A good digestion is a blessing. Especially when travelling. Unfamiliar daily routine, foreign food and missing possibilities may disturb the steady removal seriously. The kind of embarrassing situation this can get you into I once noticed in a supermarket on a small German island in the North Sea. An elderly woman whispered something in the ear of the cashier. Then the staff shouted clearly to hear for everybody in the whole shop: “You will find the prunes in the prunes-department!” And on a small island like that will meet each other more than once during the holidays.
So at the morning I am talking about now I was quite happy when a special feeling appeared. We were sailing in the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden and yesterday berthed on a small island called Säck. A very nice anchorage, which was sheltered to all directions with an outhouse in the forest. Everything was very attractive and not far away.
Unfortunately rain was coming down in sheets. And we were not berthed in a harbour on a jetty but with stern anchor and the bow was moored at the rocks. You had to climb down the bow ladder and step over slippery rocks to reach the site of necessity. Perhaps you might even have to take a step into the water. I did not like the thought of running through the cold, dirtying the on-board shoes and then not get the foul weather gear dry afterwards.
So I considered the on-board toilet. That is a device nobody uses voluntarily if there are alternatives available. It is narrow, the bowl is much too small and before one can use it the seacocks under the sink have to be opened. And when doing this the fingers are injured at the hose clamps. Everyone who ever chartered a yacht can tell his own story about this matter. Better not to ask.
But our owner took care and when the boat was built he ordered a comfort toilet. Oh yes. Something like this really exists. A bowl that is fit for human use is possible! If you ask for it and if you are willing to pay for it! And what did we have actually the black water tank for? It had to be inaugurated one day anyway. If nothing is in there the water police might maintain that is was emptied illegal. So there were some good reasons for what I did.
The reader will thank me when I do not go into the details of the following relief. For the unacquainted I may only explain this: If all is done one cannot press a button to flush an on-board toilet. No. You have to pump away you know what by muscle power and that is quite a distasteful procedure. But let’s leave it at this for now.
Anyway there is a pump beside the toilet and one has to pull up the piston and press it down again several times. That way the content disappears through a hose into the black water tank. At the same time sea water from outside gets pumped up into the bowl. To prevent that this water sloshes out while sailing it has to be pumped out too. For this a lever has to be switched that stops the water from outside. With some more upstrokes the bowl should be empty.
So I pulled the piston, which worked perfectly. But then the nightmare happened. It was not possible to push it down again. The pump was stuck. Because I heard many descriptions about such misfortunes (every semi experienced sailor can tell a story about this) I was fortunately forewarned. In any case one should now try to solve the problem by brute, force and ignorance. It damages the gaskets and the mechanism. But there was no improvement by trying it gently. What should I do now? Should I send out a distress alert and invite the crew into the musty smelling bathroom to watch the state of affairs? No! It was too early for this. Perhaps I could make progress by switching the lever. Lo and behold: Draining without adding seawater was still possible. But now the whole mess… But let’s leave it at that now.
One thing was obvious. The problem had to be in the feeding part of the pump. Something must have gotten inside from outside that stopped the flow. I already imagined myself disassembling the pump. After my half successful attempt it was now probably full of… But let’s leave it at that now.
Fortunately our yacht was recently built and somebody had the clever idea to attach a transparent hose to the feeding part of the pump. And what did I have to see with my dull eyes now? In front of the pump a small fish was stuck headfirst.
The poor fish! Just a moment ago it swam around in the bay happy and satisfied. I had no idea what he looked for underneath the boat. Probably it was only in the wrong place at the wrong time. It must have been just next to the seacock when I pulled the piston the first time. Maybe it searched for a sheltering cave or something like that. Too bad!
But as it often happens: one man’s pain is the other man’s pleasure! But the comparison was misleading because I was not happy about the sorrow of the fish. I was only happy that the problem was quite easy to solve without disassembling the pump including all its content. And maybe it was possible to rescue the fish!
Now some tools were needed and so I had to alert the crew after all. But instead of bringing the needed stuff everybody wanted to see the curiosity inside the hose. Even though nobody could stand it very long in the bathroom: I urged to hurry! I opened the clamps and pulled off the hose from the pump. But, alas, it was too late. The fish was already dead. Probably its swim bladder burst because of the under pressure.
I quickly threw it overboard anyway and hoped it would perhaps awake. It sank to the ground where I lost sight of it. When I looked up I saw the outhouse on shore. Oh, would I have gone there! The fish could still turn its laps around here. Thinking about whether there is a fish heaven and how it might look like the crew called me back. They already fixed the hose with the clamps but I should now finish the rest of the work. I never pumped dry a yacht toilet so relieved before.
Here you find the complete report about the trip in the Stockholm Archipelago →