Sounds great, but how much poop does she hold?

For the most part, people ask us the same questions. How big is this boat? How long will you be gone? Where do you plan to go? (Bafflingly) are you taking the kids? A couple of weeks ago, though, we had a practically-minded contractor friend ask us what, exactly, we did with all of the poop. Let me explain.

Original toilet, New pump. New hose.

Original toilet, new pump, new hose.

When Milou was built, Ze French were not concerned about protecting delicate bays and estuaries from human waste. The content of both heads (toilets, to you lubbers) were pumped directly overboard. Simple, effective, and now illegal in many, many places.

The retro-fit in place when we purchased Milou involved a soft bladder-style tank under the v-berth. As we’ve mentioned before, winterizing work on our boat that first year was…inadequate. Despite of the hefty fee we were charged, the decommissioning yard in Texas failed to do a number of things to protect the systems on our boat, and one of them was a failure to empty out the poo.

Poo, Imported from Texas. Frozen and thawed. Cracked fitting. Leaking Lone Star sewage.

Poo, Imported from Texas. Frozen and thawed. Cracked fitting. Leaking Lone Star sewage.

It turns out that when you park raw sewage in a plastic tube in Wisconsin over the winter said tube will crack and leak.

I should mention that our boat used to smell pretty bad. The previous owners had opted to just let a huge diesel leak continue unchecked (different story), which gave Milou a sour diesel smell. A little diesel odor is not so terrible–it’s a smell I associate with boats–but our diesel smell was a little over the top. When the bag of sh-t under the V-berth (our bed) began to thaw, it added this lovely smell to the mix. The bag had to go. It took up all of the prime storage under the V berth, and even when it was all the way full it only took up about a quarter of the volume of the storage area in which it sat. There had to be a more efficient way to store poop.

Up there under the mattress is where the poop used to live.

Up there under the mattress is where the poop used to live.

But first Michu had to remove the poop bag. It had about 25 gallons of waste in it–200 pounds, more or less. The fill, drain and vent hoses were all very stuck in place, so Michu made 6 wooden plugs, cut the hoses with a hack saw and quickly sealed them with the plugs. Then he realized that the thing was to heavy for him to lift. He filled a 5-gallon bucket and made three trips to the marina bathroom in order to dump them. Luckily, it was very early spring/late winter and nobody was there to smell him doing it. He was then able to wrestle the wiggly bag of gross out of the boat.

We replaced it with this:IMG_2189

A rigid polyethylene tank, 25 gallons, and all new hoses. It is mounted in the space where the air conditioner (also frozen and busted, after we paid to have it winterized) used to sit; getting rid of the AC gave us some closet space and made room for the new poop tank.

IMG_2756

Top of the waste tank. It is bolted down on mounting feet and then sandwiched in place with a plywood lid. When the going gets rough, the poop will hopefully stay put.

The poo still needs to be pumped out when the tank fills; it can also be discharged overboard if we are three miles or more offshore and not in the Great Lakes. Our fancy tank monitoring system consists of opening a closet door and looking at the side of the translucent tank to see how much more room we have to go. Last summer, we filled it 3/4 full over six days; we will probably need to empty it about every seven days.

Our aft head, sandwiched between the kids’ berths, still pumps directly overboard. It’s disconnected while we’re cruising the Great Lakes and coastal U.S, as it’s 100% illegal, but can be hooked up when we’re in remote locations. It also acts as a spare-parts holding area for the forward head.

Living on a sailboat is not for the squeamish. Dealing with waste is probably the most direct way to confront that reality; but hopefully our upgrades will make for a robust and contained system.

 

Tech geniuses

I know: looking at this fine website, you’re tempted to believe we are tech geniuses. Let me just disabuse you of that notion right now; Michu is an RN, and I used to be a chef before I started staying home with the kids. It’s frankly a miracle that I’m able to broadcast these words at all.

Tech support. Don't worry, the 9-year-old's on it.

Tech support. Don’t worry, the 9-year-old’s on it.

Hopefully some of you have tried to sign up for our reminder newsletter via email (it makes us feel loved!). Hopefully not all of you have received a glaring red “error” message. If you have: we’re working on it! And sorry for the delay. We know you’re all on pins and needles, waiting to hear about our new house battery bank.

ETA:

AAAAAAAND….Fixed. On the backs of the geniuses at Midphase, not through my own devices. Sign up, y’all.

Electronics overload

Kindle Paperwhite (times 3)
Garmin GPS
Laptop
iPad
VHF with AIS and DSC
iPod
Chromebook
Bluetooth speaker
DSLR camera
EPIRB
NMEA WiFi

Seriously.

In real life, we are not complete Luddites, but all you have to do to know where we’re at is to take a look at our phone. It is not smart. It’s barely intelligible. We have a tracphone, to which you can anonymously add minutes like a criminal, and we share one phone for the whole family.

As we plan for the next two years, however, we are suddenly feeling a need to have 500 different ways to connect with each other, other sailors, the world we’re leaving in our wake and the rest of the anonymous interwebs. Our boat is being loaded down with more computing power than was installed on the Apollo spacecraft; the autohelm alone has more processing oomph than any computer we owned in the 1990’s, and the new camera is smarter than our desktop Mini over there.

How much is enough? At what point can we find balance between the mostly-unplugged life we’re anticipating afloat, and the ability to access weather info when we need it? How often do we really need to check in with our land-life family and friends? Do we need to pay the big bucks for the Iridium GO package, or can we hang with just a WiFi extender antenna?

Yeah, we don’t know. We want to have options, but we need to protect our budget. We need emergency contact ability, but I’m not sure we need eight different avenues to call the Coast Guard. We want to keep friends up to date, but wow, do we dislike Facebook. Mostly, we feel a pressing need to figure everything out right now, because we won’t be ordering an extra iPad in Cuba, or trying to pick up another digital camera in the San Blas islands. We are in the throes of Cyber Monday, and the pressure to purchase is intense.

But really, whatever we have when we leave will be sufficient. Humans adapt. If we don’t have all the toys (and we certainly won’t have ALL the toys), we’ll just use what we have. The best boat to cruise is the one that you own, and I figure that goes for the extra bits as well.

Living room, or sail loft?

Why not both?

Why not both?

Fresh water systems

Stainless, yes! Storage, no.

Stainless, yes! Storage, no.

In the manner of people who know nothing, I spent much time before purchasing a boat worrying about embarrassingly small things. Chief among them: what are the water tanks made of? Are we going to have to compromise on the perfect boat, with our drinking water stored in some kind of weird, leach-y plastic–or worse: aluminum, coated with BPA? (Never mind that the entire boat is essentially made from BPA.) Fortunately, our tanks are made of stainless steel. There endeth the good news.

Gross.

Gross.

The water in the little corner of northern Texas where our boat used to live has a distinct sulphur odor/taste that had permeated all aspect of the water systems. The hoses themselves were filled with a rainbow of algae and microflora (possibly microfauna as well. We didn’t test). Inadequate winterizing had burst hoses and wrecked pumps. The tank monitoring systems were corroded and not giving us accurate readings. The two tanks couldn’t be isolated; if one tank was contaminated with salt or diesel or some unknowable water catastrophe, they both were. The tanks weren’t located in our shallow bilge–they filled out most of the storage under our port and starboard settees.

Who thought this was still useful?

Who thought this was still useful?

Finally–the whole system was pressurized, making water come out of the tap just like at home. Sounds good? Actually, it takes electricity to run–in short supply–and wastes water, especially if you have in your tribe Children Unaccustomed to Extreme Water Conservation.

Filter, pump and hoses going in under the galley sink

Filter, pump and hoses going in under the galley sink

The tanks remain under the settees, but most of the other problems have been addressed: new hoses, new tank monitors, new pumps, and death to the pressurized water. We now have two foot pumps in the galley–one bringing water from our tanks, and one bringing water from the outside, so dishes can be washed in salt water (or, for a few more luxurious months, the fresh water of the Great Lakes). We even have an in-line filter for our drinking water.

New hoses everywhere.

New hoses everywhere.

And no, we don’t expect to be getting a watermaker. For those not in the know, a watermaker turns sea water to fresh. It’s magic and sorcery, and if you told Vasco da Gama about such a thing he would slap you in the face. Much as we would love such fancy tech, we will not indulge:
1. So. Much. Money. $2-3000 for the cheapies.
2. Power use. It takes a lot of energy to perform that kind of alchemy.
3. Space considerations. It would be a tight install, to say the least.
4. Cruising grounds. We have no plans to cross oceans. While it would be very useful to have a watermaker when we cruise the Sea of Cortez, we’ll be close enough to civilization to find drinking water.
5. Maintenance. And this is the big one. While there are some great (expensive) watermakers that rarely (expensively) break, they do break, and they are a huge hassle to fix.

New tank monitors

New tank monitors

New access hatches

New access hatches and shut-off valves.

Last night, the temps in southern Wisconsin dipped into the single digits. Fortunately, Michu has already winterized the water systems–with vodka, now conveniently on tap.IMG_2842