Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The poo problem

Sliding open the companionway of an old boat is always an event unto itself. It's not like swinging open the front door of a house. It's a movement that takes conscious effort, and an action that is almost always followed by some sort of surprise.

Usually when I push open the companionway, I'm just greeted by a sudden puff of musty, moldy air. However, sometimes it has been the overwhelming smell of bananas, which were left on board for a week. Once it was water seeping up from the cabin sole when the bilge pump had died. Any of those surprises would have been preferable to the odors that rose up through the hatch and figuratively punched me in the olfactory system.

Urine. The boat absolutely reeked of urine.

I had just installed a new Y-valve that made the holding tank functional for the first time in years, so we had been occasionally taking advantage of the on-board toilet for the past two weekends, flushing into what we THOUGHT was an empty holding tank.

The tank had emptied itself into the V-berth bilge, and this dark, thick liquid was sloshing around under the bed.

I did not take photo. It was too disgusting.

I poured bleach into the bilge and watched it angrily foam. Then I pumped out the bilge into multiple buckets and carried away the filth. That was followed by a rinse of clean bleach water.

And then the dark water rose again.

The tank wasn't empty. It was still completely full. We had apparently been flushing into a mostly full tank that must have sat full for years and years. I was amazed it had never leaked before.

I attempted to use a pump-out cart to pump out the tank, but got minimal results as it was just accelerating the leakage in the bilge.

At that point I had to open the access port on top of the tank and begin pumping it out with a small hand pump. It took 8 buckets before we got it down to the thick sludge in the bottom that then promptly clogged the hand pump.

With the source of the chocolate fountain eliminated, I pumped out and cleaned the bilge again.

This seems to be the culprit.

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The pump-out hose attaches at the base of the tank. My hope is that it is just leaking at the hose connection, but it might be where the elbow connects to the tank. I'd like to pull the tank and relocate the pump-out hose to the top, but to do this I have to cut open a huge section of the V-berth.

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I can't actually see this hose connection. I'm working blind through a 10" x 10" access panel, and I had to just stick a camera down in the crack and blindly snap photos to see with what I was dealing.

Having the hose foamed in with the tank makes just removing and replacing the hose even more of a task.

I might be able to snake a ratchet into the space to tighten the hose clamp, but I really don't want to face the consequences if that test fails as there is still some very nasty stuff in the bottom of the tank.

I did very well at not gagging or vomiting, but the idea of cleaning that sludge out of the tank through the access port has had my stomach in knots for two days.

I think I may let this project settle for a week or two before I dive back in.

This is definitely the worst part of boat ownership.



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