Holding Tank

We (me, my daughter Hannah and her friend Sarah) left on a Friday afternoon in October with a stiff northerly blowing and headed for a favored anchorage that we had never visited which was avoided during the summer months due to large quantities of voracious mosquitoes. The journey was fun and damp with Stacey going slightly green at the gills and Hannah delighted to find a small fish on the fore deck, albeit expired.

The anchorage was some way up a river and the entrance from the bay was noted for being fickle (unpredictably shallow) but when we were about half way in when we were overhauled by a local barge which was the best local pilot we could have wished for. We parted company with the barge at a fork and made our way gingerly upriver on our own. It is important to point out at this stage that we were navigating on hearsay gathered in the bar on a number of occasions and while this always sounds good at the time, when you are faced with the reality of your keel passing over mud with the depth sounder hovering around 5-6  feet it is a little more tense.

We pressed on gently trying desperately  to recall where it was that you “turn you bow into the bank and moor up nose into the bushes”. I am a dedicated “Swallows and Amazons” kind of guy and have done this very thing with rental boats on the Norfolk Broads(UK) and with dinghies which are noted for their ability to retract the device that is used for leeway reduction e.g. a center plate or dagger board. This was a whole different kettle of vessel, the two key things on my mind were that it was mine (well almost apart from the outstanding loan) and we were the only vessel to be seen in any direction so a grounding could be a lengthy affair with the uncertainties of VHF range of support services.

Clearly it was time for a captainly decision so the order was given and we duly lowered our anchor right smack dab in the center of the river and my second captainly decision was straight out of SA, time for hot soup all around. We were all benefiting from aforementioned soup when we heard the dulcet putt putt of another vessel which called for investigation. As my head appeared through the sliding hatch I was greeted with the steely eyed stare of another skipper with that “anchored in the fairway” look of disdain. The newly arrived vessel motored on about three hundred yards and answered another of our mysteries by turning his bow towards the bank and gently nudging the boat into the bushes whereby crew like people sprang ashore and secured her. The die was cast, we up anchored, motored off, selected our spot and nudged Dark Star into the bank. The getting ashore for my crew was very demure, no springing required , just a gentle balance along the bowsprit and step down, excellent.


Snug in the bayou

There followed a delightful weekend of food, beer, campfires and all around relaxation and all too soon it was Sunday. A more gentle sail back and the girls departed with a smile and wave.

It fell to me to tidy away and snug down the boat prior to going home.  All was going well until I decided to fresh flush the head and guess what, too my surprise the lever would not budge, not even an inch………………Hmmm. Well  as my old Mum used to say, “don’t force it Phoebe”. Time for some captainly investigation so into the V Berth, lift the mattress and the locker top over the holding tank. The tank was designed as a rectangular box up to nine gallons capacity but this now reminded me of something medium sized that had been dead for some time; bloated is the word that came to mind and I was pretty sure that upon venting it would produce an odor to match the image you have in your mind.

First order of  business was to secure help and get the boat to the pump out station about three docks over, call my friend Brad from the Benneteau, a delightful Canadian guy who was ever willing to help. I took the boat to the pump out and Brad showed up in a timely manner. We equipped ourselves with all the everything necessary for a successful evacuation of the bulging culprit, notably deck adaptor and hose, freshwater hose and deck fitting key. Brad stood close by with the freshwater hose while I began to unscrew the deck fitting; I had only turned it about a quarter of a turn when there were ominous bubbles appearing around the rim of the fitting indicating significant pressure which directly correlated with the bulging animal under the V berth. Brad stepped smartly back along the dock and was heard to mutter “that’s not good” and how right he was.

I was faced with one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moments; leave well alone and the risk was that the bloated tank or one of its’ tentacles would leak into the bilge and create a whole new nightmare or continue with the ominously bubbling
deck fitting: another captainly decision coming up. Brad was now standing at a respectable distance, like the observers at Cape Canaveral during a launch, close enough to garner the full detail but far enough not to be affected by the main engine burn. I was not to be so fortunate! I had in my mind’s eye come to accept that we would suffer some seepage on the side decks which would be quickly and expertly dispatched by my hose equipped friend and I would be left to deal with the Coastguard and the inevitable and justified fine but I really saw no other solution so the removal of the deck fitting continued abubble.

To say that I had underestimated the accumulated pressure  would be fair indeed, in fact it would also be fair to say that I had no idea at all what was going to happen the moment the deck fitting was removed, well “faint heart never won fair maiden” so on I went.

Me , “Brad, stand  by with the hose”

Brad, “OK”

Me, “Here goes nothing”

Deck fitting, “Removed”

Holding Tank, “Whooooosssshhhhh”

There followed a brief moment in time when I had one of those slow motion moments and I assume this was to allow me(and Brad) to fully appreciate the unfolding situation. A jet of holding tank contents shot out higher than my six feet two inches and Newton was vindicated again as it all descended at the prescribed rate of  32.174 ft/sec or 9.81m/s for our metric colleagues. I was covered from top to toe but the pressure was relieved. As you may imagine there were multiple downsides to this experience, not least of all that Brad was trying to laugh heartily whilst holding his nose with the net result that the hose was not providing any of  the planned relief. Eventually Brad gathered himself and hosed me down, still laughing, until I concluded that this would be better as a solo effort, thus taking control of the hose.

The fun was over, I cleaned everything up, the forepeak monster had returned to its original size and shape, Brad had gone back to the slip to await my arrival and we duly put the boat to bed and I returned home looking for sympathy from the family which was forthcoming but not without some hidden mirth.

The next morning I contacted a guy who managed the local company that specialized in the fitting of holding tanks and we agreed after examination of the available space that we could fit a tank of some four times the original capacity and we have never had another problem………………..mind you I have not been away with Hannah and Sarah since.