Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Are We Doing This?
By Michael

Frances chose to wear her balerina outfit for her fancy night
out with Papa. We went to the lighthouse bar in Marina
Vallarta for Shirley Temples, then found a restaurant that
serves macaroni and cheese, then rode the merri-go-round
at the Liverpool mall before getting frozen yogurt and
calling it a night. Here she is showing off her nail polish
prior to leaving.
Do you know what a holding tank is? When boats are grouped together in tight quarters in protected, shallow waters (such as a marina), the prudent thing to do is to pump your toilet waste into a tank on board, holding your toilet paper, piss, and crap until the boat is in the open ocean (3 miles offshore, by law) or until you have the means to have the tank sucked clean by a shore-based pump (there is always a little window in the hose so you can verify the stuff is indeed pumping out of your tank).
Our 25-gallon holding tank lives under the nicely upholstered bench seating that surrounds our eating table. Usually, it is easy to forget it is there because there is no odor and because we try not to crap in the toilet on board while here in the marina, better to use their facilities. But alas, kids have to go in the middle of the night, and on rare occasions (tourista!) we just gotta go, now!
We are having holding tank problems. The thing isn’t venting as it should, but I can’t find the problem. The onboard manual pump we use to empty the tank into the ocean isn’t working consistently, or maybe there is an undiagnosed clog? The other night, the tank filled and literally swelled like it was going to burst (the vent is supposed to prevent this). It was weeping at the seam (yeah, yuck) and the boat reeked (you can imagine…no, don’t). Then in the middle of the same night, it started to rain hard and we had to close the hatches, sealing ourselves into the stink. It was impossible to sleep. The temperature increased. The unbearable smell got more unbearable. Then the rain abated…hatches flung open…fresh air! We gulped it down like we’d been trapped in a submarine. We emptied the tank this morning at the marina pump-out facility. Things aboard are much improved and a long-term fix is underway.
But we had a house with two bathrooms, each with a toilet that just flushed (no pumping and turning valves), day or night. They didn’t smell and we didn’t store our excrement in a tank we sat on around the dining room table. Why are we doing this?
I struck out on my own relatively early in life. And I left the nest with no illusions about how difficult it would be. Growing up, my mom told a story from her college years, how she was so poor she would go to a local diner, ask for a bowl of hot water and then add ketchup to it until it resembled tomato soup. Along with the free crackers sitting on the table and a glass of water, she would call it a meal.
I don’t know why, but I left home eager to struggle like that on my own. I wanted to make my own way at all costs. I wanted to know that my life was a product of me, of my efforts, of my successes, of my failures. I wouldn’t accept anything else.
Having just jumped out of our own comfortable nest in D.C. and into this cruising life, I can’t help but see a parallel. Cruising isn’t comfortable like living in a home. Even in a marina, I walk the length of a football field to take a shower at night. Doing dishes at anchor will be just like our old boat: we will stand on one foot and pump water with the other, salt water (saving our fresh water for just a quick rinse at the end—because outside of a marina, fresh water is lugged aboard in 6-gallon containers).
Am I somehow drawn to a more difficult life? A sucker for a struggle?
Obviously, we had a desire to spend more time together. The cruising life is rich, yet relatively inexpensive, allowing us to work less and live more. But what if we could have stayed in our D.C. home and I didn’t have to work? Would we still give up toilets that flush, always available hot water, excellent Internet connectivity, and air conditioning?
Yes…unequivocally yes.
This life is rich. And the adversity sucks—it just does—but not to the extent you may imagine.
For example, aboard Del Viento at anchor, a shower is different than it was in our D.C. home. Like on our first boat, we’ll fill a 2-gallon solar shower (purpose-built plastic bag with one black side to absorb solar radiation) with fresh water and leave it on deck to warm up. In the evening, I’ll crank it up in the air using the main halyard and a winch. I’ll then open the valve and stand under a small, weak stream of water, turning it off and on between lathering and rinsing to conserve water.
Isn’t that terrible?
Nope, because I’ll be standing on the foredeck of my boat. I’ll be surrounded by beautiful water and a nice vista, the sky turning the rich colors of a glorious sunset to come, frigate birds are hunting high above me. It is unbelievably beautiful and at most anchorages and there is often not another boat nor soul in sight. I’ll appreciate that I'm washing the salt off my skin so that I’ll sleep better on the clean cotton sheets in my berth.
Every drop that falls out of my solar shower is worth gallons and gallons of the stuff I took for granted pouring out of my D.C. shower head. And that is why adversity is such a small price to pay for the life we chose.
And that is why this lifestyle change is not akin to leaving home, in search of a struggle that will define me or allow me to see who I am in this world. This time it is not about the struggle, it is about enrichment. You know how when camping, after a day of hiking, whatever hot meal you get from your one-burner butane camping stove tastes like the greatest…thing…ever? Day-to-day in this cruising life my sensibilities feel heightened in that same way about everything. Not so good when dealing with a bulging holding tank, but absolutely extraordinary for the evening showers at anchor to come.

Here I am at the start of my project to replace the windlass solenoids. It turned out to be a
bigger job than I anticipated. In the end, my whole body would find it's way through
that square hole at the head of the v-berth and into the anchor locker.

1 comment:

  1. Double check the vent line, make sure it's not clogged. Think about whether it is properly sized and if it could be getting "back drafted".

    Good luck!



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