Cadence is the first boat we have ever owned that is substantial enough to warrant anything more than a porta-potty. She is equipped with a fine Wilcox Critenden head, holding tank, macerator (God I love that word) and all kinds of hoses, sea-cocks, valves and what-not. In my humble opinion the head system is third in complexity behind the engine and electrical system and un-matched in being diabolic.
One of the joys of sailing are the terms. One of my favorites is the delicately named Black Water, ie. the stuff in the holding tank not the former name of a "security" firm.
Towards the end of Saturday's sail, the teenage boys who were aboard took no end of delight in pointing out that there was a stink on-board. Sure enough, the head was acting up and black water was trickling back from the holding tank into the bowl. Uh Oh! I was equally disgusted and mystified. We had not used the boat enough to fill a 30 gallon holding tank. Time for a pump-out.
Challenge #1: I had to go three marine stores to find the right adapter for the waste pump-out - West Marine Fail x2. Lockwoods Boatworks Win.
Challenge #2: It was windy, choppy and a bad time to pull-up to the pump-out dock at RYC. Moreover my fenders suck.
Challenge #3: the pump-out machine was broken. Grrrr.
We had company coming aboard at 12 on Sunday, so we called them and told them before boarding the launch to go the bathroom twice as the head would be out of use. Thankful, they are very good friends and saw the funny side.
The wind was blowing 15-18kts, so we had a great sail. Even with a reef in we were healed over and blasting along. All smiles as you can see.
I thought it would be good idea to check below to make sure that things were OK in the head department.
Not so much.
In fact water was coming out of the head compartment and was running into the saloon. When I opened up the door into the heads, I was horrified. There was six inches of water swilling out above the shower grate, the bowl was over-brimming, the sink was full of water. In fact there was water as high as the lower lockers above the sink. These lockers were flooded and everything in the lockers was floating around. Won't be using that toothbrush again.
This water wasn't exactly black, it was actually quite clear but there was enough toilet paper floating around in it to know exactly whence it had emanated.
I closed all the sea-cocks. Yes I know, I should have done that earlier. The sump pump was of limited use as it kept blocking-up with toilet paper. Joy! As the water level was not rising any more I thought we would be OK but we headed home all the same.
After our friends left the boat, we bailed out the water in the heads, wiped up as best we could and observed.
Bad news. There was still a foul trickle of black water working its way back into the bowl. It was enough that it would eventually fill the bowl. We went back to the club, had dinner and then returned to the boat to check on it. The bowl was full. We pumped it out but still the trickle came back.
There was no option but to sleep on-board and take her to a pump-out station the next day at a nearby marina. We set the alarm to go off every 2 hours and took it in turns to get up, pump out the black water, go back to sleep, repeat...
We woke early next day and were able to find a place to offload the tank which was full to the brim. It was here that we discovered part of the problem. The Y valve was switched the wrong way and as we were sailing along healed over at speed, water was siphoning into the holding tank through the outlet. We were essentially giving Cadence an enema.
I used this opportunity to get to understand our marine head and waste system a little better. It looks like it was not well-engineered. It's missing at least one if not two vented loops. I am bit surprised this did not come up in the survey. Lastly, I also think the incredibly aptly named joker valve needs replacing.
Anyway, it could have been worse. One of the launch drivers told me about how a blocked head exploded back into his face when he pumped it too hard. In his case the black water was not diluted. Made me wretch to think about it.
The epilogue made it all worthwhile. On Tuesday, we opened the door to a lovely package - a fine bottle of champagne and a toilet plunger. Thanks Mark and Isabelle!