February 4, 2014 – Snow Day Means a(nother) Dirty Job

That’s right.  We’re going to go down this road again.  Another dirty job.  And, I’ll warn you at the outset – this post is not for the squeamish.  View at your own risk.

So, we come back from Crested Butte, having spent a week out in the snowy bluffs, highs in the upper forties, lows in the teens, and, the crazy thing was, it was colder in Pensacola than it ever was out West.  The week after we got back, we endured record-setting freezing rain in the southeast that pretty much coated everything in an inch-thick layer of ice.




Our first thought was — of course — the boat!  We went to check on her to make sure the engine and pipes were staying warm enough.

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It was wild to see icicles hanging from the lifelines and railing on the boat.

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With the ice that accumulated on top of the companionway hatch, we could barely crack it back enough to get the lee boards off so we could get in.


Or out!


Thankfully, though, the water was still semi-warm (low sixties) so the boat stayed nice and toasty.  We hung a hot work light in the engine room just to be sure and kept checking for cracked pipes and leaking fluids, but she seemed to manage the cold weather just fine.  Modern-day society, however, did not.  The ice storm shut down all of the local school systems, the courts, the bridges and pretty much interstate commerce as we know it.  So, with bad weather and a short reprieve from work, we did what any good boaters would do — got to work on some long-overdue boat projects.

We had recently made a list of things we wanted/needed to do the boat before shoving off for the Keys.  One of those was replacing the “Y” valve in the head so we could pumpout at sea.

List - Y valve

On our boat, there is a Y valve in a cabinet in the bathroom that we can manually turn to allow the holding tank to either be pumped out at the fuel dock or pumped out through the macerator to sea while we’re on passage.  It works like this:

Y valve 4

The two long prongs of the valve indicate the two pipes that are open, allowing flow, and the short prong indicates the pipe that is closed off.  In the diagram above, the Y valve is turned to allow flow from the holding tank up to the dock, and the pipe leading to the macerator (for pumpout at sea) is closed off.

Our Y valve is located in a cubby under the bathroom counter.

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Unfortunately, our valve was frozen and would not turn.  Since we purchased the boat back in April of last year, it has been set, permanently, for pumpout at the dock.

Y valve 4

We were not able to turn it, like this

Y valve 6

to enable pumpout at sea, which is permitted 9 nautical miles in the Gulf — “waters approved for overboard discharge of marine waste” — legally speaking.  Having our valve locked on pumpout at the dock has been fine for the local cruising and light passages we have been doing.  But, now that we were setting our sights further, we knew we were going to need the option to pumpout at sea.  While discharge is not permitted in the Keys, we wanted to have the option while making the long passages down there.  So, it was time to roll up our sleeves and get dirty … again.

Now, most boaters are aware, but I’ll enlighten you newbies.  Usually, the hardest part of any job involving the head is wrestling the old pipes off.  Anywhere a pipe connects, it slides on over barbs which work much like a porcupine’s quill, it slides in nice and easy, but there’s going to be a lot of ripping and cursing when you pull it out.  The barbs:


make the pipe easy to slip on, but incredibly hard to pull off.  Particularly when the pipe’s been on there for years and has essentially melded and molded to the barbs.  This was, of course, the situation in our case.  The old pipes on the Y valve would barely even turn, much less pull off.  And, it was so hard to get a good angle, good leverage, in that stupid little cubby in the bathroom.  Phillip and I were both in there, shoulder deep, one foot up on the wall, yanking and cursing, trying to get the old pipes off.

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We finally found the winning combination, consisting of a “cheater bar” (an old flathead screwdriver) and a fulcrum (a hammer), that did the trick.

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The pipes were finally starting to budge.  We got the top two pumpout hoses off and started on the bottom one that leads to the holding tank.  Yeah … the one that holds the shizz.  I’m sure you can see where this is going.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As Phillip started to pry the holding tank pipe off, it became readily apparent (yes, then and only then) that the Y valve sits much lower in the boat than we realized — roughly in line with the holding tank, which we had not thought to pump out.  It was a ‘snow’ day and we had time to kill.  Let’s get to cracking on that head!  We jumped right into the project, thinking nothing of it.  Until we realized any slight tip of the holding tank pipe caused a nice spillage of you-know-what into the bathroom cubby.  What did the folks at O’Lean call it??  Oh yeah … anal leakage.

Look if you dare – scroll past if you don’t.

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Aren’t boats fun?

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the shizz is sitting just a half-inch from the top of the holding tank pipe.  One small dip of the pipe downward and the entire tank could dump into the cubby, and eventually the bilge.  Not a pipe you want to tango with.  We had to be careful, and we were.  It was a bit of a gut-wrenching project, but we did it.  We got the old pipes off and extracted the broken Y valve.


Then we actually stuck our heads and hands back in that rotting pit of hell to put the new Y valve on.

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And, you thought the O’Lean incident was the real kicker – but wait, there’s more!  I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but (who am I kidding – our embarrassment is always trumped when it means an entertaining and educating blog!) Phillip and I were both very careful — at the time — to make sure we put the Y valve on right, allowing the holding tank to be either pumped out 1) at the dock or 2) at sea.  He checked it, held it up and asked me to check it, I checked it, concurred, and we slapped it on there.  But, here’s the two options our cracker-jack installation allowed:

Y valve 4   Y valve 5

Yep, we could pump as much sea water up and out at the dock as we wanted.  All day long, baby!  But, the holding tank would remain, sadly, full.  Like I said, I’m a bit embarrassed to say we did that, but I’m going to blame it on the … fumes. We started to tug and pull just a bit on the pipes we had just slid onto the new Y valve to see if they would come off pretty easy, allowing for a quick fliperoo of the valve.  But, you remember what I said about the barbs.  Those things were on there!  We were going to have to wrestle those pipes off with all the same muscle and force (and mess) as we had just done.  Four hours we’d spent out there, shoulder-deep in that smelly pit, and it was as if we hadn’t done anything at all. We were disheartened, to say the least, and utterly defeated.

But, the good news is, before we started this project, I had done something I don’t normally do.  It’s an old Lin-and-Larry Pardey tip I picked up when we were devouring cruising guides and handbooks before we bought the boat that has stuck with me.  I read the directions that came with the Y valve.  Not something you would think to do.  I mean, it’s a Y valve.  Not a nuclear reactor.  But, the Pardeys swear by it, advising to do it every time and to keep the instructions and manuals for all the parts and systems on your boat.  Sage advice as always, and in this case,  the directions proved quite fruitful.

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Y valves typically only allow for two positions.  But, it turned out the Y valve we had purchased could be easily converted to allow three positions with the simple removal of a stopper ring inside the valve.

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Thankfully, with just the removal of a few screws (and no removal of pipes filled with shizz), we were able to easily modify the valve to a three-way.  Now, we could turn the valve one more time to the final, and most important, position – allowing flow from the holding tank to the macerator for pumpout at sea:

Y valve 6


And, this makes the handle easily removable so the discharge option is disabled when we’re in waters that are not approved for marine waste – namely, the Keys.  Score one for Captain Planet!

With the new Y valve now in working order and enabling both pumpout at the dock and at sea, it was time to wrap up this shitty job and restore some order on the boat.  We set to cleaning,

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And cleaning,


And cleaning …


“Scrub those corners good there mate!”

It was quite the job, but with a little gumption, strong wills and even stronger stomachs, we were able to do it.  Cross that one off the list.

List 1

And, while we are operating under the belief that the macerator works just fine and pumpout in the Gulf will be no issue, we’re looking forward to the next sunny weekend when we can make an offshore jaunt to test it out.  I’m sure you are too!  You can sleep soundly knowing we’ll fully document the brown cloud for you.

Until then, stay tuned for a new main sail, replacement of the iso glass on the dodger and a one-man (or one-woman, I should say) mast ascension.

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