Shi##er Was Full

Cousin Eddie knew a thing or two about shi##ers. And now, unfortunately, after yesterday, so do we.

It’s no secret that liveaboard boats are prone to peculiar and sometimes unpleasant smells. It stands to reason. Mold, mildew, sweat, diesel fumes, water in the bilge, and in our case, issues in the head and holding tank are all potential culprits of not-so-pleasant aromas.

C and I were fully aware that our boat had a (minor?) odor issue when we bought it, but it wasn’t something we were too terribly concerned about. I mean, the poor thing had been sitting on the hard, closed up and unventilated, for a very long time. When we purchased the boat in April, I think it had already been up for sale and unused for over a year. Boats are not meant to be idle! Under the circumstances, a few yucky smells are to be expected, especially the longer it sits out of the water.

Over the last two months, C and I have made several trips to Deltaville to do small boat projects, clean, and move in our stuff. Until this past weekend, the odor hasn’t bothered us that much. But now, with summer in full swing, we noticed that the unwanted scent was becoming a little more pronounced. So to try to mitigate it, C decided to pour about a gallon of water into the toilet, followed by a head treatment that he flushed into the tank.

That’s when it all went wrong (and my olfactory senses were potentially ruined for life).

Because a few minutes after pouring in the water and treatment, C began to notice an extremely foul odor coming from the boat’s starboard side. He also noticed that liquid had trickled down the side of the boat, seemingly from the air vent. He went to look at the toilet, and that’s when he discovered that it was slowly beginning to backfill. Yes, folks, it turned out the shi##er was full. So full, in fact, that sewage was being forced up into the holding tank’s air vent. The former owners never pumped out the holding tank before having their boat hauled out of the water and putting it up for sale. May I just take a moment and say, “$@&!!!*$#!! WHO DOES THAT?!

Thank God for Clint Almarode, Service Manager at DYC (Deltaville Yachting Center). After we learned that no one in the area provided emergency pump-out service, Clint kindly gave us detailed instructions on what we could do to remedy the very stressful and unfortunate situation in which we found ourselves.

First, we accessed the holding tank (located in the storage compartment under the settee in the salon). Next, C unlocked the valve that is used to discharge waste into the sea (FYI, if you are thinking about sailing, know that there are stringent regulations around where you may and may not discharge sewage). Then he turned on the macerator pump which allowed that old, nasty, foul, malodorous mess to spew out of the holding tank and discharge port into a five-gallon bucket placed on the ground. My job was to hold my nose, gag, curse, and yell up to C when the bucket was 3/4 full. He then quickly lidded and hosed down the bucket, and carried it a crazy long distance, around the backside of the boatyard to the porta potty disposal station.

My poor husband made that journey with the poop bucket no less than TEN times.

The boat and the bucket.

We followed up by flushing fresh water from a hose down the toilet and then added a bioactive head treatment that will hopefully help the situation. We Lysoled, we Febreezed, I set out five boxes of baking soda, we closed her up, and got the you-know-what out of there.

Then we showered and drank too many margaritas. Hey, we earned it.

What a crazy, disgusting experience! Sometimes (no, I’d say most of the time), it’s in the trials and tribulations that you end up learning the most. Well, we definitely walked away yesterday with a much better understanding of marine heads. And if I NEVER smell that smell again, it will be too soon. In bed last night, I found C reading about marine toilets. Oh, the things you never thought you’d see, smell, and do.

Next week our girl finally goes into the water, where she will get a proper septic pump out and move to her new marina home. We’ve waited a long time.

Let the games begin.

Our Promise

While visiting Florida this past February, I purchased a piece of art created by a local artist in the small fishing community of Carrabelle. It’s a painting of a sailboat at sunset (perhaps it’s a sunrise, if you fancy), and although simple, it is so full of color and light that I cannot help but feel happy when I look at it.

I purchased the painting shortly after C and I agreed that we were ready to move ahead with what, at that time, felt to us like standing at the edge of insanity – the jury’s still out on that one – to start seriously shopping for a liveaboard boat. If you have read my previous two blog entries, you know that learning to sail and living part-time on the water is something we have fantasized about for a long time. It’s one thing to talk about it; it’s quite another, however, to go through with it. So, as a symbolic promise to each other and ourselves, I bought the sailboat painting. My intention was that it would eventually grace one of the walls in our future aquatic home.

Well, we’re about to make good on our little promise. I am happy to report that we are officially owners of a 2000 Catalina 320 sailboat. Woop! Just goes to show that sometimes our dreams really do come true.

Survey & Sea Trial Complete

The survey and sea trial on the Catalina 320 are now complete. We have accepted the purchase, which means we are well on our way to officially becoming boat owners!

C and I were absolutely giddy with excitement when we arrived at the Deltaville Yachting Center this past Wednesday morning to meet with our surveyor, Peter, and our broker, Gordon Inge. We had previously only seen the boat out of the water, so what a delight to finally see her afloat. The first box checked; she didn’t sink. Phew!

Because the threat of rain loomed in the forecast, it was determined that we should begin with the sea trial portion first. I’m sure (no, I know) that C and I looked really dopey, wearing cheesy grins as Gordon slowly motored us away from the marina, through Broad Creek Inlet, and into the adjacent narrow channel that empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

Once we were out in open waters, it was time to unfurl and raise the sails. Unfortunately, we could only put up the mainsail because (as Gordon discovered from a cherry picker later at the dock), one of the bearings for unfurling the genoa was gunked up with globs of bird poop! Not unexpected, I suppose, for a boat that has spent the last nine months on the hard.

Gordon inspecting the genoa at the marina

Our little group spent an hour or so on the bay before we motored back to the marina, where Gordon demonstrated the Catalina 320’s ability to turn in narrow spaces. We watched in disbelief (horror?) as he effortlessly rotated that 32′ sailboat 180 degrees right between the two sides of the docks to tether her port-side. Um, suffice it to say, I think it’s going to be a while before we will be able to demonstrate that kind of boating prowess.

For the next few hours, we hung out with Peter while he inspected every inch of the sailboat and tested every piece of equipment. I must say, I am so pleased that we hired Peter. He was remarkably thorough, knowledgeable, and very kind.

Surveyor Peter or Wilford Brimley?

Post survey, we are thrilled to find that, all in all, the vessel is very sound for a twenty-two-year-old sailboat. We may want to address a few cosmetic issues later on (like a couple of amateur patch jobs), and there are a few things we need to take care of now (like new bottom paint), but Peter assures us that she will be a perfect starter boat for learning to sail on.

We are so excited. It’s crazy how well this process has gone and how things are coming together. Nothing ever goes this smoothly! We now just wait to receive the closing documents from Gordon and get our insurance policy finalized. And if all goes to plan, we might officially be boat people by the end of the week! Here’s hoping!

Chasing Dreams

It is the beginning of a new adventure, the launching of a dream conceived nearly eight years ago. My husband C and I just secured an offer to purchase a small liveaboard sailboat!

The idea to learn to sail and live on the water part-time came to us in 2014, after we hired a private boat charter in Edinburgh, Scotland, and spent a day sailing on the Firth of Forth. Under the guidance of our skipper, Colin, we rode the waves on his sloop rig, learning some sailing basics and taking in the beautiful scenery. It was an exhilarating experience! C was at the helm most of the day, and I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy in our more than twenty-seven years of marriage.

Sailing on the Firth of Forth in Scotland in 2014

In the years following that memorable trip, we have often revisited our dream of sailing and pursuing a liveaboard life. We could just never quite gather the nerve to do it. That changed last May when we decided to dip our toes in the water and sign up for two days of sailing school on our local lake. In hindsight, we learned a ton, but the experience was not a positive one. In fact, I was nearly ready to give up on the whole thing. But more on that another time.

A little over a month ago, while vacationing on the Florida Gulf Coast, our dream came up again. And so it was there, on the beach at Alligator Point, that we finally decided that enough was enough. It was time to stop talking about it and get on with it! We are each on the cusp of turning forty-nine and realize that although we are not yet old, we aren’t exactly young either. So if we are ever going to pursue this dream, now is the time.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, and together, we set off for a weekend in Topping, VA. We met with a broker to discuss specifics and acquaint ourselves with various boat makes and models. It would be an understatement to say that we didn’t feel completely overwhelmed by the whole thing. But we were determined to press on.

Forward once more to this past weekend, where again we found ourselves on the Virginia coast, this time to specifically see a 2000 Catalina 320. The online listing for Eclipse (new name forthcoming) seemed very promising, and though we were careful not to get too prematurely excited, we both somehow knew in our gut that she might be the one. She was.

With the purchase price now negotiated, the next step is to schedule a survey/sea trial. If that goes well, on April 5, she will be ours. Fingers, toes, arms, legs, and eyes crossed!

Sitting here now, I still cannot believe we did it. And so quickly! Just one month ago, C and I were boating novices – a couple with a dream but staggered by the process of how to get started. Today, we have a contract to purchase a liveaboard cruiser. Incredible.

I have created this blog as a way to record the story of our adventures. As we go along, I hope to offer tips and advice to others new to the world of sailing. I’ll share our ups and downs, successes and failures, and all the inevitable mistakes we will make along the way. You’ll get to ride along as we explore the Chesapeake Bay and other areas. Through our experiences, I hope you’ll get a taste of what life is like on a liveaboard boat. And finally, I hope our journey will serve as an inspiration to other mid-lifers who think they might be too old to pursue their own dreams.

Welcome. I’ll see you on the water.