I have been wandering this planet for 47 years. In those 47 years I have done my fair share of dirty jobs. I have actually spent a bit of time in an outhouse in Fallujah. Up until last week the Fallujah outhouse took the prize for the most horrific smell in the history of humans smelling stuff. Jamie actually put earplugs in her nose. “I can taste it” are words nobody every wants to utter when referring to smells. The smell was so insidiously evil it circumvented Jamie’s nasal ear plug defense, and went straight for her taste buds. Seriously, I would rather spend time locked in a phone booth drinking milkshakes with a lactose intolerant crackhead, than ever have to experience the smell of ruptured holding tank effuse infused spray foam again. That’s what we discovered when we removed the sole on our starboard side. We knew it was going to be bad when we decided to tackle the job of replacing our holding tank. I had no idea how bad…
Truth be told we were a bit surprised that we had to replace our holding tank. I actually asked our surveyor to put his eyes on the tank during the survey. He told me it looked good. His report stated that it was a 50 gallon tank, in good condition. What we found when we removed the floorboards was much smaller, and good was not the word I would use to describe the condition. It was definitely not original equipment, and whoever put the tank in did an absolutely horrible job. Had the surveyor given me an accurate report, I definitely would have included the price of plumbing replacement in my offer.
Several cans worth of spray foam were used as support, and the tank was spray adhesive to the foam. An enormous inspection port on top of the tank had decided that watertight integrity was not its thing, and a huge stain surrounded the plastic screw top. The spray foam acted like a giant sponge. It had been thoroughly soaked in a vile concoction of urine, feces, and smell masking chemicals…several years worth. The icing on top of this turd cake was that the foam was just abrasive enough to break rubber gloves with alarming regularity. We struggled to remove the foam without contaminating everything that surrounded it…including ourselves. We went through two boxes of gloves as well. I have to hand it to Jamie…she persevered.
The plan was to remove the tank, plug up the inlet/outlet ports with wooden bungs, and seal off the ends of the hoses coming from the toilets. The plan was solid, and it mostly worked. Once we hacked away enough foam, we were able to peel the tank out of its space. We had hoped that the contractor grade trash bags would be big enough to contain the tank. It wasn’t. The bag contained half of the tank, and none of its contents. My brand new jeans contained most of the contents. The tank was manhandled to a nearby dumpster, and my brand new jeans followed shortly thereafter. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.
Once the tank was gone, we were pretty proud of ourselves. We were certain that the worst part of the job was over, and that replacing the lines would be fairly simple. Nope. The lines removal/replacement was just as bad as the tank removal with one exception. The lines fit into the trash bags without spilling any of their contents. Once the old lines were gone, we again thought the worst was over. Nope.
I am truly puzzled by what I encountered when trying to install the new lines. “How can I make this really hard for the next guy” were the words going through the mind of whoever installed our sanitation lines. There is nothing anyone can say that can convince me that that’s not the case. The routes these lines took were more circuitous than a spiral staircase. Unnecessarily so I might add. Also the previous installer either had the smallest hands ever, or he used child labor. Had I not used a dremel tool, my hands would probably still be stuck somewhere behind the forward toilet. We did a lot of wrangling, twisting, pushing, pulling, and cussing but we finally got the lines plumbed.
Once we finished the lines we thoroughly cleaned the space where the tank had been. No amount of scrubbing was going to remove the stain, so we put down a few coats of bilge paint as well. Since the Hunter Legend was a fairly popular production boat, my thoughts were that there would be plenty of tanks available. Barring that, I thought at least there would be plans/technical drawings available. Wrong on both counts. Nobody had a tank that would fit, or plans for a tank that would fit. I called locals hoping to find someone to make us a tank…4 locals to be exact. Well I called three, the 4th only provided an email addy. He called me from a blocked phone. The three I was able to telephone all made appointments that they never showed up for. The 4th, whose number I never received, actually showed up…3.5 hours late. He called me as I was sitting down to dinner (nowhere near the boat) wondering where I was. When I reminded him that our appointment was at 4:30, and it was now 8:00 his retort was that he couldn’t control traffic. He then angrily hung up only to call five minutes later asking me when I wanted to reschedule.
Since finding a local to manufacture a tank was a bit like pulling teeth, we decided to call Dura-Weld in Lake Worth, Florida (www.dura-weld.com). Gareth was very helpful, and his prices are very reasonable. Jamie built a foam mockup that fit perfectly into the space. We took the measurements from the mockup, and sent them to Gareth. He sent back a technical drawing, and a price. I gave him my credit card number, and as of this typing we are a few short weeks away from receiving a brand new custom tank.
This project sucked…It’s not something I really ever want to do again. I’m sure Jamie feels the same way. But, we are now experts on our sanitation system. And, all of it is brand new. If anything goes wrong we now know exactly how to fix it. There is a lot of freedom in knowing that we never have to call an “expert” for our plumbing. We are our own experts. Every job we do ourselves saves us a ton of money as well. Jamie and I got this job done for well under a thousand dollars. Doing the job ourselves has increased our confidence level exponentially. We are starting to look at other projects in a different light. Projects we thought we would pay someone else for are now going to be done ourselves. There is also a ton of freedom in knowing that we can now venture farther than the limits of our bladders when sailing. And, I know I am going to smile when I don’t have to walk a block to pee at 5am.