Saturday, August 31, 2013

Smelly business

Before we left the boatyard last month, one of the the jobs that we had to do was to insert our paddle wheel. The paddle wheel goes through the bottom of the hull and as we
are moving along it is turned by the water, allowing our navigation system to tell us how fast we are going relative to the water. Unfortunately we couldn’t put it in while we were out of the water as the slings used to move the boat go right over it and would break it. What needed to happen was for us to pull out the existing stopper and replace it with the paddle wheel as quickly as possible to allow the least amount of water in as possible. The thought of this was terrifying to us! When water came in the other day when we had the engine realigned, it was a completely different story as that was a mere trickle in comparison and we had the reassurance of a professional that this was “normal.” It's still not that normal though!

We did a trial run while we were out of the water which turned out to be an awesome idea as the stopper was so tight Bryce needed to go outside and push it through. Not such an easy option when the boat is in the water! When it came time to actually insert the wheel, I wanted to take photos but I needed to be standing by with a towel to stuff in the hole to stop the influx of water in case anything went wrong. When Bryce pulled out the stopper and for a few terrifying seconds before he got the paddle wheel in, water gushed and spurted into the boat. It stopped as soon as he got the paddle wheel placed.
Bryce - ready to go!
Since we haven’t been moving much the past few weeks, we needed to remove the paddle-wheel again as it would be getting caked in marine growth.
The paddle wheel... and it was caked in marine growth...
This time the procedure was much less terrifying and I was able to take photos (while still on standby with a towel)! I was only able to get this one action shot before Bryce’s head got in the way but it’s pretty cool!
Access to the paddle wheel is through a hole in the floorboards, 
which happens to be underneath the spares storage cupboard.
Bryce is just about to put the stopper in to stop the water coming in.
The other big job that has been taking up our time this week isn’t as cool. We have spent the majority of the week dealing with odors coming from the head holding tank. It started out of the blue and has progressively gotten worse.  We have discovered that this is the result of a really poorly designed system. Actually potentially well designed, but poorly implemented.  Apparently, telling prospective buyers that the waste back flows from the toilet into the shower and sink isn’t the way to sell a boat! 

The holding tank is the storage component of the entire head system. You can read a general overview of our system here. The holding tank has five (sealed) openings in it: 1) In from the toilet/sink/shower, 2) Out to the hand-pump and the sea, 3) Out to the macerator and the sea, 4) an inspection hatch & 5) a vent hose that goes out the back of the boat. Before we left the boat last weekend, we plugged the sink and shower in the head in an attempt to isolate the stench. When the smells started, our immediate thought was that the vent had gotten blocked a few weeks ago when the holding tank overflowed. In setting about to fix that we discovered that the vent hose is annoyingly and impractically long, weaving through a mess of other hoses and cables, under one of the beds, before going through the hull and up the back stay. It should also have the tank being the low point in the line to prevent blocks but this is not the case as the majority of the hose runs below the tank. We unhooked the hose and ran it into a bucket in the bilge, creating a low point, and a fair amount of nasty “stuff” ran out. We were pretty excited to think that we had solved the problem. 

The next day we went to leave the boat and set about cleaning it up for our boat-sitter. Our final task as we were walking out the door was to pour some activated yeast into the holding tank. We had read that the boost in good bacteria helped combat odor. The second that we poured the yeast down the toilet, our gas alarm went off and with it our chances of going back to Brisbane that afternoon as well as having a hot lunch! Installing the gas alarm was our first successful project on the boat together and the benchmark for all successful jobs! The gas alarm sniffer is located in the bilge since gas settles and it sounds an alarm in the presence of flammable gas. So when it went off, we quickly turned on the bilge blower, which is basically a fan to vent the bilge. It seems that pouring down the yeast inspired a large burst of methane into the boat!

Given that when the holding tank overflowed we saw it come through the inspection hatch, our next thought was to clean that off and make sure it was securely tightened with liquid gasket. In the process of cleaning it off, we discovered that our inspection hatch is actually transparent, as opposed to the opaque hatch that we thought it was! Gross, right?  This of course falls under my area of expertise as disgusting job specialist. Lucky me! When we had the hatch off, we covered the opening with plastic wrap to create a bit of a barrier but as we also had the vent hose detached, the airflow into the tank gave the glad wrap the appearance that the tank was breathing. It added to the terror! But anyway, with a clear inspection hatch we can now (disgustingly) see very clearly into the tank and hopefully prevent further overflows as we will be able to see how full the tank is at any given time. We also flushed the vent line, first with water, then CLR (Calcium, Lime & Rust), then another dose of water. We hoped that this solved the problem. We have learned from the boat-sitter, who now no longer needs to have their name hidden as they are in no danger of having guests after this post, that we did not fix the problem. In researching what could be the problem we have discovered a lot of shortcomings in our system and that it potentially does need to be upgraded. We have several working ideas but have some jobs we need to do at the boat first to rule out other issues. We are awaiting delivery of, along with our engine parts, this book which will hopefully offer some more insight into fixing this latest disaster!


  1. Alissa we are setting up our new caravan and the tow car for our land journeys. I think a boat is infinitely more complex by the sound of it. I can relate to the backflow problem as the first night we had the van I stepped into the toilet/shower compartment into tepid liquid sloshing around the floor. At that stage the light was not on and I really freeked thinking the toilet was leaking and I was standing in sewage. Yikes. But thankfully it was only the washing up water which had come up from the common waste pipes(for shower and kitchen sink) when the outlet pipe was kinked. This time next week I will be unemployed and redundant! Not sure if that is good or bad .... hopefully it will all work out. When do you finally get under way? Regards and best wishes Lurline

    1. Hi Lurl! I'm sure you are having a great time with the new caravan and will continue to have many more adventures with your newly acquired free time! We are still waiting for parts but will hopefully be on our way soon!