This boat has a way of testing us in ways we never imagined.
After being away from the boat for over 7 months we came back to a boat full of black mould – again! When we bought the boat it was full of black mould from being closed up for a long time and it took months to get it cleaned. During the 7 months away we had developed two new water leaks from deck fittings and this moisture in a closed dark warm environment was just perfect for the spread of black mould. Getting rid of black mould is nasty – working with bleach in closed poorly ventilated spaces requires gloves and masks and is just plain hard work. There was black mould everywhere and it took us weeks to again get rid of it.
We repaired the leaks and then decided that we needed to get ahead of the maintenance curve. It looked like the sealant around the deck fittings was getting to the end of its useful life and starting to fail. We decided to replace the sealant on all the deck fittings including the 3 hatches. Working with Fix 15 (the best description is ‘liquid rubber’) is not far behind getting rid of black mould. It is excellent at keeping water out but not easy to work with. If it gets where it is not supposed to be, the only way to remove it is ‘mechanical removal’ – just some fancy words for having to remove it with great difficulty with a scraper.
We have some experience with Fix 15 and managed to seal all the deck fittings and hatches without getting it where it was not supposed to be and then repainted the areas. And so we naively thought that we were now ahead of the maintenance curve (with the deck fittings at least) and that would be the end of water leaks.
We finished resealing the deck fittings about 3 weeks ago and Peter went off to New Zealand for 2 weeks to finally meet his granddaughter.
The weather in New South Wales has been terrible for the past few days with a month’s rain falling in the space of a few days and the first chance we got to get back on the boat after the rains was on Sunday. Peter went out on his own, opened the boat and looked around and everything seemed dry. He shone a torch in all the dark hard to reach places and everything looked great, not a drop of water. As a last check he opened the engine bay to look in the bilge and…….yip, you guessed it, the bilge was full of water! Lots of it! He may have uttered a word or two that cannot be repeated.
A quick taste test revealed that it was fresh water which meant that we had another leak on the deck somewhere – but where? As he was poking around in the engine bay to try and find the source, a drop of water landed on his head. The leak was in the cockpit. The wheel housing is bolted to the cockpit floor but there is a fairly large hole under the wheel housing into the engine bay to accommodate the autopilot.
The sealant around the housing had failed – by the looks of it some time ago – and with the heavy rains and the open cockpit, the water had built up in the cockpit and drained through the failed sealant into the bilge. So much for getting ahead of the maintenance curve. We had hoped to finish the head this week – that is a story for another post – but this week will be spent replacing the sealant around the housing. Once the sealant has been replaced the cockpit will have to be repainted.
The only upside in all of this is that it failed now and not while we were out in the middle of the ocean.
We’re trying really hard to get the boat ready to sail north when the weather window opens but the boat is being very uncooperative at this point. We will however persevere!
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who famously said “I have a dream.” We have one too.
It’s bad, very bad!
It has been over 7 months since my last blog post and I have spent most of that time in South Africa. It wasn’t supposed to be such a long trip. In October 2018 my mother, who at that stage lived in South Africa, injured her back and was told she needed emergency surgery to fix the problem. It was fairly straightforward surgery – a laminectomy and spinal fusion – but given my mother’s age I was concerned about possible complications. I decided to go to South Africa for 6 weeks to be there in case of possible complications.
Six weeks turned into 6 months. The neurosurgeon who did the surgery made a real mess and things just went from bad to worse. During the surgery, the neurosurgeon managed to get bone cement into my mother’s venous system and not long after the surgery she suffered a bleed on the brain followed by a hydrocephalous and passed away not long after that.
The healthcare system in South Africa is just a disgrace. Most of the good healthcare professionals have emigrated and those that are left behind are so busy making money that they care about little else. During one of the heated discussions I had with the neurosurgeon about the poor standard of healthcare in South Africa, the neurosurgeon said to me, “This is South Africa, don’t expect first world standards.” Unbelievable!
The rest of the country is no better. During the six months in South Africa there were frequent periods of rolling power blackouts – referred to as load shedding. There were some days where there was no power for 8 hours. Eskom – South Africa’s state owned power utility – was once one of the world’s leading power utilities but through incompetence and mismanagement is now just a disaster. Eskom now has so much debt (in excess of US$30b) that there is no way they will ever be able to repay it. Eskom now simply relies on state funding to keep going. It is just not sustainable and it is only a question of time before South Africa becomes another failed African country like Zimbabwe. South African Airways (SAA) and the SABC – both state owned – are in no better shape.
Just how bad is Eskom? This article by The Washington Post sums it up.
In addition to all the other challenges, the unemployed masses are unhappy with the way they are being treated and have now resorted to service delivery protests to make their concerns known. These service delivery protests often take the form of buildings being burned or trucks being stoned.
This is what a recent service delivery protest in Port Elizabeth looks like from the inside of a truck. How the poor truck driver managed to keep it together I have no idea.
There is a total disregard for the rule of law and the levels of incompetence and corruption are mind boggling. It really is sad to see such a lovely country being wrecked.
It was Joseph de Maistre who once said ” Every country has the government it deserves”. If you keep on voting incompetent, self serving and corrupt politicians into power, things will keep on getting worse.
With the magnitude of challenges on the existing plumbing we made a decision to replace the existing toilet with a composting toilet. But first we would have to rip the existing system out. It would also be a good time to give the head a makeover. There were over 50 holes in the walls and it appeared that the plumbing had been moved several times and new holes drilled on each occasion. Given the amount of movement that happens in boats, the holes would have to be filled with epoxy and everything sanded before paint could be applied. The rotten wood in the passage next to the head would also have to be removed and replaced.
The head went from looking like this:
To looking like this:
Whilst we were at it, we painted the cupboards and gave the wood work a fresh coat of varnish.
The passage next to the head went from looking like this:
To looking like this:
Deciding on a composting toilet proved to be more complicated than originally anticipated. From the research we did, it appears that there are three composting toilets suitable to boats. The discussions on most boating forums center around these three toilets. They are, Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet; Airhead Waterless Composting Toilet and C-Head Composting Toilet. Nature’s Head and Airhead have representation in Australia but C-Head do not. The Nature’s Head retails for A$1 540, the Airhead for A$1 690 and the C-Head for US$799 but it would cost an additional US$200 to have the C-Head sent to Australia and we could possibly also be in for import duty.
The Nature’s Head dealer happened to be on our way back from Surfer’s Paradise and we called in on them to have a look at the units. We were suitably impressed with the unit and the dealer was really helpful.
For us there are a number of considerations:
- Space is the major consideration. The area available in the head is fairly small. The smallest of the units is the C-Head but with no Australian representation we quickly discarded this as an option. The Airhead is slightly smaller than the Nature’s Head and also has the advantage of being able to be installed flush against a wall. The Nature’s Head requires a 50mm clearance at the back to lift the seat to remove the liquids container.
- Both the Nature’s Head and the Airhead require ventilation and the manufacturers of both recommend a large hole be cut in the deck to mount the vent. We did however come across a blog post of someone who built a composting toilet in a boat without a vent and a Youtube video of someone using a Nature’s Head in a RV without a fan and neither complained of any smell. We have a small vent on the deck for the black tank and, if possible, want to use this vent as the vent for the composting toilet. The only problem is the existing vent is less than half the size recommended by Nature’s Head and Airhead. We sent both companies emails and asked for their comments on our idea. The Airhead manufacturer felt that the idea wouldn’t work but the Nature’s Head distributor in Australia felt that, although not ideal, it would probably work. The problem is compounded by the fact that the fan for the Nature’s Head is mounted on the toilet (effectively pushing air out) but the fan for the Airhead is mounted on the deck (effectively pulling air out).
It is a catch-22 situation. We prefer the Nature’s Head due to the cost (they are both effectively doing exactly the same thing so the extra cost is not justified) and being able to use the existing vent, but it is slightly bigger and needs the clearance at the back to lift the seat to remove the liquids container. The Airhead is smaller and can be mounted flush against a wall but would require that we cut a large hole in the deck, something we are reluctant to do, and is more expensive. Every hole on the deck is just another potential problem and we have enough holes on the deck as it is.
After weeks of messing around, rather unsuccessfully, with the head on the boat, it was a welcome relief to have a few days away from the boat. Peter’s daughter and son-in-law needed to get away from the weather in New Zealand and get some sun and were going to spend a week in Surfers Paradise in Queensland. We would be joining them for a few days. It would also be a good time to catch up with one of Margaret’s good friends that she hadn’t seen for a while. Debbie lives in Queensland and we would spend a night with her before continuing north. We are, as a general rule, not in favour of Airbnb having had some unpleasant experiences in the past, but the only reasonably priced accommodation we could find was with Airbnb. We were pleasantly surprised with our Airbnb accommodation in Ballina.
Surfers Paradise is essentially a holiday destination with row upon row of high-rise holiday accommodation. It is certainly a favourite among Australians and New Zealanders.
It is a short trip from Surfers Paradise to Byron Bay which must rank as one of the top Australian tourist destinations. It is not hard to see why.
We had heard of Nimbin in New South Wales and, as we were close by with a few hours to spare, decided to see what all the fuss is about. Nimbin has a population of just over 300 most of whom are doing their best to escape society. It has a reputation for being the drug capital of Australia with the authorities seemingly turning a blind eye.
We must admit, with all the frustrations on the boat head, there are some days when we could do with a visit to the ‘Happy High Herbs’ shop!
The initial plan was to replace all the pipes in the head on the assumption that they were the offending items and doing so would solve the problem of the nasty smell on the boat. We purchased good quality sanitation grade piping and replaced all of the outlet pipes from both the head and the black holding tank. This is not the most pleasant of tasks but after about a week we had managed to replace these pipes. We also ordered a new flapper valve even though we had replaced it in Adelaide less than a year ago. The flapper valve (on some systems referred to as the joker valve) is designed to stop water flowing back into the head and we had water flowing back into the head once we flushed the head.
Whilst doing the research for this project we read as much as possible to try and understand the plumbing and how it all functioned. We came across this article by Don Casey on how to install a head which proved very helpful. We have Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual which we find a really good resource. It now appeared that we had a new problem. The vented loop on the inlet side which prevents water siphoning back into the boat was fitted between the seacock and the pump whereas it should have been fitted between the pump and the head. The vented loop was in fact causing the pump to draw in air and water when the pump was activated. We would now have to redesign the inlet piping for the head.
It was also time to test the pump for the black (or waste) holding tank. The system is designed in such a way that by changing the position of the Y-valve the waste is pumped out of the black tank and discharged overboard. A separate Y-valve controls where the waste from the head is sent – either directly overboard or to the black tank. We disconnected the outlet pipe for the black tank from the Y-valve and put this into a bucket and activated the pump. The waste should have been drawn out of the black tank and deposited into the bucket. That, at least, was the theory. We could hear the pump running but nothing came out of the pipe. Further investigation revealed the problem. The pipe from the black tank to the pump did not actually go into the black tank but was simply connected over a filler type pipe mounted on the black tank. There is no way in the world it was ever going to work and it had clearly been installed just to satisfy the authorities if they ever did an inspection. Trying to drain the black tank with this arrangement would be like trying to drain a bathtub with a vacuum cleaner, it just isn’t possible. To complicate matters, the black tank was three quarters full and clearly had never been drained. What were they thinking!
To add to the problem, when we lifted the floor in the passage next to the head there was fungal growth. It was clear that water was leaking into this area. There were only two possibilities, either the inlet seacock was leaking or the black tank was leaking. We eliminated the inlet seacock as an option which left only the black tank. It would be possible to remove and replace the black tank but this would necessitate removing the head floor. Given the magnitude of the problems it was time to look at some alternatives.
We had some time ago come across composting toilets and thought that if we ever had to replace a toilet in a RV or a boat we would seriously consider a composting toilet. Those that have them rave about them. They have their challenges, but then so do all toilets in RV’s and boats. It was time to have another look at composting toilets.
But first we would have to find some way to drain and flush the holding tank. There is little doubt that the holding tank and the leak from it are the cause of the nasty smell on the boat. At least we know what the problem is, now we can fix it.
The Kangaroo in the picture at the top stopped by to say hello as I was walking from the boat to the caravan one evening.