Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Head Full of Details

I hate the heads on our boat. Both of them. They may be the thing I hate most about boat life.

Big Mouth
Big Mouth
Uploaded by toastfloats
Digression for those of you non-nautical folks who read this series because you either (1) share my last name and feel obligated to do so, or (2) are former employees of mine and read it lest I give you a bad reference in the future. The head is the bathroom on a boat. But it’s not really a bathroom. A bathroom implies shiny appliances which take your output, a lot of fresh water, and whisk the resulting mixture into magical oblivion never to be seen or heard from again.

Let’s contrast this to a boat head in which the appliances are all pitted from salt water, the water itself you must pump out of the ocean and into the toilet bowl, and the resulting concoction is shoved into a large noxious tank which you must service regularly. Again, with the euphemisms! By “service” we mean sticking in a nozzle and holding on for dear life as a high pressure hose pumps out the tank while thoughtfully displaying the by-products in a clear window as they swoosh by under your finger tips.

Actually, on further reflection, I hate the port side head a bit more than the starboard side for the single reason of smell. You might think it smells of the organic goop that comes out the back side of five people, but you’d think wrong. The real stench is caused by a deodorizer that the former owner put in two years ago, which I have as yet been unable to find and eliminate. The only smell worse than farts, in my opinion, is the smell of farts liberally laced with the smell of chemical, mountain-fresh deodorant. But for the sake of this article, let’s pretend the port head doesn’t exist since I haven’t actually entered that part of the boat in over six months.

The starboard head is the one I am responsible for at present. It must work. Frankly, you can forego a lot of luxuries in your quest for thrills and adventure, but you can’t avoid going number one. Or number two, for that matter. And the unfortunate reality is that it is illegal to throw your crap overboard into the Puget Sound. By the way, ardent environmentalist that I am, I actually do have a problem with this policy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Puget Sound regularly flushes itself twice a day. Moreover, Victoria and Vancouver to the north pump the entire output of TWO major metropolitan areas into this enormous waterway to no apparent negative environmental effect.

But even if the DNR were willing to let you poop overboard while sailing from here to Gig Harbor, the bottom line is that you couldn’t do that while tied up to a marina anyway. At some point, the potty must work. And because the sewage system on our boat is technically an “interior task”, it is my responsibility to ensure its continued functioning.

This totally sucks, because the head is a really nasty business, and it breaks frequently. There is a rule on boats, “If you haven’t eaten it, it doesn’t go into the head.” And that works pretty well to prevent a majority of your head stoppages. However, everyone in my family makes large turds. I swear to god. I’ve tried everything, up to and including a really, REALLY high fiber diet. Nevertheless they manage to break the head at least once every five days.

And when they break the head, the only solution is to tear the damn thing apart. I’ve learned how to do this now with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of speed. However, the early days were rough going. On one memorable occasion, I was treated to a graphic demonstration of the old axiom, “Shit flows downhill.” Now I know better and pump gallons of salt water through the system before I tear apart the pumps.

I’ve also learned not to always assume that the problem is in the outflow. Often, the reason your head doesn’t work is that something is blocking the raw water intake. Ceterus parabis, I’d rather tear apart the sea water intake and not touch family excrement to resolve the issue. However, as with any problem in which Murphy has a vested interest, the trouble with the head is inevitably in the last part of the system you examine.

I believe I’ve also stumbled on a satisfactory, and largely organic, method to keep the smell down. We use a natural tank treatment called Bactain. My girls tell me that the brown liquid smells like compost pile as it goes in, but it does wonders to prevent worse smells from coming out. We also swish the bowl with two squirts of Simple Green every night before we go to bed. This fights the buildup of toilet bowl bacteria. Just before we pump out, we fill the bowl with vinegar and let it sit for an hour. Then we pump it into the pipes and let it sit again. Then into the tank for the final pump out and rinse. Finally, we always run at least a full tank worth of water through the system at pump out.

I know that at least my children checked out of this fact filled article many paragraphs ago with a heart felt, “TMI.” I can’t really say I blame you if you’ve abandoned me, this time. Let’s face it. This subject stinks.


Cap'n Franko said...

As your faithful Latin semi-expert, allow me to correct a slight error. Parabus should be paribus, ablative plural. And speaking of ablative case, allow me to suggest a motto: spucatum defluet monte, where monte is ablative of place from which (mountain/hill) the spucatum flows down (defluo, -ere, thus defluet - third-person singular). A translation of spucatum is left as an exercise for the reader.

Cap'n Franko said...

Oh yeah, and ceterus should be ceteris, ablative of comparison (plural - just like paribus). Aside from that, you got it exactly right. (grin) So: ceteris paribus.

Frank senectobarbus (kinda like "eminence grise" but without the positive connotations!)

Anonymous said...

Well, in our house since we do not speak Latin, we call this problem, the turdis maximus. LOL.

Toast said...

Well great Frank... now I can't fix it or the comments become meaningless. *laughs* I will however take it underus etvisamenti if I ever get a chance to publish this one anywhere else.

Cap'n Franko said...

You could just correct it and delete my comments. Think of it as a proofreader's pass! You deleted a comment from the "10 reasons not to homeschool" post, didn'tcha? I noticed that Diana J. left a comment on that one. I wonder if she remembered/realized that y'all were at the unschooling conference. (She's the one who lost her husband to cancer, then a few years later lost her daughter to it, too; and that's how she became a single-child single parent.)

Frank, imperator capitum spucatorum