In the bowels of the boat

Boats have marine toilets. They look a lot like the toilets you are used to on land but work a little differently. You don’t just press a button and empty a days drinking water down the drain. Instead you pump a lever which sucks sea water out of the ocean and uses that to wash everything clean. At the same time the pump empties the contents out of the bowl. There is a switch with which you decide if you would like to empty straight in to the ocean – the preferred solution out at sea – or in to a holding tank on-board – when in a harbour or a bay. The contents of the tank can later be pumped out once you are back out in the middle of nowhere.

Artemis plumbing – with blockages

A great system that is flexible and reliable – until it breaks. The first indication we had that something was amiss was when it became harder to work the pump to empty the bowl. Shortly thereafter the pump to empty the tank began to sound as if it was working harder and then stopped working.

I was pretty sure the problem was a blockage in the outlet pipes as this is a “standard” problem on most boats that occurs every couple of years. I disconnected the outlet from the tank pump and was rewarded with a spume of dirty looking slurry. After that is was “just” a case of bending myself in to the hot, tiny space in front of the toilet, dismantling all the other pipes, beating them on the dock to break the calcium build up, washing them through and re-assembling. Really important was to assure that absolutely everything was very tight as most of the piping is below sea level and a break could lead to a sunken boat. Four hours later, and with Heidi’s help to feed hoses through tight spaces, everything was working again.

Once I had showered off the sweat and the all pervading smell of slurry, I was happy that everything was working. I drew a plan of the system so I would know how everything works next time and searched the Internet for some way to avoid the problem. Unfortunately the expert opinion seems to be that it is just a part of boat ownership so learn to like it.

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