Precautionary note: Every cruiser has a nasty plumbing story, and this is ours. This is a gross, unfortunate, and embarrassing tale.
Our main head broke at the end of last season. It completely stopped working to the point that you couldn’t even move the pump in or out, and we weren’t really sure why. Not wanting to begin any projects when we were about to go home, we sealed it up and left it as a ‘to-do’ for this season.
We ordered a new head from West Marine and were expecting it to arrive with a shipment of gear we had feight forwarded down to La Paz. While in waiting, about a week ago, I decided to give the old girl one last try. To my astonishment, after a few strong pumps whatever was inside freed up and she pumped easily and smoothly once again. The water drained out of the bowl with minimal effort.
I excitedly called up to Will, “Hey! Guess what? You won’t believe this: the head works again!”.
“No… Really?”, he exclaimed incredulously as he jumped down the companionway to see for himself. “What did you do?”
“Nothing – I just pumped it. I think it fixed itself”.
And awesome it was. Until yesterday afternoon.
We started our the afternoon working on a fun wiring project. In order to connect our VHF radio to our chartplotter, we needed to run a wire from the middle of the boat to the cockpit. Part of the wire’s route would be under the aft berth so we lifted up our mattress and took out the wooden boards to have a look.
A funny smell wafted up. “It smells like something died in here,” I said to Will.
“No, no, it’s just the remnants of the Barnacle Buster flush that we did on our engine last week. It has a strange smell,” Will explained. “We splashed a lot of it in the bilge and it’s worked its way all over the boat – which is why the bilge pump keeps going off. It’s still draining out.” He had been mopping up water in the bilges for days now.
“Sure is a lot of water,” I said, somewhat appeased with the explanation.
The next area for the wiring was underneath our pantry cupboard, which is behind the aft head. We moved out all of the cans, cereals, and pastas to get the wooden shelves out.
As Will pulled out the bottom board, he let out a bloodcurdling yell. His mind worked quickly: “What the ****… Oh my god …. Noooo!!!!”
I didn’t clue in until I looked over his shoulder and into the compartment that is behind the ghastly head. There was about a foot and a half of ‘liquid’ back there, stagnating behind the bulkhead.
Our reaction was one of hysterical laughter, followed by gagging. Oh horror of horrors, all that bilge water was actually sewage.
How stupid are we? Of course a boat problem does not just ‘fix itself”. We are complete idiots for ever entertaining such an idea. My amazing ‘fix’ of the head had actually been the discharge hose popping off the valve that allows it to be pumped overboard or into the holding tank. The discharge hose had been feeding itself back into our boat for a week. Ewwwww!!!!
Needless to say, the past two days have been spent sponging, soaking, washing, bleaching, sweating, and calling ourselves names. As we delved further into the mess and took of the existing sanitation hoses, we found the real culprit: every single part of the discharge system hosing (2” OD) was clogged down to less than a ¼ inch.
So that is our gruesome tale for today. It has been a gory Halloween.
(We promise, for those of you who will be visiting, this boat and her bilges are now cleaner than they have ever been.)