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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

19 April, 2015

A Better Choice

To those who aren't used to boats, it might seem odd to the point of unpleasant, that when two or more boat owners get together, sooner or later they start talking about toilets.  But one of the big differences between living on a boat and living in a house, is that on a boat, you are far more closely concerned with the day-to-day realities that most people ashore completely ignore.  For them it's a case of turn on a tap and out comes water: another tap produces hot water!  You pull a plug and the water vanishes.  You flush a toilet and suddenly it is filled with clean water.  On a boat, however, none of this happens automatically.  Those of us who like to keep things simple manually pump water from a tank; heat it in a kettle; possibly pump it out of the sink and as for the toilet ...

For many years the norm has been to have a marine toilet that used seawater to flush out the contents of the bowl directly over the side.  There is no real objection to this: your e.coli apparently isn't that fond of salt water and doesn't last long.  Most sailors have experienced the sight of a shoal of fish rushing to the outlet and busily feeding, so you are obviously not disposing of noxious waste.  However, where you have a lot of boats gathered together there are reasons to worry about this arrangement.  For a start many marinas and inner harbours have a lot of fresh water coming into them.  This often floats over the salt water and is a fine place for you e.coli to breed.  If there is little or no flow of water, all the stuff pumped out will sink to the bottom of the harbour and there will probably be too much of it for the local flora and fauna to deal with.  In addition, if you are anchored in a popular spot, you don't want to pump out your toilet in an area where people are swimming.  The way round this is a holding tank, which you empty at a dedicated place in a marina or yacht harbour, or which you take out to sea and empty away from beaches, anchorages etc.

But sea toilets themselves are not without their issues.  In order for them to work effectively, they need to be able to pump in plenty of sea water, but all too often these pumps leak.  Not a lot, but a little water in an otherwise dry boat goes a long way, and the salt means that it's always damp in the area.  In addition, there are often valves to turn on and off, which non-sailors find disconcerting to downright worrying.  The most effective of the marine toilets I've dealt with is the Lavac, which only requires one to shut the lid and then pump, following simple instructions displayed on the bulkhead.  But even this paragon requires that you have two holes through the boat in order for it to work.  I happen to have a prejudice about holes under the waterline.  They have to be protected by a skin fitting that allows you to seal off the hole should the pipe leading to them fracture for some reason.  In theory, this could happen at any time and ideally one would shut all these sea-cocks off every time one leaves the boat.  Most people don't of course, because they fail very rarely.  But I know of more than one boat that has been lost because something failed between the hole and whatever the pipe led to.  In an ideal world, I wouldn't have holes under the waterline.

One can live with these niggles and worries, and most boats are bought with a sea toilet already fitted and the owners live with them.  When I bought Fantail she had a standard marine toilet, and a very indifferent holding tank.  One of my first jobs was to replace this with something a bit better and by and large things were OK.  However, the pump always dribbled sea water with the result that black mould would start growing the moment I turned my back.  I was getting increasingly irritated with this, but what finally destroyed any empathy I had for this system, was as a result from my moving from the cold waters of Tasman Bay to the warm waters of Northland.  Apparently the long, dark, inlet pipe was an ideal environment for something (I'm not sure what) to grow very happily.  But whatever it was, it liked a certain level of salt water, no more and no less, so when I stayed in a river for a while, it would grow and flourish, only to die when I went back to sea.  Then its salt water equivalent would grow and flourish only to die when I went back into a river.  How do I know?  Because each time I changed my environment, a couple of days later, the water coming into the heads would stink of sulphur and this appalling stench would last for a day or so, until all the dead matter was flushed through.  I got to the stage of dreading the change in water salinity.

I used to live with a Porta Potti, but they are heavy when full, and I didn't really relish the thought of struggling with one through the very narrow passageway into my heads compartment.  I decided to try out a composting toilet: a lot of friends have them and all spoke very positively about them.  I thought of making one, but realised that they need to be quite carefully set up for the female anatomy and I didn't really want to make one only to find it didn't quite work.  So in the end, I cashed in my savings and bought a C-Head.  These are made on a one-off basis by a chap called Sandy Graves in Florida.  It's not strictly correct to call them composting toilets: they are in fact, desiccators and to that end solids and liquids are separated.

Sandy has a variety of shapes and sizes and after we'd emailed back and forth, I decided which I wanted and it duly arrived.  It took me a while to get used to it: the dried coir bricks had to be reconstituted with water, and ended up too wet to do their job properly.  I then tried wood shavings, but found that the hardwood didn't do a very good job of absorbing moisture either.  I was seriously contemplating installing a fan to assist, although this was something I very much wished to avoid.  However, a bag of softwood shavings worked like a charm and instead of adding more medium almost every time I used the toilet, I found it stayed dry for ages.  Now that I have found the ideal medium, I am delighted with my 'composting' heads.  It is easy to empty out at sea; alternatively, you can put the solid waste into a stout bin liner, pour over half a cup of bleach and dump it ashore.  I much prefer to wait until I'm outside the 'no dumping' limits.  The website has several different ideas as to what you can use for a medium: I guess it's essentially trial and error until you find what works for you. The bottle can simply be emptied over the side, rinsed out and put back in place.

So that's two fewer holes under my boat; a toilet compartment that is easy to keep nice and clean and no smell.  I can only recommend this as a much better alternative to a conventional marine toilet.

12 April, 2015

Another junket - and Tall Ships Regatta

With a New Year comes the anticipation of another Russell Boating Club Tall Ships Regatta, and once again a number of junkies had decided to combine it with a junket.

Arcadian and Fantail briefly shared an anchorage, but a couple of days later, we came across Zebedee; Alan, Pauline and I agreed to sail up Te Puna anchor to Crowles Bay and as we sailed through Kent Passage, there was Arcadian coming in from the outer bay.  We caught them up and then had a great sail up the inlet with a splendid chance for a photo op before coming in to anchor.

Arcadian is the party boat, par excellence and the noise was soon up to acceptable levels on board.  David and Rosemary always give us the impression than they like nothing better than to have a heap of noisy, hungry people come on board, eat and drink and then go home leaving them with all the washing up.  Each boat always contributes something to the feast, and if nothing else, at least we take our pans home, but I always feel a bit guilty as we row away, leaving their home in a shambles!

For the next few days, each boat pottered around the area before meeting again for the Big Event, by which time we had been joined by La Chica and Pugwash

Readers of this blog will already have encountered Pugwash in his orange cover, oars poking out and looking like some sort of strange insect paddling across the water.  However, Marcus was dissatisfied with this arrangement - the cover leaked, which not only makes it a bit wet when sailing, but allows the rain into the interior, should he wish to spend the night on board.  So he had spent some time turning Pugwash into a much more sea-going boat.

The wee boat looked inconceivably cute, with its windows and - amazingly - a self-steering gear.  And if the idea of a self-steering gear on an 8ft 6in boat seems unlikely, perhaps the most astonishing thing about it is the fact that it works very well!

When the day of the race arrived, Marcus had difficulties getting away from the dinghy dock: everyone wanted to know all about the boat and the conversion.  They held their own in the fleet, but most people simply couldn't believe their eyes:  from the stern, Pugwash looks like a miniature Endeavour 

and the crews of the passing boats goggled at this strange apparition, and the sight of Marcus calmly drinking his home brew while his tiny ship sailed herself to windward!  They caught everybody's attention and even ended up in prime place in the local paper's coverage of the event.

In the meantime, the rest of the fleet divided into two races.  La Chica and Zebedee were obviously going to be a close-run combination.  Paul had redesigned and re-built his rudder and reckoned he would wipe the smile off Alan's face, but it was an extraordinarily close-run race and they crossed the finish line within moments of one another, La Chica just ahead.  Meanwhile, they were showing some of the other boats just what a well-rigged and well-sailed junk-rigged boat can achieve.

Roger had left Shoestring in Auckland where she is undergoing rig alterations (yet to be finalised), but took this magnificent photograph of Zebedee and La Chica jousting for position at the start line.  If you want to see some more splendid photos, please look at Roger's album here.

Arcadian, Zebedee and La Chica all counted as Tall Ships, whereas little Fantail was in another class (and poor Pugwash) was too small to be entered.  But Arcadian and Fantail ended up in their own race, which Arcadian finally won on the homeward, down wind leg, where her long waterline let her walk away from us.   

Fantail meanwhile had had a less than happy day, for some reason unable to find her rhythm in the inconstant breeze which seemed to come round to the nose every time I hoped it might just free us.  The most disappointing aspect of this was that I had a friend on board, a sceptic about junk rig, whom I'd hoped to impress.  But it was not to be.  However, we all enjoyed the fine party after the race and I think both Alan and Paul were very proud to realise how well they had done in the Tall Ships fleet, where they were placed 9th and 10th on handicap.  Fantail's only consolation was that although she was last to cross the line, she did cross the line before the final gun, unlike a lot of the competitors who had long since given up.

The Regatta might be over, but the junket carried on and a couple of days later, Zebedee, Pugwash and Fantail had a splendid sail in company together: Zebedee and Pugwash looked quite wonderful as they sailed side by side.

But Pauline and Marcus had to head back to work, so we all went our separate ways, with another splendid junket under our belts.  In truth, I'm not sure that any of us had the stamina for yet another wonderful party aboard Arcadian.  But we were all very pleased to have had no fewer than 5 junk-rigged boats at the regatta: the wonderful Christine Hall even let us have a class of our own for first across the line - won by La Chica.