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Head Games


When we began this journey, there was a serious honeymoon phase, where we indulged fantasies of 54’ Amel monohulls and 52’ Leopard catamarans. But that was unrealistic and just for fun. The daydreaming, however, was not wasted, because we were able to glean significant information about boat configurations and systems. One of our top considerations was the head—the bathroom, to landlubbers.


The head is called the head because in days of yore the toileting facility was located under the figurehead on the bow, so it would be washed out with waves crashing over the ship. Aaargh. But in modern sailboats, heads are tidier affairs. In smaller boats they are usually a toilet/sink/shower combo that is large enough to wedge a skinny arse into, but small enough to inflict serious contusions if there is any kind of roll.


When we got to the serious shopping stage, we gravitated towards Beneteau sailboats, having chartered one a few years earlier, and when we found Camino, she came with two heads (and two cabins). We thought this was an ideal layout because, well, two heads are better than one. (Sorry; the Universe commanded that.) The logic is that if one head is out of service, there is a backup to use. And if we ever had guests or crew on board, that made for a nice setup


When we arrived on board Camino, we soon discovered that both heads needed some attention. In fact, they were blocked, and inoperational. This was not ideal. We needed a plan, and we needed it fast. Looking around the bay at the other sailboats bobbing happily on anchor we did not see anything that looked like a plumbing company. And because we are former innkeepers, we are well-acquainted with plumbing disasters. So we got to work.


Each head has its own holding tank. At the risk of being too graphic, after using the head, the customer pumps their effluent into the holding tank. The effluent is then pumped out or discharged at a later time and place. In the meantime, the poop gets to go sailing with you: “Where to next, Cap’n?”


Our holding tanks were full, and the outlet pipes were blocked, solidified with calcified excrement, which explained the archaeological interest in our boat. No doubt some dinosaur turd was lurking within, waiting to be discovered and rushed off to a museum. But we had more practical biological needs. So we ripped apart the aft holding tank, and we discovered that there was no pump out option. Not only that, but there were no pump out services available. That 3-mile limit for evacuating your boat’s bowels? Not so much down here. Yah, mon.


We waited for the outgoing tide and got to work, siphoning out bucket after bucket of rich Corinthian ass-water. When we had finally emptied the tank, we disassembled the outlet hose. Sure enough, it was packed with fossilized crap. We banged on the hose, loosening the mess, and it flowed out, accompanied by the strains of John Williams’s “Theme from Jurassic Park.” That music reflected our relief, and we quickly reassembled the plumbing and the next morning we began to cheerfully refill the holding tank.


We got lucky with the forward holding tank, which, after some cajoling, relieved itself. Both tanks were cleaned, flushed, and given healthy doses of vinegar, which will be a regular part of their maintenance going forward. (Dinosaur poop hates vinegar.)


There is a big psychological element at work here: knowing you have functioning plumbing relieves a certain amount of rectal apprehension. You stop looking at food and wondering about its consequences. That doesn’t mean we made a run for Taco Bell; we’re not that irresponsible. But curries were back in circulation, and I was able to uninstall the safety line on the transom, if you know what I mean.


So if whales can do it, dolphins can do it, even educated Coelacanths can do it, now we can de do do do it, too

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