Alan Littlefield tackles some heady heights on his Bavaria 44, Dreamagic, on the eve of the 2009 Cairns-Louisiades Rally.
I am not generally fond of toilet humour. It's not a funny subject, but heads on yachts seem to be a never-ending source of conversation among yachties. Technology has made huge progress in such a short period of time. We have had a man on the moon for 30 years, my phone can tell me where I am and how to get anywhere I want to go, and yet we still can't design a trouble-free method of disposing of our waste without drama.
Dreamagic boasts two heads. The yacht designer thoughtfully put them both on the port side, which makes paying a visit a breeze while sailing on starboard tack, and unflushable should we be foolish enough to want to sail on port tack.
One of Dramagic's heads is a simple flush-out model but the other is fitted with a large electronic device that macerates the waste, then electrifies it, turning it into nutritious fish food, or something like that. Mine prefers to sit sulking while all efforts to make it do anything electronic fail, and then start macerating and electrocuting at about 2am. It also gets confused as to which way the exit is, with smelly and starling results.
I have had many people look at the head. Boards have been removed and replaced, ammeters, voltmeters, and any number of other probes have been stuck in every orifice but still it will work intermittently, spewing its regurgitated contents alternatively over the side or back into the boat as it sees fit. Well, as I and not it is master of the boat, I decided it was time for drastic action.
I decided that what it didn't have and did need was a vented loop. This would, in my experience as a photocopier salesman, fix the problem. The task seemed simple enough. Cut the waste pipe leading from the unit to the seacock, fit two elbow joiners and a loop with a vent in the top.
Having purchased the required hoses, vent, hose clips etc. I set about the task. First flush the head. Then flush it again. Then again. Then cut the pipe. Then get buckets of water to wash down the inside of the shower cubicle where flushing three times obviously still hadn't removed all the waste. I had already made up the loop and connected the joiners, I just needed to push the ends into the cut pipe and secure with hose clips to complete the job. Unfortunately, due to calcium buildup (I like to think it's calcium) the inside diameter of the old pipe was now smaller than the joiner and despite my best efforts, refused to mate.
Heat is often employed to soften the pipe so that it will stretch over the joiner. However, the area is not that accessible and numerous kettles of boiling water failed to produce the required results. It did a remarkable job of taking the skin off my fingers though.
I decided that reinforcements were in order and called a friend. Matt arrived with a heat gun and the job was completed with little fuss. I mentioned that the waste stop valve was a bit sticky so while we had the gun aboard Matt pointed it at the valve and also freed that mechanism.
The currency used on Dreamagic for work done is beer. It was a hot day in Cairns and the cost was obviously going to be high, but it was a job well done. As the sun set and the tales got as long as the shadows, nature took its course and the head was employed.
Curiously, on pumping the head it now made a sort of hissing sound. I assumed that this was what vented loops do, they vent. Mine is hidden behind a door so I couldn't actually see it in action, but I was confident that this was all normal, if a little noisy.
After my turn, Matt also used the head. Being more inquisitive than I he opened the door to observe the vented loop now squirting a steady stream of liquid at a height I could never have achieved, even in my youth.
We must remember to leave the stop cock open when we use the head.
And as is the irony of these things, my macerating, electrifying fishfood maker has now decided to cooperate and is working perfectly.