's illegal to discharge and the closest pump out is 20 miles away and broken? We like the environment we sail in and we have been so lucky to have a 30 gal holding tank at times. Some folks just dump it despite the laws. This probably adds fuel to the anchoring restriction fires. If I'm Richie Rich enjoying a martini on my waterfront veranda overlooking several boats anchored for over a month, I might start wondering where the hell their poop is going. I might eventually find this out when bits of toilet paper are stuck to my Hinckley runabout.

"Vacuum systems are the best." They probably are, but we have no room for the expensive vacuum generator. Seriously there is little space left in this boat. I could probably squeeze it in somewhere but then how the hell would I work on it when it eventually fails? If we ever fall into a pile of cash and buy a new boat it will have a vacuum flush system on it. Perhaps the French have the answer with their vacuum system, the Lavac. Hard to find in the US so I'm thinking the spare parts will be too.

"Use only the best and most expensive hose known to man. Call NASA if you have to."
We bought what was considered top of the line. It might be. I really don't know yet. What I do know is it's not made for small spaces. This would be good hose to run on a naval vessel. Plenty of room. The cost? Insane. Somewhere there's a rubber hose executive boarding a Gulfstream G6 for dinner in Paris and I picked up the tab.

"You need to install a composting toilet." I like the idea, but then I don't. Composting my banana peels and other veggies is one thing, my Lincoln logs are another. I really do not know anyone that has one but I have seen a few installations on blogs. I'd really like to hear the straight poop on these units as I am turned off by the installation of a chimney or vent, but also of removing a drawer of "soil" to dump overboard or put into your tomato garden. I could see myself carrying that soil through the boat and then tripping, spilling it all over. Imagine that horror happening. I'd have to sell the boat.

I'm thinking this is the best design out there.
We have been on boats at the boat show that stink! Now I realize I made a few boo boo's in plumbing up my head (read below) which probably lead to the stink-a-thon at times but on a new boat? Apparently the boat had to be delivered a good distance and the crew used the head. Well OK but what's it going to smell like after a crew uses it for like, a year?

Before we left we bought the best thick wall holding tank and plumbed it with the most expensive and inflexible hose known to man. This was the black hose that was considered the best by Practical Sailor and was produced in Italy hell. Not only did it mark up and scuff everything it came in contact with but just when you thought you could bend Satan's hose into that cutout, the wire would pop out of the end and cut your wrist. There were moments I thought of just putting the whole damn thing up for sale while I put pressure on my wound. Yes it was that bad a project. I had to put a slight bend in this hose to reach the Y-valve and it took so much pressure that I worried it would rip the Y-valve off it's mounts.

Now the toilet. I wanted simple. Manual pump. Parts available everywhere. Jabsco. I know - poorly rated. Say what you want it has not failed us yet.

I thought maybe we could just convert the old toilet to electric. They sell a kit. Piece of cake. Then I saw the price!
They want almost $500 for a conversion kit. Forget it.

The macerator. The first time we used it I was laughing at it's power. It sucked about thirty gallons of our exports (it's not that gross we're vegetarians) out of that holding tank in a manner of minutes and sent it to the sea floor about five thousand feet down. "Delivery for Davy Jones!" (Not the Monkee). That was fun, but after that one time it would only squeal and trip the breaker for about twenty freeking times before it would do it's job. We were sweating one time wondering how we could unload the holding tank because the macerator just squealed to a stop. I had a work around but it would not be pretty. This was just before Georgetown and then we hear the pump out boat was broken. Luckily they got it fixed before we took desperate measures. The pump out guy Rodney told me his boat filled with shit when the pump seal let go. See, there are worse things. His boat still looked like it could use a power wash when he finally showed up. He offered me some of his popcorn but I told him I was allergic to pathogens corn. 

There's this magic toilet. Electra Magic.
It's a recirculating toilet. Has a cone filter.
Not sure what that means but the fuzzy slippers
and flowers tell me it's just awesome.

By the way our Macerator is made by West Marine, or in this case Waste Marine. It looks just like a Johnson, so I assumed it was and also assumed that Johnson was a good pump. Now I feel like a Johnson for buying it.

There is something you have to do with macerators and that is to flush them out with freshwater else they seize up. No really. Leave that grinder all fudged up for a week and see if it runs. Our toilet pumps the vegetable and tofu waste into the tank and the macerator pulls that stuff out of the tank, purees it into a pesto and sends it out the bottom of the boat. That means I have to pump at least five gallons of fresh water into the holding tank and then pull it through the macerator to keep it functional. If I pumped seawater into the holding tank I would have unlimited flushing potential but then I would be sending salty rust promoting water into the damn thing and the seawater would then stink like dead ocean creatures. We have a watermaker and all, but five gallons seems like a lot to waste on waste.

Here you go. It's a toilet and holding tank in one. Put wheels on it!
I think I'll poop in the salon today!

The other issue I have is that the discharge from the toilet has to go uphill. Straight uphill for about two and a half feet until it takes a left and slopes down to the holding tank. I know, who's the moron that plumbed that up? It was either live with a fifteen gallon bladder tank under the aft bunk and have waste slosh around beneath my head while at anchor or send it the other way. I had a hard time dealing with turds bouncing around in a bladder underneath my head. Imagine my dreams?! 

So I did a few things wrong in this system. Number one was I didn't contract it out to someone who knew what they were doing. 

"Shit doesn't flow uphill buddy. You should definitely know this. I can fix this for you for about two grand. I know it's pricey but it's a shitty job if you know what I mean." 
 Would it help if I told you we're vegetarians and that it's all organic in those hoses? 
"Twenty five hundred. I don't like vegetarians. They're kinda preachy"

Number two was not getting a toilet that could pump that height and distance. The manual head can do it if you pump at least thirty times. We do this many times a day. Deb and I both have a very strong right arm and we're thinking of arm wrestling for beers this season.

If you are going to macerate, you do it at the toilet and not the exit.This was my third mistake. It's easier to rinse the macerator at the toilet bowl, not ten feet downstream from the tank. Do you have to macerate? Depends on your fiber intake. You're not reading this before a meal are you? Brownies for dessert? Sorry. I always thought it would be better to chop up all that stuff, including toilet paper, rather than sending it out as little Clark Bars floating around for turtles to eat. What's the worst thing you could see while snorkeling, besides a shark? There you go. No one wants to swim with your turds. That's why we macerate. We were told it sinks faster. Maybe that was a lie to sell macerators. Maybe you are snorkeling with tiny micro turds! Turtles eat jellyfish and shopping bags right? They wouldn't eat, I mean, I never heard of a turtle eating uh...OK maybe the worst thing you could see while snorkeling is not a shark.

So what am I going to do about this stinky mess I've gotten myself into? Let's start with the source. I plan on eating cheese and bread forever, thereby creating bricks we can use as fuel after they dry on deck. I kid you. But thinking about it, I would probably have to eat straw as well or it wouldn't light. I actually plan on buying a new (nobody buys used) macerating toilet with a freshwater rinse that can actually propel our waste to a height of ten feet and a length of one hundred feet. That should get everything where it belongs, plus if I add a Y-valve and a thru hull above the waterline we can also use it as a waste cannon.

"Sir, Kelly Nicole has changed course and is coming amidships. He says you stuck him with the bar tab last night." Tell him he's full of shit! "Sir, he says he's about to remedy that problem."

Daydreams are the best. OK, so after I swap out the toilet I have to figure out a way to send the waste out the bottom of the boat. A manual pump is the simplest and least likely to fail. It will also keep that right arm pumped up for wrestling. Problem is the room. I have none. I think I may go with an electric pump by Whale. No macerating, just a plain old diaphragm and it's rated super duper. We have one for the shower. 

Now what about the hoses? I'm going to leave them as I think they aren't permeated yet. I do know that we have to flush them out else they will start to stink. The hoses need to be re-routed a bit, but I have not figured out an easy way to do this yet without ripping it all out and starting from scratch. I do not want to mess with the hose from hell.

Made in hell. You'll have a heart attack
trying to pull this through a tight space.
One thing that happened that was funny and gross was the vented loop started whistling or farting when I ran the macerator. I assumed that nothing got by the duck valve on the vent but I was wrong. My nose told me I was wrong. I added a vent line to the back of the boat from this vented loop so even though the duck valve still quacks, I can't smell it. Does any of this shit work like it says it does? It's not cheap, in fact it's way over priced. Pisses me off.

All future boat designs should start with the toilet. All shit should flow downhill to a tank and then out the boat. If I was buying a new boat it would be the first thing I look at. Where does all the shit go? Naval architects need to start their boat design with a basic and standard head system layout. Draw your hull around that Head. Don't go designing a beautiful sleek hull and then at the last minute go, "Oh yea, people poop." and find a spot to wedge in a toilet and holding tank. 

The average height of an American is five foot nine. This would require a toilet seat height of about twenty inches. Add approximately another twenty inches for hose connections to a holding tank of at least fifteen gallons directly below the toilet. Add another foot for the tank and we are about fifty two inches in height for the whole system. So at the minimum a three foot square room at a height of at least 52 inches. Design your boat around that! (I was drinking beers and totally made up those numbers)

Oh, and plumb everything with solid PVC pipe. No more of this "flexible yet non permeating" bullshit super duper insanely priced hose made for gullible sailing rubes. 

This problem has been very frustrating to deal with. Debra is getting annoyed and I have a nose for anything that smells bad, except myself apparently, so I am not happy with it either. Does your sense of smell increase with the size of your nose? I wonder.

I hate plumbing as most of you know, but something has to be done about this. I don't want you to think we are living in stink. It's not noticeable most of the time while we are out cruising and using the system with everything working. It's just not working well enough for us. 

I suppose I'll just add a little Vicks VapoRub on my stache, put on some rubber gloves, face shield, surgical mask, wetsuit and get to it. I'll let you know how it all works out.


The toilet and pump arrived today. Let the fun begin!


  1. Well, this will make you feel better: when we first got Galapagos I could not locate the source of 'that smell' that you are so familiar with. We have a 30 gallon holding tank under the bunk amidship. The tank smelled fine. We were not sure what was happening. The PO had not used the head in a long time and it was vented in the engine room. Yeah. So I pumped sea water into the system and began to flush it to test it out. Mike was in the engine room. Suddenly he starts yelling "UUGGHH! STOP STOP!". Apparently the vent in the loop had failed and stuff was squirting out the top of the vent, onto him and onto the walls of the engine room. Much bleach later it smells a lot better. And I fixed the vent. Also Mike removed about 40 feet of old hose that meandered hither and yon between the head and the tank. He replaced with a much shorter connection of PVC pipe. Much better.

    1. Oh god I would have freaked out. Pretty funny if you're not the person in the engine room.

  2. Thanks for giving us the "poop" on your latest project (You covered all the rest of the poop jokes. Good job.)

  3. You need a Lavac. It's vacuum but doesn't require a lot of space. It does actually cause shit to flow uphill and with the rubber seals on the lid and seat it absolutely doesn't smell. Best part? Way less expensive than most of those options and you can use all of your existing plumbing and tanks.

    SV Kintala

    1. We will consider the lavac for the next round of potty training in two yrs

  4. Ha, we've yet to tackle this subject. I like the idea of putting it on the transom .. or "potty bags" .. LOL!

    1. I hear a bucket with a swim noodle works well. Hope never to report on this

  5. Sorry, can't feel your pain. Loving our Jabsco and have used it for two years, living aboard and flushing the tp with zero problems.

    1. Our problem wasn't the Jabsco but the plumbing it had to deal with. We still have a trouble free jabsco in the forward head, until the bowl seal let go. It was very old though. We replaced it with another Jabsco. The aft plumbing is better suited to a toilet that can lift easily. The Jabsco can't handle it for very long. Had I left it all as designed, with a bag tank under the aft bunk all would be well I suppose, except for the bag of pooh under my head

  6. Sorry, can't feel your pain. Loving our Jabsco and have used it for two years, living aboard and flushing the tp with zero problems.