Head Trauma

There really isn’t something quite so disturbing as using the bathroom, then going back a little while later to see the water has risen in the toilet two-fold, and again a few more inches on another trip. Extra water in a boat anywhere seems to me to be a bad thing, but especially in a toilet. So it was, as we set out last week.

Maybe I should start closer to the beginning. We had been in Ft. Myers for a little over a month doing some work and hiring out additional work that we couldn’t or didn’t want to do. One of the things we hired someone to fix was our forward head and holding tank. Well, really, the whole shebang of a waste system. Adjustments were made in the aft head so the waste flushed more effectively (it has the whole length of the boat to travel into the holding tank). My biggest concern was a lingering smell. We weren’t sure if it was a crack or leak in the holding tank, a leaky toilet/hose/clamp, or an issue with the ventilation system. Whatever it was, it held a noxious scent to it. Rick, of course, didn’t smell anything. I don’t know if that’s a guy thing or if it’s his perpetual allergies. What I do know is there was a definite smell. It was an embarrassment for a delicate flower, such as myself, to be living in the middle of what I could only surmise to be a cesspool.

Kevin, the hired hand, was a diligent worker. I could tell he didn’t relish the work, but did what needed to be done. He determined the actual forward head needed to be replaced. So, we checked out toilets on-line. I was appalled to learn that a duplicate of our current toilet (which was new with the build of the boat in 1982 so had certainly lasted), would set us back about $1,200. For a toilet. A TOILET. It didn’t sing. It didn’t wipe my ass. It was just a regular old marine toilet. Anything disgusting you want out of your body is dropped into this thing and it was going to cost more than my entire wedding had been. I did a little more research and found a smaller toilet that was only $350. Still excessive if you ask me, but comparatively much easier to wrap my head around.

I showed it to Rick who pointed out it was shorter than the other one by two inches. I argued that I’d read it’s better for your bowels if you squat and that us westerners are doing ourselves a disservice by having toilets that don’t allow for this. Rick inwardly rolled his eyes, I’m sure, said he could always build a stand for it if we needed it, and ordered the toilet. The fictitious stand, by the way, would probably start out costing ten bucks but we’d end up spending the balance of the cost of the other toilet.

Once it arrived via Amazon Prime and Kevin installed it, we realized it was more than two inches shorter. Plus, the bowl and seat are smaller. Basically, we now have a special grandchildren’s toilet. Sigh. (They’d better visit us at least once. That’s all I’m saying.)

Note the height of this toilet as compared to the height of Rick's knees.
Note the height of this toilet as compared to the height of Rick’s knees.

But it didn’t leak and it didn’t smell. So, I think it’s fine, since we also have the big boy toilet aft. Kevin added a special charcoal filter at the holding tank and sealed a leak on the holding tank that he found while rooting around down there. And can I say, not having to do these things ourselves (and by “ourselves” I as usual mean Rick) was worth every. Single. Penny.

So back to the original topic, I was quite alarmed when I noticed the water level consistently rising in our new baby toilet. After all, it didn’t have far to go to get to flooding stage. I also noticed a smell. At first, I merely flushed. I was hoping it was an anomaly and it wouldn’t repeat itself. When I went down the second time, the smell seemed worse and the toilet water was higher. It was also brown. So, was the toilet backing up? The toilet pulls in lake/ocean/river water to flush, so it could be the water was just dirty lake water as we crossed Lake Okeechobee. That lake water was pretty dingy looking.

I clued Rick in on these developments and became obsessed with checking the water level. I also opened all the windows to air things out. About every 20 minutes I went down and flushed. This meant I was filling up the holding tank faster than normal. I flooded (poor choice of words) Rick with questions and scenarios.

  • Do I need to start bailing that water instead and throwing it overboard?
  • What if it continues overnight? We will wake to flooding! Won’t we sink?
  • If we’re sinking, can we really fit through the escape hatch above the bed?
  • I was totally freaked out (basically a normal occurrence for me).

He suggested I find the shut off valve and we’d just use the other toilet (which did not have a rising tide in its bowl). Now, I’m not mechanically inclined, I don’t like to exercise because I hate to sweat, and I don’t do stinky things. But I went down there and crawled around the toilet to find the shut off valve. There was none. Apparently for $350, you get the toilet only. I reported in. Rick suggested removing the hatch to see if it’s under the floor closer to the waste tank.

At this point you might be asking yourself why I didn’t have him do this stinky work. Look, I never thought I would stick my head where the sun don’t shine, but I’m still terrified at the prospect of driving the beast. Down I went. I checked all the tubing. I shined the flashlight into crevices. I felt sticky substances all along the way. But I did not find a shut off valve. Since I failed in my mission, I did not earn my plumber’s crack. I did, however, wash my hands repeatedly.

Rick suggested if I left it alone, it would only rise so high and then stop. I tested that theory and, of course, he was right. About an inch below the rim, it stopped. This gave me little piece of mind, however, simply because I’m a worrier. I continued to check it until we pulled into the marina at Stuart and headed straight to the pump out station.

That night we noticed the water was at normal levels. By morning our theory was based on our speed. If we went our normal lumbering speed, the water didn’t rise. The more we sped up, the higher the water rose. By the time we reached Vero Beach we had lost the smell (we were out of the lake and into the clearer waterway). Staying for the weekend we made a Home Depot run and installed a valve. If we notice the water level rising we can always close the valve and use the other head. So, I’m feeling confident enough to get a good night sleep in anticipation of tomorrow’s travels.

Speaking of which, here is our itinerary for the week:

  • Monday, April 24: Leave Vero Beach to anchor out by Cocoa Village
  • Tuesday, April 25: Head to an anchorage at New Smyrna Beach
  • Wednesday, April 26: Another anchorage off St. Augustine
  • Thursday, April 27: Land in a marina in the Jacksonville area and stay through the weekend.


Incidentally, if you visit, we will secretly take side bets on whether you will be able to get up from the baby toilet.

5 thoughts on “Head Trauma”

  1. You will never need to buy a Squatty Potty. We will practice getting up off the floor before we visit you again.

    1. Yep. We still have occasional smells on really hot days with no breeze so I think we will have one more person check it out. We are also going to clean the bilge out. It might just be brackish water.

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